From FB messenger with Mama and Jacob

Zen Lessons


Life is a series of experiences. We eat, we sleep, we walk. We cook, drink wine, watch a movie. Sometimes, the experience requires effort; we write a report, meet with a client, or go to the dentist. But activity and experience are the way we engage life, it is how we live. Now if you do something in order to gain something, then you are not really living the experience. If you say "I will drive faster so that I get there quicker", then you are not really driving. Or if you say "I want to paint well, so that it would impress my friends", then the experience is burdened by the judgement afterwards. We become anxious rather than calm. The focus on outcome keeps us from making the most of the experience. When you give up, when you attach to the experience rather than the outcome, then you achieve calmness during the experience.

When ants work, they work. That is all. One step at a time. They do not think "I am almost done", or "that other ant is slacking off" or "we need to do a good job". There is no thought of time or progress. Their minds stop, and they bask in the honest experience of the moment. So when you eat, just eat. Do not read a magazine, or think "I need to do something after lunch". Stop your mind. Right now, you are eating. When you walk, just walk. You should expect to make progress little by little, or even no progress at all; just be sincere to the moment's experience.


(Read slow like Adyashanti, keep back straight to trigger a resolve to be aware, and breathe as usual)

Breathing in, I see things as they are. I see the beauty of how things are. Reality is already what it is, I do not have to do anything else. I see that it has always been that way, and will always be that way. Breathing in, I see that reality is robust. That things go on, regardless of what I do or not do. Breathing in, I see that reality is unbroken. That reality is healthy. That things are exactly as they should be.

Breathing out, I accept what is. I stop resisting. I let things be. I stop all judgement. I stop criticism. I stop complaining. I let go of the controller, the one who wants to make things happen. I let go of the scanner, the one always looking for things to fix. I stop struggling. I stop playing the game. I step out of all that. Breathing out, I embrace freedom. Freedom from expectations. Freedom from attachments. Freedom to honestly experience. Freedom to rest. Breathing in, I see the way things are. Breathing out, I stop resisting.


A lot of things that seem real to us are actually delusions, or products of our imagination. For example, our bodies are real. Furthermore, we come in different shapes and sizes -- some people have this shape, some have that shape, this is part of reality. However, when you call yourself too fat, or too skinny, or too short, now that is a delusion -- it exists only in the mind. All judgements are subjective, imaginary, and delusional -- "good" and "bad", "pretty" and "ugly", "rich" and "poor". Judgements make our mind demanding, forever discontent, forever anxious, always wishing things were different.

If we were to die, all our delusions would disappear with us. What would remain is objective truth. Trees, rocks, rivers, people. Objective truth has many names: ultimate reality, the universe, things-as-they-are. Attachment to truth brings calmness because, of course, everything is already what it is. You do not have to do anything else.

This is a very important lesson, and very hard to learn. Every minute, we should try to distinguish between what is real, and what our minds have added. For example, when we look at a glass with water, we should truly see just a glass with water. Our expert minds will want to add judgement: "it is not cold enough". Or discontent: "I wish the water was colder". Or anxiety: "Did somebody else drink from my glass?" Or arrogance: "Some people call that half-empty, I call it half-full". These complicated thoughts keep us from seeing the real world in full high definition. When we get better at recognizing mind-noise, then we start seeing things as they really are. By seeing more clearly, we may better appreciate the world outside our minds, and regain our childhood's enthusiasm for simple everyday existence.

Homework: How do the three lessons tie together? Good luck.

  1. Experience vs outcome
  2. Nonresistance
  3. Reality vs thoughts
"The simple goal of Zen is to be here and now. It is the only place and time we have to live--to play, eat, laugh, love. But if we keep living in an imagined world where things are better, then we are missing out on life here and now. If we live in THOUGHT VS REALITY, we are not really HERE. And if we live for OUTCOME VS EXPERIENCE, we are not really NOW. We miss out on the full experience, trading it away for some highlight in the imagined future. The way out is NONRESISTANCE, a complete surrender to things as they are here and now."

