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red pill

A Stoic Zen Red Pill

A Stoic Zen Red Pill (8 min read)


By Ma Dingding


red pill

The Red Pill is a recurrent meme and a widely used expression since the release of the movie The Matrix. Before we define what the “Stoic Red Pill and Zen Red Pill” is, let’s start by defining what the Red Pill is. Then we can go deeper into the subject. 


In this article we will have a look at the following:

-What is the Red Pill

-A STOIC ZEN Red Pill

-5 Steps from Blue Pilled to Stoic Zen Red Pill 

-Recommended Readings


What is the Red Pill?

In the movie The Matrix, Neo, the main character played by Keanu Reeves, is given the choice between the Blue Pill and the Red Pill as stated in this famous dialogue: 

-Do you want to know what IT is? The Matrix is everywhere, even now in this very room. You can see when you look out your window, when you turn on your television, when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes… It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the Truth. 


-What Truth? Asks Neo


-That you are a slave Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage, born into a prison that you cannot smell or taste or touch. A prison for your mind. Unfortunately no one can be told what the Matrix is, you have to see it for yourself.This is your last chance. after this, there is no turning back. you take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in wonderland and I'll show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes..... Remember, all I'm offering you it's the truth, nothing more.” Source: The Matrix (1999) Trademark and Copyright Warner Bros. 


Are we all slaves? Yes, to some extent. There is physical slavery, but there is also slavery of the mind. Advertising, marketing and branding are all battles for your mind… ran by brands and big corporations. Same applies to education, politics, media, and all those lobby groups. 


Some people will not even see the invisible bars of the jail they are in. The Stoic Epictetus was born a slave and eventually gained freedom from his master. We can say that Epictetus’ freedom was a mental one. We can wonder if he even acknowledge the fact that he was a slave. After all, he had his own mind, his own free will. We also have our own free will and we should take it back from the puppeteers that control the strings. 


So taking the Red Pill means seeing the True Nature of things, reality, people, money, success, relationships, the System with a capital “S” and Power with a capital “P”… 


It means understanding the world in a rational and logical manner. It means understanding the world and our human condition for what it is, nothing more, nothing less. It means seeing the invisible principles that run and control us, our life partners, people around us, society, corporations, universities, nature and the world. Hence the expression “being Red Pilled.” 

Pure Reality. 


We will always be stuck in our own perceptions. True. But we can adjust our perceptions and try, yes try, to undo the engineering that has been fabricated by institutions, society and our peers. 


 To take the “Blue pill” means going back sleepwalking into a fabricated artificial life, into fakeness of the world, engineered reality and slavery of external conditions guided by others… blind to the True Nature of all things, the System, Power structures, invisible forces running the world, relationships, life, work, society, money, success, sickness, etc.


For some people, Red Pill would mean a physical, emotional, spiritual and mental implosion. Some people are better to stay in the Blue Pilled world.  

  

Does it make sense? 



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A STOIC ZEN Red Pill

The Red Pill cannot be unswallowed. For a lot of people, it tastes bitter. They would rather go back to that sweetened version of reality where everybody is happy and all the problems are brushed under a carpet to be forgotten of. 


Keep in mind that no matter how “rational” you are, anything that you come across that shakes your beliefs, your perceptions and your ground into Life… will bring you in an emotional roller-coaster


When you see IT, you cannot unsee it. You will have spasms of rejection, denial and you may even feel frustration, sadness, despair as well as hopelessness. It is important that you listen to your feelings. 


At STOIC & ZEN we believe that the concept of Red Pill is essential to understand the True Nature of all things in our modern societies. The cultural, social, economical and sexual dynamics influence our perception of the world, shape our values and directly affect our relationships with the opposite sex. 


In Zen, Enlightenment is the source of the understanding of all things, or seeing the True Nature of the world… and Enlightenment is reached by practicing meditation and in some schools, using a more intellectual approach like the use of Zen riddles. Understanding oneself and the interdependence of all things  in the Universe brings the realization that we are all One. Although it starts with the Self, Zen’s Enlightenment is an intuitive approach that is non-rational as well as non-logical. It aggregates everything and sums it up into an enhanced state of awareness for the practitioner.  


The strength of Zen is the non-Thinking Mind. It can see through a lot of things like an X-ray machine can see through layers and layers of hiding material. This non-Thinking Mind also helps us understand our own feelings, what is deeply ingrained in us, what moves us and what will bring us into action. The keyword here is intuition. However, the rational side is missing in Zen. 


In Stoicism, there is no clash with reality per se. There is no sudden Awakening to the nature of all things, whether good or bad. In Stoic philosophy there is only a rational view of the world. However, deep in our guts, we may sometimes realized or come to the conclusion that “something does not feel right, it just does not make sense.” It is our subconscious speaking the Truth while the conscious mind represses the Truth… as a way to safeguard the organism, some kind of survival mechanism that avoids any type of pain. 


The Mind can go on a transformative endeavor and crush the barriers to let the subconscious express itself, the rational Mind can leverage the subconscious by bringing the rational/non-rational Mind into a journey of discovery and change. “Changework” requires openness, it means being willing to jump at the top of the slippery slope to go down the rabbit hole. The Rational mind can read, learn, analysis, compare, search for meaning and open the way to inner transformation (with the help of the subconscious.) The keyword here is rationality. But the intuitive side is missing in Stoicism. 


The lesson for a Stoic Zen would be to follow our intuition as we can say that our subconscious, the operating system that works in the background, can help us make better choices. But not always. If you are not “Red Pilled,” your intuition is likely to play tricks on you and negate whatever alarm bells it triggered.  As for the rational side, you need to make a rational choice, on your own, to swallow the Red Pill and switch how you perceive the visible reality and the invisible dynamics that rules it. Once you have swallowed the Red Pill, you realize that you see the Truth, the ugliness, the beauty, the good, the bad, the underlying principles beneath the surface of relationships, money, success and the System.


A STOIC & ZEN Red Pill makes use of both intuition and rationality to understand our feeling and bring a change in perception. This is done by acknowledging that we have: 

-feelings (that keep the rational mind at bay)

-a subconscious (the operating system, the bouncer at the door of rationality if you will, that you need to go through to start “changework”)

-a rational mind (the high performance machine that analyzes information, retains it, compares it with other sources, process it and is likely to make us into human beings with higher states of awareness, social skills, enhanced control and refined perceptions)



5 Steps from Blue Pill to Stoic Zen Red Pill 

The 5 steps from a Blue Pill awareness to a Stoic Zen Red Pill awareness are surprisingly simple: 

1-Trigger: Your INTUITION speaks to you, you FEEL that there is something wrong, somewhere, you do not really know what. You stumble upon a small piece of information that triggers your curiosity and brings you on the Way. 


2-Research: Your RATIONAL MIND, helped by your INTUITION, makes the logical choice to gather information and THINK, to look out for information on the web, watch videos, read forums, read books, listen to audiobooks…


3-Shock: Your FEELINGS shake your beliefs system. You go through denial, rejection… and then you realize the Truth and go through despair, hopelessness, a sense that your world has changed. At this step you will either flatly reject all the new ideas and go back to the Blue Pill world (and insult anyone who talks about the Red Pill,) or go further down the Red Pill rabbit hole. The SUBSCONSCIOUS wants to reject the new ideas to keep the organism safe… at the same time, the seed has already been planted into the subconscious. This seems like a dichotomy, but remember that the world is not always rational, we still do not know if the chicken came before the egg after all. 


4-Changework: The RATIONAL MIND will gather more and more information that you will use in your battle against your own operating system (active in the background 24/7,) the SUBCONSCIOUS. It takes a lot of time, a lot. You will still go back to your old Blue Pill attitude. But the changework has already began and the more you work on yourself, the more the changework will be effective. The final battle, for everybody,  is always and will always be against our own SUBCONSCIOUS.


5-Sharing: You start exchanging with other men, talking about it, commenting on videos, sharing experiences with an online community… Keep in mind that some men will always be Blue Pilled, and for some, it is preferable to remain so. Choose who you share with carefully.


We suggest that on top of all of the changework, you include a Zen meditation practice, to develop your intuition and know yourself better, as well as continue your interest in Stoicism, to develop your rationality and your acceptance of external events. We wrote an article on how to do Zen meditation here


A WARNING:

The Red Pill shakes everybody. Rational-types and Emotional-types alike. 

Why? Because it shakes your beliefs to the core. 

The longer you have been in The Matrix, the harder it is to go into rehab and get it out of your system.  

Just keep in mind that you will never leave The Matrix no matter how hard you try. You can only cope with it and learn how to fly with the wind.


But The Red Pill brings a new level of awareness, a new enhanced perception, an enhanced  understanding of the underlying principles of our modern world, especially when it comes to dating, being in a relationship and being married. 


The Stoic Zen Red Pill is like seeing the world with a new pair of eyes. 


It is similar to the pair of glasses in the movie They Live (1988,) where the main actor can see the aliens and all hidden messages hidden Truth in reality when he is wearing the special sunglasses… but only sees the normal reality that we all see in our daily lives when he is not wearing the glasses. When he is wearing the glasses, he sees the True Nature of Reality: aliens are controlling us, all messages on TV, billboards, magazines… are there to control us (e.g. “Consume,” “Obey,” “No Independent Thought,” “Watch TV,” “No Independent Thought,” “Marry and Reproduce,” “Work 8 hours Sleep 8 hours Play 8 hours,” etc.) The director of the movie, John Carpenter, said that the movie “was a documentary.” It even became a meme on the internet to mock the different views of a similar situation by people who have different system of values. You can watch the scene I am talking about on Youtube here


Recommended Readings


About The Red Pill and relationships with Women

The Rational Male by Rollo Tomassi, the man behind the blog therationalmale.com where he talks about the intergender dynamics. The Rational Male is a book that every man should read in order to avoid the pitfalls of relationships in dating, relationships and marriage. The book will teach you how to be a man, how to interact with women and will shake your core beliefs to make you into a better version of yourself, a Red Pill you that is. If the Red Pill topics of seduction, masculinity, healing, communication, leading, female hypergamy, passive-aggressive behaviors… ring a bell, you should read this book. 


No More Mr.Nice Guy by Dr.Robert Glover, a certified family therapist, is a book about how “being nice,” not fulfilling one’s needs brings unhappiness and frustrations that are often deflected on our own Self as well as people around us. The book also includes 50 step-by-step exercises to help you make better bonds with women, listen to your emotions, enjoy your sex life, live a fulfilling live and bond with a community of men. 


About The Matrix

The philosopher, sociologist and cultural theorist, Professor Jean Baudrillard wrote his philosophical treatise Simulacres et simulation (Simulacra and Simulation) in 1981. This book was the main inspiration behind the movie the Matrix. If you are interested in knowing more about Baudrillard’s treatise that talks about symbols, society, reality, virtual reality, the shared existence of culture, the media and how our societies are constructed, we recommend that you get a copy of his book. 


Baudrillard rejected The Matrix, he believed that the movie made too obvious the difference between the “Real World” and the world of “The Matrix”… he believes that the accurate approach would be a situation where we do not have any clear idea if we are in the “Real World” or “The Matrix.” In other words, Baudrillard believed that The Matrix should not have a black and white approach, the screenwriters should have approached his work as a grey zone. 



Let us know if you are still Blue Pilled or if you have experienced with the Red Pill, Black Pill or the Purple Pill !


Shoot us an email here


We also wrote an article on Porn and Stoicism, read it here


Be Stoic. Be Zen. My Red Pilled Friend. 

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Similitudes: Stoicism and Buddhism

Similarities: Buddhism and Stoicism (24 min read)


By Ma Dingding


A Stoic is a Buddhist with attitude.” -Nassim Taleb (writer, professor, investor, researcher)


The similarities between Stoics and Buddhists bring to mind a familiar quote, “great minds think alike.” 


In this article we will explore the following topics: 

  • Historical Background
  • Core Beliefs
  • Laws of Nature and the Universe
  • Impermanence
  • Interconnectedness of All Things
  • Non-Self and the Ego
  • The Now and Amor Fati
  • Control and Self-Control
  • Perceptions, Attention and Mindfulness
  • Passions and Desires
  • Equanimity and Compassion
  • Focus
  • Enlightenment (Nirvana) and Joy
  • Intention
  • Death, Memento Mori and Premeditatio Malorum
  • God(s) and the Universe
  • Scriptures and Books




Historical Background 

Did you know that Buddhism, was once part of the Greek Empire? Between 400BC and 500AD, due to conquests by Alexander the Great in the Indian subcontinent, a form of Greco-Buddhism developed among certain people living in the region. Even Afghanistan was a Buddhist country!  Even nowadays you can see, in museums, Greek coins with the Greek name for Buddha (ΒΟΔΔΟ "Boddo”) as well as Buddhist symbols like the dharma wheel, the Buddha, etc. The style of most Buddha statues is directly inspired by the Greek sculptures. 


Buddhism started in present day Nepal, in Ancient India, about 600-500BC. The historical Buddha was a prince that left home, wife, kids and the life of a member of the royal family to follow other men who were following ascetic practices. After a few years of extreme practise, exhausting the body and almost perishing during meditation, the Buddha realized that the way was not to torture the body, but simply to be aware that life is suffering and transient, and that the way out of this suffering cause by desire and clinging, was to follow a set of guiding rules as well as meditation


From there Buddhism moved to Thailand, Sri Lanka, Laos and Cambodia to form the Theravada tradition, the closest form of Buddhism to the original teachings. Then to the Tibetan tradition and the Mahayana tradition (aka “The Great Vehicle”) in the sinicized world of China, Vietnam, Korea and Japan. 


