A Word About Zen Meditation

We are not Buddhists, but, like Steve Jobs who was well known for his Zen meditation practice, and many others in the high-tech world, we embrace the clarity and calm centeredness that meditation can provide. This meditation practice, this feeling of Zen, infuses our work, not any dogma. As Steve Jobs told his biographer, Walter Isaacson:

Steve_Jobs_2If you just sit and observe, you will see how restless your mind is. If you try to calm it, it only makes it worse, but over time it does calm, and when it does, there’s room to hear more subtle things – that’s when your intuition starts to blossom and you start to see things more clearly and be in the present more. Your mind just slows down, and you see a tremendous expanse in the moment. You see so much more than you could see before. It’s a discipline; you have to practice it.

It is well established that meditation can provide many mental and physical benefits. Neuroscience Reveals the Secrets of Meditation’s Benefits (Scientific American, Nov. 2014). Among other things, meditation makes it easier to stay focused for the long periods of time necessary for document review (and software code writing). We have also found that intuition, as Jobs calls it, which comes from years of meditation, makes it easier to connect with advanced AI software in the search for truth. It is one of those subtle things that Jobs mentions, which you can only hear after years of practicing an open mind in the moment. Although meditation is hardly a cure-all, there are many beneficial side-effects like that.

Search_inside-Self_bk_coverMost Silicon Valley companies now encourage employee meditation to attain these side-effects. Google even has an employee dedicated to its promotion, Bill Duane, Google’s Superintendent of Well-Being, who likes to call meditation neural self hacking. See: Self-Hack: Meditation is Silicon Valley’s ‘New Caffeine’ (Wired Youtube); In Silicon Valley, Meditation Is No Fad. It Could Make Your Career (Wired, 6/18/13). The mastermind of neural self-hacking programs appears to be Duane’s HR supervisor at Google, Chade-Meng Tan. Meng. He is a self-described funny fellow who created a simplified emotional intelligence program for Google employees, who are mostly engineers. Meng’s curriculum combines neuroscience, mindfulness, and emotional intelligence. The course led to his book, Search Inside Yourself (HarperOne, 2012), and the  Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute. Also seeOmmmm! How Silicon Valley values meditation (CNBC video interview of Meng about meditation that takes place on the floor of the NYSE). We are looking for world-peace to happen next with the help of Jolly Good Fellow.

Mindful_Work_bk_coverMeditation, aka mindfulness, has spread beyond way Steve Jobs, Google and the Valley into mainstream corporate America. It is now endorsed and encouraged by companies such as Aetna, Target, Procter and Gamble, Ford, General Mills and even Goldman Sachs. See: The Mind Business (Financial Times, 9/24/12) (25% of large US companies have now launched ‘stress-reduction’ initiatives); Corporations’ Newest Productivity Hack: Meditation (Atlantic 5/10/15) (“Aetna estimates that since instituting its mindfulness program, it has saved about $2,000 per employee in healthcare costs, and gained about $3,000 per employee in productivity.”); Why The World’s Best Leaders Want To ‘Meditate On It’ (Forbes, 10/29/14); Gelles, David; Mindful Work: How Meditation Is Changing Business from the Inside Out (Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2015).

Document review in large cases can be very stressful. ZEN has the answer on all levels.






Kobun_informalsitting“We sit [meditate] to make life meaningful. The significance of our life is not experienced in striving to create some perfect thing. We must simply start with accepting ourselves. Sitting brings us back to actually who and where we are. This can be very painful. Self-acceptance is the hardest thing to do. If we can’t accept ourselves, we are living in ignorance, this darkest night. We may still be awake, but we don’t know where we are. We cannot see. The mind has no light. Practice is this candle in our very darkest room.”

“”When all the teachers are gone, who will be your teacher?”  The student replied: “Everything!”  Kobun, paused, then said: “No, you.””

Kōbun Chino Otogawa (1938-2002)
(Steve Job’s primary Zen teacher)


Zen_Master_Shunryu_Suzuki“To have nothing in your mind is naturalness. …When you do something, you should be completely involved in it. You should devote yourself to it completely. Then you have nothing. So if there is no true emptiness in your activity, it is not natural… When you have that mind, you have the joy of life. When you lose it, you lose everything. You have nothing… But when all you do comes out of nothingness, then you have everything. After we realize the emptiness of things, everything becomes real – not substantial. When we realize that everything we see is a part of emptiness, we can have no attachment to any existence; we realize that everything is just a tentative form and color. Thus we realize the true meaning of each tentative existence… It is because our way of observing things is deeply rooted in our self-centered ideas that we are disappointed when we find everything has only a tentative existence. But when we actually realize this truth, we will have no suffering.”

Shunryu Suzuki (1905-71)




Phillip_Kapleau“In the Buddhist view, individual consciousness is a “knowing” energy force, the sum total of a constantly changing series of sense impressions, perceptions, thoughts, tendencies and memories, all of which are fundamentally empty.”

“Zazen (meditation) has clearly demonstrated that with the mind’s eye centered in the hara the proliferation of random ideas is diminished and the attainment of one-pointedness accelerated, since a plethora of blood from the head is drawn down to the abdomen, “cooling” the brain and soothing the autonomic nervous system. This in turn leads to a greater degree of mental and emotional stability. One who functions from his hara, therefore, is not easily disturbed. He is, moreover, able to act quickly and decisively in an emergency owing to the fact that his mind, anchored in his hara, does not waver.”

“With the mind in the hara, narrow and egocentric thinking is superseded by a broadness of outlook and a magnanimity of spirit.This is because thinking from the vital hara center, being free of mediation by the limited discursive intellect, is spontaneous and all embracing. Perception from the hara tends toward integration and unity rather than division and fragmentation. In short, it is thinking which sees things steadily and whole.”

Philip Kapleau (1912-2004)




“To grasp Zen, you must experience it. …You should withdraw inwardly and search for the ground upon which you stand; thereby you will find out what Truth is.”

Ummon [Yun-men Wen-yen] (862-949)




“Think of not thinking. Not thinking – what kind of thinking is that? Nonthinking. This is the essential art of zazen. The zazen I speak of is not meditation practice. It is simply the dharma gate of joyful ease, the practice-realization of totally culminated enlightenment.

Dogen-zenji (1200-53) (from Fukan zazen-gi)









4 thoughts on “A Word About Zen Meditation

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