Old Dead Masters Advice
#1 in a short series dedicated to our
neurotic antics of meditation
I was giving a round of Table Topic questions the other night at my Toastmaster meeting on the subject of Zen and I could feel how uncomfortable some people were with their spirituality. Admittedly, this round of questions was more like Zen koans (paradoxical questions or nonsensical statements). I tried these questions once in the past, and they met with some resistance from the audience, but I thought I would give it another try.
To give you an idea of the type of questions I was posing, here’s an example:
“A mystic one day tells you that you are Better Without Yourself. First you think ‘how could this be, better without myself?’ and then you think about this for a moment and say…”
This question was answered quite well by one insightful woman, but it generally produced an uncomfortable feeling in most people when they tried to intellectualize and rationalize an explanation…which brings me to the point of this blog.
The key to any spiritual practice is to make you feel comfortable in your own skin; tranquil, unified, and filled with compassion and love. So what’s the problem, then? Why are so many people uncomfortable with their spirituality?
We are composed of mind, body, and spirit. We all need to develop our spirit just like we develop our minds and bodies. It doesn’t matter what name you are comfortable with to define spirit—it could be God, consciousness, universe, awareness, the Force. The point is it really doesn’t matter. Most importantly, we realize spirit by experiencing it. The experience makes us healthier, happier, more compassionate, and we perform better. Besides this fact, your spirituality should be something you feel everyday in work and play, not just sitting in meditation or in church. And I find especially with novice meditators is that they are very neurotic about their meditation and experiencing their spirituality.
In order to feel comfortable in your own skin, you really just simply need to be present in the moment. I mean really present in the moment, as this is the essential teaching of Zen. Zen eventually makes you feel comfortable in your own skin, and also with our ultimate human fear—death. Remember, Zen is in everything you do, therefore, you can find those Zen moments everywhere.
When you apply Zen to sports—as many people do successfully—it would be best described as being completely comfortable with your ability to perform in that moment. The last shot is gone. The next shot has not happened. Where is your mind right now? Focus on the shot that is before you and be comfortable that you will do the best your mind and body can do in that moment. Trust yourself, don’t torture yourself! Have fun with it! Don’t let your ego in and just allow it to happen, your mind and body will take care of the rest. And that is the essence of Zen! Stop second guessing and trust your awareness of that moment.
That is where neurotic mindfulness comes into play. The old dead masters constantly warned of this problem….people looking everywhere else for an answer, when it’s right in front of them—or even better—within them. We allow our minds to over-think and over-analyze everything. Even when we are mindful in meditation we become neurotic, trying to second guess ourselves and asking, “Am I really being mindful?” We asked ourselves, “Is this really the moment?” or “Is this what I should feel?” or “This can’t just be it, there must be more!” If you have ever tried to be mindful or had a spiritual moment, I think you understand what I am saying .
But what of old dead Zen masters and their warnings and teachings? In the first installment of this series, I want to introduce you to the Zen master Rinzai who lived in the 9th century and was certainly a Crazy Cloud Zen master (a radical and reformer to the traditional Zen teaching methods). He is responsible for creating one of the main schools of Zen—Rinzai Zen. He condemned people for running between teachers and looking everywhere for their Zen, including books and the words of others. He once said,
“I speak this way only because you seekers keep running around everywhere looking for the worthless contrivances of people who are long dead and gone. From my point of view, the Bodhisattvas are nothing but [waste] in the toilet, hitching posts for asses, prisoners in shackles. Buddha is merely a name!”
What is the meaning of this? He did not mean it to belittle meditation or Buddhist thought, but to force the practitioner not to rely on it, or books or words. Reliance is a trap! His point was to rely only on performance and experience. Rinzai taught his students to be passionately engaged in the very activity of living, yet to maintain unconditional detachment. Mindfulness in action is a key to balance in life.
Mindfulness is actually key to alleviating the neurotic practices of looking everywhere and not knowing if you are truly in the moment. Of course this is difficult for a novice, as they have no reference point to know what it means to be in the moment and take action. You must trust yourself to let go…feel it….more importantly KNOW that this is your spirit. In that moment, when you feel elevated to a different plane. You realize that you are right here and that you are not mind and body, but that you are ONLY spirit. It could be the perfect golf swing, run, a perfect sunset, or your partner’s eyes. You feel it and you trust the experience.
Rinzai would say, “The Buddha is you, listening to my discourse right now before my eyes.”
