Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Documentaries on Zen and Spirituality

I recommend the following documentaries on Zen and spirituality. I list them in no particular order.


One Shot, One Life


Here is the synopsis from the official website:

In traditional martial arts, mastery of the art is not acquired through technical skill alone. In following ‘The Way’ one must look beyond technique to become a true master. In Japanese archery or Kyudo, hitting the target by itself is not enough. In order to shoot correctly we are told to "Shoot from the Heart". As Takeuchi sensei says, "As a national team member I had to hit the target no matter what. Eventually all that technique became obsolete in exchange to express myself through the bow".

Yet teachers of Kyudo tell us that only through technique will we be able to hit the target correctly. If this is starting to sound like a Zen koan it is! As Takeuchi sensei continues, “Even if we dedicate a lifetime, we will not be able to master Kyudo. If we keep this in our minds we can continue further.”

To the outsider, drawing the bow and hitting the target is a test of one’s skill. For the Kyudo practitioner however, there is a clear distinction between hitting the target and shooting ‘correctly’ and one cannot progress until he or she learns to resolve the conflict arising from this. Irie sensei, Head instructor at Tohoku University tells us, “Shooting a bow is so simple that even a child could do it”. Yet Kyudoka insist that true mastery will take longer than one’s own lifetime! Can both be true? It is a paradox that haunts Takeuchi Masakuni, 7th dan Kyoshi who ponders, “How can one fail when both arrows hit the target?”

Awa Kenzo, a great Kyudo master, held that its true purpose was ‘to enlighten’. This idea took hold in the west through the book Zen in the Art of Archery, written by Eugen Herrigel, one of Awa’s students. Awa’s legacy of “Standing Zen” is practiced today at Enma dojo in the grounds of Engakuji Zen Temple. “This dojo has the purpose of developing the character,” states Koyama sensei. “It is a dojo for facing oneself.” For the sincere practitioner, there is no separation between Kyudo training and everyday life. Each arrow is shot as a single ultimate moment. Without an opponent, it is a path of self-discovery where the target is a mirror—a reflection of the self. Takeuchi Masakuni observes, “Ultimately no technique is left. No form is left. Nothing but the archer’s humanity remains”.

Whatever path you follow, the common ground is that true mastery of Kyudo is a journey that has no ending. In our documentary One Shot. One Life. the climactic end will have you holding your breath as Takeuchi Masakuni enters the 8th dan grading for his 16th attempt. It is a test so severe that this Kyudo master is forced to comment, “This struggle is my driving force and that is why I cannot stop.”

Welcome to the pursuit of excellence through the art of Japanese archery. One Shot. One Life.

You can purchase One Shot, One Life from Empty Mind Films.


The Zen Mind


Here is the synopsis from the official website:

In the last fifty years Zen has spread rapidly and far beyond Japan to affect every facet of western culture. Zen centers and Zen retreats have sprung up throughout America and Europe and enthusiasts in the West far outnumber Japan. Yet what do we know about Zen practice in Japan today? When Dogen, the founder of Soto Zen, brought Zen to Japan from China 800 years ago, it quickly took root and became an integral part of Japanese life. The Zen Mind is a fascinating journey across Japan to explore Zen in its natural habitat.

A travelogue across the breadth of Japan to explore the practice of modern day Zen. We will take you from the bustle of rush-hour Tokyo to the tranquil mountains of Kyoto. From Zen centers hidden among city skyscrapers to the zendo in a remote monastery. With unrestricted access, we will take you into a world outsiders rarely see or hear about. It is a world where material wealth is exchanged for spiritual wealth. Where the mind is trained and conditioned like an Olympic athlete.

Zen training is explored in The Zen Mind through the practice of zazen or sitting meditation and kinhin (walking meditation). With interviews, demonstrations of sitting and actual practice, we take the lid off the many misconceptions that abound in Zen meditation. While the cloistered lifestyle of the Zen monk is in decline in Japan, Zen meditation is spreading rapidly in the west. Typical of this modern approach to dharma practice is the Dogen sangha, a Zen center in Tokyo where commuters stop on their way home for Zen meditation. It is a complete contrast to the remote mountain monasteries where formal Buddhist rituals are zealously maintained. This contrast heightens as we enter Japan’s largest Soto Zen monastery and join the monks in their everyday workplace, cooking and cleaning. Before and after their work is done they will sit in zazen. We will take you into the zendo or meditation hall and like a fly on the zendo wall, witness the monks as they begin what will be many hours of zazen and sometimes through the night. Only the abrupt crack of the roshi’s stick on the monks' shoulder breaks the silence as he summons them to focus, flushing out any thoughts, erasing self-doubt and ego, clearing a path to self-realization.

