Zen and the app culture

I enjoy listening to several podcasts, one of which is Tim Ferris’s. On Tim’s most recent podcast, he and Kevin Rose discuss several random topics. One of these topics is meditation.

The discussion starts with Kevin discussing how he had been using a meditation app but has been considering getting back into Zen Buddhist meditation. It got me thinking about the tremendous contrast between our “there’s an app for that”, quick-fix, convenience driven mindset and the mindset often needed to do things well. We get so wrapped up in efficiency and convenience that we need reminding that somethings should, in fact must, be done slowly, consistently, for a long time, in order for us to grow.

One of these things is Zen meditation. While this is a huge oversimplification, the simplest form of Zen mediation involves just sitting, facing the wall, and staring at the wall. As thoughts arise, you simply acknowledge them but let them go until your mind does not get caught up in these thoughts. The “goal” to the extent there is one is to realize experientially the zen truths that (1) everything is impermanent and (2) everything depends on everything else. Here is my Zen reading list:

General Buddhist texts:

The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh

The Dhammapada translated by Gil Fronsdal

Teachings of the Buddha, edited by Jack Kornfield, Shambahala Pocket Classics

The Heart Sutra 

The Lotus Sutra

The Sigolovada Sutra

Zen Texts

The Three Pillars of Zen, by Phillip Kapleau- great introductory text describing Zen practice

Opening the Hand of Thought by Kosho Uchiyama- another fantastic introductory text describing Zen practice

The Eight Gates of Zen by John Daido Loori- good introductory text describing Zen practice

Realizing Genjokoan by Shohaku Okamura- Fantastic exploration of one of the key writings of Japanese Zen master Dojen. Also gives great background and history.

The Wholehearted Way by Dojen translated by Kosho Uchiyama- A really good translation and exploration of one of Dojen’s key texts

Living by Vow by Shohaku Okamura- another fantastic book explaining Zen Buddhist vows but providing historical and zen doctrinal context.

The Essential Dojen edited by Tanahashi and Levitt- A collection of Dojen’s writings without much expansion- I would probably read this after reading Realizing Genjokoan and The Wholehearted Way.

Sitting with Koans, edited by John Daido Loori- A collection of writings about the development of Koan practice with selected Koans. “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” is an example of a Koan. A koan is an illogical statement or series of statements designed to help the Zen Buddhist experience  with immediacy the core truths of impermanence and interdependent co-arising. These are thought of as vehicles for enlightenment, but are stressed in varying degrees in different Zen sects. One needs a teacher to engage in Koan practice.

What is Zen: Plain Talk for a Beginner’s Mind by Norman Fischer- very basic introduction to Buddhist and Zen concepts without much expansion. It is kind of like the Cliff Notes version of Zen Buddhism.

Everyday Zen by Charlotte Joko Beck- A good contemporary discussion of Zen principles and their application to everyday life by an American author.

Zen Chants by Kazuaki Tanahashi– a good collection of Zen Chants with some expansion. If interested in this topic, I would start with Living by Vow by Okamura.

If I had to condense all of this into the fewest books, I would suggest reading:

The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings

Teachings of The Buddha

The Three Pillars of Zen

Realizing Genjokoan

Living by Vow

But then again, if you are interested in this topic, don’t rush it. Some things are better done slowly.

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