The teachings of Buddhism are transmitted verbally and through practice, face-to-face, from teacher-to-student. This means that each teacher, no matter the tradition, is in line with a lineage that goes back to the historical Buddha himself. Though it is common to see Buddhist concepts written in Sanskrit, the language at the time of the Buddha was the Pali language.


It is an interesting thought experiment to imagine that some men, thousands of miles away, almost at the same time, developed a philosophical system called Stoicism, a philosophy that is strikingly similar to Buddhism. 


The Stoic School of philosophy was born in Athens in 330BC and founded by a man named Zeno of Citium. Zeno of Citium insisted that human beings should live in according with the laws of Nature and avoid negative emotions like desire and pleasure (as well as fear and sorrow) and live a life of wisdom and virtue. 


The transmission of Stoic thought was done in public speakings, from teacher to studen, by groups of people debating ideas as well as through written works that survived millenia. 



Core Beliefs

Stoicism is a loosely united philosophical school that has well-known figureheads, it is easy for anyone to find information about Stoicism since the writings that survived the past 2,000 years remained somehow intact in their content. 


What is interesting in both philosophies is that both are everyday life practices, if not real-life praxis. 


In the case of Buddhism, there are so many different traditions, and within those traditions, so many different schools and sects, that is it difficult to summarize the core concepts of Buddhism with a capital B. However, the core Beliefs, for example the belief that attachement to elements that are impermanent is the cause of suffering, is a core belief held by all traditions under the Buddhist umbrella. 


Firstly, we will examine the core beliefs of both Stoicism and Buddhism. Secondly, we will dig into the core concepts within each philosophies. As you know, STOIC & ZEN is about Stoicism and Zen rather than Stoicism and Buddhism, but as Zen is also a part of the Buddhist tradition, we decided to write series of articles that will talk about Stoic philosophy and Buddhism, as well as a separate series specifically for the case of Zen’s common points with Stoic thought


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-Tools and Strategies

-Questions and Answers from MC

-Case studies: what would a Zen Stoic do?

-Relationships as a Stoic

-Productivity like a Zen Monk

-Reflections on Life

...


Antonia Macaro, Professor and author of books on Stoic philosophy, wrote that the similarities between Buddhism and Stoicism can be highlighted in their view of the Human Condition, regardless of their differences. This statement is not surprising considering the fact that Professor Macaro is also an Existential Psychologist


She is indeed right: existentialism, a philosophical school that puts the emphasis on free will and responsibility of the individual in terms of thoughts, development and action, is compatible with Stoicism and Buddhism to some extent. 


It is not surprising that there is a revival of both philosophies nowadays as modern people who are exposed to their ideas sometimes get an existential punch in the gut. 


To get back to our main topic, the Buddhists believe that life is suffering, that clinging to things and people in an impermanent world bring unhappiness, and that there is a way out of that happiness. The Buddhists describe the 8 worldly conditions of human condition:


Buddhism: The 8 Worldly Conditions (or 8 Worldly Vicissitudes)

  • Gain and Loss
  • Fame and Disgrace
  • Praise and Blame
  • Pleasure and Pain


The answer to live a good life and live in awareness of those 8 Worldly Vicissitudes lies in the 5 Precepts and the Noble Eightfold Path


5 Precepts (or Rules of Training)

  • Abstention from Killing
  • Abstention from Theft
  • Abstention from Sexual Misconduct
  • Abstention from Falsehood
  • Abstention from Intoxication


The precepts is the basic Code of Ethics for Buddhists, whether they are ordained monks or laypersons. Following the precepts gives character, focus, good karma and constitute a path to enlightenment. 


On top of that, ordained monks make the vows to follow the Noble Eightfold Path:


Noble Eightfold Path

  • Right View
  • Right Speech
  • Right Action
  • Right Livelihood
  • Right Effort
  • Right Mindfulness
  • Right Concentration
  • Right Aspiration


Most Buddhist traditions also have rituals, practices and celebrations such as chanting, bowing, reciting sutras, and last but not least, introspective meditation practices. 


We can agree that the rules are pretty straightforward and positive. 

Depending on the Buddhist tradition, there are differences in how the above rules are integrated with the beliefs, for example, following them leads to liberation from the cycle of rebirths in one tradition or as an understanding of how the body-mind corruption system works. Those are details that are not the topic of this article. 


Stoic philosophy answers Life by providing a set of positive guidelines. 

The list is not exhaustive, nor official, but if we had a checklist we could say that Stoic philosophers all respect the below:


Stoics: 4 Core Precepts


  • Living in accordance with Nature
  • Self-control in regards to pleasure, ignorance, envy, anger, pain, fear…
  • Acceptance of events outside of our control
  • Freedom from passion by using the rational mind


The 4 Core Precepts of Stoicism are the basis of Stoic Ethics. 


As part of the Stoic Ethic’s system, there are what we called the 4 main Cardinal Virtues, just keep in mind that the list is not exhaustive:


The 4 Cardinal Virtues

  • Wisdom
  • Justice
  • Courage
  • Temperance


Virtue is seen as the way for a Good Life and being a good person. 


…and the list goes on: 

  • Equanimity
  • Humility
  • Discipline
  • Modesty
  • Reflection
  • Compassion
  • Active in Society


Now, when we compare both Greco-Roman religion and philosophy with the Eastern religions, we can agree that they are compatible in terms philosophical direction they give to their practitioners’ lives: be a better person. 


The rules are clear and simple. 

The precepts are positive and relatively easy to follow. 

Even though Buddhism is an organized religion with rituals, temples, chants, ordained monks… we believe that both beliefs systems are compatible and not mutually exclusive. 



Concepts: Similitudes Between Stoic Philosophy and Buddhist Religion

To go a little bit deeper in our analysis we will have a look at some concepts.



Laws of Nature and the Universe

Zeno of Citium, the founder of the Stoa of Attalos, the original Stoic School in the agora of Athens, put a strong emphasis on living in accordance with the Laws of Nature. For Stoics, everything that is, is going in perfect harmony with the flow of nature and everything that happens goes according to its invisible rules. Trying to fight nature is an unnatural endeavor and can only lead to a unhappy life. People evolve in the arena of Life where the rule of Nature is overwhelming when compared to the individual human being. 


In the case of Buddhism, we could say that the Laws of Nature are viewed a little differently, with the emphasis put on the Universe. Similarly to the Stoics, Buddhists see the Universe as having its own set of cycles of Birth, Decay and Death


““All things are parts of one single system, which is called Nature; the individual life is good when it is in harmony with Nature.” -Zeno of Citium, Founder of the Stoic School of Philosophy



Impermanence

This brings us to the topic of Impermanence: the core of Buddhists teachings is always linked, one way or another, to the fact that we live in an impermanent world. 


“We never set foot twice in the same river” like the  saying says. Clinging to conditions, things, people… is THE source of suffering. Liberation only comes to those who can accept the fact that we live in an impermanent world and who fully embrace this basic condition of our Universe. 




On the Daily Stoic’s website, Ryan Holiday sums up pretty well the Stoic view on impermanence: “[…] the permanent thing is impermanence. Money, power, fame, influence—these are ephemeral. As is our very existences on this planet. That there’s real wisdom to be found in the notion that you’re a speck in the universe’s broad history, and that your time is limited. Accept that it is, and you’ll open yourself up to a clarity—and possibly even a contentment—that you didn’t know.




Interconnectedness of All Things

Impermanence affects everything, but it is perfectly logical in the grand scheme of the Laws of Nature: the cow’s dung helps plants grows, plants feed the cows, the cow’s gut bacteria and metabolism process the nutrients, the cow produces milk… and so goes the cycle of Life and Death. Both Stoics and Buddhists agree on this. 


But beyond this cycle lies another important concept in Buddhism: the Interconnectedness of All Things. Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh talks about “interbeing:” in the flower we can see the sun, and in the sun we can see the flower; in yourself lies your ancestors’ genes, in your kids lies yourself… 


Some traditions of Buddhism talk about Reincarnation (where Death is a liberation from the cycle of rebirth and suffering) and Karma (a concept greatly misunderstood, “Karma is action and reaction” rather than some kind of accounting book of good and bad deeds.)


Marcus Aurelius, the famous Roman Emperor, also talks about the concept of interconnectedness in his Meditations: "Meditate often on the interconnectedness and mutual interdependence of all things in the universe. For in a sense, all things are mutually woven together and therefore have an affinity for each other—for one thing follows after another according to their tension of movement, their sympathetic stirrings, and the unity of all substance.” In Stoicism this concept is referred to as “Sympatheia.” 




Non-Self and the Ego

If we live in a world where everything is interconnected, and everything composed and made of other elements, then there is no real Self with a capital S. 


For the Buddhists, the Self, or the Ego like the Stoics would say, is an illusion. 

This mean that fundamentally the Self is a creation of the Self

To go beyond the Self, to see through the figments of the imagination, we need to acknowledge that there is no Self


Non-Self does not mean that there is No-Self. Both terms are not to be mixed. 

Non-Self means to go beyond the constructed Self. 

Non-Self is a way to go beyond “Me, Myself and I.” 

Non-Self transcends what the Buddhists call material forms, feelings, perceptions, mental fabrications and consciousness… which are the source of clinging and thus, suffering. 


The Stoics may disagree on this specific reading of the Self, but would probably agree on the fact that the Ego is a false representation of who we can be, that stops us from attaining higher degrees of Wisdom. 


With this information in hands, we could agree to disagree that the Non-Self is a way to see the world with a clarity that would not be possible to attain with the Ego in the way. 


There is a physical person, with a mind, and this mind tends to be self-centered, judgemental, narcissistic… and the Ego is a filter which sole objective to do everything it can to satisfy its own agenda, regardless of objectives conditions.  


By reminding ourselves that the Ego is in the way to clarity, we can see the world how it really is, but only if we are able to overcome it. 


All human beings are deluded by our brains and become absent-minded because of our discriminating minds.”  -Kosho Uchiyama, Opening the Hand of Thought



The Now and Amor Fati

If we live in an impermanent world, where everything is doomed to decay and disappear, where there is no yesterday and no tomorrow… then what do we have?


The Now. 


Living in the present moment with full awareness and in a mindful manner is the Buddhist’s answer to trying to cling to the past and the future. The Now is the only thing we really “have.”


In “On the Tranquility of Mind” (De Tranquillitate Animi) Seneca also bring the topic of living in the Now

Two elements must be rooted out once and for all”

The fear of future suffering, and the recollection of past suffering. 

Since the latter no longer concerns me, and the former concerns me not yet.


The Now brings us to the Stoic concept of “Amor Fati.”

No matter what happens to you, “Love your Fate.”

Embrace everything that happens to you, the good, the bad and the ugly. 

Live it fully, do not reject it. 


Buddhism gives us tools to bring us back in the Now and go beyond the Ego: Meditation



Control and Self-Control

Men are disturbed not by events but by their opinion about events.” -Epictetus


To be fully immersed in our own Now, we need to have the capacity for introversion, this is even true for someone who is extroverted. 


Everything and anything outside our control is… well, outside of our control. Politics, conflicts, the weather, the economy, what people say on social media, accidents happening around the world… even though we are all interconnected, we do not necessarily have a direct influence on things, people and conditions outside our reach. 


Even life-altering events such as sickness, the death of a loved one, accidents, adversity, injustice, and other negative events should not unbalance our psyche. We should be prepared for anything and everything.  The practice of Premeditatio Malorum, pre-emptively thinking about what could happen to us, our friends, our loved ones and people we come across in our lives as social beings is a good exercise to be ready if things were to happen, and not let emotions overwhelm us. This is not an excuse not to pursue wisdom, but it is a rational constatation of what reality can sometimes be, and the type of rocks that life can sometimes throw at us. 


We live in a transient world, and in such a world, the Laws of Nature do not discriminate. 

In order not to be fooled, one needs to be prepared and somehow detached. 


Control what you can control, the rest will go according to the flow of the Laws of nature. 

The only person control is yourself, and the only things you can control as the things within arm’s reach would say the Stoics. 


Buddhists put the emphasis on the concept that attachment is a source of suffering. A way out of suffering is to attain Enlightenment, through a process of transformation that is done by exploring the grand themes of human existence, such as Death, Life, Relationships, the Universe and the Meaning of Life, but also via a practice of sitting meditation. Enlightenment is thought to be a non-rational, non-logical understanding of the Truth of Life, the Universe and Being. 


In some traditions like the Hinayana tradition (e.g. Thailand, Sri Lanka, Laos) Enlightenment is a personal matter (hence the name “The Small Vehicle”) and in the Mahayana tradition (e.g. China, Japan, Korea), Enlightenment is seen as a more collective endeavor (“the Great Vehicle”) where monks also help others attaining this supreme state. 


One big advantage of meditation is that it brings a balance of body-mind as well as a development of the intuition faculty. But the biggest advantage of meditation practice is when the practitioner is able to reach a mental state of that the Buddhists call the “non-Thinking Mind”. 


