Quick, Easy, Cheap

SuckcessMeditation 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:

Ink Painting by Miyamoto Musashi
Ink Painting by Miyamoto Musashi

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.


One-pointedly Spontaneously Without Effort

Mifune as Musashi carving a statue of Kannon in Samurai III

Over the weekend I watched the “Samurai trilogy,” starring Toshiro Mifune as Japan’s legendary swordsman, artist, and philosopher, Miyamoto Musashi. The films were made in the mid-1950’s and based on the epic novel Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa, which has often been compared with Gone With The Wind. Filmed in beautiful, vibrant color, the trilogy is about dueling, of course, but it’s also the story of the two women who love Musashi, and, about the samurai’s journey to awakening. Possessing unbelievable skill as a swordsman, Musashi transforms himself from a cold-hearted killing machine to a man who comes to realize spiritual truth and what it takes to tread the path of the warrior.

In Gorin no sho (“The Book of Five Rings”) Musashi wrote that he engaged in sixty duels without suffering defeat once, and this is probably true, as he was not known to be a man who bragged or exaggerated. I’ve written about Musashi a few times before on the blog, here and here. His book is a manual that explains his philosophy of heiho or martial strategy, and this is a philosophy that has applications in many areas of life beyond swordsmanship, not the least of which is meditation.

In the chapter called the “Water Scroll,” he writes,

In the world of martial strategy you must maintain a normal, everyday mental attitude at all times. Whether it is just an ordinary day or whether you are in a combat situation, your mental attitude should in essence be the same . . . When you are physically calm you must be mentally alert; conversely, when you are physically active, maintain a serene state of mind . . . Be attentive at all times to all things without being overly anxious.”

Interestingly, I ran across something by Alan Watts yesterday that spoke of this same thing in slightly different terms. It’s from a talk he gave titled “Don’t be alert,”:

When they teach you in Japanese Zen how to use a sword. The first thing the teacher says to the student is, ‘Now, if you’re going to be a good soldier, you’ve got to be alert constantly because you never know where the attack’s going to come from. Now, you know what happens when you try to be on the alert. You think about being alert and then you’re a hopeless prey to the enemy because you’re not alert. You’re thinking about being alert. You must be simply awake and relaxed. And then all your nerve ends are working. And wherever the attack comes from, you’re ready . . .

So, in the same way, all this applies to yoga. You can be watchful. You can be watchful. You can be concentrated. You can be alert. But all that will ever teach you is what not to do. How not to use the mind. Because it will get you into deeper and deeper and deeper binds . . .  And, when you find out, you see, there isn’t any way of forcing it”

This is close to what I meant when I recently wrote that in mindfulness you should be mindful of the breath but sort of un-mindful of everything else, and I think that is true regardless of how one approaches it. The essence of mindfulness meditation is in letting go and that’s why the breath is the perfect object for meditation. The breath is completely natural and when we let go, we can fall into the rhythm of breath and flow with it.

To borrow a couple of terms from Geshe Sopa*, we can classify meditation into two broad categories, “fixative” and “analytic.” Mindfulness falls under fixative, and in this way is closely connected with samatha (calming), because the purpose is mental stabilization using an object, the breath, and as Geshe Sopa adds, remaining “upon [the] object one-pointedly spontaneously without effort (nabhisamskara).”

That’s how I was taught to meditate, to focus on the breath without effort, without forcing it. If the purpose of mindfulness meditation is metal stabilization or tranquility of mind, it seems counter-productive to chase after trance states or try to qualify and examine various objects, thoughts or feelings. Why use this meditation method as a stake to keep the monkey that is our mind from roaming, if all we are going to do is give him a long tether?

I feel that the purpose of this meditation is to keep thoughts to the barest minimum possible. Not qualifying or judging whether the breaths are long or short, or whether feelings are good or bad, but just being aware that we are breathing and we are feeling.

However, this is just one way to consider mindfulness meditation. It’s the way I was taught by Buddhist monks and priests, and it differs somewhat from what is taught in the Anapanasati and Satipatthana Suttas, and in books.

By simply following or counting the breath, we are using it to bring our body and mind together, and really, inviting the entire universe into our consciousness without forcing anything, by one-pointed awareness of this microcosm of life, the breath. Or as Watts quotes Krishnamurti, “All you can do is to be aware of yourself as you are without judgment. See what is.”

In my Niten-Ichi-ryu [Two-Heavens-As-One school], there are no basic or advanced techniques in sword usage, there is no special teaching or secret related to the positions of holding the sword. The only important thing is that one sincerely pursues the Way of martial strategy in order to attain its principle.”

Miyamoto Musashi – May 12, 1645

*”Samathavipasyanayuganaddha: The Two Leading Principles of Buddhist Meditation”, Mahayana Buddhist Meditation, edited by Minoru Kiyota, University press of Hawaii, 1978

Quotations from “The Book of Five Rings”: A Way to Victory, translation and commentary by Hidy Ochiai, The Overlook Press, 2001


Miyamoto Musashi’s Nine Principles for Strategic Living

Ink Painting by Miyamoto Musashi

Miyamoto Musashi: 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 artist, he could wield a gentle brush.

His Way was Heiho, the Way of Strategy, which he explained in The Book of Five Rings, a book on strategy, tactics, and philosophy still studied today, not only by martial artists, but throughout the business community, as it is considered a classic text on Japanese management.

