Richard Seff: the book How to be Zen without being a monk

Can you present your book How to be Zen without being a monk?
It’s an essay, in the truest sense of the term… I tried to share my experience of Zen, which is neither religious nor a simple search for “well-being”. I have tried both to explain what Zen is, what the fundamental principles of this philosophy of life are and what it can bring to each of us in our daily life.

What prompted you to write this essay?
Precisely, the fact of wanting to show that Zen can be integrated into our modern lives. That we don’t need to change our lives, to cut ourselves off from the world to achieve Zen, but on the contrary, the practice of Zen helps us to live our life, to realize ourselves, to be in harmony with others and the world around us.

Is it easy to be able to remain zen in the world around us when in each newspaper we are told about Covid-19, war or inflation?
No, it’s not simple, but Zen helps us to clarify things, to see things more clearly, to have what is called the right vision. The world is neither simple nor complicated, it is our way of interacting with it that we deem simple or complicated. The more we act under the influence of greed, covetousness, anger, passion, the more our relationship to the world and to others is complicated.
But neither is Zen about becoming indifferent and impassive to what is happening around us. This is not the caricatural image sent back to us by advertisements and certain newspapers. Being zen is not being cooool! To be zen is to be conscious, it is to look reality in the face, without hiding and without projecting one’s preconceptions, prejudices, expectations and fears. It is to be awake.

Can one have zen without living recluse in the depths of the world or adopting the life of a monk?
Zenitude is a word, it doesn’t exist. To be Zen is to embark on a path, it is a practice. The essential part is meditation, zazen. It is through this experience of meditation that we awaken, that we become aware of the illusions to which we are attached and which are often the source of our suffering. It is not running away from suffering, passions, desires… on the contrary, it is facing them, looking them in the face in order to free oneself from them. Realizing that most of our suffering arises from the idea that we have of things and not of the things themselves is very liberating.

Do you have something simple and quick to share with us to be a little quiet and decompress?
Yes, 2 very simple things to do. First, adopt an upright posture. Even if you don’t cross-legged, sit on a chair, without touching the backrest, with your back straight up to the neck. You don’t feel the same in this posture as you do hunched or slouched. You immediately feel stronger, more energetic, the mind takes over… This also frees the stomach and the plexus to breathe naturally. Then we can move on to breathing. Without forcing, let yourself breathe until the end of the exhalation and then inhale naturally. Follow your breath, the movement it creates in your body. Stay attentive, without any particular effort – that’s why I don’t talk about concentration – and come back to your breathing each time you let yourself be distracted by a thought. You will see that after a few minutes you will not only feel the calm, but also the energy circulating within you.

Is there a mistake not to make to gain serenity?
Seek to be serene!

Is it important to review our lifestyles to gain peace of mind?
When we evolve internally, our way of life evolves naturally. We live in societies where stress, impatience, aggressiveness, self-centeredness seem normal to us. By practicing Zen, we naturally move away from these behaviors, because we become more and more aware of our interdependence with others and with the world. We realize that we only exist thanks to this interdependence. Unless we are crazy, like some rulers of this world, we don’t want to destroy what keeps us alive. If we destroy it, it is out of ignorance, out of unconsciousness.

Is there a personality that inspires you to have zenitude?
Buddha of course. These words are enlightening. No dogma. It is up to everyone to find their truth in their word. One of Buddha’s first sermons begins with these words that I put on the first page of my book: “Doubt everything and especially what I am going to say”.

You have been practicing Zen for many years. What has it brought you in your life or on a daily basis?
Zen opened my mind. It has changed the way I look at myself and the world. He helped me understand others better. To be Zen is to be present, aware of what is, of what is happening around us here and now. When we maintain this state of mind, we quickly become aware that we have lived most of our time locked in our ideas, our memories, our projects, our opinions, our judgments, our beliefs, etc. and not in the real world. We become aware of the illusory nature of our “reality” and this profoundly changes the way we see things and react.

Will you have the opportunity to meet your readers for a few signing sessions or meetings?
I hope. Nothing is organized yet.

What do you want to say to end?
That a little bit of zen in each of us would transform the face of the world…

Thanks to Richard Seff for answering our interview!

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Richard Seff: the book How to be Zen without being a monk

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