There is this wonderful passage in the book ‘Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind’ by Shunryu Suzuki where a student asks his teacher, “Master, what is the benefit of meditation?” And the master replies, “Nothing.”
We will explore this koan in detail today. A koan is a riddle that spiritual masters give to their students so that they learn something about themselves. Because you may ask yourself: if it doesn’t have a benefit, why should you do it or is nothing something you should strive for? But more about that later.
One of the first steps to inner peace and happiness is to stop looking outside of yourself for the source of happiness. Or in other words: The arrow of actionism is no longer directed away from you, but points to yourself.
Therefore imagine an arrow in front of your own stomach. With us in the western world socialized people this arrow usually points away from us. We interact with the environment, we do something to get a reaction to it, our actions are primarily directed towards the outside world.
The inner peace learning process can be sped up through regular meditation practice, because during meditation we start to turn the arrow of actionism very slowly around and point it at ourselves. And when the arrow is completely turned around, it slowly moves into you and you explore yourself layer by layer. That might be a scary experience for many, because it is so much easier to search for happiness outside yourself and a lot of people are afraid to look closely, because they are afraid of the things they might find.
But if you always look for your answers in the outside, then the possibilities are infinite. Think about it! There is always something you can try, another place you can visit, another unfinished ToDo, more books you can read etc.. But in contrast, when the arrow is pointing towards you, then there is an end.
Even if it sometimes takes years, it is possible to illuminate almost every layer in the (sub)conscious mind and to explore every fiber of your own mind. The resulting own truth and resulting knowledge is called enlightenment, expressed in a strong feeling of happiness, oneness, strong compassion for others and gratitude. Those feelings are not dependent on the surroundings.
Even if it sometimes takes years, it is possible to illuminate almost every layer in the (sub)conscious mind and to explore every fiber of your own mind.
In other words: Everything that you need for your path to enlightenment, you already carry it within you. Since nothing is added from the outside world, meditation brings nothing additional. Let’s explore that nothing further.
Nothing is not nothing
Nothing as a noun has a much higher value in Eastern culture than here in the West and is something that is also valued in art. The Asian archways, for example, are often built to show the viewer in the arch the nothing.
Zen meditation is also about getting closer to this nothingness. The moment when the brain stops thinking, one becomes one with the environment and is wrapped in warming trust. There is no comparison with others anymore, because suddenly you are the others. You become your environment. Through this experience of “Ego dissolution” one becomes nobody, or as in Game of Thrones, becoming no one, in the most positive sense.. So if meditation would bring you only one important thing, it’s definitely nothing.
We in our society always want to do something that makes sense. We want to become faster, jump further, become more successful, earn more money, know more etc. etc. As written in the first chapter, we are not only looking for answers to our problems in the outside world, but our whole action is focused on interaction with the environment. So why do you have to do something that does not benefit you? It seems pointless to waste time on it.
Doing things unintentionally is exactly the way to inner peace and true ease. Many authors, for example, have had this experience. The first work came from the deepest inside, they wrote it because they simply wanted to put their thoughts on paper. They started with a beginner mind. In the second work, one feels one’s own expectations in order to build on the success of the first work and we as readers ask ourselves why sequels can rarely keep up with the first part. The challenge is to upkeep this beginner mind.
It’s not bad per se to start something because you want to improve, but at a certain point you should forget this intention, because otherwise you limit yourself on your way. Similar to brushing your teeth, which has become a part of your life, but you don’t think about the reasons for it every time.
Doing things unintentionally is exactly the way to inner peace and true ease.
In the now there is no past and no future and therefore no intention. That is what a happy mind is about and the statement of the master is a reminder of this path. Whatever he is asking between the lines, “Would you do it, too, if it does not bring you anything? If the answer is yes, then you are in the right place!”
The story from above could also continue as follows. Another new student comes to the Master and asks the same question: “What is the benefit of meditation for me?” And the Master answers: “Everything”. The first student has noticed this and is confused, because the master has answered him “Nothing”. So he addresses the master. He smiles, “But everything is nothing and nothing is everything.