Zen Mentality: The Bushido Way

What is Zen?  There are many interpretations and various opinions of how Zen can be accomplished.  Philosophers from all walks of life have given their thoughts on Zen, even the ones that called it something different – like enlightenment, self-fulfillment, self-actualization.  This article will show you how we are misled in the pursuit of Zen, and with a little bit of practice and the proper mindset, this state of mind really isn’t all that difficult to attain.

When you have one eye on your destination,

there is only one eye left with which to find your way.

Zen is a discipline practiced universally.  Do you breathe without thinking about it?  What activities do you do during the day that have nothing to do with thought, and everything to do with the moment?  When you become engrossed in your work, if you play an instrument or are an artist and you reach that moment where nothing matters but what you are doing, this is Zen.

We think the state of Zen is difficult to obtain, that it takes years of meditation practice, putting your body in a certain position for long agonizing hours, perhaps fasting for days on end, or not speaking for weeks at a time.

These are practices meant to achieve enlightenment, and most of us don’t have the time or inclination to do these things!

Zen mentality is where you are, at this moment.

In his book, “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” Earnest Hemingway summed up this Zen concept very nicely.

The story is about a soldier who came across a woman that “made his earth move.”  In one day, the young man went from a dedicated soldier, intent only on his mission, to thinking about his future, and how he wanted to spend it with this woman.  He was to go on a very dangerous mission in two days; one he believed was fool hardy, but like the good soldier he was, he followed orders.

These were his thoughts on the subject:

I did not know I could ever feel this way.  Not that this could happen to me.  I would have it for all of my life.

You live in NOW and that is your whole life – now.  There is nothing else than now.

There is neither yesterday, certainly, nor is there any tomorrow.

There is only now, and if it is only 2 days, then 2 days is your life, and everything will be in proportion.

If you stop complaining and asking for what you never will get, you will have a good life.  A good life is not measured by biblical span.

Do not worry.  Take what you have and do your work, and you will have a long live, and a very merry one.

Living in the now is a very hard concept for most of us.  Those few who do reach this pinnacle of enlightenment do indeed live a very merry life.

So here we are.  Zen mentality – the way of the Bushido.  The way of the warrior.  (武士道)  Bushi – warrior; do – the way

You don’t have to be a soldier of war to practice Bushido.  When referring to a Bushido, one thinks of a samurai.  A swordsman.  A person who wields weapons and uses them responsibly in wartime.

Traditionally, practicing Zen meditation is a ritual that modern day citizens have a hard time grasping.   In this busy world of work and family, carving time for oneself to practice meditation is a challenge.

The following is taken from Miyamoto Musashi’s book The Book of Five Rings.  This is a 1981 out-of-print edition, an excellent publication and translation, my favorite edition, by Nihon Press.

Here are a few tips to help you along the way.

What is Zen?

Zen is breathing, eating, walking.  It is an awareness, a heightened sense of feeling and sensitivity developed by doing what comes naturally.

It is a discipline, an attitude, and approach to life; a set of values and beliefs.

The samurai took this to an extreme because the code of the Bushido says they will protect their lord above all costs and will put their safety ahead of their lord’s.  The samurai of ancient times were beholden to rulers of the land, the head of clans, they worked as protectors of these men and their families and were completely dedicated to protecting them.

Traits of character, not just of the loyal samurai, but traits that are in all of us.  The secret is knowing they are there and expressing them.  Like anything else, practice makes perfect, and the more you practice your goal of becoming an exemplary martial artist, the more attuned to this concept you will become.

Four Characteristics of Zen

  1.  Will power.  There is no special doctrine, no deity to depend on.  You are responsible for you.
  2. Self-reliant.  Learn to depend on yourself.  Profound honesty of your habits, traits and abilities is necessary to accomplish this.
  3. There are no results in Zen practice.  The measure is the effort you put in to improve yourself.
  4. A strong work ethic.  Nor work.  No food.

The posture of meditation is called Zazen. When sitting Zazen, do not try to stop your thinking, but let it stop by itself.  Realize that nothing outside of you causes you trouble, anguish, fear, or doubt.  These are all self-inflicted emotions and states of being.  When these thoughts arise, acknowledge them, but don’t spend time on them.  Let them float by like the clouds in the sky.

drawing of man sitting in zazen meditation
Sitting Zazen

Stopping Mind

The phrase “stopping mind” may make you think that you must control your mind and force the thoughts away.  In reality, stopping mind is spending time on a thought that occurs to you – stopping to question or judge is concentrating on that thought and you lose track (and time) of the flow around you.