Lesson 4. AWARENESS VS INTELLECT (This is the lesson to rule them all. The nature of self.)

When I think "I will go to bed" and then change my mind, "I will finish this movie first," WHOSE mind changed? This simple self-examination reveals a well-known secret: that my thoughts and opinions come and go, but there is a constant "me" in the background. "I" held the thought in awareness, I was aware when it came and I was aware when it passed. Therefore, "I" cannot be my thoughts. Rather, I am the awareness that held the thought, the silent space that gave the thought a place to happen.

Examine this awareness closely, this inner, deeper, true self. It seems to have no gender. No age. No memory. No religion. No personality. It is pure, simple awareness. It is naturally calm and peaceful. Any arrogance, anger or anxiety within us resides in our thinking and feeling self, in intellectual mind. So they are separate from us. "We" can hold them in awareness, and examine them. So rather than saying "I am angry", we should say "I am aware of holding anger." If we did not know this true nature of self, then we can end up identifying with the thought or feeling. And mistakenly think of 'angry' and 'anxious' not as events, but as description of character. As who we are. But we know thoughts and feelings are like clothes, they can be taken off, and even discarded. Knowing the true nature of self, we are less affected by negative thoughts and feelings. This is the purpose of mindfulness practice.

The path forward begins with a resolve -- to engage life from our true self, with inner awareness rather than intellect. Adopt a beginner's attitude. Know nothing. Be eager and curious, ready for whatever occurs in the moment's experience. THE experience. Not your mind's interpretation of it. Your intellectual self will want to flaunt expertise, judge the experience, look for how things can be better, and try to control the outcome. Take note of these tendencies of false-self. Otherwise, it will keep carrying on subconsciously and affecting everything you do. Empower your true self. Make a conscious decision to stop resisting truth. Straighten your back, open your chest, and go with whatever the moment brings.

Practice awareness in everyday living. Get out of bed, go to work, cook dinner. Listen to the sound food makes in the hot wok, watch the vegetables change color, feel your muscles working as you stir the food. Even simple walking can be a joy. Notice how your ankles, calves, and hamstrings work as you move forward. Walk like you are just learning how to walk. Resolve to experience each moment this way, with the mind of a beginner. Fresh, empty, and undemanding.


Not all Zen schools emphasize silent sitting, or zazen, to "quiet shallow mind". The Rinzai school uses paradoxical parables or riddles, called koans, which tease and frustrate the intellect. The inadequacy of thought forces a more intuitive response, making us ready for the direct nonverbal experience of reality. The classic riddle is Hakuin's "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" Another is "What was your face before you were born?" Here are more koans.


A monk told Joshu: `I have just entered the monastery. Please teach me.'
Joshu: `Have you eaten your rice porridge?'
Joshu: `Then you had better wash your bowl.'

At that moment the monk was enlightened.


Tanzan and Ekido were traveling down a muddy road. They met a lovely girl in a silk kimono, unable to cross the intersection. "Come on, girl" said Tanzan. He lifted her in his arms, and carried her over the mud.

That night Ekido could no longer could restrain himself. "We monks are told not to go near females," he told Tanzan, "especially not pretty ones. Why did you break the rule?" Tanzan replied "I already left the girl there, are you still carrying her?"


Kasan was asked to officiate at the funeral of a provincial lord. He had never met lords and nobles before so he was nervous. When the ceremony started, Kasan sweat.

Afterwards, he gathered his pupils and confessed that he lacked the calmness in the outside world that he possessed in the secluded temple. Kasan resigned as teacher and became the pupil of another master. Eight years later he returned to his former pupils, enlightened.


Fear of uncertainty stops us from doing things. You might stay in a job you don’t like because you’re afraid of taking the plunge. You might not travel to a country that feels unfamiliar because you don’t know what will happen. If you think about it, it is not really uncertainty that is the problem. It is the fear of it. This fear is based on a wrong premise--that it is better to know than to not-know. Think about this very carefully, do you really want to know what is going to happen tomorrow? Who you will meet, and where? Do you really want to know in advance who will win the game? What your career will be? Who you will marry? How many children you will have? When you will die?