What did he mean? Your human spirit—in Zen—is interconnected with all human spirit, and in turn with the essence of life itself. Therefore, in performing, DO NOT try as you normally do from your mind and body. Instead, allow your human spirit to perform the action through your mind and body. It’s as if the whole of humanity performed that action simultaneously in spirit. And this, as Rinzai says, would overcome the “hell karma” from too much neurotic sitting meditation and not enough mindful action. If anything, meditation should be used to train the mind to trust mindful action. If you don’t like to meditate, then be mindful in your actions.
One day, Governor Wang visited the temple and met Rinzai in front of the monks’ hall.
“Do the monks here read sutra [scriptures]?” he asked.
“No, they don’t,” replied Rinzai.
“Do they learn meditation, then?”
“No, they don’t learn meditation.”
“If they don’t read sutras or learn meditation, what on earth are they doing here?” asked the governor.
“All I do is make them become Buddhas and Bodhisattvas,” Rinzai replied with a smile. 
And most of all remember what a Jewish Buddha says: “The Torah says, Love your neighbor as yourself. The Buddha says, There is no self. So … maybe we’re off the hook?”
1. Excerpt from Crazy Clouds: Zen Radicals, Rebels, & Reformers, Perle Besserman & Manfred Steger, 1991
Paul Harrison AIA
aka Master Nomi
Architect, Author, Creator of the Zen Advantage Program™ (ZAP)
Zen is in everything! Zen is in the everyday moments that make up our lives: it’s in the sports we play, it’s in our schools, our work, our hobbies, our homes, and it’s in our friends, our lovers or partners. Zen can be experienced in everything we do. It’s simply a matter of knowing Zen’s techniques and learning how to apply it in our everyday lives. This is the core purpose behind the brand, Where’s My Zen?
We have teamed up with other visionaries who want to join us in simplifying the delivery of the scientifically proven and time-tested Zen techniques detailed in Where’s My Zen?, Where’s Our Zen?, and The Ten Paradoxes. We are in the process of condensing these Zen ideas into a new gift box idea.
We are working on many ideas including Zen-in-the-Box for individual sports such as golf, tennis, running, and hiking. We have also been developing Where’s Her Zen? and Where’s His Zen? for bringing Zen into relationships and love. And we are looking to create a Zen-in-the-Box for stress management, academic enrichment, business and work enhancement—the possibilities are endless, which is where we need your help.
We want your ideas to help us develop our Zen-in-the-Box or Boxed Zen sets. Please fill out the survey to help with your valuable ideas. Thank you.
If this sounds like fun, then click the survey link below or above and submit it before the deadline at midnight, December 10th, 2011. Thank you in advance for your valuable help us with this new project.
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10 Minute Survey
Please help! you may win a $100 Gift Card
Link direct to survey
10 minutes…and your Zen ideas.That’s what I need!
And I’m giving away Apple gift cards for your time and thoughts. A total of $400 in Apple gift cards valued at $50 to $200 will be awarded. One person can win up to $350 in prizes!
Here’s how it works:
- Read the short background story below so that you can complete the Zen Contest survey.
- Click on the survey link and answer all the questions seriously and thoughtfully. It only takes a few minutes!
- The “best” survey wins a $100 Apple gift card. Three judges will review the answers and vote for the best ideas.
- Deadline for survey is Midnight, December 10, 2011.
The winner will be announced December 17, 2011.
[facebooklike][lnkdinshare]Learn Mindfulness to Focus And Be Calm through the Holidays
Sherman Oaks Galleria
15301 Ventura Blvd Sherman Oaks, CA 91403-6613
December 17th, 1PM-4PM
includes complimentary parking
For part 2 of the contest which is presented at the workshop, we will raffle a $200 Apple gift card at the end of the workshop. In addition, two more prizes will be given to two people who will win the vote of the group for the best ideas of the day. Each of them will win a $50 Apple gift card. Remember, you MUST fill out the survey by Midnight, December 10th, 2011 to enter.
You will recieve one of Paul’s books, “Where’s My Zen?” written under the pen name, Master Nomi. For more details and reviews on the books, click the covers below.
Have fun and meet some new, friendly people. FREE parking will be provided. Go to the red space in the diagram of the Galleria below:
Event is at the Sherman Oaks Galleria in the Community Room which is conveniently located on the first floor of the Rotunda, directly across escalators.
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