Zen Tapes


Zen Tapes - Winning

Good morning, good afternoon, good evening. It depends on what time of day you're listening to this.

Here it's about 1:15 in the morning. I'm in Big Sur, sitting by the fireplace, burning some Monterey pine. It's cloudy tonight. The ocean is overcast. A storm is coming in. It's very warm, though. It's December, almost Christmas time, and it's probably 60 degrees out tonight. Beautiful days - sunny, clear this time of year. The fog doesn't really come till the spring and summer here, and then it's only right along the coastline. But when the fog is there, if you happen to be there, you don't see too well. You can drive away from the fog, go back from the coast a half an hour, and it's completely sunny. And then come into the coast and you can't see more than a few feet ahead of yourself when the fog is very thick.

So the strategy of winning, from the Zen point of view, is gaining personal power.

Today our subject is winning - the Zen of winning. Now that may seem to some like a contradictory term, which is appropriate. A lot of people perceive Zen as non-competitive. It's interesting. I built an advertising campaign around "Gaining the Competitive Edge through the Practice of Zen," and I got a few angry letters from ardent Zen practitioners - who seem to be terribly stuck in their practice - who said that the ad misrepresented Zen. How could Zen help you gain the competitive edge? Evidently, they've all read Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, which is a fine book, and they've read that there should be no competition in Zen. But of course there's competition in Zen. Let's not be ridiculous. There's competition in everything in life. Zen gives you the competitive edge to be a winner.

Naturally, being a winner in Zen is very different than being a winner in a sense of competition as most people play the game in the world. Being a winner in Zen means competing and winning in the world of enlightenment, in the world of career, in the world of sports, in the world of personal aesthetic achievement. Winning is doing what you want to do, essentially.

Of course, part of Zen has to do with understanding precisely what it is you want to do. And a lot of people don't know. They think they know because they've been brought up with certain ideas and expectations of what they should do. Zen is very competitive. All self-discovery is competitive. We're not competing against anyone else who practices. That's an absurd idea.

There's enough room in eternity for everyone to be enlightened. We gain or lose nothing by the success of others. But we're definitely competing. We're competing against our imperfections, we're competing against the fog, illusion. We're only alive for a certain period of time in any given lifetime and we're competing against time. It's a race to see if we can wake up before we go to sleep again. That's the challenge - Zen challenges your mind.

Most people lead boring and complacent lives. By the time they're 30 or 40, they think there's nothing new under the sun. They've seen it all and done it all. The universe is endless, endless perfection. There are endless possibilities. Gaining the competitive edge, winning, is what Zen is all about - being able to do what it is you want to do and, of course, understanding, knowing the still center of perfect being. That's winning, in my estimation. I'm sure one could choose other terms to express it that perhaps might be less offensive to Zen practitioners who are stuck in their practice, but perhaps that's not my intent. I like common American usage, personally.

See, one of the problems with Zen or any practice is that it's a practice. That's why people don't win. The reason people don't win is they get stuck in ideas, habits, ways of seeing mostly - life, ourselves, the universe, what we do, what we don't do - and these ways of seeing block our natural energy and creativity. We have very fixed ideas about how we should approach things.

Perhaps we have been successful in something before and now we assume we should approach the project or endeavor, the meditation, the career, the relationship, whatever it may be - sports, athletics, school - we assume we should approach it in the same way. And it's the doggondest thing. Even if we were successful before, we won't be successful again. We might be successful in a certain sense, in that we may be able to replicate the results. Last semester you got all A's. This semester you used the same approach, and you got all A's again. But if you use the same approach, it means you're in the same state of mind, and so from the Zen point of view, you've lost.

Some will be quick to say, "Well, you know there's no winning and losing; that's just a state of mind in duality." But duality is part of reality, and there is definitely winning and losing. If you don't think so, talk to someone who's gone to the racetrack and lost, and talk to somebody who's gone and won. Talk to somebody who's beaten cancer, talk to somebody who hasn't. There is definitely winning and losing. It's a state of mind, yes; it's a way of looking at things. And I think it's a very honest and accurate way.

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.