And so we see, with experiential self-inquiry, that the answer lies not in achieving certainty. Rather, we see that uncertainty is good. Uncertainty and freedom is the essence of life. Freedom. To see what is happening, to choose an option, to go with what happens. To live. The answer is to be friends with change. If we do not resist change, if we deal with things as they come no matter how they are, then we don’t fear it. Then change itself becomes comfortable. Uncertainty becomes comfortable. Life becomes comfortable.

Lesson 7: POSTURE

The most important thing about zen posture is to keep your spine straight. Relax and open your shoulders so that they form one line with your ears. Push up towards the ceiling with the top of your head. Pull in your chin. Press your diaphragm down towards your lower abdomen. This will add strength and help you maintain your physical and mental balance. You should not be tilted sideways, backwards, or forwards, but straight up as if you were supporting the sky with your head. Keep the right posture not only when you sit zazen, but in all your activities; when you are driving your car, and when you are reading. If you read in a slumped position, you cannot stay awake long. Try. You will discover how important it is to keep the right posture.

The most important point is to own your own physical body. If you slump, you will lose your self. Your mind will be wandering about somewhere else, going through the usual repetitive patterns. We must exist right here, right now! This is the key point. You must have your own body and mind. Then your perception is true, and you respond to the actual circumstances of the present; not past memory, or future aspirations. Posture is not just a means of obtaining the right state of mind. To take this posture itself is the purpose of zen practice. Every time you have right posture, you have the right state of mind. Trying to attain something just makes your mind wander somewhere else. When you do not try, you have your own body and mind right here; and in order. But usually, without being aware of it, we try to change something other than ourselves, we try to order things outside us. But it is impossible to organize things if you yourself are not in order. You are "the boss." When the boss does right, everyone will do everything right. This is the secret of zen practice.


What might an enlightened person be like? Here is a description of zen teacher Suzuki Roshi by a student. "His thinking does not follow the usual patterns of our self-centered consciousness, but rather arises spontaneously and naturally from the actual circumstances of the present. The results of this in terms of the quality of his life are extraordinary — buoyancy, vigor, straightforwardness, simplicity, humility, serenity, and unfathomable compassion."

ANECDOTES (from Zen Is Right Here)

One day at Tassajara Suzuki Roshi and some students took some tools and walked up a hot, dusty trail to work on a project. When they got to the top, they discovered that they had forgotten a shovel. A discussion started about who should return to get it. After a while, they realized that Roshi wasn't there. He was already half-way down the mountain trail, on his way to pick up the shovel.

One day I complained to Suzuki Roshi about the people I was working with. He listened intently. Finally, he said, "If you want to see virtue instead of faults, you need to have a calm mind."

A student at Tassajara sat facing Suzuki Roshi on a tatami mat in his room. The student said he couldn't stop snacking in the kitchen and asked what he should do. Suzuki reached under his table. "Here, have some jelly beans," he said.

When Suzuki Roshi arrived at the Cambridge Buddhist Society, he found everyone scrubbing down the interior in anticipation of his visit. They were surprised to see him because he was expected to arrive the next day. He tied back the sleeves of his robe and insisted on joining the preparations "for the grand day of my arrival."

While driving Suzuki Roshi from a meeting, I asked him if there was much hope for those middle-aged, suburban housewives to accomplish anything as Zen students. After all, I thought, they only sit together once a week, while we students sat daily at Zen Center. He told me their understanding was "actually pretty good," and he noted, "They don't seem to suffer from arrogance."

A student asked Suzuki Roshi why the Japanese make their teacups so thin and delicate that they break easily. "It's not that they're too delicate," he answered, "but that you don't know how to handle them. You must adjust yourself to the environment and not vice versa."

