What Is Zen Buddhism?

Zen Buddhism is a Japanese school of philosophy that is said to have evolved from Mahayana Buddhism. It is more centred on meditation and intuition, and it is seen as a lifestyle rather than a fixed form of prayer or religion. 

The term “Zen” is the Japanese rendering of the Chinese word “Ch’an,” which means “meditation.” Around the eighth century, Ch’an arrived in Japan and became known as “Zen.” Though Zen Buddhism made its way to Japan via China, but it’s true home is India. Today, the term “Zen” is more often used in the West.

For many individuals from East Asian cultures, Zen is particularly essential in helping families show their continuing love and respect for their ancestors—departed family members who are in the afterlife awaiting rebirth.


Zen Buddhism is a simple, determined, uncompromising, to-the-point, meditation-based Buddhism that is uninterested in theological subtleties. Zen, which does not rely on scripture, dogma, or ritual, is validated by personal experience and is passed down ineffably from teacher to pupil, hand in hand, via rigorous, intimate practice.

Though Zen accepts – at least in part – the legitimacy of traditional Buddhist scriptures, it has developed its own writings over time. Much of ancient Zen literature is based on legendary stories of the great masters, and is liberally flavoured with Taoism, Confucianism, and Chinese poetry, as well as written in casual language studded with Chinese folk sayings and street slang. 

One of the most key characteristics of Zen Buddhism is Zazen or Zen meditation. Zen meditation’s objective is to control one’s attention. It is also referred to as a technique of “thinking about not thinking.” In zazen, practitioners sit on a cushion in a structured pose with a straight back, eyes half open, and legs crossed onto the opposite thigh in what is known as the full-lotus position.


  1. Keeping an eye on one’s breath – During zazen (sitting meditation), meditators should adopt a comfortable position such as the Burmese, half-lotus, or Seiza pose. Sitting on a cushioned mat or cushion is preferable, although sitting in a chair is also fine. The focus of awareness focuses on a specific object of meditation, most commonly the breath and how it travels in and out of the abdominal area. 
  1. Stillness of mind – This type of meditation does not rely on a single point of focus, such as the breath. Meditation students are taught to let thoughts pass through their brains without judgement or rejection. This is known as shikantaza, or “simply sitting” in Japanese. This Zen Buddhist meditation technique is performed without the need of an object of concentration, attachments, or contents.
  1. Intensive group meditation – Committed meditators conduct intensive group meditation on a regular basis in meditation centres or temples. This is known as sesshin in Japanese. During this stage of intense meditation, practitioners dedicate the majority of their time seated. Each class lasts approximately 30 to 50 minutes and is interspersed with walking meditation, brief breaks, and meals. 

Finally, Zen Buddhism provides practitioners with means to mend their minds and hearts while also connecting with the world. Many practitioners nowadays turn to Zen in search of mental clarity and peacefulness through meditation. Zen, like other schools of Buddhism, begins with the recognition that humans suffer, and it offers a remedy to this suffering by realising the interconnection of all creatures and learning to live in accordance with this reality.