You can purchase The Zen Mind from Empty Mind Films.


A Zen Life: D.T. Suzuki


Here is the synopsis from the official website:

“A ZEN LIFE - D.T. Suzuki" is a 77-minute documentary about Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki (1870-1966), credited with introducing Zen Buddhism to the West.

D.T. Suzuki had an excellent grasp of written and spoken English, combined with an exhaustive knowledge of Eastern and Western religions and philosophies. He was highly successful at getting Westerners to appreciate the Japanese mentality, and Japanese to understand Western logic. The effect he had on Western psychoanalysis, philosophy, religious thinking, and the arts was profound. His numerous writings in English and Japanese serve as an inspiration even today.

Dr. Suzuki first lived in the United States from 1897 to 1908. In 1911 he married an American, Beatrice Lane, who helped him with his work until her death in 1939. After the War he traveled and taught extensively in the United States and Europe. Of note is a series of very popular open lectures he gave at Columbia University. Many renowned Western philosophers, artists, and psychologists were affected by his writings and friendship, including Carl Jung and Erich Fromm, Christmas Humphries, Father Thomas Merton, Martin Heidegger, Karl Jaspers, Dr. Albert Stunkard, Alan Watts, Richard De Martino, Robert Aitken, John Cage, Alan Ginsberg, and Gary Snyder.

Gary Snyder calls D.T. Suzuki "probably the most culturally significant Japanese person in international terms, in all of history."

Along with Gary Snyder, there are exclusive interviews of many people respected in their own right who knew D.T. Suzuki in person, including his secretary Mihoko Okamura, and rare footage of Thomas Merton, John Cage, Erich Fromm, and Suzuki himself.

There have been few people capable of bridging the logic of Americans and Europeans and the Eastern approach to life as well as he. Indeed, one of the goals of Zen is to transcend dichotomies. The main purpose of this documentary is to "bring D.T. Suzuki alive," and serve to motivate people in the West and Japan to know themselves better while respecting one another. Daisetz Suzuki's message is all the more important now, in light of contemporary conflicts stemming from divergent ways of thinking.

You can purchase A Zen Life from Amazon or rent it on Netflix.


Zen: The Best of Alan Watts


Here is the synopsis from the website listed above:

“A person who thinks all the time has nothing to think about except [thoughts], so he loses touch with reality and lives in a world of illusions.

“By thought I mean the chattering inside the skull; perpetual and compulsive repetition of words, of calculations, and symbols going on inside the head.

“For as a result of confusing the real world of nature with mere signs, such as money, stocks and bonds, title deeds, and so forth, [we are destroying nature]. This is a disaster. Time to wake up.”

Alan Watts (1915-1973), who held both a master's degree in theology and a doctorate of divinity, is best known as an interpreter of Zen Buddhism in particular, and Indian and Chinese philosophy in general.

He authored more than 20 excellent books on the philosophy and psychology of religion, and lectured extensively, leaving behind a vast audio archive. With characteristic lucidity and humor Watts unravels the most obscure ontological and epistemological knots with the greatest of ease.

You can purchase Zen: The Best of Alan Watts from Amazon or watch it on YouTube.


Into Great Silence (Die Grosse Stille)


Here is the synopsis from the official English website:

Nestled deep in the postcard-perfect French Alps, the Grande Chartreuse is considered one of the world’s most ascetic monasteries. In 1984, German filmmaker Philip Gröning wrote to the Carthusian order for permission to make a documentary about them. They said they would get back to him. Sixteen years later, they were ready. Gröning, sans crew or artificial lighting, lived in the monks’ quarters for six months—filming their daily prayers, tasks, rituals and rare outdoor excursions. This transcendent, closely observed film seeks to embody a monastery, rather than simply depict one—it has no score, no voiceover and no archival footage. What remains is stunningly elemental: time, space and light. One of the most mesmerizing and poetic chronicles of spirituality ever created, INTO GREAT SILENCE dissolves the border between screen and audience with a total immersion into the hush of monastic life. More meditation than documentary, it’s a rare, transformative theatrical experience for all.