For Buddhists, not much is in our control, the Laws of the Universe just work tirelessly day and night, no matter what the circumstances are. But choosing the path to a better life is possible. What the Stoics would call “Living a life of wisdom” the Buddhists would call “Living a life following the path.” The path being choosing to follow the 5 Precepts and the Eightfold Noble Path. As we mentioned, Non-Self is not No-Self. So individuals can indeed make their own choices. 


In a Universe where even supernovas are not eternal, the best way to live a right life is to avoid becoming dependent on worldly pleasures, letting emotions control us, denying the importance of ephemeral and vain things like wealth, status and glories… or at least, be comfortable and content with what we have and what we have not. 


Perceptions, Attention and Mindfulness

There is a famous story that I cannot remember the name, nor all the details. Roughly, it goes like this: 


“A monk was drinking with a friend who was complaining that he was poor, unsuccessful and unhappy. While is friend, in his drunken state, lost a bit of his attention to what was going on around him, his monk friend secretly put a big diamond in his pocket. They both went their way later in the evening. 


A long time after this evening, the poor man ran into his friend, the monk. The monk asked him how he was. As usual, he replied that he is poor, unsuccessful and unhappy. 


The monk asked his friend to look into his pocket… and the poor man found the big diamond and suddenly realized that he had been rich this whole time without even realizing it.”


This is a typical Zen riddle, called a koan, with a twist that intends to teach us important lessons without the usage of the rational thinking mind. This story is pretty explicit compared to other Zen riddles, but the matter of fact is that fundamentally, the story teaches us that it is all a matter of perspective. 


What is important in this story is not the diamond. The gist of the story is the fact that the man believed himself to be poor, when he was factually rich. 


The lesson is: our perceptions trick us.

They trick us about ourselves, our emotions, our status, our situation, being offended and getting emotional over a post on social media…

They trick us about others, their real value as human beings regardless of their social status, what people intended to say or do…



The world is all a matter of perspective. 

Go Wash your Bowl” is a good Buddhist story that fits precisely with Stoic’s stance on perceptions: they trick our Self and our Ego into falsehoods, false black-or-white unipolar statements and self-centerness. 


Stoics were also proponents of the use of puzzles, propositional logic, paradoxes and argument analysis in order to bring people to be aware of their own inherent and universal knowledge. This practice was done through their study of Logic (along with Ethics and Physics.) Dialectic was a preferred mode in Ancient Greece to bring people to knowledge by using the rational mind and intellectual reflections. 


The Stoics believe that false conceptions (oiêsis,) which are the results of false perceptions in a certain manner, that cause a breakdown of the soul and the lives of people. False conceptions are a cause of error and can be classified in the same realm as emotions, something we need to be weary of. 


The Stoics had a concept of introspective attention called “prosochē,” attention given to the thoughts, the actions, the perceptions, the present moment… to be wary of the delusions that are the fruit of our imagination and our minds. It is almost like taking the viewpoint of a 3rd party outside our bodies and minds in order to look and reflect, rationally, on “what is going on” in the flow of thoughts and feelings. We could say that this practise of “prosochē” is a reminder of the Stoic rules of life separating what is advisable from what is not.  


The Buddist term “sati,” which means “to remember,” is often translated as “mindfulness.” Both terms are somewhat similar in the sense that they both put the emphasis on the present moment and choosing the good over the bad, however mindfulness has more aspects to it:


And what is the faculty of mindfulness? There is the case where a monk, a disciple of the noble ones, is mindful, highly meticulous, remembering & able to call to mind even things that were done & said long ago. He remains focused on the body in & of itself — ardent, alert, & mindful — putting aside greed & distress with reference to the world. He remains focused on feelings in & of themselves... the mind in & of itself... mental qualities in & of themselves — ardent, alert, & mindful — putting aside greed & distress with reference to the world. This is called the faculty of mindfulness.” 

-"Indriya-vibhanga Sutta: Analysis of the Mental Faculties" (SN 48.10), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), August 1st 2019, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn48/sn48.010.than.html



Passions and Desires

Rationality and logic are extremely important for Stoics whether as for Buddhists intuition and experience are more valuable. 


For the Stoics, the Rational Mind is the main element of Virtue, and thus, Happiness. It is a Happiness that is not overwhelming, no Stoic is hyper hypo dancing on the rainbow, and this type of happiness is more an inner sense of being satisfied no matter what the external elements are. Apatheia is the term that the Stoics used to refer to the concept of being free from passions. 


Buddhist will usually avoid the rational thinking mind as they believe that the Ego, or the Self, cannot see the fundamental True Nature of the world. Buddhism is sometimes tagged as “anti-Life,” which is a judgement that is a bit harsh. Let’s not forget that Buddhism comes from a time where extreme ascetic practices were common. 


The historical Buddha himself succumbed to this false belief that emotions need to be suppressed and bodily needs removed to the point of reaching near Death. But after a few years of practice the Buddha realized that torturing the body was not “The Way” to a real deep understanding of the True Nature of everything. 


So we should not see Buddhism as being an “anti-Life” religion. Nobody whips themselves in Buddhist temples. 


The Greeks referred to ascetism (askēsis) as a rigorous training or an exercise that applied to both spiritual practice and physical competition training. In the case of the Greeks, the term does not have a connotation of bringing the body in self-denial extremes. 


Even though the medium to see the world and interpret it is different, the objective remains the same: not letting passions and desires take over, and avoiding the slippery slope of vice, overindulgence and addiction to external conditions. Practitioners of Stoic philosophy use Rationality; practitioners of Buddhism use the precepts and ethics to guide their thoughts, actions and judgements. Meditation is a real-life tool used to achieve a greater sense of awareness, and who is more aware, is less tempted. 


There is also a term in Buddhism, similar to ”apatheia“ but you may not hear it very often in Buddhist circles, except maybe in older Buddhist traditions practiced in Thailand, Sri Lanka… and possibly in Tibetan Buddhism as well. The term is “upekkha.” A balance brought by a combination of awareness, understanding of the human nature and respect for the Buddhist Ethics. 


It is important to point out that equanimity was valued not because of the mental state itself but because it reflected a truthful understanding of the world.



Equanimity and Compassion

With all those conceptual tools in hands, we can assume that both Stoics and Buddhists can face the world in a balanced manner. 


This brings us to the topic of equanimity. Equanimity is not a word we hear in every day life so let’s have a look at the definition first: even-tempered, to bear with a calm mind, emotional calmness and balance in times of stress. 


Stoics are often accused to be emotionless. This could not be further from the truth. Indeed a lot of militaries around the world have Stoic characteristics in their demeanor. A lot of Stoics themselves were soldiers and saw action like Marcus Aurelius, who probably survived assassination attempts and conspiracies as a Roman Emperor, like Epictetus some were former slaves, some were even forced to commit suicide, ask Seneca. Stockdale survived 7 years at the Hanoi Hilton, tortured, starved, humiliated, during the Vietname War. 


What few people are aware of is that a lot of military figures were Buddhists, it is believed that even the founder of the Zen tradition, Bodhidharma, was an ex-soldier himself in India, before crossing to China. This probably explains why he founded the Shaolin Kung Fu school with Chinese monks, a school that is still in operations as we speak today. Samurai warriors were also followers of the Rinzai Zen tradition. Anyone who has been to Kyoto can still see the impact that samurai and Zen cultures had on the city. The city was even attacked by warrior monks multiple times in the course of its history. 


Who else needs to be better equipped to face adversity than the warrior who may be hurt, imprisoned, tortured and executed? 


Equanimity is a great quality in a world where everything is impermanent. It goes hands in hands with the Laws of Nature, ready to ride any wave that the ocean of life sends their way. 


So equanimity is the result of a balanced body and mind. Equanimity is a state. Equanimity requires taking control over ourselves. Body for all the hormones, chemicals, body reactions that arise within the body. Mind for all the emotions, good and bad, that arise from our operating system that we call the mind. 


Someone who is balanced can well have compassion for people, animals, insects and things around his or her world. The concept of compassion in Buddhism sometimes gives the impression that Buddhists are “weak and overly emotional.” 


In some Buddhist traditions you will often hear that the Buddha has compassion for all living creatures in this world. But compassion, like anything else, should be practiced in a manner that does not include attachment, attachment that could be the cause of suffering. 


The correct compassion in Buddhism should be practiced in a way where the practitioner recognizes the feelings and the situation of other beings, without “feeling with.” It is more an observation of the “feelings” and recognition of our human nature; an awareness that fundamentally we all have the same conditions regardless of social status, religion, race… a detached concern for other creatures. 


Some people may say that the “Abstention from killing” in Buddhism is a strict rule. Of course, Stoics do not see anything wrong with killing animals and eating them, they believe that eating meat is part of the Law of Nature. But even in some Buddhist circles, refusing a meal containing meat may be seen as a “form of killing.” By refusing to eat an animal that sacrificed its life for us, and by rejecting a meal cooked by a host, we are killing the moment, killing the generosity, killing the sacrifice… 


For Stoics compassion can also be seen as recognizing that no matter how rich or poor someone is, how bodily able or crippled, how intelligent or less gifted someone is, there is a human in front of you, not a bank account on two feet. 


The Stoics were also proponents of an active life in society, most Stoics were actively participating in Roman and Greek societies as writers, soldiers, politicians, statesmen and even as philanthropists. 



Focus

When someone reaches the ability to have equanimity and a detached compassion, to move forward and evolve that person needs one important thing: focus. 


Focus is not about productivity, focus is also about paying attention to all details of our demeanors, both in thoughts and in actions. Marcus Aurelius sums it up perfectly: “Every hour focus your mind attentively…on the performance of the task in hand, with dignity, human sympathy, benevolence and freedom, and leave aside all other thoughts. You will achieve this, if you perform each action as if it were your last…


The ability to focus also means that one needs to be in the present moment, in the Now.  

Focus brings us to the idea of Mindfulness: focusing on what we are doing now, nothing else. 


In the Gateless Gate, there is a great Zen riddle that give us an insight on the Buddhist perspective of mindfulness. It is the case 7 with Zhaozhou in the collection of riddles (or koans in Japanese:)

A young monk arrived at the temple and asked Zen Master Zhaozhou: “Master, I am new here, ready to learn. Please teach me.” 

To which the Master replied “Have you eaten?” 

The young student said “Yes

The Zen Master then replied “Then go wash your bowl!


Living in the Now requires simplicity. 

Doing something well requires Mindfulness. 

In our modern world, we think of so many things, that we often forget to do the most basic of things. 


Meditation is also another term for concentration. 

If you can attain a high degree of concentration, then focus will naturally follow. 

There is nothing fancy or complicated about meditation.

For the Greeks, meditation takes the form of intellectual reflection on a given topic. 


Focus is developed with practice. In Buddhism this takes the form of meditation (samādhi), controlling the breath, having the proper body posture and emptying the mind of thoughts to reach a non-Thinking Mind. The ultimate goal of meditation is to attain Enlightenment. 


As the Buddha put it, “Gain and loss, status and disgrace, blame and praise, pleasure, and pain: these conditions among human beings are ephemeral, impermanent, subject to change. Knowing this, the wise person, mindful, ponders these changing conditions. Desirable things don’t charm the mind, and undesirable ones bring no resistance ” -The Failings of the World Sutta



Enlightenment (Nirvana) and Joy

Professor Massimo Pigliucci, a specialist of Stoic philosophy, said that “The ultimate goal of the Stoic was apatheia, or peace of mind, which I think is akin to both the Epicurean ideal of ataraxia and the Buddhist goal of nirvana (Enlightenment)…


Our opinion is that in some Buddhist traditions, for example the Theravada and Tibetans traditions, reaching Enlightenment, an non-rational deep understanding of the True Nature of all things, brings Nirvana, which is attaining a state when one is no longer in the cycle of birth, death an reincarnation. In other words, Nirvana is a state of liberation from suffering in this world. For some other traditions, for example in some Zen schools, Enlightenment may not necessarily be linked with the concept of Nirvana. 


We have seen that meditation is a real-life practice used to attain Enlightenment. It is one of the numerous tools that some traditions use. Some other traditions will make use of the study of Zen riddles, some will make use of meditative work (cleaning, cooking, harvesting food…) and some traditions will even use esoteric Buddhism practices of chanting mantras (for example “om” is a mantra) that have “powers.”


Whether Enlightenment is a single step on the way of a long spiritual journey or a constant state that is reached until one passes away is up for debate. 


But what about laypeople? 

Laypersons can of course also spend time meditating. 

But just the awareness of the fact that we can transforms ourselves and be more attentive to our actions and thoughts is enough to make a difference. 


This heighten awareness and mindfulness, combined with appreciating the simple things in life, naturally result in feelings of joy. 

Not an unbalanced joy, but rather a contentment with all the conditions that surround us. 


Joy is only possible in those conditions:

  • Ethical thought and action through wisdom and virtue
  • Awareness, mindfulness and detached compassion
  • Insights in the nature of all things and acceptance of their impermanence 
  • Meditative spirit (Buddhism) and reflective intellect (Stoicism)


Intention

Seneca wrote that “[…] a person sits by a sick friend, we approve. But doing this for the sake of an inheritance makes one a vulture awaiting a corpse.“


The Buddhist have the 5 Precepts and the Eightfold Path as ethical guidlines to direct thoughts and actions. 

One of the ethical element in the Eightfold Path is “Right Intention.”


