A Zen Master Explains Why Meditation is Overrated (and Maybe Even Harmful)

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Meditation is becoming incredibly popular as a method to achieve peace and serenity in the present moment. But what if in the long run it’s harmful to your efforts to achieve this?

This is the contrarian perspective offered by Zen master D.T. Suzuki in the quote below.

Suzuki’s perspective is interesting because he was instrumental in bringing Zen to the West in the twentieth century, and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1963.

As Suzuki says, if we want to achieve peace and harmony in our minds, we need to focus on what’s natural to.

In his words:

“If there is anything Zen strongly emphasizes it is the attainment of freedom; that is, freedom from all unnatural encumbrances. Meditation is something artificially put on; it does not belong to the native activity of the mind. Upon what do the fowls of the air meditate? Upon what do the fish in the water meditate? They fly; they swim. Is not that enough? Who wants to fix his mind on the unity of God and man, or on the nothingness of life? Who wants to be arrested in the daily manifestations of his life-activity by such meditations as the goodness of a divine being or the everlasting fire of hell?”

Suzuki is saying that meditation is an artificial human act. When we meditate, we’re trying to do something, rather than just being at one with the present moment.

D.T. Suzuki playing with his cat.

It’s better to engage in mindful activities where you are more naturally engaging with your environment. As he says, fish don’t bother to meditate. They just swim.

If the natural thing for you to do is to site and clear your mind, then that’s what you should do. But it doesn’t make sense to impose this on yourself.

In another passage, Suzuki says the following:

“Zen perceives and feels, and does not abstract and meditate. Zen penetrates and is finally lost in the immersion. Meditation, on the other hand, is outspokenly dualistic and consequently inevitably superficial.”

As some have defined Zen, it is the peace that comes from being at one with yourself. It happens when you’re totally in the flow state, connected to who you are and lost in the immersion of this experience.

By this account, rappers are experiencing Zen when they are free styling. Musicians when they are performing. Sports people when they are playing.

In your own life, when do you feel most yourself? When are you performing your best without thinking about it? These are the moments to explore more and embrace.

Meditation can be harmful to your efforts to achieving Zen when you’re becoming attached to it. When this happens, you’re trying to control your experience of enlightenment and flow.

If you’re naturally suited to meditating and it’s something that brings you a lot of enjoyment, then by all means it’s worth continuing to embrace.

The key point offered by Suzuki, however, is to be natural when it comes to exploring the nature of your own humanity.

The following articles offer related perspectives on this important subject:

This article was originally published on The Power of Ideas. 

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