Every-Minute Zen

Zen students are with their masters at least ten years before they presume to teach others. Nan-in was visited by Tenno, who, having passed his apprenticeship, had become a teacher. The day happened to be rainy, so Tenno wore wooden clogs and carried an umbrella. After greeting him Nan-in remarked: ‘I suppose you left your wooden clogs in the vestibule. I want to know if your umbrella is on the right or the left side of the clogs.’
Tenno, confused, had no instant answer. He realised that he was unable to carry his Zen in every minute. He became Nan-in’s pupil, and he studied six more years to accomplish his every-minute Zen.

Have you given a thought to what this last statement means? To accomplish every-minute Zen? For Tenno, who, already assumed to be a master after ten years of training, and the teaching of others, we can see he was unable. For me this means that it is not an easy thing to acquire and takes much attention and effort.

But it must be attainable otherwise their would be no trace of the idea. This is the interesting point! It is spoken about, often, in certain circles. It is a thing that interests me a great deal.

The constant striving for every-minute Zen is all that we can hope for. If it was difficult for Tenno in fortuitous circumstances, what hope do I have in London? But to think like this is to be already defeated!

Taste it now for a second.. Be present to yourself and your surroundings. Register this impression and see if it is possible to come back to it later on. Only you will be able to answer, and if you answer yourself sincerely you will have begun.



Filed under Gurdjieff, Zen

6 responses to “Every-Minute Zen

  1. Alex Jones

    To be fully attentive in every moment, harder than it seems.


  2. I am not certain that anyone can maintain ‘every-minute Zen’, although I have met one person, a Zen master, who seemed quite remarkable in this respect (and other Zen masters who have not). The actual practice of this seems to involve a relaxed awareness rather than straining, which quickly deteriorates into distracted thinking; gently bringing ourselves back to awareness when we lose it. Where the discipline comes into it is that in a place like London, as opposed to a quiet Zen monastery where the focus of life is upon waking up, we must not be distracted by all the trivialities presented to us by modern society. But it is possible in such circumstances to live a more aware life if we are able to break free of others’ expectations regarding what is important in life.


    • Thank you for this comment Paul. I agree with all your saying. For me it is one thing to attain it in a monastery, and another thing to attain it in a modern city.

      A relaxed awareness is definitely necessary and of course to have Zen in every minute is a very far of aim. Let me try and be present in this minute to begin with, and then the next one…..


      • And if a person can only manage it in a monastery but not in ordinary life, have they really ‘got it’? Of course, Zen monasteries are not considered residences for life, necessarily, but rather as training centers for life.


  3. Great point by Paul here. At the heart of the Zen experience is the basic paradox: to try for it is to miss it. What makes ‘every-minute Zen’ so elusive is that to want it, to strive for it, is an endlessly self-frustrating effort. It can only arise naturally and effortlessly, or not at all.

    Like you said Lewis, let’s just be relaxed and be present in this moment. After all, this moment contains eternity.

    I’ve missed reading your posts, my friend – it’s good to be back 🙂

    ~ Ben


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