Buddhism breaks down Right Intention is three “subcategories:”

  • Good will, not ill will
  • Renunciation, not desiring
  • No causing harm, not harming


No matter what we do, the nucleus of the action lies in the intention as no movement is possible without intention. 

This reminds us of Newton’s first law: an object remains idle or motionless unless an external force comes into play. 

This external force is the intention, the will… that paradoxically originates in our minds. 



Stoics would say that free will and rational choice bring right intention. 

An action should follow the nature of the end result it is launched for.

Virtue-oriented intentions should guide actions that are within the inherent nature of the action itself. 


Epictetus said that “When you are going about any action, remind yourself what nature the action is. If you are going to bathe, picture to yourself the things which usually happen in the bath: some people splash the water, some push, some use abusive language, and others steal. Thus you will more safely go about this action if you say to yourself, "I will now go bathe, and keep my own mind in a state conformable to nature."


It all lies in the intention. 

If the intention is virtuous, then the action and the results are very likely to be filled with virtue. 

If the intention is not virtuous, then the action and the results are very unlikely to be virtuous. 


But humans being humans, we sometimes err in perceiving well-intended actions as non-virtuous. 




Death, Memento Mori and Premeditatio Malorum

“The longest and the shortest life, then, amount to the same, for the present moment lasts the same for all and is all anyone possesses. No one can lose either the past or the future, for how can someone be deprived of what’s not theirs?” -Marcus Aurelius, Meditations


In Tibetan Buddhism Death is celebrated as a liberation. There is a practice called “Sky ritual” where the body is dismembered, left in nature on top of a mountain where vultures usually take over the other natural elements like wind, rain and snow… Of all the traditions, Tibetan Buddhism is probably the one with the most details about Death both in terms of beliefs and what actually happens when one dies. The famous “Tibetan Book of the Dead” was writing specifically for this event that all living organism go through sooner or later. 


In Theravada Buddhism it is not uncommon for monks to meditate in front of a decaying body. In some instances monks are mummified and put in temples to be part of the temple’s life. So in Buddhism Death is more than just a topic of discussion, it is a subject to study and even meditate on. Meditation about Death, maranasati, has been written about by Atisha, a monk in the Tibetan Tradition, who wrote in the 11th century the The Nine Contemplations:


1. All of Us Will Die Sooner or Later 

2. Your Life Span Is Decreasing Continuously

3. Death Will Come Whether You Are Prepared or Not

4. Your Life Span, Like That of All Living Beings, Is Not Fixed

5. Death Has Many Causes

6. Your Body Is Fragile and Vulnerable

7. Your Loved Ones Cannot Keep You from Death

8. At the Moment of Your Death, Your Material Resources Are of No Use to You

9. Your Own Body Cannot Help You at the Time of Your Death

-Atisha (excerpt taken from Zen Master Joan Halifax, Upaya)



Those practices may sound morbid and barbaric to modern folks, but let’s remind ourselves that it was very common for people to have open casket wakes in the house of the deceased before “modernity” came to us. 


In Mahayana Buddhism, people who did good deeds and reached Nirvana go to heaven as Boddhisattvas… those who did not are simply reborn after 49 days. 


In the Zen school, some people may well say that there is simply nothing after Death, some others may held similar beliefs to Mahayana Buddhism to which the Zen school belongs to. In Japan, there is a saying that one is “born Shinto and dies Buddhist.” Shintoism is a native religion in Japan, similar to a lot of animist religions, around the world, who revere nature (sumo wrestlers throwing salt around before the fight is a Shinto ritual.)


Of course, we are oversimplifying, but you can see that Death is an important topic in pretty much all branches of Buddhism. This is why we say that Buddhism is the religion that talks probably the most about Life and Death as part of its “curriculum.” The body is seen as being part of the material world, like a temporary vehicle for the soul. 


To make a short and brief explanation of the Stoic view on Death, simply put, the Stoics do not believe in reincarnation. Death is seen as a natural process, like the Buddhists, that is the inherent part of our Universe. 


Memento Mori, remember that you must die, is probably one of the most famous concept that we inherited from Greco-Roman times. But Memento Mori is more than just a catchy term that we can quote or get as a tattoo; Memento Mori implies a reminder of our own mortality, an active reflection on the fact that we must all perish, sooner or later, regardless of riches, wealth, social status, fame, glories… 


Memento Mori was seen as a way to motivate people into action, in taking into consideration that our life is temporary and that we should make a virtuous use of this limited resource that we call them.


Premeditatio Malorum (Pre-Meditation of Evils or Misfortune) an exercise that Epictetus promoted, had for objective to make us practice visualizing the loss of people we love, our friends, our possessions, our health, our life… so that when tragedy and misfortune hit us, we are not taken aback. The word “malorum” is better translated in Latin languages such as French and Italian as it implies something very negative. The closest word to the concept is probably the French word “malheur,” which implies a mix of unlucky destiny, some kind of fatality inducing suffering.


Let us prepare our minds as if we’d come to the very end of life. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s books each day…The one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time.” -Seneca



God(s) and the Universe

A lot of people believe that the Stoics were atheists. It may be true for some Stoics, in many writings some Stoics refer to the Pantheon of Greek and Roman Gods. Their approach was probably similar to the French philosopher Blaise Pascal who said that it was better to believe in God, so that if God exists, we are on the safe side… and if not, we lose nothing by believing in God. 


The Way of the Buddha implies that the Buddha is the focus point of reverence, that the Buddha is a God. Depending on the tradition and the context, Buddha can be either the Buddha as a deity, or the symbol of the Buddhist tradition, that is, the historical Buddha as being a man of bones and flesh just like you and I. 


Buddhism pushes the concept a little bit further. People who are on the way to Buddhahood (another loose term for “bound for Enlightenment” or Nirvana or Awakening) may be considered Bodhisattvas. This is why in Buddhist temples you will see Buddha statues as well as other statues (bodhisattvas, guardians…) 


The most famous bodhisattvas are Avalokiteśvara (Kannon in Japanese) that represents compassion, usually standing, in the form of a female or a male depending on the culture, as well as Kṣitigarbha (Jizō in Japanese), in the form of a bald male monk carrying a staff and prayer beads, representing the Great Vow (as well as being the one who accompanies souls of children who died before their parents.)


You can do more research on the topic if it interests you, but what we are saying is that followers of Buddhism may or may not believe in God(s) even thought they prostrate in front of statues. 


A lot of Buddhist monks and practitioners are atheists or agnostics. This is why a lot of believers in other religions can also practice Buddhism, there are no doctrinal rules. 


No matter if followers of the school started by Zeno of Citium and the religion introduced by Shakyamuni Buddha believe in God or Gods, we can say without a doubt that both understand that human beings are part of something infinitely bigger than us that we call the Universe. 


Already 2,000-2,600 years ago people knew that our existence in this vast Universe is transient and that we cannot truly understand it. We can observe it, we can make assumptions and theories regarding the visible phenomena, but we cannot truly understand its inherent nature. 


The Stoics believe that the Universe has a God-like nature. They did not talk about multiverse or other dimensions. The Universe was the Big Thing. 


For the Buddhists, everything within the Universe is one with the Universe, in other words, we are the Universe and the Universe is us, and a cycle of cause and effect, and interdependence, make up the fundamental laws that run Universe. 



Buddhists, like Stoics, live in the Now. 


Scriptures and Books

One major common point between Buddhism and Stoicism is that both philosophies do you have an official Holy Book nor any main reference book. 


There are a lot of writings about the Buddha’s philosophy, commentaries by famous monks, sutras, chants, stories, riddles… but there is no Bible or Quran of Buddhist religion. 


Same goes for Stoic philosophy. We do have writings that fortunately survived millenia of turbulences and historical changes, but none is used as the magnum opus of Stoicism. A lot of the writings were also written by students of the Greek and Roman philosophers which means some of the teachings do not even come from their own hand. 


Like the Buddha and many of his followers did, Stoic philosophers were using the way of the oral transmission as a way to awaken people. 



Conclusion

In conclusion we could say that both philosophies are pragmatic and aim to make us attain better versions of ourselves.  


We can also say that the similarities between Buddhism and Stoicism far outweigh their differences. 


Stoicism and Buddhism have both been misconstrued as individualistic or quietist because of their focus on tranquility and self-discipline. Contrary to this caricature, Stoicism emphasizes virtue, wisdom, human dignity and civic responsibility. Buddhism promotes the idea of a person that follows a set of rules to evolve in a Right manner in the temporary life that we all live. 


For the Stoic, all happiness is internal. The ideal Stoic is just as happy with great wealth as they are in poverty. The “goal” of Stoic teachings is to help the individual move past reaction to external events and find true peace of mind.


The goal of Buddhism is to liberate the individual as well as all sentient beings from suffering through non-attachment, non-thinking Mind, awareness of the interdependence of all things including our own Self, mindfulness in thoughts and acts, and meditation. 


Both understood the divine nature of the Universe, no matter what the word divine precisely means. 


 Once all attachment to what is beyond our control is surrendered, we are free to live both joyful and useful lives.


Joy, Happiness, Mindfulness.


Be Stoic. Be Zen. My Friend. 


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10 Best Books About Zen Buddhism

10 Best Books About Zen Buddhism (4 min read)


By Ma Dingding


The best books about meditation and Zen Buddhism are hard to choose. 


As there is no “Holy Book” in Zen Buddhism, we decided to make a list of the 10 best book to understand Zen Buddhism. 


We could recommend you 100 books but we believe that it would be overwhelming. Of course, we will introduce you to more books in separate articles, but for this specific article, we kept the list to 10. 


-You are Here

-The Beginner’s Mind

-3 Pillars of Zen

-Hardcore Zen

-The Way of Zen Alan Watts

-Zen Keys

-Zen Training

-Compass of Zen

-Everyday Zen

-Shōbōgenzō


STOIC & ZEN newsletter

-Zen Stories and Stoic Insights

-Tools and Strategies

-Questions and Answers from MC

-Case studies: what would a Zen Stoic do?

-Relationships as a Stoic

-Productivity like a Zen Monk

-Reflections on Life

...

Recommended Zen Buddhism Books

You Are Here: Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment

by Thich Nhat Hanh, 160 pages


Written by a Vietnamese Zen Monk who was friend with Martin Luther King, Thich Nhat Hanh (1926-) introduces us to a simple concept that we often forget in our busy hectic daily lives: the present moment. It is a small book that you can read in a few hours. It is easy to read and does not require a lot of cognitive power and its content is life-changing.


Zen Master Nhat Hanh is also the founder of Plum Village in France, a community of monks, nuns and laypersons who practice Zen Buddhism in a manner that reflects their founder’s attitude to life. The book was initially published in French under the name “Toucher la vie” (To Touch Life.)

Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice

by Shunryu Suzuki Paperback: 176 pages


"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few.


I bought this book in Japanese while on vacation in Japan… only to realize that the book was originally published in English! I usually prefer to read books in the original language and as I did part of my university studies in Japan, Japanese language is no mystery to me. The book is a great introduction to Zen and and Zen meditation, chapters are short, interesting and straight to the point. Zen Min is probably the best reference for any beginner in Zen practice. The book is a series of talks that the Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki gave in a garage in the 1960s, so you can expect a clear and concise experience. 


Shunryu Suzuki (1904-1971) was the founder of the San Francisco Zen Center and published this book almost 45 years ago. 

The Three Pillars of Zen: Teaching, Practice, and Enlightenment 

by Philp Kapleau Paperback: 480 pages


Spoilers alert: The Three Pillars of Zen are practice, teaching and enlightenment. The book is delightful to read for people who already practice Zen meditation and mindfulness, but who want to know more details about Zen Buddhism. I found the book to be very well-written both in terms of content and literary acuity. The book also includes precise practice insights regarding meditation. 


Philip Kapleau (1912-2004) who was ordained in Japan after 13 years of practice, was the founder of the Rochester Zen Center in the USA. Kapleau Roshi (Roshi means Zen Master,) was a teacher in the relatively new Sanbo Kyodan tradition that mixes both mainstream traditions of Zen in Japan, Rinzai and Sōtō.

Hardcore Zen: Punk Rock, Monster Movies and the Truth About Reality

 by Brad Warner Paperback: 232 pages


Zen, plain and simple, with no BS.


Hardcore Zen is a great book about a profound subject: Why Zen Buddhism? You should read Hardcode Zen if you are looking for something that does not sound too scholastic, but nonetheless contains a lot of great insights and funny anecdotes. 


Brad Warner (1964-) is an ordained monk in the Sōtō school of Zen and was a student of late Gudo Wafu Nishijima. Brad Warner spent more than a decade working in Japan before coming back to the US. A Californian who is into rock n’ roll music, Japanese monster movies and blogging, Zen Master Warner writes books that go off the beaten tracks by including references to modern culture. His books are fun to read and are definitively different that the more standard “serious and scholastic” books about Zen. He also talks about Zen in his weekly vlog and blog

The Way of Zen

by Alan W. Watts Paperback: 256 pages


The Way of Zen is beautifully written by a great communicator named Alan Watts that had the ability to simplify hard-to-understand concepts and explain them in a manner easy to understand for all. Watts uses words to explain the unexplainable. The book provides insights in the history and the concepts Zen Buddhism in the greater scheme of things: the different traditions of the Smaller (Hinayana) and the Great Vehicle (Mahayana), the influence of Chinese Taoism and Indian Buddhism on Zen, Zen’s influence on Japanese and Chinese cultures, etc. Probably not a book for beginners, but if you already have a bit of knowledge about Zen Buddhism The Way of Zen is a great book to deepen your knowledge. 



