Sunday, January 16, 2011


The two basic principles of Buddhism were formulated around 600 BC by Gautama Buddha. They are the Four Noble Truth and the Noble Eightfold Path. Over the centuries different interpretations and practices developed . This may at times be confusing. This article tries to clarify the place of Zen within the great family of Buddhism,


Buddhism acknowledges the basic teachings of the Buddha : The 4 Noble truth:
  1. Life is suffering
  2. Suffering comes from our attachments
  3. It is possible to stop suffering by getting rid of these attachments
  4. The way to cessation of suffering known as the Noble Eightfold path.
       The Noble Eightfold path is a practical guideline to ethical and mental development. Its  goal is to free the individual from attachments and delusions and finally lead him to understanding the truth about all things. It includes : right view, right aspiration, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.

        Basically, if you deny the validity of the 4 Noble Truth and the Noble Eightfold Path, you are not practicing Buddhism. 

       The practice of the Noble Eightfold Path varies from one Buddhist school to another. Depending on the school, it may be practiced as a whole, only in part, or it may even have been modified. Each Buddhist lineage claims to implement the path in the manner most conducive to the development of its students.


Around 500 AD Bodhidharma came from India to China and this was the beginning of Zen.

       The Zen school places great emphasis on the Practice of Meditation during which all activities of the individual mind come to a stop - This state is called "Samadhi"
       When in a state of Samadhi, one may one day experience a flash of intuitive knowledge about the nature of reality. (the right view of the Noble Eightfold path). This is called "Prajna".

       Prajna is knowledge or wisdom that does not come from the usual modes of perception, intellectual speculation or outside authority (books or other individuals). It is always correct.

This last part is tricky... We all have heard of various prophets who claimed - and believed - they had received a sacred knowledge of some kind. Some of them are inside mental institutions, and some others account for some of the worst atrocities ever committed in the world. 
      This is why another important aspect of the Zen school is the "direct transmission from heart to heart" between Master and Disciple. This means that for one part while on his path, the disciple receives guidance from a Master, and for the other part, that if the Disciple ever realizes Prajna, the Master formally acknowledges it. The light has been transmitted to the Disciple who has now become a Master.

There is an uninterrupted chain of Masters from Gautama Buddha to present day Zen Masters.

I hope this clarifies the situation...

By the way, Bodhidharma is also credited with having taught the Shaolin Monks the Martial Art of the Indian Princes. Of course, this is another story, but this is why I really like this guy...

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