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zen buddhism and other types of buddhism


29 Dec 2005
what is the difference between zen buddhism and all the other types?

how do i get involved in zen buddhism?

can someone take me through the steps of becoming a buddhist?

i was given a set of buddhist beads and a zen garden and am not sure what they are and what i am supposed to do with them and how i am supposed to use them.

please help me.
Sailor Moon,

You must choose which tradition within Buddhism you like, which, in your case, may be Zen.

Here is a passage I adapted from a book on Buddhism, "Turning the
Wheel" by Sandy Boucher, giving a basic explanation of Buddhist
thought, and an outline of some of the major Buddhist demoninations.
Read this, then give me your reactions:


Buddhism began in the sixth century B.C.E., when an Indian no-
bleman's son named Siddhartha Gautama left his palace in order
to investigate the causes of suffering, old age, and death. After
years of searching and practicing austerities, he turned away from
asceticism. Sitting alone under a fig tree, he attained "enlighten-
ment," which can be described as "a direct, dynamic spiritual ex-
perience brought about. . . through the faculty of intuition..."
or, more simply, seeing clearly.

Siddhartha Gautama's enlightenment (which entitled him to
the appelation Buddha) occurred without the help of a deity or
even an earthly teacher, simply as the result of his own efforts..
After it, while he could have remained in a state of solitary bliss,
he chose to give to others what he had learned, and he spent the
next forty-nine years of his life traveling throughout India and
teaching the "Dharma" (the truth, or the way). That his early dis-
ciples came from all social classes indicates that he stood in open
opposition to the Hindu caste system as it then existed. He was
also revolutionary in allowing women to join the monastic order
he founded.

Now, 2,500 years later, the teachings he gave are followed by
somewhere between a third and a fifth of the earth's people.
Chief among the observances they perform are generosity, moral
conduct, and ceremonies expressing reverence. Meditation in or-
der to achieve the goal of liberation or enlightenment is engaged
in by smaller numbers of more intensely motivated practitioners.
In the West it is meditation practice that is usually emphasized,
and in some instances Buddhist meditation techniques are taught
independent of all religious trappings.

The Buddha taught three universal qualities of human exis-
tence. The first is the impermanence of everything as it flows from
birth to death or creation to dissolution. Next is the suffering in
human existence. This concept has been variously translated, and
one of the more inclusive interpretations is "the general unsatis-
factoriness of life." Some explicators have used the image of a
wheel set slightly askew on its axle, so that it rubs and wears as it
turns, always just a little off balance, as we are almost always a little
off balance in our lives. The third quality is the nonexistence of the
self; a concept difficult for Westerners. In the unceasing flow of
phenomena, the self is seen as having no solidity, no separate exis-
tence. It is viewed as an artificial construct, merely a tool for ac-
complishing actions in the world. When told to let go of belief in
the self, contemporary western women especially react with out-
rage, pointing out that most of us need to build ego-strength and
selfhood, not to destroy it. But this resistance arises from a mis-
conception, for what one gives up are the qualities in oneself that
obstruct and hinder, and cause pain-the impediments to full re-
alization, such as greed, hatred, and delusion. In experiencing
oneness with all phenomena one taps into an unshakable strength
far deeper than the capacities of personality.

The Four Noble Truths form the foundation of Buddhist prac-
tice. They are:

1. We suffer.
2. The cause of our suffering is our craving, primarily for pleas-
ant sense contacts and for survival-a craving that can never
be satisfied because of the impermanence of the body and the
transience of any particular mental, physical, or emotional
3. There can be an end to the suffering.
4. The means to that end is provided in the Eightfold Noble

The Eightfold Noble Path is generally broken down into three
sections under Wisdom, Morality, and Concentration. Wisdom is
comprised of Right Understanding and Right Thought (that is,
purpose or aspiration). Morality requires Right Speech, Right Ac-
tion, Right Livelihood. Concentration is reached through Right
Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration (that is,
meditation). This Eightfold Noble Path is called the Middle Way,
for it avoids, on the one hand, losing oneself in sensual pleasures,
and, on the other hand, giving oneself over to asceticism and self-

