Zen Tapes

How To Be A Successful Student

Zen Tapes - How To Be A Successful Student

(Zazen music plays in the background.)

Zen Master Rama here. Our topic today is how to be a successful student.

A student is someone who looks at life with curiosity. There's a sense of eagerness and particularly, I might add, a sense of newness.

So for the next 45 minutes, let's all become students - students of life, students of death, students of eternity, students of our minds, students of all the beauty and horror that passes before our eyes, students of the eyes, students of that which is real, students of that which is unreal, students in college, in graduate school, professional school, computer school, students of Zen Buddhism, music students, architectural students, law students, medical students, elementary school students, students of life. Yes.

(Zazen music ends.)

I've been a student really all my life. We all start as students. We come into a world naked, knowing nothing save that we came, and we look around at the landscape, at the terrain. We feel a body, we breathe, we experience heat and cold, pleasure and pain, love and anger, solitude, the company of others. And we learn. We learn customs, languages. We're given a sense of right and wrong, which may be right or wrong. And we watch everyone; everyone is a model for behavior. We begin to make judgments. We choose and select a personality. Most of it is really picked up from others.

We're conditioned. We're told, "This is a beautiful thing. This is not beautiful. This is a happy thing. This is a sad thing." As little children we are conditioned. We're taught, we're sent to school, shipped on yellow buses or we walk miles, and just the journey, if you remember correctly, is quite educational. Suddenly we're away from the family and we're around our friends. Each one is different, and yet they're all the same.

There are girls and boys and books, and raincoats when it rains, and we sit in classes. We spend years and years and years sitting in classes every day. Monday through Friday we're in a class, all day long, being taught. And of course, most of what we're learning has very little to do with what the teacher says. Because actually we could absorb what the teacher says in a much shorter period of time, just in a couple of hours, I would say, without any problem whatsoever, a day. But this is an opportunity or a chance for us to learn something else, something different.

We learn how to be, how to interact with others, and we decide who we are. Are we reclusive? Are we outgoing? Are we successful? Are we going to be a failure? Exactly what is it that we want to be? We cast a role for ourselves and we step into it. And most people will play out that role that they start way back there in those first few years of life and school for the rest of their stay on this earth.

We're taught how to live. We're given tasks, but no one ever really teaches us how to be a successful student. Oh, occasionally there are courses at some universities where they teach you a little speed-reading. They talk about how to do research, how to look up a bibliography, things like that. But no one ever teaches us how to be a successful student. Some people just pick it up; some imitate others who have been successful students - perhaps their parents or someone around them. Or maybe they had a teacher who they watched very closely, and they keyed to the teacher's awareness, the consciousness of the teacher, and they gained a sense from that of how to be a successful student. But it's really, by and large, something that we're not taught.

I've been a student for a long, long time. I was a student through this life, in elementary school, high school and college. I graduated from college with high honors. I'm a member of Phi Beta Kappa, the National Honorary Society. I received an outstanding fellowship, competitive fellowship, to graduate school where I got a master's and a doctorate. I taught in a few universities for a while, until I decided to do something else with my life, to teach something else. I've studied the arts of self-discovery for a long, long time in this life for many, many years, meditating for thousands and thousands of hours, studying with different teachers before my own enlightenment returned from other lives or wherever it comes from. And I've always loved being a student. It's my absolutely - it's my favorite thing. Being a student - it's the happiest of all things to be a student.

Rama smiling with his arms crossed wearing a designer suit
Seeing is the ability to tell what really is.

The works of Rama – Dr. Frederick Lenz are reprinted or included here with permission from

The Frederick P. Lenz Foundation for American Buddhism.