Here is the synopsis from the official German website:

The Grande Chartreuse, the mother house of the legendary Carthusian Order, is based in the French Alps. Into Great Silence will be the first film ever about life inside the Grande Chartreuse.

Silence. Repetition. Rhythm. The film is an austere, next to silent meditation on monastic life in a very pure form. No music except the chants in the monastery, no interviews, no commentaries, no extra material.

Changing of time, seasons, and the ever repeated elements of the day, of the prayer. A film to become a monastery, rather than depict one. A film about awareness, absolute presence, and the life of men who [devote] their [lives] to God in the purest form. Contemplation. An object in time.

You can purchase Into Great Silence from Amazon or rent it on Netflix.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

How to Thrive during Long, Harsh Winters

In Chicago and elsewhere, the winter can be long and harsh. For example, in Chicago, the winter usually lasts from December to mid-April (4.5 months), and sometimes it snows heavily in mid- or late-March. However, you can thrive during winter by doing the following.

1. Embrace winter.

Embrace winter and flow with it. In particular, learn to appreciate the natural beauty of winter (e.g. a snowy landscape) and realize that winter is just another phase in the cycle of life. All living organisms, including Mother Nature, experience birth, growth, decline, and death. It is the natural flow of life. It is the Way.

In addition, realize that nothing lasts forever. Winter will eventually end, and spring and summer will eventually arrive. You will eventually get beautiful spring weather and 80-degree summer beach weather. In the middle of winter, you can even visualize hot summer weather.

Further, keep things in perspective: the winters in Alaska, Canada, Russia, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland, etc. are much colder, longer, and harsher than are winters in Chicago, New York, London, Berlin, etc.

2. ALWAYS think positively.

This is especially true when you’re facing adversity or even extreme adversity. If it’s mid-March, zero degrees Fahrenheit outside, snowing, icy, and windy, and you’ve already endured 3.5 months of winter, then you can think either positively or negatively about the situation.

You could think, “I HATE this weather. I hate winter. I hate my location. I hate life. Life sucks.”

Alternatively, you could think, “I value and appreciate this weather. It does wake me up instantly when I go outside. Overall, I value and appreciate winter, and I understand its purpose. Overall, I enjoy life.”

If you’re really hardcore, you could think, “I LOVE this weather. It makes me feel truly alive. I love winter. I love life. In fact, winter is my favorite season. I could handle 12 months of winter. I do not need spring, summer, or fall. I do not need a spring break vacation to California or Florida. That would just make me soft.”

It all comes down to your attitude. Winter is difficult only to the extent that you think it is. It is 100% mental. Break through the mental barriers that you impose on yourself.

3. NEVER complain about the weather.

To the extent that you complain to yourself or others, you are cultivating toxic negativity in your own mind and the mind of others.

4. Surround yourself with positive people.

If it’s zero degrees Fahrenheit outside, snowing, icy, and windy but you surround yourself with really positive people, then you will be in pretty good spirits and not mind the weather. However, if you hang around negative people who constantly complain about the weather, then they will only bring you down. So, avoid the whiners and complainers.

5. Meditate daily.

Over time, daily meditation will increase your focus, discipline, awareness, and presence, and it will help relieve stress and anxiety. Please see my previous post, “Zazen Instructions.”

6. Work out consistently.

Working out consistently throughout the winter will help you stay healthy, happy, positive, and productive, and the weather will affect your attitude to a much lesser degree. Who cares that it’s zero degrees Fahrenheit outside when you’re getting stronger and faster in the gym?

In contrast, if you stop working out entirely in the winter, that is probably one of the worst things you can do for your mental health.