An almost universal practice in Buddhism is taking refuge. Often
this begins a practice session or retreat. One "takes refuge" in, or
invokes the protection of, the Buddha, the Dharma, and the
Sangha (community of enlightened ones), which are known as the
Three Jewels or Three Gems. In Western language, one takes
refuge in the enlightened mind (Buddha), in the way leading to it
(Dharma), and in those who achieved enlightenment by traveling
this path (Sangha). Usually in American Buddhism the sangha is
interpreted more broadly as the community of all those who prac-
tice, and this is the sense in which it will be used in this book.

The Divine Abodes, another mainstay of Buddhism, give an idea
of its gentle and benevolent moral foundation. The four qualities
to be cultivated are: Loving-Kindness, Compassion, Sympathetic
Joy, and Equanimity.

As Nancy Wilson Ross has pointed out, "Buddhism recognizes
no sacred and revealed Scripture and no Divine Personality exist-
ing outside and beyond man and his world. Buddhism is not a re-
vealed faith but a religion of accumulated wisdom, and each gen-
eration is free to add to it without fear of the charge of heresy.'
In this spirit, Buddhism was taken from India to other countries
in the East, and in each new country its practitioners interpreted
it through their own cultural forms, translating the texts into
their own language, devising ceremonies appropriate to their

There are two major strains or families within Buddhism: Ther-
avada and Mahayana. (The name Hinayana, or "lesser vehicle,"
sometimes used to denote Theravada, was invented by practition-
ers who broke from the original teachings to forge a new path and
who called themselves Mahayana, the "greater vehicle." Thus the
term Hinayana is considered to be denigrating, and Theravada,
or Way of the Elders, is more commonly used.) Theravada Bud-
dhism is based upon the Pali canon, an extensive body of scripture
first written down by the monks of Ceylon in 80 B.C.E., several
hundred years after the Buddha's death. Pali is an Indo-Aryan
dialect of the Buddha's time. Theravada Buddhism was originally
dedicated to the ideal of individual salvation and set forth monas-
ticism as the way to that end. While it has taken quite liberalized
forms in the West, its practice in Southeast Asia can be seen as the
"fundamentalism" of Buddhism.

The Mahayana, which matured in northern India during and
following the first and second centuries C.E., is based on the San-
skrit version of the scriptures, and comprises all the forms devel-
oped after Theravada, principally Pure Land and Zen as they are
practiced in China, japan, Korea, and other countries, and Tibet-
an Buddhism. Sanskrit is the traditional sacred and scholarly lan-
guage of India. The Mahayana proposed the ideal of salvation for
all and developed forms of popular devotion and universal secular
service to humanity. The term Vajrayana is used to indicate Ti-
betan Buddhism, and some practitioners think of the Vajrayana
as a separate strain in Buddhism, but it is generally seen as a type
of Mahayana manifestation.

One important distinction between the Theravada and Ma-
hayana is the role of the Bodhisattva. In Theravada Buddhism, the
Bodhisattva is one who has set himself or herself on the path to
enlightenment or Buddhahood. In this endeavor he or she will
practice the paramis or perfections, including loving kindness to-
ward other beings. With full cultivation of these perfections, he
or she will become a Buddha and will enter Nirvana at death. In
Mahayana Buddhism, the Bodhisattva is a person who has the
same wisdom and virtue as a Buddha but who delays the eventual
entry into Nirvana in order to stay in the world to help all sentient
beings achieve enlightenment.

Most of the types of Buddhism practiced in the world today
have found their way to the United States, where it is estimated
there are several million Buddhists. Three major forms followed
by Americans are Zen, Theravada, and Tibetan Buddhism. Also
practiced here are Pure Land and Nichiren Buddhism.

