Zen v's Mindfulness industry

Essay by Mujyo Roshi (Head monk of Jizoan Zen centre Kozanji).



One day in a temple I trained in I had a particularly hard assistant head monk, he had a temper and wasn't a morning person, you felt like avoiding him and you certainly didn’t want to make a mistake in front of him first thing. I remarked to another monk about it, and he wisely said this, ‘well maybe this is his improved version’. This sums up the life of a Zen person, not a community of perfect people, but people trying their best and working everyday a little bit more and a little bit more, having seen themselves and taken up the great work of your life.

This is a big contrast to the rabbit hole of sitting on your cushion of make it all go away, escape into yourself, rinse and repeat, that’s a narcissism, you might as well watch TV to escape, its the same.


Zen is basically organized anti-narcissism. Zen is confronting those narcissistic aspects of yourself, recognizing them and working on it. This is at stark contrast to the standard rhetoric of the Mindfulness industry which is 'retreat', the world hurts you, and here's (technique) how you protect yourself, that's in fact the meditation of narcissism. Very few Mindfulness teachers engage in your part in hurting yourself, your part in hurting other people, or your strength within, your hard journey to self empathy and empathy with others.

The Zen tradition is basically however grounded in making a friend of yourself, turning yourself around and strengthening your life in the world.

Zen is a two and half thousand year tradition with a clear development and handed down wisdom, while most mindfulness teachers have done a course. A Zen teacher, and not everyone will or should teach Zen, is a person with decades of their own spiritual growth and realization and the repository of generations preceding them to fall back on.

The mindfulness industry has existed a few decades, and some will claim its scientific, while as I say Zen is thousands of years old, generations demonstrating their Awakening to Buddha Mind. Not self taught or self promoting. There is no such thing as self taught if one has reached any real awareness of Not-self, only awareness of interconnectedness with all things which goes beyond claiming to empathize with people you know nothing about. In the mindfulness industry gas-lighting is common in the tone of 'that's OK, your opinion is valid, your experience is valid, so is theirs etc. Never an admission of 'I don't know' or 'look at yourself, isn't that you too?'. In short Mindfulness teachers are insufficiently equipped to deal with true spiritual identity crisis and use empty language accordingly.

I might sound condescending to some, my spiritual training life is 35 years old, a journey a twenty something Mindfulness teacher just can't yet comprehend, when I was twenty something I felt I'd had an awakening and I did, but that's not the end of it, it takes years of training to go further into that and mature yourself, I'm not finished yet, it's a never ending work, incomprehensible as a mere technique for optimizing your business skills or dealing with the stress you feel your career forces you to want to retreat from.

Tomorrow awaits you, no matter how you feel you need to cover it up, just as eventually you open the curtains on your day, your life awaits you, it's not something you can run away from or treat like an unwanted problem, so it's much better to become yourself, that's the Zen way.


You might think a Zen monk would welcome the Mindfulness movement, and indeed more people than ever in Australia are identifying with meditation, but medicine becomes a poison if taken with bad instructions and given out buy people with no training or in the case of some of the twenty somethings presuming to teach, no life experience and no life training. When i was 18 I felt i'd had an insight into myself and the world, we call this Kensho in Zen, an Enlightenment experience, and indeed I had, but that's not the end, that's the beginning, and I certainly didn't think it entitled me to anything, that comes from further training. My first Enlightenment was in fact hardly noticed by myself as such, but it inspired my training in Japan with Fukushima Roshi at Tofukuji in Kyoto and other Rinzai training centres, it wasn't the end, it was the beginning of getting serous about myself and I approached it with caution.


Your Mind is ultimately your biggest personal responsibility, don't hand it to someone else to screw with for their personal aims. I often say to people when you come to the Temple, 'take of your shoes and bring in your brain'.


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