The difference between Buddhism and Zen

A strong belief that enlightenment, a state known as Nirvana, comes from knowing true compassion for others is the basic tenet of the teachings of Buddha. The religion of Buddhism has sects evolved from traditional Tibetan Buddhism; Zen Buddhism is an offshoot of the original religion. A Buddhist seeks to offer consistency of word and deed; enlightenment stems from the art of doing the things you say you will do with compassion and thoughtfulness.

In very simple terms, the difference between Buddhism and Zen is that Zen offers a path to enlightenment through a process of discovering truths about the self while traditional Buddhism focuses more on others.

Tibetan Buddhism guides the practitioner through four specific Bodhisattva actions:

Generosity is the core of Buddhist philosophy, and students of Buddhism develop instinctual awareness of the needs of others and a selfless willingness to give aid to others.

The need to reduce pain and grief in others is part of the spiritual awareness of this goal.

Beneficial conduct is a requirement of Buddhism that allows one to make decisions based on what is the kind thing to do and on what will fit best with the Universe.

Pleasant speech is necessary to perform positive and warm relationships. No good will come of words said in anger and a desire to clear the mind of negative thoughts and energies is necessary for enlightenment.


Zen Buddhism leads the learner through the same four activities with a stronger focus on the inner self and an ability to see through the mind’s eye to connect to the Universe.

Essentially, the difference between Buddhism and Zen Buddhism is the way practitioners use methods of visualization and breathing to meditate. Zen Buddhism turns a focus inward and to the self without external visualization while traditional Buddhism often relies on external visualizations to achieve a meditative state.