What are Stoicism and Zen Buddhism: intro [Part 1/3]

What are Stoicism and Zen Buddhism:intro [Part 1/3] (2 min read)

By Ma Dingding

You may have the image of Zen Buddhism as being a bunch of people in yoga pants meditating mindfully in from of a small Buddha statue… but Zen is also Steve Jobs, Leonard Cohen and Jack Kerouac discovering the benefits Zen meditation can bring in terms of mental clarity. Zen is also Japanese samurai warriors, burning incense in their helmets in case their heads get chopped off by their enemies or some Chinese Shaolin monks pushing the body’s limits by doing all sorts of crazy Kung Fu stuff. 

Stoicism was born in Ancient Greece and was even followed by Roman Emperors, the most famous Stoic Emperor being Marcus Aurelius… 

Buddhism and Stoicism have a lot of common points, and we want to put the emphasis on the elements that intermingle well together. 

Stoicism and Buddhism also have differences that are absolutely relevant and make both philosophies even more interesting. 

The amazing thing about Stoicism and Zen is that even after more than 1,400 years, both systems are still relevant for modern folks like you and I. Zen and Stoic philosophies have timeless concepts that go beyond religion, race, creed and so on. So no matter who you are, by exploring Zen practices and Stoic ideas, you will not find any conflict with your own belief and values systems, you will not find any strict rules, nor any doctrinal Dos & Don’ts. 

Some famous Zen practitioners include Steve Jobs, the singer Leonard Cohen, the author Jack Kerouac, the author Yukio Mishima (Golden Pavillon, Confession of a Mask and many more interesting books.) Zen breathing techniques are even used by special forces in some regions of the world, to calm the mind and enhance focus. 

When it comes to Stoicism, we can think of military personel such as Stockdale as contemporary writers such as Tim Ferriss and Ryan Holiday

Now straight off the bat, when we refer to Zen Buddhism, we mainly refer to Zen from a Japanese origin. This is why we refer to concepts in Japanese language. We take an approach to Zen deeply influenced by Japan. I myself lived almost 15 years in Japan and mainland China, speak/read/write both languages, Japanese fluently, and Chinese at an intermediate level. I also had a short stay in Thailand that introduced me to Theravada Buddhism almost 20 years ago. 


Zen in one sentence: a school of Buddhism, started in 7th century AD China by an Indian monk named Bodhidharma, which then spread to other countries like Japan, Korea and Vietnam; Zen focuses on meditation, mindfulness and concentration with the aim of attaining enlightenment, without formal study of scriptures and strict doctrinal beliefs. Buddhism was founded in ancient India in the 6th century BC by a prince named Siddharta Gautama, also known as “the Buddha.”

Stoicism in one sentence: a school of ancient Greek philosophy founded in Athens in the 3rd century BC by a philosopher named Zeno of Citium. The Stoic school focuses on living in accordance with the laws of nature, using reason and logic over emotions in order to control oneself and following basic ethical virtues of wisdom, justice, fortitude and moderation.


The word “zen” comes from the Japanese language, and the Japanese word “zen” itself is a phonetic transliteration of the Chinese word “chán.” The word “chán” comes from the Sanskrit word “dhyāna.” Indeed, the words all sounds different, but that’s the way it is. Remember that Buddhism is a tradition that originates from India, although it is almost no longer practiced in India. “Dhyāna,” “zen” and “chán” all mean “meditation.” 

The etymology of the word “stoic” comes from the Greek work “stoa,” meaning a “portico, porch;” a reference the portico with colonnades of the Athens’ Hall where the school opening speech was given. In Ancient Greece philosophers would give public speeches and pretty much anyone could join in to listen. 

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In the following article we will explore Zen Buddhism first. You can click here to access the What are Stoicism and Zen Buddhism: BUDDHISM [Part 2/3] article.

If you would like to read about Stoicism, then simply click here: What Stoicism and Zen Buddhism: STOICISM [Part 3/3]

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