One day I complained to Suzuki Roshi that my mind would not be still, it chattered at me constantly during zazen. "When your back gets straight, your mind will become quiet," he answered.

Suzuki Roshi went with a group of us to a ranch to pick fruit. We were all trying to be good Zen students - work hard, pick the fruit, pack the boxes. We didn’t realize how serious we’d become, until Suzuki Roshi climbed a tree and started throwing fruit at us.

Lesson 9. CONTROL (from "Zen Mind Beginner's Mind" by Suzuki Roshi)

To give your cows a large, spacious meadow is the best way to control them. So it is with people: let them do what they want, and watch them. To ignore them is the worst policy. The second worst is trying to control them. The best way is to watch them without trying to control. The same way also works for your mind: give it freedom, and watch without trying to control. You should not be bothered by the images you find in your mind. Let them come, and let them go. Then they will be under control. This attitude of openness and inclusion is called having "big mind". The purpose of Zen practice is twofold: to see things as they are, and to let everything go as it goes. In other words, we should be able to watch things happen without thinking about whether they are good or bad. Then we don't push anything away, and everything is under control in its widest sense. It sounds easy, but it requires some special effort. How to make this kind of effort is the secret of practice. For example, when someone contradicts something you say, do not argue with him. Just listen to his objections. Instead of forcing your idea, think about it with him. Small mind will want to win the argument, but to big mind, the point is not winning or losing. Just let the discussion unfold. Sometimes we listen, sometimes we talk; that is all. It is like a greeting: "Good morning!" This is the way to control social interactions. When driving, watch and let traffic do what it does. When writing a report, watch the report unfold, little by little, without judgement. When your effort is pure and untainted by achievement, then you will be satisfied. Bring big mind attitude to everything you do and remain calm and in control throughout the day.

Lesson 10. PRACTICE VS PHILOSOPHY (from "Zen Mind Beginner's Mind" by Suzuki Roshi)

Many people want to learn about Buddhism and Zen. But Buddha did not write an intellectual philosophy to be understood or appreciated. He wrote instructions — on how to resume a pure way of life. So Zen is a practice, of experiencing life from our original nature. There is no need to intellectualize, there is no need to appreciate. Just sit or walk or work, like a beginner, without any idea of gain, with the purest intention, and experience the quiet of our original nature. This is our practice. In the zendo there is nothing fancy. We just come and sit. Then we go home and resume everyday activity as continuation of our practice. Putting on our shoes, walking to the car, driving home, all this is practice. With original nature we enjoy our true way of life. We stay in the moment, in the experience, rather than pursuing gain and self-interest which bring restlessness and worry. For us there is no other way to live. For us there is no need to even understand what Zen is. This is, I think, quite unusual. We do not talk about whether Zen is religion or philosophy or something else. But it is wonderful, and even though we do not study what it is intellectually, even though we do not have any cathedral or fancy ornaments, it is possible to appreciate our original nature because we experience for ourselves the difference it makes everyday.

Lesson 11: IGNORANCE AND ANXIETY (by Thubten Chodron)

Buddha said that our recurring problems are caused by ignorance. This is a specific type of ignorance, one that misunderstands the nature of existence. Whereas things are constantly in flux, ignorance sees them as super-concrete. We especially make ourselves very concrete, thinking, "Me. My problems. My life. My family. My job. Me, me, me." It is easy to see how anxiety develops because of so much focus on "me." The very small things that have to do with me become extraordinarily important. If someone is criticized, it doesn't bother us. But if it's us getting criticism, we become hurt or depressed. If someone's child does not do their homework, it is no big deal and might even be funny. But if our child does not do her homework, it is a disaster. The more we think "Everything that happens to me is crucial", the more anxious we are going to be.

Ignorance also sees problems as things that are happening outside of us, instead of inside. So we try to fix the problems outside -- we imagine all things that can go wrong, and we try to control things. In futility. Buddha said that all of our suffering and happiness don't come from outside people or things, but from our own minds. So we should fix our minds first. Understand the true nature of existence, and improve our attitude towards self. The following three practices help.