7. Stay busy and productive.

If you’re staying busy and productive, you will not have much time to dwell on the weather. Who cares that it’s zero degrees Fahrenheit outside when you’re getting stuff done, improving, progressing, and growing?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Zen Quotations: Part II

More Zen quotations:

“Freeing oneself from the mind is total liberation.” -- Bodhidarma

“Not thinking about anything is Zen. Once you know this, walking, standing, sitting, or lying down, everything you do is Zen.” -- Bodhidarma

“All the fish needs is to get lost in water. All man needs is to get lost in Tao [the Way].” -- Chuang-Tzu

“Life, according to Zen, ought to be lived as a bird flies through the air, or as a fish swims in the water.” -- D.T. Suzuki

"If you have a glass full of liquid you can discourse forever on its qualities, discuss whether it is cold, warm, whether it is really and truly composed of H2O, or mineral water, or saki. Zazen is drinking it." -- Taisen Deshimaru

“When everything is seen as One, we return to the source and stay where we have always been.” -- Seng-t’san

“Zen opens a man’s eyes to the greatest mystery as it is daily and hourly performed; it enlarges the heart to embrace eternity of time and infinity of space in its every palpitation; it makes us live in the world as if walking in the garden of Eden.” -- D.T. Suzuki

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Elite Version of Yourself

At the gym, many people do not return their weights or equipment to the proper place.

This is a matter of degrees: putting away your weights 90% of the time is much better than doing it 10% of the time. Leaving out only a mat is much better than leaving out a mat, a stability ball, three pairs of dumbbells, a kettlebell, and a 315lb barbell.

To the extent that you do not return your weights or equipment, you convey the following attitude: “I don’t care if I make a mess. Someone else will clean it up. It’s not my responsibility.”

This is the same attitude conveyed by those who leave trash on the sidewalk, the street, or someone else’s front lawn.

This attitude is utterly mediocre.

Take responsibility for your actions. Clean up your own mess. Do not expect others to do so.

Consider it self-improvement. Imagine the ELITE version of yourself: the version of yourself that is highly focused, disciplined, motivated, decisive, consistent in action, and positive in terms of self-talk. Further, suppose this elite version of yourself is achieving 100% maximum performance in all areas of your life.

Would that person return his or her equipment to the proper place? Yes. Then do so.

Would that person work out (i.e. do resistance training and cardio) consistently? Yes. Then do so.

Would that person meditate daily or at least weekly? Yes. Then do so.

Would that person eat healthily: meat, poultry, fish, vegetables, nuts, seeds, fruit, brown rice, sweet potatoes, etc.? Yes. Then do so.

Would that person eat or drink junk: soda, candy, cookies, twinkies, brownies, fast food, etc.? No. Then quit doing so.

Would that person drink alcohol excessively, smoke, do illicit drugs, gamble, etc.? No. Then quit doing so.

We can state this principle more generally. If X is a given habit, would the elite version of yourself do X? If so, then do X. If not, then do not do X.

In short, work towards becoming the elite version of yourself. Develop self-mastery.

At the very least, please return your equipment to the proper place.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Static Stretching Routine

I am now selling an e-book that contains my full-body static stretching routines. The e-book includes the following:

  • My short stretching routine, which takes about 5 minutes
  • My medium stretching routine, which takes about 25 minutes
  • My long stretching routine, which takes about 45 minutes
  • A total of 43 stretches. Each stretch includes a photo and a description.

I have personally used all three stretching routines. Currently, I use the medium routine on workout days (post-workout) and sometimes on off-days.

All three routines significantly reduce soreness and improve recovery and flexibility.

The routines work well with virtually any fitness program, including the following:

  • General strength training, powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, or bodybuilding
  • Cardiorespiratory training: running, rowing, biking, swimming, rucking
  • CrossFit
  • Military Athlete
  • P90X or P90X2

The e-book is a .pdf file with password protection. You can view it using Adobe Reader or Adobe Acrobat.

Price: $50

The e-book comes with a 30-day refund policy. If you’re not satisfied with the static stretching routine, please email me and I will issue you a refund.

Once you purchase the e-book, I will email you the .pdf file and password within 24-36 hours.

Last revised 10/26/2015

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Work, Love, and Zen

When I was studying abroad in Vienna, I took a music course and the instructor once told the class that he had a friend who was financially wealthy. Occasionally, people would ask him about his wealth, and he would reply, “Yes, I’m rich: I have work, love, and God.”

I completely agree with him. True wealth consists in (1) work, (2) love, and (3) spirituality, or for my purposes, Zen.

