During dokusan (private interview) at one of my retreats on this current trip through Europe, someone brought up the historical fact that samurai warriors used to use Zen practice as a way to hone their fighting skills. Later on I started wondering if maybe, in the future, people will look upon the way meditation is now marketed as a way to make business people sharper and more competitive the same way as we look at those Zen-trained samurai warriors.
The samurai class figured out that a warrior with a decent amount of Zen training could be more focused, less fearful, more able to understand the minds of his opponents and therefore a far more efficient killer than a warrior without that kind of training. Zen didn’t necessarily make you a better swordsman or fighter. You needed other training to learn those skills. But with the Zen meditation added to a regimen of training in the arts of war, you could get an edge on an opponent who didn’t meditate.
The contemporary Western samurai class, the folks engaged in big business have begun to understand the very same things about meditation. The back pages of all the meditation magazines are filled with advertisements for “Zen and Leadership” seminars and the like. Some of these seminars are put together by people with very little understanding of mediation but with a keen eye for what sells. Others are put on by experience practitioners and teachers who run legitimate meditation centers who need the kind of money only business people are able to spend in order to keep their centers running.
I wonder how much of the ethical aspects of traditional meditation practices are being taught at seminars aimed at the corporate elite. Overall probably not much, is my guess. We have a generalized fear in contemporary society of any sort of education in morality because to us, morality means religion. People who are getting into meditation in order to hone their business skills are unlikely to sit still for anything that sounds in any way religious. So I would think that if you were going to run a meditation seminar aimed at business people you’d have to keep things as secular as possible. Therefore, any talk about the ethics involved in meditation would be difficult, if not impossible, to address.
The increasing insistence that meditation must be taught in as secular a way as possible is a problem. In a way, though, it’s a problem that resembles global climate change. As with climate change, the problematic aspects of teaching wholly secular meditation are, at the moment, pretty subtle and easy to miss if you don’t know what to look for. This can lead people to think that there are no problems at all and that anyone who says there are must be a paranoid alarmist.
Yet I am not the first to insist that it’s problematic to teach meditation without also teaching ethics alongside it. In fact, for the past couple thousand years many people have noticed this and worked with this matter. There is a very good reason why traditional Buddhist training puts so much emphasis on ethics and morality. Without any specific training in the area of ethics, it’s very easy for meditation practices to go terribly wrong.
In Genjo Koan Dogen says, “When all things are Buddha-dharma there’s delusion and realization, there’s practice and experience, there’s life and death, and there are buddhas and just plain folks. When zillions of things and phenomena are seen as having no self, there is no delusion or enlightenment, no buddhas or just plain folks, no life and no death. The Buddha-dharma is originally beyond abundance and scarcity and so there is life and death, delusion and realization, just plain folks and buddhas. But although this is true, flowers, though we love them still fall and weeds, though we hate them, still grow.” (This, by the way, is from my upcoming book in which I have paraphrased Dogen in my own words)
Read that second sentence again. It says, “When zillions of things and phenomena are seen as having no self, there is no delusion or enlightenment, no buddhas or just plain folks, no life and no death.” This is describing a significant phase in the life of a person dedicated to meditation. Before you start practicing it seems like everything is how you always understood it to be. There is life and death, delusion and enlightenment and, though Dogen doesn’t say it here, there is also right and wrong.
However, once you get a glimpse into that area in which there is no self, then it starts to break down. It’s no longer clear what is life and what is death, what is delusion and what is enlightenment or what is right and what is wrong. Heck! All is One, right? How can anything be bad when everything is the same? Everyone and everything is just the temporary manifestation of matter and energy. What’s wrong with a war? It just changes energy into other energy. In environmental terms, it’s a good thing to get rid of some of those extra people. Nature does it all the time when animal populations get out of control. And what’s wrong with cut-throat business practices. It’s all survival of the fittest. Besides, ultimately there is nothing and no one to rob from or to benefit. Financial energy just moves from one place to another. If the place it happens to move to is my bank account, all the better!
And that’s where we get problems. That’s where we get samurai warriors who can use their Zen training to become super efficient killers. That’s where we get Zen business people who are super efficient at beating the competition. Often when we go just a little way into the practice, the outlook we develop is so radically different from our usual way of looking at things that we can make big mistakes. We take what long-term practitioners recognize as very initial insights to be evidence they have attained Unsurpassed Complete Perfect Enlightenment. We don’t know that it goes a lot further.
Notice that Dogen goes on to say that in the next stage of practice all those things we thought we had transcended come right back. There is life, there is death, there is delusion, there is realization. There is also right and wrong. In the final phase, Dogen says, “flowers, though we love them still fall and weeds, though we hate them, still grow.” This is the point of view of action. In real action, shit happens. Some of it’s good and some of it’s not. Maybe we don’t know why. Maybe we can’t. But we know that’s how it is.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong about teaching Zen or other types of meditation to business people. There us nothing intrinsically evil about running a seminar in Zen and leadership. Just like there is nothing intrinsically bad about teaching Zen to a samurai warrior. I just hope some of these kinds of seminars and suchlike are teaching the inconvenient truth that one really needs an ethical foundation for meditation practice.
I’ve got a new book coming out soon! Stay up to date on its release schedule, my live appearances and more by signing up for our mailing list on the contact page!
September 4, 2015 Hamburg, Germany SCREENING OF HARDCORE ZEN MOVIE WITH TALK
September 6, 2015 Hamburg, Germany ZEN DAY
September 8t, 2015 Helsinki, Finland BuddhaBuddhaBar Mannerheimintie 5, 5th floor Mannerheim hall 5:30pm
September 9, 2015 Malmi, Finland Brad Gets Naked and Talks About Sex!
September 10-13, 2015 Finland 4-DAY RETREAT
September 16-19, 20015 Hebden Bridge, England 4-DAY RETREAT
September 20, 2015 London, England THE ART OF SITTING DOWN & SHUTTING UP (sold out, but there is a waiting list in case people cancel.)
September 21-25, 2015 Belfast, Northern Ireland SPECIFIC DATES TO BE DETERMINED
September 26-27, 2015 Glastonbury, England 2-DAY RETREAT
October 26-27 Cincinnati, Ohio Concert:Nova
November 6-8, 2015 Mt. Baldy, CA 3-DAY RETREAT
April 23, 2016 Long Island, New York Molloy College “Spring Awakening 2016”
All of these events will still happen each week while I’m away.
Every Monday at 8pm there’s zazen at Silverlake Yoga Studio 2 located at 2810 Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90039. Beginners only!
Every Saturday at 9:30 there’s zazen at the Veteran’s Memorial Complex located at 4117 Overland Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230. Beginners only!
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