Theravada Buddhism is the oldest form, having arisen within a
few hundred years after the Buddha's lifetime. Considered the
most austere path, it thrives in Southeast Asian countries such as
Sri Lanka, Burma, and Thailand, and it has some foothold still in
India. The Theravada path is a gradual one, in which through
meditation and study and the following of an ever more scrupulous
moral life one eventually gains enlightenment. Although there has
been considerable Theravada activity in this country for the past
ten years, with the establishment of one large teaching center and
several smaller ones, and at least one functioning monastery that
ordains monks and nuns, it has operated in relative obscurity.

Zen Buddhism grew up in China, then was taken to Korea,japan,
and other countries. It expanded upon, and in some of its meth-
ods and ideas diverged from, the Theravada tradition. In Zen, in-
tuition is the faculty most valued, and it is believed that
Buddhahood is not something to be achieved or developed but
exists in each of us right now. The effort then is to realize our own
already preexisting condition of enlightenment. Undoubtedly
Japanese Zen is the best-known form of American Buddhism,
having been picked up and written about by the beatniks in the
late fifties and widely popularized by writers such as Alan Watts,
D. T. Suzuki and Nancy Wilson Ross. Many Zen centers were es-
tablished in the sixties and seventies on both coasts, most of them
headed by Japanese Zen masters and peopled with young college
dropouts disillusioned with their parents' middle-class lifestyles,
their appetites for spirituality whetted by experimentation with
L.S.D. and marijuana. As the Japanese type of Zen encourages
tremendous industry and commitment, through the efforts of the
students most of these Zen centers have survived and grown to be
financially and spiritually viable institutions. Korean Zen has also
taken root in this country through the efforts of one particularly
energetic teacher, Seung Sahn (or Soen Sa Nim), whose head-
quarters is in Providence, Rhode Island.

Tibetan Buddhism, as its name indicates, developed in the tiny
isolated country of Tibet. Because of the harsh and mountainous
conditions of its homeland and the resulting culture of its practi-
tioners, as well as the folk traditions from which it drew elements
of its practice, it is in some respects quite different from both
Theravada Buddhism and Zen Buddhism. It places strong empha-
sis on loyalty to a teacher, and it employs techniques of visualiza-
tion and other mystical practices. While Theravada
accoutrements are usually fairly minimal and Zen in particular
tends toward extreme simplicity, Tibetan ritual and trappings are
elaborate and colorful. There are a number of different schools
of Tibetan Buddhism, with their respective leaders, but the best-
known representative is the head of the Gelugpa school, the Dalai
Lama, who was also the secular ruler of Tibet. Because of his
flight from the Chinese invaders in the 1950s, his establishment
of a government in exile in India, and his several visits to the U nit-
ed States, he is well known to the West. The Tibetans, who have
nb homeland, are very active in establishing themselves in other
countries: several Tibetan sects maintain successful centers and
educational establishments in this country.

In addition to the above three types of Buddhism, with which
most of the women in this book are associated, several other
forms are vigorously pursued in the United States.

The Pure Land school of Buddhism, which developed in China,
rather than relying on meditation uses recitation of the name
"Amitabha" (the name of a historical Buddha) to qualify the prac-
titioner to be reborn in the Pure Land after death. From the
Pure Land it is possible to reach enlightenment.

The Japanese versions of Pure Land Buddhism are Jodoshu and
Jodo Shinshu, the latter being presently the largest denomination
of Japanese Buddhism. Jodo Shinshu has established many cen-
ters in the United States, organizing itself under the name "Bud-
dhist Churches of America." It maintains a Fujinkai (Women's
Association) in most congregations.

