The Principles of Sôtô Zen Buddhism

Sôtô Zen Buddhism follows on in the spiritual and religious tradition founded by Shakyamuni Buddha in India 2,500 years ago. Its fundamental principles are those of the doctrine preached by the Buddha and expressed in the Four Noble Truths. These truths describe both the suffering and the dissatisfaction related to the human condition, the causes of this state and the possibility to liberate ourselves from it. The law of production according to causes and conditions, the notions of impermanence, the absence of self (anatman), and interdependence are also at the core of the doctrine.

Sôtô Zen spread to the heart of the Buddhism of the Great Vehicle (Mâhâyânâ) and made its own the ideals of the compassionate bodhisattva and the salvation of all beings. In its practice, it deepens the notions resulting from the great philosophical systems developed by this branch of Buddhism, such as the consistency between emptiness and phenomena, the interpenetration of all phenomena, the realisation of awakening in the midst of illusion, and Buddha-nature as inherent in all beings.

More generally, Sôtô Zen practice is realised, like other Buddhist traditions, through three aspects: the precepts, meditation, and wisdom. In addition, it places the accent on the following points, more specific to Sôtô Zen:

  • The unity of practice and realisation. Practice and study are not the means to attain to a goal – awakening, realisation – but are in themselves the doing of awakening and of realisation.
  • Zazen as a fundamental, religious practice. Zazen, sufficient unto itself, with no exterior object, is the ideal place of the unity of practice and realisation; it is the continuation of the peaceful sitting and effortlessness of the Buddha after he had realised awakening.
  • The right transmission of the mind of the Buddhas is realised in the person-to-person encounter between master and disciple.
  • Ordinary life and the mind as they are nothing other than the expression of the life and mind of Buddha.
  • The feeling of gratitude and its ritual expression are constituent of the practice.
  • Attention to form and the intuition of wholeness are not separate.
  • Practice and doctrine fit together perfectly.

Pierre Dôkan Crépon.