The art of Zen education resource:
Issues and topics for discussion


What is meditation? Why is meditation so important to Zen Buddhism?

Consider why meditation is popular today in other religions, yoga schools and health centres.

Why do you think Zen Buddhists were against the traditional methodologies of scripture, ceremony and ritual worship?

What is meant by the beauty of poverty? Give examples from other religions where poverty (either real or aesthetic) is looked upon as noble and enriching?

Do you believe in reincarnation? In which religions is a concept of reincarnation central?

What do you understand by the word koan ? Discuss why koans are used and how they are intended to work.


Make a list of symbols and metaphors which appear in artworks in this exhibition. Explain how these point to aspects of Zen philosophy or to the spirit of Zen in action.

How was poetry, painting and calligraphy used in the practice ofZen?

Are there aspects of Zen apparent in any forms of Western art or culture that you have either seen or studied?

Discuss the distinction which is often made in Western culture between Art and Craft. and which was also used in China between the Northern and Southern schools.

Do you think it is valid and/or useful to define and separate the two activities in such a way?

In broad terms, do you think it would be easier for an artist to express important aspects of Zen experience in abstract form?

Art Activities

As you move around the NGV look for art works that have a calming effect on you, what are the qualities or elements that slow you down?

Investigate the processes involved in making a traditional scroll. Design and make your own scroll.

Create your own calligraphy. Using ink and brushes on paper create your painting in response to artworks in this exhibition.

Research the techniques involved in making a three or four panel screen, include the frame, paper and joining methods.


Where does the word Zen come from and what does it mean?

Why do Zen students and meditators in other traditions want to go beyond language?

Discuss what is meant by an enso and what it has in common with Zen Buddhism.

What is enlightenment?

What is nirvana?

What is dharma?

What is karma?

What is wabi?

Select a painting from the exhibition that inspires you, reflect on this and create a short poem.

The Humanities

Locate the river Ganges on a map of India. Discuss why this river is so important in both Hindu and Buddhist traditions.

Looking at the map of Asia, locate the following places of importance in the history of Buddhism: Bodh Gaya, Varanasi, Sarnath, India, Korea, Japan, China, Nepal, Thailand, Burma and Bali

Investigate the traditional Japanese tea ceremony, describe the activity and the surroundings, list the objects and their purpose, when was it invented and for whom was it performed?

Select the objects from this exhibition that you would use in performing the tea ceremony today. Make a list of the objects that are not in the exhibition.

Select artworks from this exhibition that reflect nature. Compare these in detail.

Research ikebana, describe the qualities in this approach towards floral display.

Compare Japanese gardens with gardens from France, England and Australia.

Consider the difference in use of space, rocks, stones, flowers, small plants, trees and water.