Zen Tapes

The Zen of Sports and Athletics

Zen Tapes - The Zen of Sports and Athletics

(Zazen music plays in the background.)

Zen Master Rama here. Today - sports. Athletics. The agony of victory, the thrill of defeat.

So there's definitely a sense of competition in Zen. You're competing with your thoughts and trying to overcome them.

In the background, Zazen. "LA Digital Mindscape" from their "Urban Destruction" album.

Zen of sports and athletics. How to make the body and soul one. Running those miles, shooting those arrows, working out, getting strong, getting stronger. That point of intersection when there's no separation between the dancer and the dance. Between the ball and the player.

Sports. Teamwork. One unit, one mind, one body out there on the court.

Preparation of the mind. All athletics, and success in sports and athletics, from the Zen point of view, comes from the mind. If your mind isn't disciplined, integrated, free and one-pointed, how can you possibly do well in athletics? No matter what kind of shape your body is in, if your mind is out of shape, there's disharmony in the being. So in Zen we strive to bring both the mind and the body into perfect condition and integrate the two, so that there is no intrinsic difference between them. That's right - Zen.

Sports and athletics are zazen, they're meditation - moving meditation. As you are running down that field or shooting that basket, putting that golf ball, taking down your opponent in martial arts or just competing with yourself, there are moments of timelessness and ecstasy and challenge and emptiness.

Zen is the way of emptiness and fullness. So for the next little while, we're going to discuss the Zen of sports and athletics, emptiness and fullness, beginning and ending.

Sports. (Rama laughs.)

(Zazen music ends.)

Like all things, sports and athletics mean different things to different people. In America and many countries of the world today, sports and athletics mean that on Sunday afternoon you get together with your friends, with a lot of beer and pretzels, and you sit around in front of the TV and watch a lot of people knock each other down, shoot the baskets, shoot the moon. For the individual players, those super athletes everyone watches, it means what? Money? The chance to do advertisements? That's Western sports. Oh, there are exceptions, of course.

Today I'd like to take you to the world of the Zen mind, in which all things are equal and nothing is the same. Zen, of course, has had a certain influence on sports, at least in the Far East, in Japan. The samurais, the warriors, were very interested in Zen because they admired the tremendous precision that the Zen masters had, and their lack of fear of pain and their absolute lack of fear of death. The samurais lived with death constantly. They wore a short dagger along with their other weapons on their belt, and that was to take their own life if need be. At any moment they might have to do that - that was part of their code - rather than live with dishonor and disgrace. They lived with death all the time, as we all do. It's just most of us aren't too aware of it. We don't think about it. They did.

Zen and Buddhism have really produced, strangely enough, martial arts. Because of the Buddhist injunction against the use of weapons, we've found that the martial arts have developed, and today they are popularized by movies like "The Karate Kid" and Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris and other people who we see up on the screen demonstrating these arts. We've all seen Ninja movies, and we all love to watch their acrobatics and the incredible things they can do. But of course missing from most of this, although we certainly get a little bit of it in "The Karate Kid", is the sense of the discipline and the state of mind involved in martial arts. The same is true of Zen in archery or any other aspect.

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.