Zen Buddhism Beliefs

Since the beginning of time, man is searching for the truth. Thousands of years ago, our ancestors, sat under the stars, and around the campfire discussed and asked themselves the same questions we ask ourselves today.

Who am I? Why am I here? Is there a God? Is there life after death? Are we alone in the Universe?

Zen is very pragmatic and down to earth. It is essentially a practice, an experience, not a theory or dogma. Zen adheres to no specific philosophy or faith, and has no dogma that its followers must accept or believe in, but it traditionnally accept the concepts of karma and samsara. For us westerners, this is very different from our Christian religion and that is filled with dogmas.

Zen Buddhism does not seek to answer subjective questions because these are not important issues for Zen. What really matters is the here and now: not God, not the afterlife, but the present moment and the practice of meditation (zazen).

Moreover, Zen firmly believes that nobody knows the answers to those questions and that they are impossible to answer because of our limited condition. That’s what Master Dogen called Inmo (read more about it here). Life is a dream, a grand illusion that we perceive through the filter of our personality, our experiences, our ego. It’s is a great piece of theater in which we do not see all the actors and in which we barely understand the role of those that we see.

Zen gladly accepts the idea that men are only men and nothing more. Man, being what he is, cannot answer life’s impossible questions without falling into the trap of illusion. No one knows the answers to the deep questions about life and death.

These questions are impossible to answer, given the limited sphere of knowledge that comes with the condition of being a human being. As Master Taisen Deshimaru said, “It is impossible to give a definite answer to those questions, unless you suffer from a major mental disorder.

Does this mean that Zen closes the door to metaphysical phenomena? Absolutely not! Zen cannot confirm nor deny them, therefore, it is better to remain silent and to live simply in the moment.

What does Zen think of religions beliefs then? As a great Zen Master once said, “Faith is like painting the walls of your room with mud, then trying to convince yourself that it is beautiful, and it smells good”. Faith is an illusion, a dream that we strongly consider real, but that in reality only impoverishes the true spirituality of man. The strength of our faith and conviction has nothing to do with the fact that a belief is true or not. The veracity of our faith is in us only, nowhere else.

Religions feel compelled to give answers to everything as a sign of their “great wisdom”, but for Zen, not giving any answer at all is actually the great wisdom.

A true religion shows man how to think and not what to think, therefore, we must learn to ask great questions rather than looking for great answers.