Alan Watts (1915-1973) was a British-American theologian, writer, Zen practitioner and interpreter of Eastern philosophy for Westerners. You can find a lot of his lectures on Youtube. 

Zen Keys: A Guide to Zen Practice

by Thich Nhat Hanh Paperback: 198 pages

Originally published in French, the English translation of Zen Keys is well-written and provides clear explanations about core concepts of Zen like awareness, impermanence, mindfulness, modernity and spirituality. The book also contains anecdotes about the Zen Master’s entry into the Zen world. Zen Master Nhat Hanh also introduces a great amount of Zen riddles that are explained in a manner easy to understand even for the beginner. The introduction was written by Philip Kapleau (the author of the “Three Pillars of Zen”) which means this book should definitively on your  “To Read” list. This is one of my favorite books about Zen. 

Zen Training: Methods and Philosophy 

by Katsuki Sekida Paperback: 264 pages


Shambhala publications, probably the most famous publisher for works about Buddhism in the West, brings us Zen Training: Methods and Philosophy, a book written by Zen Master Katsuki Sekida. The book is often tagged as a “handbook for zazen sitting meditation” and how to live and train as a Zen practitioner. Zen Training also discusses the emphasis that is put on enlightenment, which Sekida believes is overly represented in the practice of Zen, which goes beyond the enlightenment concept with a diverse and rich practice. The author also makes parallels with Western philosophy and psychology, comparing the similitudes between each thinking systems. This is a book that requires a bit more of intellectual willpower to read as well as an interest in scholarly topics. 


Katsuki Sekida (1893-1987) was an English teacher until he retired in 1945. His Zen journey brought him to Kyoto and Mishima and eventually, to Honolulu for 7 years and in London for 2 years. 

The Compass of Zen

by Seugn Sahn Paperback: 394 pages


The Compass of Zen is another treasure published by Shambhala publications. The book is probably one of the best book that talks about Buddhism in general as well as of Zen. The book is based on his talks and provides anecdotes, historical explanations, concepts explorations and introductions to the different schools of Buddhism and their own particularities. It is a great book for people who want to gain knowledge about the bigger picture of Buddhism and Zen Buddhism from both historical and conceptual perspectives. 


Zen Master Seung Sahn (1927-2004) was born in Korea and was part of the Korean lineage of Zen. After fighting in the Korean war, he eventually settled in America where he spend a few decades building the Kwan Um School of Zen, which is active all around the world.

Everyday Zen

By Charlotte Joko Beck Paperback: 240 pages


Described as “an American approach to Zen” to deal with the issues of daily life, Everyday Zen as its title suggets, is about how Zen can help us deal with issues, emotions and challenges. 


Charlotte Joko Beck (1917-2011) founded a school of Zen after cutting ties with a famous Zen Master in the US who went down with accusations of misconduct. 

Shōbōgenzō (or The Treasury of the True Dharma Eye)

The Shōbōgenzō was written by Japanese Zen Master Dōgen (1200-1253,) one of the most important representative of the Sōtō school of Zen. Although the Sōtō school of Zen was originally founded in China, as we speak pretty much all the Sōtō schools follow the teachers of Zen Master Dogen. Sōtō Zen is very popular in the West, especially in the US. 


Without getting into too much explanations here about the concepts, we can say that the Shōbōgenzō is a compilation of fascicules by Zen Master Dōgen that were rediscovered in the 18 century after centuries being known only by a selected few. Shōbōgenzō explains what is Zen, how Zen is practiced and theories about Zen in a language that requires great skills in translation. This is why there are multiple translations and interpretations of the Shōbōgenzō that are available. 


You should look for the translations made by Kazuaki Tanahashi or Gudo Nishijima. Norman Waddell and Masao Abe also made a translation together. Shashta Abbey offers a free translation here


This is a book for advanced practitioners.

If you read amazing books about focus, Zen Buddhism, Stoicism, Buddhism, mindfulness, personal growth, productivity… feel free to share with us!

5 Ways to Boost FOCUS + PRODUCTIVITY like a ZEN MONK

  • Learn the Art of Zen Productivity
  • Upgrade your own Internal Operating System
  • Be Productive, Efficient, and Get Stuff Done

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  • August 4, 2019
  • Zen

What are Stoicism and Zen Buddhism: BUDDHISM [Part 2/3]

What are Stoicism and Zen 

Buddhism:BUDDHISM [Part 2/3] (13 min read)


By Ma Dingding

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


Zen Buddhism

Core Concepts of Zen

 (Stoic concepts are in the Part 3 of this “What are Stoicism and Zen” series)


We will explore the following concepts:



Zen is a practice: meditation.  


If we removed everything about Zen, the shaved-head monks, the temples, the incense, the chants… we would see the core of Zen: meditation


Although Zen is an “organized religion,” we consider Zen to be a philosophical system rather than a religion per se. There is literature in Zen, but there is no Zen Holy Book; Zen is mainly a practice of meditation. If you are a bookworm, of course, there is plenty of literature out there to satisfy your curiosity. 


Whether you believe in God or not, in life after death, or in another religion, is irrelevant to the practice of Zen. Zen does not have doctrinal rules that stop a Jew, a Muslim or a Christian to practice Zen. Just think of the singer Leonard Cohen who was an ordained Zen monk, and whose body was buried according to Jewish rites, and not cremated as per Zen tradition. 


The Buddha and the Historical Buddha

The historical Buddha was an India prince named Siddharta Gautama, who lived in present day Nepal, in the 6th or 5th century BC. His father, the king, was told that his son would either be a king or a holy man. The father hid his son in the castle’s premises to keep him away from the reality of life, suffering, old age, sickness and death. But young Siddharta sooner of later discovered what the human condition is not a fairy tale, like flowers we flourish, we wither and ultimately vanish. He left wife and kids to practice extreme asceticism to find out that torturing the body was not the way to find answers. He went on to meditate for years until he attained Enlightenment. This is how Buddhism started to reach areas from Japan, Mongolia, Afghanistan, Thailand, Sri Lanka… 


The Buddha” is often depicted having East-Asian traits (although the historical Buddha was Indian) and having wavy robes (ironically inspired by Greek statues of Ancient Greece). In the past the Buddha was not  depicted as an anthropomorphic representation of a human being, it actually looked like a very big hockey puck. 


In different traditions, people may believe that Buddha, or even the different representations  of the Buddha, are Gods. However, in Zen, Buddha can be seen as a concept, not really as a God. So when Buddhist monks bow to a Buddha statue, do they bow to a God

Maybe. 

Maybe not. 

But we can say for sure that they bow to the founder of the tradition. 



Impermanence and Suffering

We live in a world where everything is constantly changing state, everything is impermanent. 

This impermanence clashes with our desires.

Our desires make us cling to states, things, people, feelings, situations… but impermanence is stronger than anything else.

Our desire and our attachments are the cause of suffering. 

The Buddha proposed a solution: do the right things in order to get out of desire by following the Eightfold path. And the Four Noble Truths


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-Case studies: what would a Zen Stoic do?

-Relationships as a Stoic

-Productivity like a Zen Monk

-Reflections on Life

...


Zazen or Meditation 

The core practice of Zen is meditation, more precisely, sitting meditation. 

Meditation is done to increase mindfulness and focus on the now… in order to get within the Self. 

Sitting meditation is thought to be the perfect posture to attain a state of mind-body balance.

It helps blood flow and breathing efficiency to enhance focus. 


Meditation is not about feeling high or hallucinating. 

Meditation is about “here, now.” Nothing else. 


Zen means meditation.

Zazen refers precisely to sitting meditation. 


In some Zen traditions, other forms of meditation are also practiced, where anything becomes an opportunity to meditate: walking, cooking, cleaning… 

Anyone can meditate, as long as you can find a quiet environment and make the time for it.

You can reap a lot of benefits from meditation. 

However, you should meditate only to meditate, to get within your deep Self.

In the Zen tradition, we do not meditate in order to get some benefits from it per se, we meditate for the sake of meditation. 

Now this will sound like a dichotomy, but meditation can bring you to Enlightenment. 


If you want to learn or perfect your meditation technique made a meditation “How to meditate” article that you can read here. 




Satori or Enlightenment

The Buddha practiced intense ascetic meditation with a group of men before realizing that torturing the body, depriving the body of its essential needs such as food, water and sleep… was not the way to reach an ultimate state of higher consciousness. 


The Buddha left the group, made his body recover and meditated for years before he attained Enlightenment. 

“The Buddha” actually means “The Enlightened One.”


The concept of Enlightenment is a bit difficult to grasp, it is not a continuous state of drug-like absolute happiness where people smile and are happy no matter what happens. 


Enlightenment (“satori” in Japanese) can be understood as a state of total understanding, a higher state of awareness, of the inherent nature of the Universe and all things by going beyond the Self and the rational, logical, thinking mind. 


Another way to look at “Enlightenment” is to see it not as a one time event, but at a time even even that follows you, in every moment: wake up! 


Wake up your awareness now. 

In 5 minutes, remind yourself to wake up!

You can only wake up in the now. 


Mindfulness and Focus

When Zen monks meditate, they meditate.

When they clean, they clean. 

When they eat, they eat. 


The main effects of meditation are twofold:

  • a higher ability to focus on what you are doing “in the now.”
  • as meditation brings us within the Self, we have a higher sense of awareness about our surroundings, about what we think, how we feel, about the interdependence of all things in the universe, and much more. 



Hishiryo or Non-Thinking Mind and the Monkey Mind

The notion of “non-thinking mind” is very important in Zen. 

It is the gateway to understand what Zen really is about. 

“Non-thinking mind” is “hishiryo” in Japanese. 


The “non-thinking mind” is not “not thinking” or forcing the mind “not to think.”

“Thinking” is a natural process of the command center of the body, the brain, and we all know that is it tough, if not impossible, to “stop the thinking process.”


The advantage of sitting meditation is that it calms down the body and the mind. 

Breathing techniques help with the flow of oxygen, they also help guiding attention to the “now.”

Anyone that has meditate before know that the “Monkey Mind,” the “logical, so-called rational, thinking mind” is constantly bombarding the consciousness with thoughts, ideas… and triggering that little voice we have in our head. 


The problem with the thinking mind is that it clings to ideas and the ego, and pretends that it knows everything and is always right, no matter what. 

This cannot be further from the truth. We all suffer from cognitive dissonance one way or the other, and only people who are aware of this fact are able to find the “Truth” with a capital T.

Now, to understand the nature of nature, the universe, the human condition, we need to go beyond the Self, beyond the Rational Mind, beyond Thinking… 

This is when the non-Thinking Mind comes in. 

The non-Thinking Mind is almost like perceiving things with intuition.

We can achieve a non-thinking mind by practicing sitting meditation. 



No-Self

The no-Self is also similar to the non-Thinking Mind in the sense that it is a way to go beyond the rational ego-centered Self. 

The no-Self is a way to see our Self as part being one with the universe in the grand scheme of all things. 



Mu or Nothingness

If you have ever seen Chinese and Japanese Zen calligraphy, you may have come across a character called “mu” in Japanese. 

It is difficult to grasp “nothingness” as mortal beings. 

We “are.” In the word human being there is the word “be.”

If there “is” and if there “is not,” there should be an alternative that does not include the concept of “is, being, to be.”

That is what “mu” or nothingness is about. 

Nothingness is about “nothing,” not about “there is not.”

The only way to get this idea is to go beyond the Self, as we are mortal human beings with awareness of our own existence, our environment and the fact that we will disappear and enter the realm of nothingness.  


Duality

This concept of “is” and “is not” brings us to another Zen topic: duality

The world is fundamentally built on duality: good vs bad, interesting vs boring, beautiful vs ugly, attractive vs repulsive… 


If we can go beyond duality, which means going through the non-thinking mind, crossing the Self and rejecting all forms of attachments, we can get in a state of awareness where the interdependence of all things make us understand that duality is another trap of the selfish thinking mind.


The concept of “Me, Myself and I” is a fabrication of the egoistic mind. 

You may prefer chocolate ice cream over strawberry ice cream and when you visit your local ice cream store and their ran out of chocolate ice cream, you may feel angry or disappointed. 


The more clinging there is, and the more suffering. 

The more expectations there is, the more disappointment and frustrations.

If you can go beyond the Self and the thinking mind, you can go through everything and anything in life as you do not perceive things, people and events to be good or bad, you just accept them as part of the universe. 


Karma 

Karma is probably the most misunderstood concept in Buddhism. 

A lot of people believe that “karma” is some kind of balance sheet of good and be behaviors. 

Just look at the title of some videos online like “When Karma Hits Back.”


Karma means “action.”

Actions your ancestors took a hundred years ago still have influence today.

Actions your ancestors, and their ancestors, took a thousand years ago, still have influence today. 

Actions you took, take, and will take, have influence on the world. 

If you crush a bee, the pollen will not be spread, and you will not be able to eat honey. 

If you take drugs, it may alter your DNA, and if you have kids, it may influence their DNA too…

This is what karma is. 