To Musashi, strategy was the path to awakening. He said, “Having awakened to the the principles of strategy, I apply it to various arts and skills.”

These principles were crafted for warriors. We are all warriors and the battle we are engaged in is the battle to win over ourselves.

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 to even small things.

9. Do nothing which is of no use.


The Wisdom of Strategy

I watched the closing rounds of the US Open at Pebble Beach on Sunday. I’m not much of a golf fan. I don’t follow it regularly. I used to play a little golf but found it too frustrating. I watched on Sunday solely to see Tiger Woods.

Even though I haven’t anything invested in Tiger, not having followed him in action that much, I am satisfied when I hear those who are supposed to know these things say that he and Jack Nicholas are the two greatest players of all time.

I do have some sympathy for Tiger. I wish people would leave him alone. I don’t judge him because of his sex life. It’s nobody’s business and should be left between him, his wife, and the other parties involved. Hell, if I was his age (or even now) and I was world famous and had tons of beautiful women throwing themselves at me, I would find that hard to resist. Tiger’s human. Not perfect. Big deal.

Now a lot has been made about the fact that Tiger Woods is Buddhist. I’d like to know more about it but there isn’t much to go on, just these few statements:

I practice meditation – that is something that I do, that my mum taught me over the years. We also have a thing we do every year, where we go to temple together . . . In the Buddhist religion you have to work for it yourself, internally, in order to achieve anything in life and set up the next life. It is all about what you do and you get out of it what you put into it. So you are going to have to work your butt off in every aspect of your life.

That is one of the things that people see in what I do on the golf course but that is just one small facet of my life – I am always continuing to work.

-Quoted in Reuters, March 27, 2008

I have a lot of work to do, and I intend to dedicate myself to doing it. Part of following this path for me is Buddhism, which my mother taught me at a young age. People probably don’t realize it, but I was raised a Buddhist, and I actively practiced my faith from childhood until I drifted away from it in recent years. Buddhism teaches that a craving for things outside ourselves causes an unhappy and pointless search for security. It teaches me to stop following every impulse and to learn restraint. Obviously I lost track of what I was taught.

-The so-called “confession” Feburary 19, 2010

Well, I had gotten away from my core values as I said earlier. I’d gotten away from my Buddhism. And I quit meditating. I quit doing all the things that my mom and dad had taught me. And as I said earlier in my statement, I felt entitled, and that is not how I was raised.

-ESPN Interview, March 2010

The Tiger Woods-Buddhism connection has generated a lot of comments recently, some of it quite negative, or what I consider negative, such as Brit Hume’s remark that Woods should turn to Christianity [Hume, by the way, can be a rather caustic fellow. I recall watching him make a highly inappropriate remark following Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s acceptance of the nomination to the Supreme Court, which incensed (rightly so) then President Clinton. If my memory serves me well, it cost Hume his job at ABC News.] , and most of the focus on Tiger’s Buddhism has revolved around the issue of redemption, forgiveness, and such questions as “Can Buddhism cure Tiger Wood’s sex addiction?”

I’m not particularly interested in any of that. What I’d like to know is if Tiger has applied any principles of Dharma in his playing, or how meditation affected his mental attitude, his strategy and so on. And, if Buddhism and/or meditation is playing a role in his comeback.

From what I’ve read, it seems that Tiger has a winning combination of aggression and control. I have the impression that in the past he has displayed a certain amount of calm on the golf course. He didn’t seem calm Sunday. He was inwardly seething when a television interviewer ask him what was positive about his performance that he could take with him. Tiger replied, “Not a whole lot. I told Stevie [his caddie] that I made three mental mistakes today and all it did was cost me the Open.”

Tiger needs to get his mojo back. He needs to get back in the Zone. Since everyone from Hume to the Dalai Lama has offered Tiger some advice, I don’t want to feel left out, and I’d like to give him some advice too. However, as I indicated above, I was as a miserable failure at golf, so I don’t feel qualified. Instead, here’s some words by Miyamoto Musashi, the great Japanese samurai and kendo master, who knew a thing or two about aggression and control. This excerpt is from The Book of Five Rings, a book on strategy, tactics, and philosophy still studied today by folks in all walks of life. I changed a couple of words, from “fighting,” “the enemy” and “battlefield” to what I’ve put in italics:

Mifune as Musashi
Toshiro Mifune as Miyamoto Musashi

In strategy your spiritual bearing must not be any different from normal. Both in playing and in everyday life you should be determined though calm. Meet the situation without tenseness yet not recklessly, your spirit settled yet unbiased. Even when your spirit is calm do not let your body relax, and when your body is relaxed do not let your spirit slacken. Do not let your spirit be influenced by your body, or your body influenced by your spirit. Be neither insufficiently spirited nor over spirited. An elevated spirit is weak and a low spirit is weak. Do not let your opponents see your spirit . . .

Do not be misled by the reactions of your own body. With your spirit open and unconstricted, look at things from a high point of view. You must cultivate your wisdom and spirit. Polish your wisdom: learn public justice, distinguish between good and evil, study the Ways of different arts one by one. When you cannot be deceived by men you will have realised the wisdom of strategy.

The wisdom of strategy is different from other things. On the golf course, even when you are hard-pressed, you should ceaselessly research the principles of strategy so that you can develop a steady spirit.