What Are the Principle Beliefs of Zen Buddhism?

Zen Buddhists meditate in an attempt to silence their minds.
... Goodshoot/Goodshoot/Getty Images

Zen Buddhism teaches practitioners to look inside themselves to find answers to life's philosophical questions. The sect of Buddhism began in China and spread to other Asian countries including Korea and Japan. The word "zen" derives from a Japanese word meaning meditation. The religion mixes Mahayana Buddhism and Taoist traditions. Some scholars have difficulty determining which beliefs originated from Buddhism and which from Taoism, particularly since both rely on intuition to understand their philosophical components.

1 Transcending Logic and Words

Zen Buddhism is a difficult faith to describe because an essential component of it requires seeking truths about the universe beyond words or logic. Practitioners try to connect to the mysteries of life such as how life began, what happens after death and what the meaning of life is by closing off the rational mind. They believe words and logic simply trap people into seeing one reality.

2 Inner Buddhas

Zen Buddhists attend religious services that may include chanting, meditation and discussion. However, they believe that reading sacred texts or attending traditional religious services do not provide the best means to find the answers to the mysteries of the universe. Instead, the answer to life's philosophical questions are located within a person. From the same place where the questions arouse, that is, within a person's own mind, come the answers to these questions. The difficult part is to clear the minds to find these answers. Zen Buddhists believe every person can be a Buddha, or enlightened one, if they discipline their minds to do so.

3 Meditation

Buddhists employ meditation to discover inner truths. Meditation helps Zen Buddhists focus on the present and prevent the mind from becoming clouded. Meditators often sit in the lotus position, with the feet crossed onto the opposite thighs. Popular practices include focusing on the breath without trying to deepen it or hold it, but instead letting it flow naturally. The practice clears the mind and provides focus on a complete form of awareness. People can meditate anywhere, but many use official meditation rooms called zendo. They also practice in groups called sesshin.

4 Paradoxes

Zen is a difficult concept to understand, so many practitioners learn the religion from a guide. The religion offers many paradoxes. Learning the religion is an exceptionally difficult process, and yet the goal is to learn to live in simplicity. Those who master the practice enjoy a sense of freedom from the world's troubles, and yet the practice requires intense discipline and training. People attempt to understand the true nature of things and develop an intense knowledge and understanding, but they do so by turning off their thoughts. Finally, the essence of Buddhism features harming no living thing. However, some practitioners inflict pain on their students to help them avoid intellectualizing.

A resident of Riverside, California, Timothy Peckinpaugh began writing in 2006 for U.S. History Publishers, based in Temecula, California. He graduated magna cum laude from the University of California, Riverside, with a bachelor's degree in English.