Nichiren Buddhism is a japanese form with various subsects (two
represented in this book are Nichiren Shoshu Soka Gakkai of America
and Nipponzan Myohoji), based upon the teaching of a thirteenth-
century Japanese named Nichiren. It includes no silent medita-
tion but uses the chant "Nam myo ho renge kyo," and adherents
dedicate themselves to the goal of world peace, often engaging in
social and political action. Nichiren Shoshu of America, alone
among Buddhist sects, vigorously proselytizes and recruits

As might be expected, the majority of Buddhist activity takes
place on the coasts [of America], with New England, New York, and Washing-
ton, D.C., having many important Buddhist centers and Califor-
nia having perhaps the most Buddhist activity. But there are
many Buddhist groups and centers in the Midwest, the South, and
the West, one of the largest being in Boulder, Colorado.

The picture of American Buddhism can be a confusing one.
For example, some women are drawn to Buddhism because it has
so little ritual, while others indicate that they chose it for its rich
liturgy. The reader will have to bear with such seeming contradic-
tions, understanding them to indicate the diversity of practices
that fall under the category of Buddhism.

The language or languages of Buddhism can be similarly bewil-
dering. Preeminent is Sanskrit. But Theravadin Buddhists adhere
to the Pali terms. The Chinese, japanese, Koreans, Sri Lankans,
Burmese, Tibetans, and other national groups translated the
original Buddhist texts and developed their own forms in their
own languages.
domo arigtoo

that was very insightful and i think i have always followed a buddhist path, my parents were very liberal and encouraged us to pursue our dreams and hold firm beliefs.

i am very aware of my surroundings and live a life of peace and inner strength and happiness.

this message you sent has helped me think deeper and fully understand the buddhist beliefs a lot better thank you, please help me to further develop a healthy buddhist attitude and lifestyle?

thank you
Thank you for posting about the buddhist forum.
I am chuckling because I developed a love of Japanese culture parallel to, but separate from an interest in Zen.
I have been thinking about making Zen a more significant part of my life again, but want to do some exploration first, as I had drifted to Taoism of late.
I brought this up here now, for a number of reasons:

One, I'd like to hear from Buntaro some more, and discuss this with him. (and he doesn't post in the Religion and Philosophy fora--this is not with negative intent at all)

Another, is the dream/birth tradition which could possibly counter the 'no deity' concept.

In the Pali canon there is the Jataka and then there is the Buddha-Charita, a possibly second century sanskrit text. We can find the following: "Now the future Buddha had become a superb white elephant. . . ascended Silver Hill, and. . .three times he walked round his mother's couch, with his right side towards it, and striking her on her right side, he seemed to enter her womb. Thus the conception took place in the midsummer festival."

Of course there seems to be a more rational and accepted version in A Manual of Buddhism, which I no longer have the details of.

I think I will look into this thought a bit more.
My man Mars Man,

Well, I'll be a son-of-a-gun! You are alive and well!

You are correct that I avoid the Religion and Philosophy forum. The last time I looked at it, it seemed to be mainly Christian discussions, of which I have no interest. (I have no need to point out Christian discrepancies to Christians.)

You have mentioned the myth of the birth of Buddha. (I just heard the story again at the observing of Buddha's birthday last week at the Honganji church in San Diego.) Are you interested in the specifics of the myth? One interpretation is that these stories deal with the actual birth, etc., of Buddha.

Another interpretation is that these stories really deal with events happening at the Cosmic level. I prefer the second theory. (I have trouble with the story that, as soon as Buddha was born, he took ten steps and started making statements....)

Are you more interested in the events of Buddha's birth, or Cosmic events?
You mentioned the 'no-deity' idea. Is this something that you want to pursue? Even the Bible mentions ideas that lead to a 'no-deity' theory, ideas that can be found even in the Bible (if you look hard enough), ideas that I am familiar with.
Wow !! I didn't quite expect a return that fast !! :) Thanks Buntaro san.

First I think I'd like to get a little more information on those texts--the full content surrounding that tradition--and that might possibly include more than one translation; I just don't know.

