This is What You Must Improve to be More Zen

Morning Musings is a daily series comprised of brief but meaningful words to consider and reflect on.

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Sometimes I scour Project Gutenberg and similar resources to dig up old and forgotten texts that may offer a new-to-me perspective on living that I otherwise wouldn’t be exposed to via current day information.  

This morning I want to share an excerpt from The Religion of the Samurai, a rather obscure book written in 1913 by Japanese Soto Zen priest and university professor Kaiten Nukariya who was lecturing at Harvard University at the time.

Despite the title of the book, the excerpt  hasn't much to do with the Samurai but does offer an academic exploration into Zen Buddhism.

Even though I don’t devoutly practice Buddhism I like to borrow its principles and found this particular passage illuminating.

The key insight being that you must have a better command over external stimuli that will otherwise inhibit your ability to find inner stillness. You must improve your relationship with things to cultivate Zen. 

The only limitation is that Nukariya transitions into a man-rules-the-world discourse towards the latter half of the piece, seemingly thinking humans possess more power than I personally believe we have.

Nevertheless humanism — the doctrine that we are the most superior, intelligent, and able species — is the most popular ideology of our day. And our innovation and progress does support this notion.

So I kept the parts of the passage that put us at the center of the world, as it might just be what you need to hear to feel motivated. 

Excerpt from The Religion of the Samurai

Some of the old Zen masters are said to have attained to supreme Enlightenment after the practice of Meditation for one week, some for one day, some for a score of years, and some for a few months.

The practice of Meditation, however, is not simply a means for Enlightenment, as is usually supposed, but also it is the enjoyment of Nirvana, or the beatitude of Zen.

It is a matter, of course, that we have fully to understand the doctrine of Zen, and that we have to go through the mental training peculiar to Zen in order to be Enlightened.

The first step in the mental training is to become the master of external things. He who is addicted to worldly pleasures, however learned or ignorant he may be, however high or low his social position may be, is a servant to mere things.

He cannot adapt the external world to his own end, but he adapts himself to it. He is constantly employed, ordered, driven by sensual objects.

Instead of taking possession of wealth, he is possessed by wealth. Instead of drinking liquors, he is swallowed up by his liquors.

Balls and music bid him to run mad. Games and shows order him not to stay at home. Houses, furniture, pictures, watches, chains, hats, bonnets, rings, bracelets, shoes — in short, everything has a word to command him. How can such a person be the master of things?

To be the ruler of things we have first to shut up all our senses, and turn the currents of thoughts inward, and see ourselves as the centre of the world, and meditate that we are the beings of highest;

[We must realize] that Buddha never puts us at the mercy of natural forces; that the earth is in our possession; that everything on earth is to be made use of for our noble ends;

[We must see] that fire, water, air, grass, trees, rivers, hills, thunder, cloud, stars, the moon, the sun, are at our command; that we are the law-givers of the natural phenomena; that we are the makers of the phenomenal world; that it is we that appoint a mission through life, and determine the fate of man.

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