1. Work is not simply your job but any kind of activity, whether physical or intellectual. It includes reading, writing, cooking, cleaning, showering, brushing your teeth, getting dressed, driving, running errands, lifting weights, running, walking, meditating, sleeping, etc. We all constantly work in one way or another. Even if you’ve been “unemployed” for the past 5-10 years, even if you’re homeless or incarcerated for life, you still perform everyday work and no one can ever take that away from you.

2. Love is not simply love toward your significant other, family, or friends. More broadly, love is good will toward all human beings and creatures. We all experience love in one way or another. Even if you have no significant other, family, or friends, even if you’re homeless or incarcerated for life, you can still, on some level, feel and express good will toward all human beings and creatures.

3. Zen is not simply zazen. Zen encompasses everything: all work, all activity, all love.

From a Zen perspective, the present moment is sacred, and so we should treat all activity (all of which we actually perform in the present moment) as sacred. In particular, we should do only one task at a time and stay 100% present when performing that task. For example, when reading a book, just read. When writing an article or essay, just write. When listening to a classroom lecture, just listen. When cooking, just cook. When brushing your teeth, just brush your teeth. When doing a really heavy back squat, just back-squat. In short, flow with the present moment. Flow with everyday life. Anyone, including homeless people and prison inmates, can do this.

Since we all have (1) work, (2) love, and (3) Zen (in the sense that we all can flow with the present moment), we are all rich, in the spiritual sense. We have already won the cosmic lottery. We are already trillionaires.

Therefore, nothing should bother you, and you should laugh aloud.

Paradise is here and now. Flow.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Zazen Instructions

“Studying Zen is zazen.” – Dogen (the founder of Soto Zen), Zazen gi

I recommend meditating at least once per day for 10-20 minutes, preferably early in the morning.

If you meditate daily, this alone will increase your focus and discipline for two reasons. First, you are doing something daily as a habit, which by itself increases your discipline. Second, when you meditate, you are rigorously observing your thoughts and learning how to disassociate yourself from them and focus on your breathing. Thus, meditation in itself is an exercise in focus and discipline. So, if you exercise your skills in focus and discipline for 20 minutes per day, then your focus and discipline will increase significantly over time.

That said, here are instructions on zazen:


Sit somewhere quiet, without any distractions. If you have a television, computer, cell phone, etc. in your room, turn them off. Shut down everything.

Sit on a zafu (small round cushion) and zabuton (large flat cushion). This is the ideal setup. Alternatively, you can sit on other cushions (e.g. pillows), or in a chair.

Sit in front of a wall or empty floor space. Do not sit directly in front of odd objects (e.g. a chair, table, etc.). Ideally, you want empty space or a bare wall in front of you.


You may sit in any of the following positions:

Full lotus: Cross your legs. Place your right foot on top of your left thigh. Place your left foot on top of your right thigh.

Half-lotus: Cross your legs. Place one foot on top of the opposite thigh. Leave the other foot on the ground.

Cross-legged: Cross your legs. Do not place either foot on the opposite thigh.

Seiza: Sit in the kneeling position. Place the zafu under your butt. The zafu can rest horizontally in its default position or vertically so that you’re sitting on its edge.

Chair: Do not rest your back against the chair. Sit up tall on your own. Plant your feet on the ground.

If you’re sitting in the full lotus, half-lotus, or cross-legged position on a zafu and zabuton (or other cushion), then sit on the front half of the zafu. You want your hips higher than your knees.

Regardless of how you’re sitting, sit up tall, with your back straight. Imagine a rope is tied to the top of your head and someone is pulling it upward. Tuck in your chin.

Center your torso. Your nose and navel should form a line. Your ears should be level with your shoulders. Do not lean to the front, back, left, or right.

Keep your eyes fully or partially open. Look down at the wall or floor in front of you.

Rest your hands in your lap and form an oval with your hands. Place your left hand on top of your right hand. The center joints of your middle fingers should rest on each other. Your thumbs should be gently touching. This is the cosmic mudra. ‘Cosmic’ comes from ‘cosmos,’ which means the universe: the totality of everything that exists.


Breathe through your nose and only your nose.

Inhale slowly, deeply, and naturally. Exhale slowly, deeply, and naturally. Repeat.