Then, I'd like to study the angles of the 'no-deity' aspect of. . .the lesser wheel? I think it was?

I think I recall (as I had mentioned earlier, I think, I studied that but no longer have almost all of those notes and papers) having concluded that the understanding that those texts are samples of mythological stories, believed at the time, to be what really happened, is the correct understanding--as opposed to being symbolism. However, I need to look over all the information again.

Maybe starting with the stories in the Jataka and Buddha-Charita would be best. Thanks Buntaro !! And I'll see you 'round ! 👍 🙂
Thanks !! Will follow the forum there, and will check out further google sites. And will keep it up. I'm a bit suspicious of the claim that the Jataka would not be considered canon. . .but then again, by some, it may not be, just as there is canonical and non-canonical in early Christian writings, and some scholars really question the invalidity given the non-canonical. MM
A fantastic find there Buntaro san !! Thanks. I'll print it out, study it, and then yet seek for futher translations/interpretations on it too.

I had noticed that the one reply to your request in that other forum had presented their opinion, in passing, that the Jataka was not canonical. That comment sounded suspisous to me.

Canon in this case, would most likely be 'an authentic text used by descending priesthood and considered by that school to be authentic and true.' Whether the contents of the text had been thought of as having been literal or symbolic by the original school wouldn't matter, and what might have been thought of the text by much later schools wouldn't really matter. Of course, what is thought of it today, would also not mater.

It could be that the Jataka is not considered authentic today, I'm not sure, but to claim that it was not canon in the early days of written source material would leave me wondering.

Thanks, and I'll get back later !! MM
This whole fuss about "canonical" leaves me a bit amused. I do not rely on any written word to tell me what to believe, so this is just another example of why I avoid such reliance on the written word.
LOL !! I do agree with you on that point to a large degree. At the same time, I do realize that such points of view could be just as messy in their own ways--imagining a situation where no one relied on no ancient writings at all.

But I do think I know what you mean !! Again, that was a fast response !! Thanks !! MM
I'll check it out. The original was in Sanskrit, it seems? Wow, I took a semester of that back at the UofA, along with my Hindi courses. It is a hard language...indeed. I can still read it, of course, and here and there can understand a word base or two, but otherwise...g o n e.....!!

Thanks again, and I'll check it out. MM
You studied Sanskrit and Hindi? Perhaps you were a Buddhist monk in a revious life...?
lol...or maybe one of the writers for the Rig Veda. who knows?

(Actually I happen to not think reincarnation as an individual mind, is a reality---at the moment at least.)
Actually, the Stanzas of Dzyan were supposidely written originally in a language called Senzar, which is said to outdate Sanskrit. It is said that Sanskrit evolved from Senzar.

What I like about the seven Stanzas of Dzyan is that they are said to come from the same source as the seven days of Creation in Genesis. They are said to be the same story. I have found the study of the Stanzas of Dzyan to be fascinating, and they give a great deal of information about what Genesis is really talking about.
Interesting. I like that. I have heard of the 'religious knowledge pool' theory which says that a bulk of much of the dead and living religious teachings regarding human history may have come from a common source, a pool, if you will, and thus evidences overlap.

I'm getting into that, please give me a little more time to study it. Nice input there !! MM
My man Mars Man!
'religious knowledge pool' is a term I have not heard before, but I totally believe in the concept. You would be shocked, for example, at the similarities between Judiasm and Hinduism -- because they both come from the same source (so the story goes).
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Thanks for the thoughts there. I still haven't gotten around to finishing my reading there, when I do, I'll get back here. I'm also checking back on some stuff from the Vedic period. I wonder about that other language.

Catch you later on !!
Sailo Moon

Two suggestions:

First read the book "What the Buddha Taught" by Walpola Rahula. This is an excellent place to begin to understand the basic teaching of the Buddha and Buddhism.

Second: Regarding Zen.......Learn to whatch your breath and enjoy the sunrise. That' all.
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