Laugh at yourself. Our problems can be pretty funny if it happened to someone else. Sometimes I step back and say, "Oh, look how Chodron feels sorry for herself. Sniff, sniff. So many people suffering and dying, and here poor Chodron just stubbed her toe."

Allow yourself to look foolish. Sometimes a new or uncertain situation makes us afraid that we will look unintelligent. It helps to think: "Well, I will try to avoid looking like an idiot. But if something happens and I look like an idiot then okay, so be it."

Pay more attention to others. This is the most important of the three. Start by thinking, "Everyone wants to be happy, just like me, and nobody wants to suffer, just like me." If we focus on that thought alone, there is less space for anxiety in our minds. For example, when you are in a shop or on the street, think "This person has feelings, and dreams, and family, and problems. This person is just like me." You will feel like you know them in some way. Do this often and every day. The more we can develop an open, caring heart towards all, the less we focus and worry about ourselves.

LESSON 12: Adyashanti on Imagination and Perception

"Our imagination is a very powerful force in determining what we perceive. If we imagine that the world is teeming with evil forces, we will surely perceive the world as evil. But if we imagine the world to be essentially good, we will perceive it as good. Either way it is the same world. But the world is neither good nor bad in and of itself; it is simply what it is. And if we see the world as either good or bad, we will not be able to see it as it actually is. We will only be able to see it as we imagine it to be.

Now take this idea and apply it to everything and everyone in your life. Try it for a moment, or an hour, or a day. You may begin to notice that the world you imagine to exist does not exist at all. This may cause you some fear, or possibly the thrill of discovery, but either way the important thing is to get some distance from the habitual way the mind contorts and creates perception.

There is a very strange thing that can occur at exactly the point where you realize that there is no escaping your imagination. You bare your heart open to illusion, surrender your eternal struggle against it, and admit to being bound by its cunning. I don’t mean that you become despondent or resigned to your fate. I mean that you truly let go in the face of your utter defeat and stop struggling."

And when all the struggle ceases, we realize that the prison of our mind cannot hold us in anymore, because the prison was all along something we imagined into existence. And imagined things aren’t real, they don’t exist. But we could never really see this as long as we were fighting the phantoms of our minds. We needed the one thing that our imaginary minds could not bring about, could not fake or create: the genuine surrender of all struggle."

LESSON 13: Adyashanti on Freedom vs Struggle

"Deep down we all suspect that something is very wrong with the way we perceive life but we try very, very hard not to notice it. We are addicted to qualities like approval, recognition, control, and power. We end up in a continuous state of protecting or improving our image in order to control how others see us, rather than relaxing and letting things happen. It feels normal to struggle in this way, it seems very intuitive to grasp and chase happiness and end suffering. But none of these things will actually bring an end to suffering. In fact, they’re the cause of suffering!

To gain freedom, the key is to give freedom. Until you have given the world permission to agree with you or disagree with you, to like you or not like you, to love you or hate you, to see things as you see them or to see things differently—until you have given the whole world its freedom—you’ll never have your freedom."

LESSON 14: Adyashanti on Peace and Truth

"The quest for peace is simply the quest for truth or reality. There is a beautiful thing about the truth--it is already here; ever-present, totally free. As soon as the mind pulls out an agenda and decides what needs to change, that's unreality. ("My career, my kids, my spouse, my parents..."). Life doesn't need a push. Life doesn't need you to tell it the "right" way to go because it's going there anyway. Then you start to get a hint of why the liberated mind tends to get very quiet and calm. It doesn't have its full-time job of controlling things, of sustaining an intricately fabricated house of cards.

Why do so few people find freedom? Because we are conditioned to run away from truth, to think that freedom and peace will come only when things are different than they are now. But you can’t run away from yourself and your life and find peace. Step back and open your eyes: when it's clear that there’s nothing going on other than the ultimate reality, it’s a done deal--peace is effortless."