We are oversimplifying, but karma proves the interdependence of all things. 


Nirvana

Another concept that is misunderstood is Nirvana

It is not a concept that we hear often about in Zen Buddhism. 

It is more frequently talked about in other traditions like the Tibetan School of Buddhism

But long story short, “nirvana” is the release from the “3 fires” passion, aversion and ignorance... and no more rebirth cycle in a world of suffering, which brings samsara, the liberation. 


Death

In Buddhism, Death is the ultimate exit from suffering. 

Do Zen practitioners believe in life after death?

Maybe some do. 

Maybe some do not. 

Zen is not about right or wrong, zen is a practice to liberate us from suffering. 

There is a good kōan, or Zen riddle, that may give you a hint about how Death is seen in Zen: “Do you remember how your face looked like before you were born?”


Contemplating one’s human condition is an important part of Zen practice. 

This means reflecting on our human nature and our relationship to each others, as well as reflect on aging, sickness and Death. 


Life is now, moment to moment. 

Not yesterday, not tomorrow, not 5 minutes ago, not in 5 minutes. 

It is now. 



Kōans or Zen riddles

Zen does not have any official Holy Scriptures per se. There is no Bible or Koran of Zen where someone go find guidance to specific questions. 

Translated from Chinese, “kōans” mean “public cases.”

We think of kōans as being “Zen riddles” that cannot be solved with a thinking mind. 

There are compilations of kōans and a few hundreds are used in Zen temples around the world, to help students progress in their study of Zen. 

kōans can even be given before a meditation session from a teacher to a student. 

The student would meditate on the kōan, and when the student believes the answer is ready, a face-to-face meeting with the teacher would be set… and the teacher would either accept or reject the answer from the student. 

A lot of kōans are famous and come with commentaries, and different translations from Chinese or Japanese. 

What is the sound of one hand clapping?” and “Do dogs have Buddha nature?” are 2 famous Zen riddles. 


Zen Master or Teacher Transmission

As there is no Holy Book in Zen, the transmission of knowledge is done through practice with a Zen Master. 

When someone is selected to become a teacher, after years of practice, there is a official “dharma transmission” done by the teacher to the student. The “dharma” refers to the “overall knowledge.”


Students start by taking precepts, joining meditation sessions, attending lectures, assisting to face-to-face interviews with the Head Zen Master… and after years of practice the candidate may be selected for transmission. 


So if you want to explore Zen and push the boundaries, sitting by yourself will not be enough. 

You will have to find a community and a Zen Master. 

The good news is that it is easier to do so in the West than in Japan… where temples are usually reserved for ordained monks. 



Sangha or Community

The “sangha” is a community of Zen practitioners who live together, practice together, eat together, clean together and sometimes even have to maintain the temple together by gardening, cutting grass, fending wood, planting rice, harvesting and preparing for winter…


We are not saying you should join a sangha. But if you are serious about exploring, we suggest that you attend one live event. Some temples offer short 30-minute meditation sessions followed by a talk and some even offer sesshin like 1-to-90 days intense meditation sessions. 


There are a lot of resources online and some temples even offer online streams of meditation sessions, online communities, articles and talks that you can revisit anytime. 


Sutras and prayers

It is common in Zen temple to chant sutras the morning, to recite sutras before eating, to analyze the content of some sutras and listen to a talk. 


Do Zen monks believe that there is someone out there listening to their prayers, their chants? 

Maybe, maybe not. 

I would say that probably not. The chants are done as part of a tradition. 


Sutras are not really prayers, they are reciting material. 

Do people really believe the meaning of each sentence? 

Probably not. 

But it is a tradition, and traditions being traditions, they are done without thinking about it. 

They set the boundaries and the flow of life within the temple. 


A good example of a famous sutra among different Buddhism traditions is the Heart Sutra. 


One thing to consider about the sutras is that they were originally in Sanskrit (although, at the time of the Buddha, Pali language was used.) Now imagine being a Chinese monk who has to translate a sutra written in Sanskrit: you can either translate by using sound or meaning. 


For example, the character “wu” has probably 20 different characters, a character means “nothingness,” another one means “five,” another one means “thing, matter,” etc. 


So if in Sanskrit you want to translate the word nothingness, you can either use the direct translation “wu,” or a word that resembles the pronunciation of the word “nothingness” in sanskrit. 


Sutras were recited or chanted, so it does not really make sense to translate them with “meaning,” to keep the singing harmony it is better to translate them by using “sound.”


However, by doing that, the meaning of the characters used to make the sounds do not make sense. 


This is why, even native speakers of Chinese and Japanese, do not understand the meaning of what is written in sutras… they basically need to have a translation of the meaning by using the characters that fit the meaning, not the sound. 


They do sing the sutras, but most of the time they do not understand the meaning, unless they do some research separately. 


Complicated? Yes a bit.


But let me give you a good example that applies to people who speak Western languages: if you tell a 4 year old kid “hydroelectricity,” they may not understand the meaning of “hydro,” which means “water” in Greek. If you were to say “water make electricity” then the 4 year old may understand. This is a translation based on meaning.


Let’s have a look at another Greek word: “barbarian.” For Greeks, all non-Greek languages were believed to sound like “barbarbar,” this is basically a transliteration of the sound. The sound itself has no meaning. 



Two Main Traditions: Soto and Rinzai

There are 2 big Zen schools in Japan, Soto and Rinzai. Both schools originate from China. Both schools reached Japan. 


For the sake of convenience and keep it short, let’s just say that Soto Zen puts the emphasis on sitting meditation as the main Zen practice, which was commonly practiced by the masses in Japan. Soto Zen monks meditate facing a wall. Soto does not consider Enlightenment as a goal of Zen; Soto puts the emphasis on sitting meditation and sitting meditation only. 


Rinzai Zen, which was practiced by the samurai warriors class, is more intellectual with the study of kōans (Zen riddles,) the emphasis on working meditation (think Zen garden, flower arrangement, tea ceremony, calligraphy), cleaning meditation, etc. Rinzai Zen monks meditate facing each other or facing a garden. Rinzai believes that practitioners should aim for Enlightenment.


One does not exclude each other so it is OK if a monk gets ordained in both schools, but prefers one practice over the other. It also does not mean that Soto Zen do not use the kōans as part of their practice, they sometimes do, it is just that the emphasis of their practice is sitting meditation. 


The Soto school is more popular in the West, especially in the US. However, one major hotbed for Zen practice and Zen temples in Japan, the city of Kyoto, has a lot more Rinzai temples than Soto ones. 



Books

If you read until here it is because you are interested and curious. 

There are a lot of good Zen books as well as books about Zen. 


We made a list of the 10 Best Books about Zen


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

5 Ways to Boost FOCUS + PRODUCTIVITY like a ZEN MONK

  • Learn the Art of Zen Productivity
  • Upgrade your own Internal Operating System
  • Be Productive, Efficient, and Get Stuff Done

We hate SPAM too. Unsubscribe anytime by sending us an email or clicking the unsubscribe link at the bottom of the emails. By clicking you accept to receive a welcome email and newsletters once in a while. All info is kept confidential and is not sold to Third Parties.

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ASMR Sounds for Zen Concentration and Focus: Work and Study

ASMR Sounds for Zen Concentration and Focus: Work and Study (4 min read)

By Ma Dingding


You want to improve your concentration?

You want to have better focus?

You are a bit ADD, ADHD, and you need sound to force your focus in order to be productive?


I understand you. 

I suffer from this modern affliction too. 


I use ASMR sounds to focus. But the older I get, and the more I meditate, the less I need artificial elements to help me focus. 


Depending on the season, the time of the day, the environment, the task I am working on, the time I woke up, how I feel, the energy level I have, the amount of tea I drank… I may or may not use some sounds to “guide my focus”. 


Generally speaking, if I work in a noisy environment like an office (eh, sometimes we do not have the choice) or a café (which I avoid,) I will use headphones to block the noise and in some occasions even use earplugs. 


If I work from home, my mornings need to be very quiet (which is why I wake up early, to enjoy the morning’s silence.)


But when I feel, yes it is an emotional argument here, feel, when I feel like guiding my focus and forcing my concentration, I use background noise. 


STOIC & ZEN newsletter

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-Tools and Strategies

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-Case studies: what would a Zen Stoic do?

-Relationships as a Stoic

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...


I listed below what I avoid, and what I indulge in when it comes to sounds and music for concentration. 


If you have great suggestions and would like to make me and the community discover some treasures, please feel free to share with us



Avoid

I never listen to music with lyrics. It influences the subconscious and steals away your concentration. 

I never select music that has fast tempo. It influences the physiology, the biological rhythm and the heartbeat. 

I never choose music that has unstable beats. Unstable input creates… unstable output. 


If you are interested in top performance and being in the moment, I suggest that you also avoid music with lyrics, fast tempo and unstable beats. 


It is a well-know trick that shopping malls use music with slow beats, so that you stay longer and take you time strolling around. 

On the opposite, restaurants use fast-tempo music so that you eat and get out as soon as possible… unless the restaurant is expensive and they aim to sell you a 7 course meal of course. 


The quality of what we listen to is as important. If you listen to music that contains strong language… it influences you, consciously or unconsciously, in a negative manner for sure. 


The Lesson

Both our physiology and our psyche are influenced by input. 

This includes the quality of our sleep, what we eat, what we drink, what we watch, what we see… but also what we listen to. 


  1. Steady Background Sounds: high need for focus
  2. Sounds of Nature or Meditation Music: medium need for focus
  3. Classical or Jazz Music: lower need for focus
  4. “Housy” Hip Hop Music: for my own amusement


The less focus I have, the more I will listen to Steady Background Sounds. They tend to really help me reach a state of “flow.”


The more natural focus I have, or the less focus the task requires, the more I will listen to Sounds of Nature or Meditation Music as well as Classical or Jazz Music. 


At the end of the day, when I get a bit tired, I tend to go for music that brings some good feelings rather than enhances mental attention. 



I list below my favorite sounds and music, all on Youtube:

Steady Background Sounds

Interstellar Bedroom Ambience – Relaxing Spaceship Sleeping Quarters (White Noise, ASMR, Relaxation)

STUDY POWER | Focus, Increase Concentration, Calm Your Mind | White Noise For Homework & School

Studying White Noise | Focus on Homework, Test Prep, School | 10 Hours Study Sound

Airplane White Noise in 1st Class | Sleep, Study, Focus | 10 Hour Plane Sound

Accelerated Learning - Gamma Waves for Focus, Concentration, Memory - Monaural Beats - Focus Music

(1 HOUR) Cognition Enhancer - Clearer, Smarter Thinking - Learning & Intelligence ISOCHRONIC

3 Hours of Studying & Creativity Music - Concentration Music - Focus and Background Music

Sounds of Nature

EPIC THUNDER & RAIN | Rainstorm Sounds For Relaxing, Focus or Sleep | White Noise 10 Hours

Fireplace 10 hours full HD

Campfire Night Sounds In The Great Outdoors With Owls & Cicadas Ambiance For Sleep And Relaxation

Forest Birdsong - Relaxing Nature Sounds - Birds Chirping - REALTIME - NO LOOP - 2 Hours - HD 1080p

Sound of insects 8 hours/Night of summer in Japan

Crackling Mountain Campfire with Relaxing River, Wind and Fire Sounds (HD)

Sleep and Relaxation Nature Sounds, Crickets Summer Night - Sleep Music


Meditation Music

THE GOD FREQUENCY | Remove Self Limiting Beliefs | 963 Hz | Kundalini Energy

THE DEEPEST OM || 108 Times || Peaceful OM Mantra Meditation

1 HOUR Japanese Temple Bell Sound At 'Hondo' for Relaxing ,Healing And Zen

396 Hz ❯ LET GO of FEAR ❯ Remove NEGATIVE BLOCKS ❯ Marimba Meditation Music

[10 Hours] Koshi Wind Chimes Earth, Air, Water, Fire - Video & Audio [1080HD] SlowTV

Tibetan Healing Sounds #1 -11 hours - Tibetan bowls for meditation, relaxation, calming, healing

CHOIR sings OM SO HUM Mantra (Must Listen)


Classical Music

Mozart Classical Music for Studying, Concentration, Relaxation | Study Music | Piano Instrumental

Classical Music for Reading - Mozart, Chopin, Debussy, Tchaikovsky...

Jazz Music

New York Jazz Lounge - Bar Jazz Classics

Relaxing Jazz Music - Background Chill Out Music - Music For Relax,Study,Work

Rainy Day at the Coffee Shop Ambiance - 8 Hours of Rain, background chatter and Jazz Music

“Housy” Hip Hop Music to Chill and Relax

24/7 lofi hip hop radio - beats to study/chill/relax

lofi hip hop radio - beats to relax/study to

Nujabes - Modal Soul

Nujabes - Soul Searching

Images Attribution:

Images come from Unsplash.com

Videos come from Youtube.com

All images on this website follow Fair Use requirements and are used solely for commentary, criticism, research and teaching. Images that are not in the public domain are attributed to their respective author. If you have any comment about usage of images on this website please contact us via the "Contact" section.

  • August 3, 2019
  • Zen

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. 



Definitions

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.


Etymology

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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-Tools and Strategies

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-Case studies: what would a Zen Stoic do?

