Meditation has certainly become trendy, and according to some of the articles I’ve seen lately, an indispensable tool for success. This week, I run across these at The Huffington Post: Meditation: The Secret Of The Super Successful and The Daily Habit Of These Outrageously Successful People, two short pieces with video by the same author, the first of which does mention there are benefits to be derived from meditation other than material ones. Huff Post also has Where To Meditate: 11 Surprising Places To Find Some Zen (“In search of simple, quick and cheap stress relief?”), and then In Silicon Valley, Meditation Is No Fad. It Could Make Your Career over at Wired, not to mention Zen Out Emma-Watson Style With This New Online Meditation Center at Refinery29. I’m not sure what Emma-Watson Style means, but I’ll let it ride.
I have also seen pieces on how mindfulness aids health, and a report on a new study that strongly shows meditation can lower the risk of heart attack and stroke. So, there is some balance.
As the subtitle of a recent Atlantic article notes, “Mindfulness meditation is having a moment in the West . . .” I only hope it is more than a moment but the faddishness of some of these articles does make me wonder. And I always find that the fads I like come and go quickly, while the ones I don’t, seem to last forever.
Perhaps those who try meditation because they want to become successful, or be like Emma Watson, or because they are looking for some quick and cheap cure-all, will come to realize the deeper benefits of meditation practice. But when I run across these things, my thoughts go back to when I attended a four-day teaching given by the Dalai Lama, and during a question and answer period, someone asked, “What is the quickest and easiest way to attain enlightenment?” The question caused the Dalai Lama to break down in tears. When he recovered his composure, he began to tell a story about the Tibetan yogi, Milarepa, who facing death, was giving his last instructions to a disciple and showed him the calluses on his behind, saying “Look at this, this is what I’ve endured, this is the mark of my practice.” Just as the translator was relaying this, the Dalai Lama interrupted and in one of the few times he spoke English during the four days, exclaimed, “Don’t think quickest, easiest, cheapest!”
In another recent article, this one at the NY Times, The Morality of Meditation, David DeSteno, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University, comments on meditation’s trendy moment with these words,
This is all well and good, but if you stop to think about it, there’s a bit of a disconnect between the (perfectly commendable) pursuit of these benefits and the purpose for which meditation was originally intended. Gaining competitive advantage on exams and increasing creativity in business weren’t of the utmost concern to Buddha and other early meditation teachers. As Buddha himself said, “I teach one thing and one only: that is, suffering and the end of suffering.” For Buddha, as for many modern spiritual leaders, the goal of meditation was as simple as that. The heightened control of the mind that meditation offers was supposed to help its practitioners see the world in a new and more compassionate way, allowing them to break free from the categorizations (us/them, self/other) that commonly divide people from one another.”
None of this is new. People have been looking at Eastern philosophy for tips on how to succeed in business and achieve personal goals for quite a while now. Two classics books, Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and Miyamoto Mushashi’s The Book of Five Rings are perfect examples. Both are required reading in many Japanese companies, and they’ve become popular among Western business executives.
It’s quite possible, though, to miss the profound aspects of these teachings when you’re just looking for a tool to achieve a material goal. The Art of War is not about how to make a killing, literally or business-wise, it’s about how to surmount an obstacle without fighting, by using strategy and flexibility. Ostensibly, The Book of Five Rings is about sword fighting, but it’s underlying subject is how to win over your mind.
Miyamoto Musashi was the master swordsman, the incomparable strategist, and the ultimate loner, a ronin or masterless samurai, who roamed Japan, spending many of his years living off the land.
Through rigorous training he made his body as hard as the steel of his blade and his mind as sharp as its edge. Yet, he knew the value of soft words, and as an painter, he could wield a gentle brush.
I posted these “Nine Principles for Strategic Living” culled from Musashi’s Five Rings before, but it was a long time ago. Since they fit in with the theme of this post, I thought I’d share them once again:
1. Do not think dishonestly.
2. The Way is in training.
3. Become acquainted with every art.
4. Know the ways of all professions.
5. Distinguish between gain and loss in worldly matters.
6. Develop the ability to see the truth in all matters.
7. Learn to perceive those things which are not obvious.
8. Pay attention even to even small things.
9. Do nothing which is of no use.