Buddhism vs Zen Buddhism: Difference and Comparison

The faith that evolved from the teachings of Shree Siddhartha Gautama, the religion which saw the enlightenment of mankind throughout world history, the religion which is adopted by more than 530 million people throughout the world:

Buddhism, when spread its wings over the Chinese territories and Lao Tzu’s Taoism, gave birth to another new way of life called ‘Zen’.

Key Takeaways

  1. Zen Buddhism is a specific branch of Buddhism that emphasizes meditation and intuition to achieve enlightenment.
  2. Buddhism has more diverse branches and practices, including Zen Buddhism.
  3. Zen Buddhism originated in China and Japan, while Buddhism originated in India.

Buddhism vs Zen

The difference between Buddhism and Zen is that the former is a perfected way of life prescribed and practised by Prince Siddharta Gautam and his followers in the Indian subcontinent, which later spread through the Asian continent and the whole world. Whereas, the latter is a branch that emerged out of the mainstream religion abidings.

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Buddhism originated from the Indian subcontinent along with the guidance of Prince Gautama and later spreading to China, Myanmar, Japan, Tibet, and many parts of South-East Asia, and this religion holds the meaning of life by slaying down the nefarious desires

which cloud the human way of enlightenment. If the person fails to reject the temptations offered by the fiend of desires and longings, he is struck within the eternal cycle of deaths and lives.

After sermoning the roots of China, Buddhism developed a tiny bud, which later branched out as Zen or Zen Buddhism. Spreading through the Chinese territories and later the world,

Zen Buddhism came to be known as Mahayana Buddhism, which was born after Buddhism intertwined with the Taoists. The maturity, alchemy, and sexual practices of Taoism, when mingled with the original teachings of lord Buddha and the nirvana concept, gave birth to this new Zen faith.

Comparison Table

Parameters of comparisonBuddhism  Zen
FounderBuddhism was founded by Siddharta Gautam in the early 4th to late 6th century BCEZen Buddhism or Zen was founded in the mid 6th century CE when the teachings of Lao Tzu mixed with the teachings of Siddharta Gautam
Geographic OriginIndian SubcontinentChina
AtheismBuddhists do not believe in one supreme deity, they believe in karma and the achievement of nirvana through meditations and purification of the tainted souls.Believes in “buddhas” that can live forever and influence mankind in ways similar to the abilities attributed to a supreme deity aka Monotheism
Meaning and motivesBuddhists are those who follow the teachings of the Buddha. They believe in the cycle of life and death and attain the path of enlightenment.Zen faith focuses on seeking enlightenment while embracing few radical beliefs handpicked straight from Taoism.
PracticesMeditating and achieving nirvana. Following the  Eightfold Path; right view, right aspiration, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentrationZen Buddhism believers dedicate themselves to daily visits to the shrine and worshipping Buddha and offering donations to the Buddhist monks.

What is Buddhism?

Religion or faith, as referred to by many scholars, is “a way of life” that more than 500 million people practice to date. It was founded in the North-Eastern subcontinent of India by Prince Siddhartha in the sixth century BCE.

Being able to achieve enlightenment and prosper to the stage of nirvana, he was recognized as Shakyamuni. He later preached to his followers the path to salvation and cleansing of the soul by meditating and understanding the lessons taught by life.

Devotees of Buddhism do not believe in monotheism, meaning; the belief in one supreme and omniscient deity. Focusing on the sole purpose of achieving enlightenment—a state of inner peace and wisdom is the only goal they possess.

After reaching the echelon of peak enlightenment through peace of mind, they believe to have achieved the state of absolute nirvana.

In Buddhism, the concept of attaining ‘nirvana’ is interpreted as the extinction of the “three fires”, greed, aversion, and ignorance. When these fires are extinguished, release from the eternal cycle of rebirth and reincarnation is attained.

The notable landmark of Buddhism lies in “Buddha’s Four Noble Truths”. The aim of Buddhism is to eliminate the sufferings caused by temptations and desires and ignorance of reality’s true nature, including impermanence and the non-existence of something called “Self”.


What is Zen or Zen Buddhism?

The term Zen is derived from the Japanese word ‘chan’, which also transliterates to the Sanskrit word ‘dhyana’, meaning meditation. Zen is a branch of Mahayana Buddhism which made its way out from the original teachings of Gautam Buddha in China.

It was the 6th century CE, under Tang’s dynasty, when the Taoists introduced Siddharta’s way of life, and the mingling of two teachings resulted in the birth of Zen.

This belief strictly emphasizes self-restraint from mortal desires, meditation, mental serenity and concentration on the nature of human life.

Zen Buddhism believers dedicate themselves to daily shrine visits. Worshipping Buddha, as well as offering donations to Buddhist monks, is an essential practice in this religion.

They also worship the omniscient almighty Buddha, who is present at many places and at different times to correct the path of man and has the ability to exist for infinity.

zen buddhism

Main Differences Between Buddhism and Zen

  1. Buddhism was found prior to Zen Buddhism. It was the pioneer of a unique way of life carved out by Prince Siddharth Gautam in the late 6th century in India. However, Zen belief was founded in China when the original traits of Buddhism overlapped with the Taoism pioneered by Lao Tzu.
  2. Buddhism was found in the Indian subcontinent, while Zen branched out from Buddhism in China under Tung’s dynasty.
  3. Buddhism believes in no existence of an omnipotent and omniscient almighty, and Zen believers have faith in “Buddhas” who exist at different places and guide humanity for eternity. Zen believers follow the concept of One God.
  4. The perception of humanity is different in Buddhism when compared with Zen. Buddhism highlights ignorance, as all sentient beings but Zen believers follow a simple theory stating, “Man’s desire for material things leads to suffering.”
  5. Buddhism states no idol worship practices, whereas Zen lime lights the use of idols of buddhas and worshipping them in temples and pagodas.
Difference Between Buddhism and Zen Buddhism
  1. https://www.history.com/topics/religion/buddhism
  2. https://www.lionsroar.com/what-is-zen-buddhism-and-how-do-you-practice-it

Last Updated : 26 July, 2023

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