-Relationships as a Stoic

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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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  • August 2, 2019
  • Zen

Zen Meditation: How to Meditate

Zen Meditation: How to Meditate (15 min read)

By Ma Dingding

How to meditate? 

How to do Zen meditation?

What is Zen meditation?

We will answer all those questions, but before we start, let’s ask the most fundamental question:


Why meditate?


We meditate to discover a new state of awareness. 

We meditate to enhance focus and build discipline.

We sit down to stop being in the craziness of modern life. 

We practice Zen Meditation to attain a non-thinking mind. 

We do not meditate to get a buzz nor to attain some kind of high state of joyfulness.

We sit for the sake of meditation. 

We meditate to meditate. 


In Zen “language” we often hear about zazen. Zazen is a Japanese word that means “sitting meditation.” You can meditate while walking, while cleaning… but our focus here is precisely on zazen, or sitting meditation. 


Zazen has something special. 

It is the right position to calm both the body and the mind. 


The official purpose of meditation in Zen Buddhism is to attain satori, or Enlightenment. 


Now, the definition of Enlightenment, and what it takes to reach Enlightenment, may differ depending on the school, temple and Zen Master. 


I like to think that Enlightenment is a feeling of Oneness with Nature and the Universe


This article’s purpose is not to debate about Enlightenment, we simply want to introduce you to Zen meditation, without any doctrinal fuss. 


We want to introduce you to a practice. 

So that you can also practice. 

And not just read about it and talk about it. 


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-Tools and Strategies

-Questions and Answers from MC

-Case studies: what would a Zen Stoic do?

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Without getting into a McMindfulness rhetoric here, we believe that there are a lot of benefits of Zen Meditation:

  • Focus
  • Discipline
  • Alertness
  • Awareness
  • Essentialism
  • Self-Exploration
  • Calmness 
  • Control of emotions
  • Reduced negative thoughts
  • Better relationships
  • Reflections on Life, Death, the Universe, Interdependence… 


If you want to start practicing meditation, you will have to figure out: 

  1. Where to meditate
  2. When to meditate
  3. How long to meditate

And stick to a regular schedule to make it part of your routine. 



We made a straightforward but long guide to meditation. 

Feel free to email us if you have more precise questions. 


We cover the following topics:


  1. Meditation Space
  2. Sitting Positions
    • Full lotus
    • Half lotus (aka the Burmese position)
    • Sitting on knees (seiza in Japanese)
    • Sitting on a chair
  3. Hands
  4. Posture
  5. Breathing
  6. Gaze
  7. Feeding the Monkey Mind 
    • Counting
    • Mantra
    • Kōans
    • Sounds
  8. Feelings
  9. Time
  10. Timers
  11. Duration
  12. Frequency
  13. Cushion
  14. Clothing
  15. Stomach
  16. Temperature
  17. Sounds
  18. Light
  19. Smells
  20. Walking Meditation
  21. Going Back to Meditation After a Break
  22. Meditation Gadgets
  23. Meditation: Alone and Groups



Traditionally a meditation sitting starts with three chimes of the meditation bell and a bow, with both hand in a praying position in front of your chest, elbows high, towards the meditation cushion.


 It ends with 1-3 chimes of the bell, slow movements from left-right in order to stretch the legs and then a bow towards the cushion. 


What happens between the start and the end of each meditation session is more than just sitting. Here are a few details that are relevant to a great sitting session: 



Meditation Space

The place where you meditate is of upmost importance. 

You basically need a special meditation space

You should choose a relaxing, clean and quiet place in your home where you will meditate. 

Why not find a meditation corner dedicated to sitting meditation and introspection?


There are two main Zen traditions: Soto and Rinzai. 

In the Soto tradition, practitioners meditate facing a wall. 

In the Rinzai tradition, practitioners meditate facing each other, this also may include meditating in front of a nice Zen garden. 


You can choose any space you want, as long as there is nothing moving or visually stimulating in your field of vision. If you are the type of person that has a lot of problems focusing, it may be a wise idea to sit in from of a wall. If you prefer to sit facing a garden, a balcony, or any nice area in your home, that is also fine, just make sure that are no distractions. 


Cleanliness is also very important, Zen Temples are extremely clean environments. 

Even psychologically speaking, a clean space means a clean mind. 



Sitting Positions

There are 4 positions for meditation:

  1. Full lotus
  2. Half lotus
  3. Sitting on knees (seiza in Japanese)
  4. Sitting on a chair


Zen Monks and laypersons practicing meditation usually meditate on a round-shaped cushion that supports the buttocks, the thighs and the back, called zafu in Japanese, while the knees are laying on a bigger square-sized cushion lying on the floor, called a zabuton

The style of sitting posture is up to you and the degree of flexibility of your legs. Important warming: be extremely careful not to over-twist your legs and damage your ligaments, cartilage and articulations. We recommend that you start with sitting on your knees or on a chair first, unless you know that you are very flexible and will not damage your knees.

The official sitting position is called “Lotus position” and is difficult to achieve for beginners as both legs are fully crossed and feet are put over each thighs. Some people choose the “half-lotus” to start as it is much easier to accomplish. Some people, especially in the West, where living on the tatami mats is not part of the culture, or simply have back or knee problems, choose to sit on their knees or  on a chair to meditate. 


Full lotus

Both feet are crossed and laying on the thigh of the opposite leg. Right leg is arranged first, then the left one is placed on top. This is the most “hardcore” position that only experienced people should do. “Lotus” is a reference to the lotus flower, that grows in mud, the lotus is the flower symbolizing Buddhism. After sitting, please bow the upper body in front of you in order to have the back of the buttock adjust itself on the cushion. 


Half lotus  (aka the Burmese position)

One foot is laying on the thigh of the opposite leg and one foot is laying on top of the opposite leg’s knee. Right foot is arranged first, on the left thigh, then the left foot is placed on right knee (not twisted up the right thigh as in the “full lotus” position.) After sitting, please bow the upper body in front of you in order to have the back of the buttock adjust itself on the cushion. 


Sitting on knees (seiza)

Sitting on your knees with the round-shaped cushion between your legs, supporting the back and the buttock.


Sitting on a chair

Sitting on a chair with a cushion under the feet and/or the back, only if necessary.


We do not recommend meditating in bed, unless you are bedridden for medical reasons. 


Same with the couch, where you relax and watch TV, and the dinning table, where you eat. 


Meditation is not a form of torture, so if you feel pain, please stop immediately and replace sitting meditation by another form of meditation of your choice: walking meditation, cooking meditation, cleaning meditation… 


When the meditation is over, never stand up and start walking. Move your buttock and upper body from right to left and left to right in order to stretch the legs. You can also add a few minutes of walking meditation before getting back to normal life. 


Hands

In Japanese Zen Temples, monks meditate by putting their left hand on top of the right hand, both palms facing upward. 


This means that the fingertips and nails of the left hand are placed in the cusp of the right hand. 

The right hand is laying on top of the inner thighs, right under the bellybutton.

Both thumbs are gently touching each other. 


For Japanese, only the Buddha can meditate with the right hand on top of the left one. 

So if you meditate in a Japanese Zen temple, you may be instructed to put the left hand on top of the right hand

In other traditions, for example in China, Vietnam, Korea and Sri Lanka, the right hand lays on top of the left hand. 


This is a small details and there is no correct way of doing it. 

Simply follow the instructions of the teacher. 

Of course, if you intend to stay at a temple, the teacher may request that you follow either way of placing your hands in order to respect the temple’s traditions. 



Posture

The reason why we meditate in a sitting position is to have optimal blood circulation, concentration, focus and body-mind balance.

Meditation should bring us, naturally, into a state of non-thinking mind. 

This makes the posture critical in order to have a fruitful practice. 


The back should be straight, bending the back will lead to inefficient breathing and poor blood circulation. 

The chin should be slightly in, not high as this will give you neck pain, not too inward as it may affect breathing. 


You can roll the shoulders back to open up the chest and facilitate breathing.

The head should be aligned with the shoulders. 


The overall posture should not be forced. You should be able to maintain the posture for at least 30 minutes if you were asked to. 


Any laziness in holding the meditation posture, bent position or unbalanced position will create pain, a lack of blood circulation or breathing inefficiencies… and will affect your meditation in a negative way. 


Breathing

One of the most important elements of meditation is breathing

Breathing controls the pace of the meditation. 

Breathing brings you deeper within yourself. 

Breathing helps reaching a non-thinking mind. 


Breathing should always be done by using the muscles under the lungs. 


And inspiration/expiration are always done via the nose.

Never breathe through the mouth, always and always through the nose. 


As a beginner of Zen Meditation, you can start with this simple breathing technique that we call the “4-2-4-2 technique”:

  • Breathe in by counting 4,3,2,1
  • Hold 2,1
  • Breathe out by counting 4,3,2,1
  • Hold 2,1
  • Repeat


As you progress further, you can count the number of breathing cycles:

  • Breathing cycle 1
  • Breathing cycle 2
  • Breathing cycle 3
  • And so on. 


If you find your focus drifting away in your thoughts or in restlessness, check on your breathing. More often than not, you will find that your breathing is out of sync, too fast, too slow, irregular… 

Get the reins back and control your breathe. 


Reinforce your belly, make your center stronger!


Important warning: if you suffer for any medical condition such as asthma, hear or lung disease, or any other medical condition, please consult with a doctor to see if controlling your breathing cycle can be dangerous. 


Gaze

Eyes should never be closed, ever. 

Eyes are half-closed.


Your eyes are is looking about 2-2 1/2ft (60-80cm) in front of you. 


Remember that while meditating eyes should never be closed. 


There should not be any visual distractions in front of you, so sitting in front of a window, a TV, a hallway, a mobile phone and a computer is not recommended. 


Anything moving or blinking may excite your nervous system and create distractions… that trigger thoughts and steal your attention from your meditation. 


Thoughts

The point of meditation is not to stop or control the thoughts, but rather to achieve a state where breathing, body and mind reach a state of natural balance. 


Without getting too technical with the brainwave theories of higher consciousness, let’s keep in mind that meditation is a channel, that everybody can use, to access a higher state of awareness.


The brain, in a sense an organ like any other, is the command center of the body. 

The body is influenced by different internal and external elements like genetic background, personality, education, hormones, chemicals, sleep and food. This is especially true for the brain. 


The brain can then be the trigger of good or bad emotions, so it has a huge power over us, probably more than what we think it does, or more than we would like to believe. 


Due to our human nature, stopping the thoughts is almost impossible. 


The brain has a “Play” button… but no “Stop” and “Pause” buttons. 


The proof, the brain even generates images, thoughts and emotions while we sleep. 

“Do not think about a pink elephant wearing a hat” automatically triggers the image of an elephant wearing a hat. 


Stopping thoughts is a form of thought. 

Trying to control thoughts is also a form of thought. 

Trying not to think is thinking. 


Thoughts will flow in and out. That’s perfectly normal. 

The thinking mind will bring you pretty much anywhere it wants to: your grocery list, some “offensive” comment someone posted on social media, some irrelevant random news you saw earlier, where you want to go on vacation to in 6 months’ time, etc. 


Some days, your meditation will be good, some days, it will be soso. Usually when your meditation is not really good, it is due to an over-active mind. Restlessness deeply affects the quality of meditation. 


We all have an internal Monkey inside our heads, sometimes referred to as the “Monkey Mind.”


For some people, the Monkey Mind is a source of unhappiness, their Monkey Mind is negative, hyperactive, unfocused… the Monkey Mind will always be there, chatting or mumbling in the background, and you cannot really choke it out. 


The main aim of meditation is to attain a non-Thinking Mind


We can guide the thoughts and give them limits where they can go and where they cannot go. 

You can give peanuts to the Monkey Mind to keep it busy with something light. 


Feeding the Monkey Mind

The Monkey Mind is that little annoying voice inside our head, that little voice that brings us everywhere except where we want to be: in the now, in a state of non-thinking mind. 


We cannot stop the Monkey Mind, but we can feed it. 


Here are a few techniques to focus the mind: 

  • Count: you can count the breath cycles when you breath in and out (e.g. 4,3,2,1 in; 4,3,2,1 hold, 4,3,2,1 out, 4,3,2,1 out), you can also count the number of breaths if you are more advanced (e.g. breath cycle 1, breath cycle 2, breath cycle 3…) Do not cling to the numbers, the point is not to count up to 237… just get back to 0 when you reach 10. Remember, we aim to get into a non-thinking state.


  • Mantra: a mantra is a one-syllable word that you repeat, one good example of a mantra is “om.” You can also repeat a specific word (e.g. deep, focus, happiness, now) Or sentence (e.g. Who am I?.) Transcendental Meditation (TM) is famous for its use of Indian mantras. 


  • Kōans: kōans are “Zen riddles” that can only be answered with a non-thinking mind. kōans are used in the Rinzai school of Zen (the other school is called Soto, which focuses on sitting meditation, not on an intellectual way to approach Zen.) Sometimes a Zen Master would give a “Zen riddle” to the practitioners so that they can intellectually ruminate on them while meditating, cooking, cleaning…  “What sound does one hand clapping make” is a famous kōan. We talk about kōans in other articles on the website. 


  • Sounds: if absolutely necessary, you can use meditation sounds like a river flowing, rain, a fireplace… or temple bells, “om” videos that you can find on Youtube. As long as the sounds do not have music nor any lyrics, you can make use of them if it helps you focus. We have a list of resources at the bottom of this article. 