“The flow does not stop when you do!  It passes you right by.”

An instant is too long for stopping mind.

“When you have guilt, or fear, or anxiety or regret, or nervous anticipation,
you are living in the past or the future.”

The mind of an infant

Watch an infant to see how they interact with the world.  They are completely in the moment!  If they have pain or discomfort or hunger, they cry.  They sleep when they are tired and demand fed when they are hungry.  They have no thought of their future, or whether their parents are rich or poor.  They just are.  An infant is the perfect example of living in Zen.

To act now gives you the power to cope

Practice acting in the moment.  When you have a thought, execute it.  Thought precedes action, but if there is no action to follow the thought, then it just stays an idea and goes nowhere.  Out of nothing comes something.

Out of your thoughts (nothing) comes something (action).

When practicing kata, you only concentrate on the kata.  If you practice stopping mind, checking and criticizing every move you make, then you are not in the flow.  Does a musician think about what he plays, or is he so entrenched in the music that is all he thinks and feels?  The same with kata practice, sparring practice, or walking your dog.  Enjoy the moment and think of nothing more.

When you practice something over and over, it becomes internalized.  You do it well and you do not “think about it.”  People say, “It looks so easy,” little do they know the hours and hours of practice you put in to make it look easy. Reaching this state is what training is all about – internalizing the movements so when you react, you react effortlessly.

Zen is a social philosophy

The goal is to realize your potential as a human being.  “To be the best you can be.”  By practicing self-perfection, one becomes aware of one’s place in the world.  Not “better,” just “more sufficient.”

Self-satisfaction comes from dedication and purpose.  If you have confidence in you and not just your skills, if you are satisfied with yourself, you are humble, quiet, and peaceful.  Benevolent and compassionate.

No ego.  Dr. Wayne Dyer coined the phrase, “Edging God Out.”  E-G-O. God or Dao, whatever your definition, is at the core of your being.  More than intuition, it is your Guiding Light, your North Star.  The trouble is, we let our E-G-O get involved, thinking we can control life’s situations, and we lose the essenence of our true being.

Where there is no intention, there is no thought of being.

Munen muso is the Japanese term for this.  Dogo, a zen master had this to say:

“If you want to see, see right at once.  When you begin to think, you miss the point.”

To coin an overused phrase, but very Zenlike – Be natural, just do it!

If you try not to intellectualize the experience, when there is no mediation by the intellect (that nasty critical voice), Zen becomes an intuitive experience.  Understanding without words.

The important advice here is to see the situation for what it is, not for what you think it is, or what you want it to be.  We create anxiety by wanting to drive the bus, to make our wants and desires work out the way we want them to.  We get frustrated because things are not going our way, whatever we touch turns to mush.

Intuition is not instinct, but a quick action without hesitation, no resistence of thought or action, allowing the body to act on it’s own volition and wisdom, free of “mental steering.”

Moving meditation

Perhaps you’ve heard this phase in reference to performing kata.  For those of us who find it difficult in sitting Zazen, there is the kata.  Practicing kata puts you in the moment, you think about your body positioning, your power, utilizing rhythm and flow.  With all this going on, you don’t have time to think about your grandmother who just died, or the fight you had with your spouse, or what you are going to do after practice.

You are in the moment.  Experiencing the NOW.

Qigong and Tai Chi are other examples of moving meditation.  Both of these teach you how to focus by staying in the moment, by clearing your mind and thinking of nothing other than an empty space.  This is relieving to your mind.

Our poor brains are fatigued by the worry and stress of today’s life, and you are doing it a favor by taking it off-line for a few minutes to give it a break.

“Stopping mind” interrupts the flow of the vibrations of the world from finding you.  With worry and despair, you are like a rock in a stream bed.  The water flows right around the rock.  We are vast receptacles of universal energy.  Stopping mind sends that energy along its way and you miss out.

Try it out, see if it works for you.

When you have a thought, act on it.  A thought is the Universe trying to get through, to manifest itself through you.  Naturally, there are thoughts that are best left alone, so discretion is advised.


Kanjo for chaos