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Mahayana Buddhism

The Mahayana Buddhism has been very influential in many philosophies. In early Mahayana schools, the teaching was focused on Mahayana teaching thoughts only, however, in recent teaching it has mainly focused on ritual and devotional practices. Mahayana is attributed to the development of many other Buddhism practices where Zen Buddhism and Pure Land Buddhism are among them. Most of Mahayana Buddhism practices are still applied. For instance, mediation which is a common practice in the Mahayana Buddhism, it is also common in Zen Buddhism. In addition, merit transference practice which is very common in the Pure Land Buddhism is also practiced in Mahayana Buddhism.

Zen Buddhism

The Zen Buddhism is a development of the Mahayana Buddhism. Like most of other Buddhist schools, it lays emphasis on the basic teachings of Buddha. It also draws Buddhism teachings from the Mahayana Buddhism. The emphasis on Zen Buddhism is on daily experience rather than learning through books. The most important Zen practice is the Zazen or sitting meditation. In this form of meditation focus is given on one posture. The objective of all Zen Buddhism practices is to reach enlightenment or gain wisdom. The individuals believe that on reaching such a stage one does not need to be reborn to the suffering of this world again.

Pure Land Buddhism

It is focused on two powers that are self-power and other-power. The self-power is the personal power attained through meditation. Other-power is the power of vows of Amitabha Buddha which assists in rebirth. The two powers work together in most cases. However, in Japanese Pure Land Buddhism, there is a dependence on the other-power. Practices mainly observed in this Buddhism include recitation of Amitabha Budha’s name and reading Pure Land Sutra. The elements of pure land beliefs are based on the five gates of mindfulness: Praise and Veneration, Visualization, Sutra recitation, making rebirth vows, and dedicating merit.

Similarities between Pure Land and Zen Buddhism

The goal of any Buddhist school is to gain Buddhahood or wisdom. Different Buddha schools use different paths to attain this goal. The largest Buddha schools in Japan are the Pure Land and Zen Buddhism. Although many differences exist among the two, some similarities are very evident. For instance, both Buddhism practices possess elements of faith. Though the elements are different, the use remains the same.

The first major similarity between the two Buddhism practices is the turning points. For Zen the emphasis is more on the great doubt while the Pure Land revolves around faith, vows and practice. If the faith, vows and practice are present in a pure land then rebirth is possible. Vows symbolize the determination to be reborn in the pure land. Rebirth in Pure Land is dependent on the three factors but it can depend on two or one factor. In Zen practice, the most important factor is to arouse doubt. Examples of the doubts include where one comes from when he or she is born and where one goes to after death. Doubt is what directs those in Zen.

In the two Buddhism there are vows. For instance, the Zen’s vows include vows to save all sentient beings, to perfect in all teachings, to always follow the way and abide by the laws of the school, and to put an end to all misconceptions. The Pure Land is also known for its vows. These vows include abiding by the school laws to save all from sentient beings, to be reborn in the Pure Land, and to see Amida Buddha when one finally meets death.

The Zen schools teach the following major practices Zazen, Koan, silent illumination, walking practices, and chanting practices. The practices of Pure Land though different from those of Zen show some similarities. The practices for Pure Land include mediation, sutra reading, veneration, and devolution of merit. The word Zen itself means meditation. In Zen philosophy enlightenment is reached through mediation. Many Pure Land schools have been known to teach meditation. Many of the benefits that come through Zen also come through Pure Land Buddhism.

Elements of faith in Pure Land are characterized by the name of Amitabha Buddha. The Amida’s vows are also viewed as elements of faith. In a similar manner Zen also has symbols of elements of faith. For instance, Buddha, ancestors and teachers are all viewed as the symbols of faith.

The Zen’s way of life through the direct realization of emptiness and aspiration to gain wisdom develops true compassion. This is similar to Pure Land where the realization of togetherness helps to develop the mind of faith and wisdom and as a result there is aspiration of rebirth. The longer the teaching period, the more knowledgeable and wiser a practitioner becomes.

Zen Buddhism and Pure Land Buddhism are both independent of scripture as a means of learning1. The common known method of teaching in both is direct communication from the master to the student. However, the Pure Land uses the lifetime sutra and the Amitabha sutra. As a result the master is in a position to gauge how the students understand their teaching. In addition, Zen is itself not a religion and the key to Buddhahood in Zen is self-knowledge.

Zen and Pure Land Buddhism as Developments of Mahayana Buddhism

Both value Bodhisattva ideal, which is the defining characteristic of the Mahayana Buddhism. In this case the Bodhisattvas are wise beings who coexist with the others. Their main work is to help those still suffering in Samsara4.

The meditation technique is valued in both styles. In addition, it is one of the most valued beliefs of Mahayana Buddhism. The Mahayana mediation techniques through the assistance of the Bodhisattvas allow individuals to gain knowledge and wisdom on issues that cause them on suffering.

In Mahayana, the teacher disciple relationship is very much valued. This is the case in both Zen and Pure Land Buddhism. This is a major similarity that goes on to explain that the two Buddhism were developed from the Mahayana Buddhism4. In addition, both are practice schools which are different from philosophical schools.

Like all Mahayana schools require the development of the Bodhi mind and the aspiration to attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient being. Pure Land involves seeking rebirth in the land of Buddha. For this reason at the popular level, the Pure Land is an ideal training ground and offers an ideal environment for the practitioner to be reborn. At an advanced level the individual gains more knowledge and wisdom. Since Pure Land has its roots in Mahayana, the followers understand how important Buddha recitation is to achieve Buddhahood2.

Merit transference is the source of the other power in Pure Land Buddhism. This is a clear indication of Mahayana idea of Buddha being able to convey his power to others. The similarity shows that the practice could have developed as a result of the influence of Mahayana Buddhism.


Meditation is a mental and a physical path that an individual takes to separate himself or herself from thoughts and feelings. This process plays an important role in many religions although most religions fail to use the term meditation. The Mahayana Buddhism emphasizes most on meditation. In fact two of its developments, the Zen Buddhism and Pure Land Buddhism both show focus on meditation. In Zen Buddhism, the main practice is sitting down meditation where all practitioners focus on a single issue at a time.

Though there are known differences between the Zen Buddhism and Pure Land Buddhism, similarities exists among them. For instance, both aim at enlightening an individual and in the process adding more wisdom to the individual. This similarity also works in the case of Mahayana Buddhism. This similarity shows clearly that the Zen and Pure Land Buddhism both were developments of the Mahayana Buddhism. Several other similarities also confirm that the two were developments of Mahayana Buddhism.

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