Zen Without Zen Masters - by Camden Benares

"Why should I empty my mind?" "Wheels without empty centers cannot be used to haul, and the empty part of the bowl makes it useful for holding food."

Personal work

The most important work you will ever do is upon yourself. Any occupation you engage in can be used for that purpose, but not necessarily for a lifetime. Since most of us select from visible alternatives, we avoid confronting our fears and become what we are least afraid of becoming. Now is the time to understand those fears so we can get on with our personal work.


Life is a continuing process of change. Resistance to change and personal growth is one of the most difficult ways to attempt to live because it requires a denial of the process. One of the hazards of refusing to accept change in yourself is getting locked into the habit of trying to change others so you can have the illusion of remaining the same. That way of living will take all your energy and yield no personal returns. Why waste your energy on changing others? You can use it to flow with the changes that are happening to you and enjoy the unfolding of your own life.

Who's in charge here?

You are the creator of the reality that you experience. Every event that occurs around you takes on meaning when you put your attention on it. During your lifetime you have been exposed to a lot of conditioning, but you have selected what seemed valid to you and made it part of your programming. If reality is getting you down, examine the programming that is in the biocomputer you call your mind. That programming can be changed at any time because you are your own programmer.

Responsibility, here and now

Living in the here and now is concentrating on the present in accordance with one's own nature. It is not ignoring the future, but a recognition of the ignorance of future events. Rather than an abandonment of responsibility, it is the full acceptance of who you are, where you are and what you are doing. Welcome to the here and now. Everything that you have experienced has been necessary to get you where you are now. If you think that you have been in a better place, stop looking backwards.


There is always a choice in your course of action, although you may have been conditioned to believe otherwise. One of the best ways to decide which choice to make is to list all the alternatives that you can think of while bearing in mind that nothing is unthinkable. Divide those alternatives into two categories--direct and indirect. The latter represent those choices that require getting other people on your trip. The direct choices need only your action. If you can't find a direct course of action, rethink the entire situation.

Good vibrations

Like vibrations attract. If you are getting a lot of bad vibes in your life, put your attention on what you are transmitting. What you send is what you get.

Personal experience

Knowledge is superficial unless it is accompanied by personal experience. Since superficial knowledge is an unstable foundation for a way of living, Zen stresses becoming one with your experience. Thus, Zen can lead to an understanding that the standard of living has little to do with the quality of life.

Past burdens

The great value of the past is wisdom gained from your experience and pleasant memories. Everything else is excess baggage that handicaps the enjoyment of the trip. Yesterday's aches, pains and problems are not a burden here and now unless you brought them with you.

Dimensions of life

The only dimension of life over which you have limited control is the length. By putting your attention on what you do to extend your life, you can utilize the potention you have for its duration. But be aware that every day you control the depth and width of your experience, your life.

Zen sense

Everything is true in some sense, false in some sense and meaningless in another sense. A working knowledge of this concept is a useful tool for staying relaxed. For example, if someone says something about you that is untrue, you should not get upset regardless of whether you consider the statement positive or negative. It is true in the sense that it is what one person believes to be true about you; it is that individual's truth. It is false in the sense that it does not represent your truth. It is meaningless in the sense that it does not change who and what you are; your identity is independent of others' opinions.

Identity risk

Among the masks and roles of your everyday reality there is a genuine human being living a life. Speak out. Ask for what you want--there are only two risks attached. The first is that asking will let both you and others know who and where you are. That is necessary for learning your real identity. The second risk in asking for what you want is that you might get it.

Time orientation

The past is just a memory and the future is a guess. The point where they meet is the present, and it is the only place you exist. The address of where you live is eternally now.

Cause and effect

It is easy to pick any event that precedes another in time and define the first as the cause and the second as the effect. Such definitions may be difficult to disprove but that does not insure their validity. Sometimes such a combination will be presented as common sense when it is merely stupidity hardened into a bad habit.

Being exercise

You control the depth and width of your experience. The apparent limits of where you go, whom you associate with and what you do are largely of your own choosing as influenced by your heredity, environment and experience. This exercise will help you explore your own culture, different subcultures within it and other cultures. Pick a cultural territory for exploration. Use your own resources for accumulating the information you need for your adventure. Then, dressed appropriately for the new environment, go into it and blend into the surroundings as much as possible without compromising your inner nature. Learn as much as you can from the experience.

Energizing exercise

Extend your arms forward, straight from the shoulders with palms down. Curve the fingers upward as far as they will go. Imagine that a tennis ball is bouncing against the palm of each hand with a regular, fast rhythm. While breathing deeply and regularly, clutch and release the tennis balls hitting your palms. Each clutch should press the fingers tightly against the palms; each release should return the fingers to the upward curved position. Make the rhythm as fast as possible and mentally count each time the fingers touch the palm. A count of fifty is the minimum necessary to get the feeling of energy that will help keep you alert and pay attention to whatever task is at hand.

Living exercise

Imagine that your life is going to be taken over and lived by a person who will be your best friend. In taking over, the friend will also take over your characteristics and beliefs in order to really live your life. As soon as you have imagined that, start putting your life in order for your friend. Get the garbage out, both physical and mental. Really shape up your life in the way that only you can. After all, you wouldn't want to put your best friend on a bum trip, would you?

Loving exercise

For one day treat everyone you encounter as if he or she were an enlightened being, doing whatever is necessary to raise your consciousness to a higher level. Suspect everyone of the very best of intentions. Anytime that you get uptight, use the energy that would be used in that uptightness to create. Create a new you who doesn't get uptight or a new situation wherein no one gets uptight. If you love everyone as much as you can no matter where they are or what they appear to be doing, you will be able to love that part of you that is so much like them.

Freedom exercise

Each day you decide if you are going to be the same person that you were yesterday. Only you know whether the habit patterns, lifestyle and activities of that person you were yesterday are right for today. You can continue them, or you can make changes. The choice is yours--exercise it today.

Questioning exercise

The first step toward getting useful answers is framing useful questions. If you have experienced getting answers that were difficult to deal with, it may be that you aren't asking the right questions. Ask yourself questions like "Am I getting what I want from this situation?" "Should I continue doing this if it is merely a habit?" "What results am I getting from the expenditure of my energy?" "Are my actions in my own best interest?" Pay attention to yourself and pay attention to what you learn from your questions. As you repeat this exercise, your questions and answers will become more meaningful. Remember that just as nothing is unthinkable, nothing is unquestionable.

Silent exercise

If you use any recreational or social drug, experience it the next time alone. Arrange the setting so that you will not be disturbed. Remain silent during the time that the drug is in your system. Become one with the experience and learn as much as possible from it.

Reprogramming exercise

Since change is constant, you do not have to be the victim of past programming if you are willing to accept responsibility for your own programming. The circumstances of the past that created your existing behavior patterns do not have to be the circumstances of the future. Your reactions can change as easily as the circumstances if you are willing to take an active role in your life. Examine your own programming for habits that are counterproductive, for preferences that are apt to become addictions, for reactions that are inappropriate responses to the situation. When you find the behavioral characteristic that you want to change, you have taken the first step toward meaningful change. Once you have identified the bit of programming that you are going to revise, write down your intention to change. Add as much information as it seems worthwhile to describe completely the change you want to make. Then start collecting data that pertains to the change. Talk to other people who have made similar changes. Read whatever pertinent information is availbale on the subject. The next step is imagining the new behavior response that you will have in place of the old. Make a mental film of yourself in the old situation with the new behavior. Play the film over and over in your mind until it becomes real to you. Then start living it with the joy of accomplishment.