For Shunmyo Masuno, chief priest at Kenkoji, a Soto Zen temple in Yokohama, Zen is an action, not a philosophy. As Masuno explains to The Japan Times, “Zen is concerned with gyōjūzaga, four cardinal behaviors: walking, standing, sitting, lying. It’s difficult to discover the essence of Zen by simply reading philosophical books, as is popular in the West. Unless people can apply the basic, active principles of Zen to their daily lives, it’s meaningless.”
MICHAEL JOSEPH, Nonfiction.
Masuno first found a way to share these ideas on an NHK children’s program, where he introduced the ideas of Zen to elementary school children. The series was so popular that NHK published a text of his lessons. The book became a bestseller in Japan and will soon be published in English as “Zen: The Art of Simple Living.”
Illustrated by Zanna and Harry Goldhawk and translated by Allison Markin Powell, the result is a profoundly beautiful work, easy to read, encouraging deep thought and reflection, but most importantly, acting as a practical guide to Zen action.
Divided into four sections, Masuno uses simple language to explain Zen concepts like gasshō (palms pressed together, an action that “fosters a sense of gratitude”) or mitate (striving to see things in a different way), and offers advice for actively transforming these ideas into lifetime habits. His advice is supported by Zen stories and sayings. As Masuno states in the introduction, “Zen is about habits, ideas and hints for living a happy life. A treasure trove, if you will, of deep yet simple life wisdom.” It could just as easily be a description of the book itself.
“Make time for emptiness. First, observe yourself,” writes Masuno in the opening chapter. In a pattern repeated throughout the book, the one-page chapter extols an action and suggests ways and practices for realizing the action in daily life. To make time for emptiness, for example, Masuno advises using 10 minutes a day to empty the mind. As the chapter concludes: “When you are not distracted by other things, your pure and honest self can be revealed.”
“True Zen is about trying to make this short life as meaningful as possible and to search for universal truths or the immutable in this world,” Masuno explains, citing an example of spring’s first warm breeze. “People a thousand years ago felt happy to welcome the spring, and people a thousand years from now will probably feel a similar way. This is an example of a universal truth, things that are unchanging that we must actively notice and value.”d to design and to teach others as a professor at the department of environmental design at Tama Art University. “I work mainly with outdoor spaces, but this also includes interiors since the interior and the garden can’t really be separated in Japan,” he says. “When I design gardens overseas, I feel it’s a chance to explain Japanese beauty to people from other countries. If they notice things — like how the garden is an extension of the interior — and it sparks their interest in Japan, then it becomes a great kind of cultural exchange.”
For Masuno, Zen practice, cultural connections, and gardening are all interconnected, and his book reflects this with numerous points that connect to gardening. Plant a single flower, suggests one chapter. Create a small garden on your balcony or window ledge, advises another: “Within that space, try representing the landscape of your mind.”
Like gardening, another reason Masuno’s work resonates is because it clearly focuses on the process, not on any promised outcome. “In the Western world, the focus is on the result — advocates of mindfulness meditation, for example, emphasize how you’ll have clearer thoughts and less stress,” explains Masuno. “But Zen is always about the practice itself; the results are secondary. Of course Zen is important spiritually in today’s world. Two hundred years ago there was no internet, no fast trains, no jets and no cell phones … but many more people today suffer from mental illnesses and depression. The suicide rate today is at an all time high. So, despite all the modern advances, you can’t really say that our generation is more content.”
Masuno believes there’s an increasing need for Zen practice in today’s world, and he expresses thanks at the book’s success in Japanese, never expecting an English translation to follow. Unsurprisingly, Masuno has a simple goal for his book for English-reading audiences: “I hope the book will have a calming effect to bring people peace of mind, (helping them to find) a way to actively live each day thankfully and meaningfully. Zen must fundamentally carry the philosophy into practice.”
This small but powerful book shows that way.
“Zen: The Art of Simple Living” will be published on April 18 through Penguin Books’ Michael Joseph imprint.
~Thich Nhat Hanh~
When you are young and vigorous
You never think of old age coming,
But it approaches slow and sure
Like a seed growing underground.
When you are strong and healthy
You never think of sickness coming,
But it descends with sudden force
Like a stroke of lightning.
When involved in worldly things
You never think of death’s approach.
Quick it comes like thunder
Crashing round your head.
Sickness, old age and death
Ever meet each other
As do hands and mouth.
Waiting for his prey in ambush,
Yama is ready for his victim,
When disaster catches him.
Sparrows fly in single file. Like them,
Life, Death and Bardo follow one another.
Never apart from you
Are these three ‘visitors’.
Thus thinking, fear you not
Your sinful deeds?
Like strong arrows in ambush waiting,
Rebirth in Hell, as Hungry Ghost, or Beast
Is (the destiny) waiting to catch you.
If once into their traps you fall,
Hard will you find it to escape.
Do you not fear the miseries
You experienced in the past?
Surely you will feel much pain
If misfortunes attack you?
The woes of life succeed one another
Like the sea’s incessant waves
One has barely passed, before
The next one takes its place.
Until you are liberated, pain
and pleasure come and go at random
Like passers-by encountered in the street.
Pleasures are precarious,
Like bathing in the sun;
Transient, too, as snowstorms
Which come without warning.
Remembering these things,
Why not practice the Dharma?
from the book “The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa, Vol. 2”
– Tulku Thondup Rinpoche
from the book “Incarnation: The History and Mysticism of the Tulku Tradition of Tibet”
Panoramic awareness in everyday life
In addition to the sitting form of meditation, there is the meditation practice in everyday life of panoramic awareness. This particular kind of practice is connected with identifying with the activities one is involved in. This awareness practice could apply to artwork or any other activity. It requires confidence. Any kind of activity that requires discipline also requires confidence. You cannot have discipline without confidence; otherwise it becomes a sort of torturing process. If you have confidence in what you are doing, then you have real communication with the things you are using, with the material you are using. Working that way, a person is not concerned with producing masterpieces. He is just involved with the things that he is doing. Somehow the idea of a masterpiece is irrelevant.
– Chögyam Trungpa
from the book “Ocean of Dharma: The Everyday Wisdom of Chogyam Trungpa”
With thanks to Just Dharma Quotes
Anguttara Nikaya I. 10