When you begin your meditation session, your breath may be fast and shallow. Let it settle down. Let it become slow, deep, and natural.


Focus on your breathing and only your breathing. Disassociate yourself from all other thoughts.

In order to develop concentration skills, count the number of breaths you take. Count each inhalation and each exhalation. For example: inhale (1), exhale (2), inhale (3), exhale (4), and so on. Or you can count only the exhalation: inhale, exhale (1), inhale, exhale (2), and so on. Count to 10. And then repeat. If you lose count because your mind wanders, then start over.

Once you have mastered counting your breath, you can stop the practice of counting. Just sit, focus on your breathing, and think about nothing else.

If you think about things other than your breathing, that is okay. Do not beat yourself up over it. Just realize, in real-time, that your mind is wandering, disassociate yourself from the thoughts, and re-focus on your breath.

Even if your mind wanders all over the place when you meditate (as mine often does), you will still benefit from meditation. Just sit tall with perfect posture and breathe slowly, deeply, and naturally.

When meditating, shut down your mind. In particular, shut down your entire conceptual interface or framework, through which you normally view the world. Your conceptual framework includes the following:

  • Your concept (or idea) of the internal world (i.e. your mind, ego, or self)
  • Your concept of the external world
  • Mental objects: thoughts, feelings, emotions, etc.
  • Your concept of external objects: tables, trees, clouds, etc.
  • Your concept of space
  • Your concept of time: past, present, and future
  • Your concepts of morality: good, bad, evil, right, wrong
  • Your concept of enlightenment
  • Your concept of meditation or zazen

Just shut down everything and breathe.

In his Fukan zazengi, Dogen prescribes the following when practicing zazen:

“Put aside all involvements and suspend all affairs. Do not think ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ Do not judge true or false. Give up the operations of mind, intellect, and consciousness; stop measuring with thoughts, ideas, and views. Have no designs on becoming a Buddha.”

In the film Zen, Dogen states the following:

“Completely disengage from normal life. Abandon everything you have been engaged with. Abandon thinking about right and wrong, about thinking itself, along with thoughts of enlightenment. Abandon all intentions and thoughts. This is known as Without-Thinking [or No-Mind].”

“We do not sit in zazen for the purpose of enlightenment. Just sitting in meditation. That itself is enlightenment.”

For additional resources on zazen, please see the following:

Wikipedia: Zazen

Zen Buddhist Temple of Chicago: Zazen Instructions

Zen Mountain Monastery: Zazen Instructions

Dogen: Principles of Zazen (Zazen gi)

Dogen: Universally Recommended Instructions for Zazen (Fukan zazengi)

Still Sitting Instructional Video

Last revised 3/29/2014

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Personal Records

Here are my current personal records. These numbers are okay but not great. I can always improve.

Height: 6’2”
Bodyweight: 200lb


Rep-Max (RM)
Weight (lb)

Back squat
High-bar back squat
Front squat

Bench press


Squat clean

Weighted pull-up
DB held between feet

Note: these are 1RMs or 5RMs that I have actually performed. They are not estimates.


1.0 mile
2.0 miles


If you are a novice athlete, please do not compare yourself to me or others. Focus on your own progress and development. Please read this post.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Zen Quotations

Here are some of my favorite quotations with respect to Zen.


“To study Buddhism is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by everything. To be enlightened by everything is to free your own body and mind and the body and mind of others.”

“[When meditating] completely disengage from normal life. Abandon everything you have been engaged with. Abandon thinking about right and wrong, about thinking itself, along with thoughts of enlightenment. Abandon all intentions and thoughts. This is No-Mind.”

“We do not sit in zazen for the purpose of enlightenment. Just sitting in meditation. That itself is enlightenment.”

-- Dogen, Zen (film)


“Meditation has no purpose, no objective, except to be entirely here and now. It isn’t something you do to improve yourself, to get ahead in the world, or to prepare yourself for life.

For the division of time into past, present, and future is a trick of words and numbers. All memories and expectations exist now and now only, because now is what there is and all that there is. We could say that the past flows back from now, like the wake from the prowl of a ship, and then just like the wake, vanishes. As the wake doesn’t drive the ship, the past doesn’t move or propel the present, unless you, here and now, want to insist that it does and so give yourself a perpetual alibi for every kind of irresponsibility.

