Zen States of Mind

So let’s start with Zen.  Zen is a branch of Buddism born in China in the Tang Dynasty as a school of Mahayana Buddism and then later spread across Korea and then into Japan where it gained the name “Zen”.  It emphasises rigorous self-control, meditation-practice, insight into Buddha-nature, and the personal expression of this insight in daily life, especially for the benefit of others.

Our modern world is full of distraction and confusion and without being able to take the time to stop and think we may just go through our whole lives without actually knowing who we are or what we even want to do in life.  Worse still we may find out what we actually want to do in life when we are too old to do it.  Why spend all of our best years earning money to spend on things when we retire, only to find out that they have changed or we have too much to do so.

So how do we work out what we want from this life?  We need to take the time to become aware of the things inside and around us.  The Buddist practice of Zen states that the best way to do this is to change the way we think.. I have spoken about mindset in my previous posts. (scout mindset, and growth mindset).  The four Zen mindset are; Shoshin, Fudoshin, Mushin and Zanshin.

Shoshin – this is known as the beginner’s mind.  This reminds me of an old African proverb, “A wise man never knows all, only fools know everything”  For centuries there have always been people who “know it all”, people who have been certain that they are right and will spend all their time and effort into arguing with others and trying to prove that they are right.  A great example of this is the one relating to our solar system. In ancient times we believed that all of the planets, and the sun, revolved around the Earth.  In 310BC a Greek called Aristarchus thought this was wrong and said that our planets, including Earth, revolved around the sun.  Others knew better and argued for their theory for a very long time until Copernicus in the 1530’s proved them wrong (1800 years!!!!)   We have believed that the world was flat, that the world was only made up of four elements (earth, air, fire and water), that atoms were the smallest things in the universe… and so on.  Shoshin is the ability to believe what you want to but be open to new ideas.  This allows you to listen to other people’s point of view without using preconceived ideas or theories and allows you to adapt.  This is especially useful in debates or arguments you will be able to listen to all of the ideas, and maybe find out what caused them, and then work out the truth.  Then, if you hear better arguments, change your views again.  If we were like this maybe Aristarchus’s theory would have been proven a lot sooner.

Fudoshin – this is known as the “immovable mind”.  Now don’t get this mixed up with Shoshin, you CAN do both. Fudoshin would have been extremely useful for the followers of Aristarchus but seems to have been used better by the others.  This is related to doing what you think is right in the face of all obstacles.  Combined with Shoshin that would mean looking for proof that you were right, despite what others said, despite being told that you were “wrong” or it was “impossible”.  This would be combined with changing your thinking when things went wrong and looking for different ways to prove yourself.  These two states of mind are the mother of all invention.  Edison took the previous versions of light bulbs (more like fluorescent tube lights) and make them into the light bulbs we know today as more of a safe commercial version that would work with his, and his fellow scientist, ideas of electricity.  It took him around a thousand failed attempts to get it right.  He was also able to change his views when it came to the safest version of electricity (his version DC – direct current, and Tesla’s version AC – alternating current) Now we use both. Because Edison, Tesla and the other scientist believed we could harness electricity our lives have been massively changed.

Mushin – this is known as “without mind”.  This is a mindset that has got many books dedicated to it.  This is about living in the moment, “The Power of Now” by Ekhart Tolle is a good example,  “Present Moment Awareness” by Shannon Duncan and many others.  It can be seen used as advice in films too, the best example I know is when it is given as advice to Tom Cruise in the Last Samurai for his fighting training.  He is told “No Mind”.  So what does Mushin mean? It means that we need to only think about now. We must forget; thoughts of the past and future thoughts, the thoughts of others, fears and doubts.  We need to forget the “minds”, the thoughts that could control what we must do now and may go against our gut instincts and beliefs and may stop us achieving or even chasing our dreams or even stop us becoming all that we can be.  If you have dreams for yourself or for others it is vital that you work on this mindset. It has been used in business and industry for years and is sometimes referred to as Kaizen (a word meaning continuous improvement).

Zanshin – known as the “remaining mind”.  This is one of the mental states many martial artists aspire to. This is best combined with the other mindsets.  This is being relaxed and able to sense your surroundings. Being so aware of your surroundings that you cannot be surprised or attacked.  The ultimate aim is to be able to learn from all around you (Shoshin) and strive to achieve your goal (Fudoshin) without distractions from other thought (Mushin) and also being aware of all of your surroundings.  Many try to achieve this state through meditation and mindfulness.  If you try these things you will notice that when properly relaxed you will notice things you missed before; sounds, smells, sights, feelings (including the air on your skin, your internal organs, temperature changes, body reactions and more) and tastes.  What if you could notice all of these things whilst going about your daily business surrounded by all of the distractions and influences around you?  What could stop you from being the best that you could be?



Hi, I was born in England and trained as a teacher, tried sales, and management then returned to my first love of teaching. In the evenings I am a self employed karaoke DJ. I love to teach and coach others to improve their lives and be their best.

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