  • If your Monkey Mind is very negative, imagine that everything it says sounds like “The Chipmunk” and that there is a a knob that gives you the power to control the volume of what it says. When you twist it right or left, it is louder or quieter.  
  • You could also imagine a real monkey sitting next to a gigantic pile of peanuts, being overwhelmed by the amount of peanuts, but still digging to eat them, slowly, one by one. Whatever works for you, feel free to explore. 


Feelings

A multitude of feelings can come up while meditating: restlessness, boredom, enjoyment, happiness… any negative thoughts of despair and hopelessness and depression should be cause for concern and necessitate evaluation by a health professional. 


The feelings may evolve, even during one single 30 minute sitting: you may feel restless at the beginning of the sitting, then bored and finally happy.


We want to achieve a non-thinking mind, but it is hard to guide feelings. 


The first step to handle feelings is to recognize them and voicing them “I feel ______”


The second step is to fully embrace the feeling. 


The third step is to recognize that feelings are temporary.

If you are the rational type, you can tell yourself that “feelings are just chemical reactions.”


If you are more a more emotional person, best strategy is to embrace those emotions. 

Meditation is not a technique to achieve some kind of super-human superpower.


Quite the contrary, meditation is to accept our human nature and go deep within our Self.

On your journey you will find both positive and negative emotions, that’s part of the game. 


If you start having funny visual hallucinations and unusual sensations while meditating, change the area of focus so that your eyes refocus. Make sure that you do not have any pain due to strained neck or compressed nerves along the back and the neck, which are sometimes the cause of unusual sensations. Feeling that you are dropping from a building is a good indicator of such a neck problem. 


When David Lynch described his first experience of Transcendental Meditation, he compared it to being in an elevator and the rope being cut. He probably did not have any neck issue, but keep in mind that when you start meditating, you may experience weird sensations. Zen Meditation is not about extreme sensations, quite the opposite. It is very down to Earth.


Some people do have peculiar experiences while meditating, if this happens to you, you should embrace it as part of the experience, but you should not research it. 


Time

The best time to meditate is the morning right before breakfast, exactly like the Zen Monks do.

You wake up, you have a glass of water, and then meditate. 


Morning meditations have a lot of advantages, especially in terms of the ability to reach high level of awareness, as well as a limited amount of distractions in the environment. It is also a great way to start your day and face the challenges on our way. 


You can also meditate in the evenings, not before bed as you may fall asleep, but let’s say right before dinner. If that is not possible, then after dinner. 


We recommend that you meditate at the same time every day. 

A meditation routine is the best way to ensure discipline and full focus. 


Timers

You can use a timer when meditating


In Zen temples meditation sessions start with the sound of a bell, 3 times. The meditation session ends with 1-3 chimes of the bell. The sound of the bell is very relaxing. 


It is also a trigger to tell your mind: now I am meditating, relaxing, going deep inside myself, I live now. 


Always use the same timer. Changing may affect the connection your brain makes with different sounds and influence the meditation quality. 


We recommend using a meditation bell timer that you can find online on Youtube or as a music file, but you should leave the computer out of your vision field (as well as switch off all notifications.)


You can also use a timer on your phone, but the timer should not cause stress when beeping. The phone should be away from your visual field, both vibration and sound notifications off. 


Of course, if you meditate for a whole day, you may want to control the length of each meditation session by having your watch within your secondary visual field, not directly right in your face. 


We do not recommend to use a watch or any type of time display, otherwise you may end up constantly looking at it when your mind starts feeling restless or bored. 


Duration

In temples, depending on the school, meditation duration, meditation sessions are between 25-40 minutes. 


For beginners, we recommend to start with 10 minutes sessions and they build up with increments of 5 minutes. 


Increments should be added every 2-3 weeks, this is especially true for the beginners. 


Do not overdo it! 


If you feel like meditating more, just add another session later in the day. 

If you are already a bit familiar with meditation, add a second session right after the first. 

But remember, overdoing it will have opposite results. 


Meditation is tough at the beginning. It is perfectly normal. 

But when you start doing 20-25 minutes of meditation, you will think that it is short!



Meditation is like going to the gym, if you go too intense at the beginning, your body will ache due to the meditation posture and your Monkey Mind will be so restless that you will dread meditation as the Monkey will take control over your thoughts. 



Frequency

Frequency is the key to build a routine and make it a habit. 

We strongly recommend that you meditate on a daily basis

How many times should I meditate you ask?


Meditating one time the morning, and one time in the evening is preferable. 


If you have to choose between a morning and an evening meditation, go for morning. 

It is easier to build a routine by meditating the morning.


The evenings are usually disturbed by family members, friends, neighbors, traffic, activities, work, and a full stomach. 



Cushion

While meditating the body requires support for the knees and the back. 


Support for the knees is provided by a square-shaped cushion called zabuton in Japanese.

Support for the back is provided by a thick round-shaped cushion (sometimes rectangular-shaped) called zafu in Japanese. 


The zafu lays on top of the zabuton, leaving space for the knees in front of the zafu

Meditation cushions are essential. 


Buckwheat hulls are a good filling for the cushions: it is not too soft, not too hard, it can be shaped in a comfortable manner and it does not crush under the weight of the body. 

Both cushion should be relatively hard, but not too hard. 

We do not recommend a zafu filled with cotton as it is too soft and will compress itself. 


The knees should be supported by the zabuton and the buttock should be elevated, sitting on the zafu.  

This position where the buttock is elevated is perfect to have the appropriate posture. 

We do not recommend sitting directly on the floor. The buttock should always be elevated. 


Keeping in mind that you need support for both the knees and the back, you may find alternatives to the cushions we mentioned above, by using a folded cover, a pillow… or anything that you deem provides you with enough support. 



Clothing

We suggest that you wear something light, that makes you feel great physically and spiritually. 

Avoid meditating in tight clothes that may block blood circulation and it is advisable to avoid clothing like pajamas, underwear, etc. 


Some people meditate in a 2-piece garment called a samue in Japanese. It is a type of clothes used to do manual work. It consists of trousers and a top part that is foldable, similarly to what people who do Japanese martial arts like karate and judo wear. The standard color is dark blue, but the color may differ on the Zen temple. The samue is a good garment as it is not tight, it is actually quite baggy, and let’s air circulate and is comfortable to wear. 


Zen Monks wear Buddhist robes while meditating and a kesa, a wide and long rectangular piece of clothing similar to what the Buddha wore. 


Of course, unless you are an ordained monk, you do not need to wear Buddhist robes… 

You sometimes see laypersons and monks wear an apron-looking garment called a rakusu around their neck. The rakusu is reserved for laypeople and monks who have taken a series of precepts. The rakusu is a smaller version of the kesa which is believed to have originated when monks had to do manual labor. 



Stomach

A stomach that is full necessitates a lot of energy and blood flow, two essential elements that are then taken away from the brain. 


We all have experienced a slight sleepiness after eating lunch for example. 

The best time to meditate is probably right after waking up and drinking a glass of water, but before eating breakfast, similarly to the Zen Monks in temples. 


The quality of what you consume is important, you should avoid high sugary and heavy foods as well as  caffeine which can make you restless. 


The quantity is also important, in modern times we have a tendency to overeat. In Japanese there is a saying: 80 for the stomach, 20 to keep the doctor away. Meaning, eat until you are 80% full. 


It is true that digestion is a function that requires a lot of energy from the body, which is why we recommend to meditate on an empty stomach. By doing so, you keep the blood flow evenly in the body and can focus on your meditation. 


Of course, if you are the type of person who needs food to function, please eat. Same if you suffer from diabetes. 



Temperature

It is better to meditate in a slightly dry and cool environment. 


Humid environments in summer make you sweat and in winter the humidity penetrates the bones and may hurt sensitive people. This is why we suggest a slightly dry environment. 


Cool environments are better as heat may make you sleepy and add a burden to your sitting. 

Cool temperature also promotes a good blood flow and enhance concentration and focus when we compare it to cold and hot temperature. 


Of course, you should avoid cold environments as the body may enter a fight or flight mode that is harmful to the system. 


Sounds

The room you meditate in should be quiet and silent. 

Silence and meditation go hand in hand. 


In temples sittings start with three rings of a bell and end with 1-3 rings depending on the temple. 


Avoid environments where you can hear sounds such as phone notifications, phone vibrating, traffic, neighbors talking, the TV, the washing machine, etc. 


While meditating, if you do come across sounds that you cannot control, for example a neighbor mowing his lawn, accept it and make the sound as part of your experience. 


Leverage the sound to help you focus, like this sound becomes your personal assistant sent to help you concentration. 


After all, we control what we can control, and what we cannot control, we accept it and embrace it. 


Sounds from nature are fine, for example birds chirping, bugs like cicadas making their mating call, a river flowing… steady sounds like a fan are also fine. 

As long as the sound is steady, it should not interfere with what we are trying to achieve: a non-thinking mind. 


If you are the type of person whose Monkey Mind is hyperactive, you can explore listening to bell sounds and even a chant like “om” while meditating. This is not the traditional way to meditate, but if it helps you, why not! We will leave links to the resources below. 


Any sounds that may trigger thoughts, stimulate the Monkey Mind or disturb your concentration should be avoided. 


A big advantage of meditating the morning is that sounds are more “controllable” in the morning than the evening, where sounds of traffic, people, family and neighbors are louder. 


We recommend that you leave your phone in a separate room or far from you. 


Light

Lighting is important as our state of wakefulness, our circadian rhythm, is directly linked to the amount of light that enters our eyes. 


For this reason, we recommend that you choose a well-lighted room. Beaming neons is not a good idea, but if you have to choose between a bit over-lighted and a bit under-lighter, I would opt for the over-lighted option. 


The rationale behind this is related to the fact that we meditate with our eyes half-open, and not closed. Meditating in a dark room would make you sleepy and make the whole experience dull. 


So avoid dark rooms as you may ended bringing your brain into a sleeping mode.


Smells

In the old times incense sticks of specific lengths where used to calculate the amount of time as a replacement to clocks, which were inexistent at the time or too expensive to be affordable. 


Even nowadays some temples burn incense during meditation. 


Burning incense can improve your meditation session by giving it a little twist and making the sitting session more agreeable. 

Meditation incense can be beneficial to the experience. 


Another option would be to use flowers and enjoy their fragrance while sitting. 


If you do wish to burn incense, make sure that the room is well ventilated and that your incense is of high quality and uses natural products, rather than a cheap incense filled with chemicals stuck on a wood stick. 


If you visit Kyoto you can buy amazing incense in craftsmen shops. 



Walking Meditation

Each meditation session should be followed by a short walking session. 

You should never spend hours in the same position. 


In Zen Temples, in-between each meditation session, monks practice walking meditation where they walk very slowly, feet almost not leaving the ground, for about 5-10 minutes. Feet are slowly put in front of one another, barely leaving the ground, while the monks walk in circles before going back to the meditation cushion. 


 This is called kinhin


The reason for walking is simple: it is to allow the blood to circulate in the body and stretch the articulations. 


If you are very experienced in meditation and you want to meditate for a few hours, we strongly recommend that you do walking meditation between each sittings. 


Long meditation sessions, like sitting for prolonged periods of time, are not only harmful to the body, but long meditation sessions can even be lethal in some cases due to blood clot formation. 


Going Back to Meditation After a Break 

Meditation is like going to the gym, if you stop for a while, when you go back to it, you should start with shorter meditation sessions and work your way up with increments. 


Meditation is both a physical and a mental activity, the body may ache if you opt for a long meditation session after a break, and the Monkey Mind may become restless due to the lack of training. 


Meditation Gadgets

Some people use apps to calculate the amount of meditation they have done, generate stats… and feel “hip” about their meditation, like they will get some kind of invisible medal at the end. 


We do not suggest using “meditation gadgets,” they represent a form of attachment and egocentric endeavor. 


If you find apps that help you gain some insights about Zen and meditation, feel free to use them. 



Meditation: Alone and Groups

Zen Buddhism is a tradition that is transmitted from teacher, a Zen Master, to student. 


No matter how much research you do, without meeting a teacher face-to-face, either as part of a group or in personal interview (called dokusan in Japanese,) your knowledge of Zen Buddhism will be limited to your experience and your research. 


Of course, you can practice alone. 

Zen is a great way to discover oneself.


But if you want to push your practice, you may consider visiting a Zen Center where there is an actual established practice.

This will be easier to do in the West as most temples in Asia are not open to laypersons. 


In Asia you can visit temples, but cannot really practice there, unless you have some good connections or stay at a temple ran specifically for foreigners. 

Zen in the West is growing in popularity. 


A lot of temples in both the Soto and the Rinzai traditions are open to the public in the West. 

Actually, most are completely open.

Some offer daily practice, some offer weekly events, some also offer intense periods of sitting (called sesshin) ranging from 1-3 days, for the beginners, up to 90 days, for the advanced practitioners. 


Some remote centers even offer accommodation, vegetarian meals and longer stays.


It is also quite common for monks from other temples, or centers, to visit other cities and countries to give dharma talks (talks about Zen and Buddhism.) Some talks are even given in the local language and  translated into English by someone who is bilingual. 



If you have comments or questions about this introduction, feel free to reach out to us. 


Be Stoic. Be Zen. My friend.

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  • June 15, 2019
  • Zen
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