“But I’m not preaching. That would be a diversion from our feeling centered in this eternal here and now, from feeling it directly as the reality.”

-- Alan Watts, Zen: The Best of Alan Watts (documentary)


“As long as the egoic mind is running your life, you cannot truly be at ease; you cannot be at peace or fulfilled except for brief intervals when you obtained what you wanted, when a craving has just been fulfilled. Since the ego is a derived sense of self, it needs to identify with external things. It needs to be both defended and fed constantly. The most common ego identifications have to do with possessions, the work you do, social status and recognition, knowledge and education, physical appearance, special abilities, relationships, personal and family history, belief systems, and often also political, nationalistic, racial, religious, and other collective identifications. None of these is you.

[…] Perhaps you find it as yet hard to believe, and I am certainly not asking you to believe that your identity cannot be found in any of those things. You will know the truth of it for yourself. You will know it at the latest when you feel death approaching. Death is a stripping away of all that is not you. The secret of life is to ‘die before you die’—and find that there is no death.”

-- Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now, p. 46


“I went to Yosemite National Park, and I saw some huge waterfalls. The highest one is 1,340 feet high, and from it the water comes down like a curtain thrown from the top of the mountain. It does not seem to come down swiftly, as you might expect it; it seems to come down very slowly because of the distance. And the water does not come down as one stream, but is separated into many tiny streams. From a distance it looks like a curtain. And I thought it must be a very difficult experience for each drop of water to come down from the top of such a high mountain. It takes time, you know, a long time, for the water finally to reach the bottom of the waterfall. And it seems to me that our human life may be like this. We have many difficult experiences in our life. But at the same time, I thought, the water was not originally separated, but was one whole river. Only when it is separated does it have some difficulty in falling. It is as if the water does not have any feeling when it is one whole river. Only when separated into many drops can it begin to have or to express some feeling. When we see one whole river we do not feel the living activity of the water, but when we dip a part of the water into a dipper, we experience some feeling of the water, and we also feel the value of the person who uses the water. Feeling ourselves and the water in this way, we cannot use it in just a material way. It is a living thing.

“Before we were born we had no feeling; we were one with the universe. This is called ‘mind-only,’ or ‘essence of mind,’ or ‘big mind.’ After we are separated by birth from this oneness, as the water falling from the waterfall is separated by the wind and rocks, then we have feeling. You have difficulty because you have feeling. You attach to the feeling you have without knowing just how this kind of feeling is created. When you do not realize that you are one with the river, or one with the universe, you have fear. Whether it is separated into drops or not, water is water. Our life and death are the same thing. When we realize this fact we have no fear of death anymore, and we have no actual difficulty in our life.

“When the water returns to its original oneness with the river, it no longer has any individual feeling to it; it resumes its own nature, and finds composure. How very glad the water must be to come back to the original river! If this is so, what feeling will we have when we die? I think we are like the water in the dipper. We will have composure then, perfect composure. It may be too perfect for us, just now, because we are so much attached to our own feeling, to our individual existence. For us, just now, we have some fear of death, but after we resume our true original nature, there is Nirvana. That is why we say, ‘To attain Nirvana is to pass away.’ ‘To pass away’ is not a very adequate expression. Perhaps ‘to pass on,’ or ‘to go on,’ or ‘to join’ would be better. […]

“We say, ‘Everything comes out of emptiness.’ One whole river or one whole mind is emptiness. When we reach this understanding we find the true meaning of our life. When we reach this understanding we can see the beauty of human life. Before we realize this fact, everything that we see is just delusion. Sometimes we overestimate the beauty; sometimes we underestimate or ignore the beauty because our small mind is not in accord with reality.

“To talk about it this way is quite easy, but to have the actual feeling is not so easy. But by your practice of zazen you can cultivate this feeling. When you can sit with your whole body and mind, and with the oneness of your mind and body under the control of the universal mind, you can easily attain this kind of right understanding. Your everyday life will be renewed without being attached to an old erroneous interpretation of life. When you realize this fact, you will discover how meaningless your old interpretation was, and how much useless effort you had been making. You will find the true meaning of life, and even though you have difficulty falling upright from the top of the waterfall to the bottom of the mountain, you will enjoy your life.”

-- Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, pp. 82-84