The Key to Zen
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 ; 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; 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.
This is 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 at the time. Despite the title, it hasn't much to do with Samurai but does offer an academic deep dive into Zen Buddhism.
As someone who has struggled with meditation, I found this particular passage illuminating. The key being to have a better command over external stimuli that inhibit your ability to find that inner stillness.
Image is of a Zen inspired interior by Takuro Yamamota Architects. A nice reminder of the inherent beauty in simple, minimal spaces.