Practical Meditation Manual for Soldiers, Hunters, and Police Officers

The Great Samurai Miyamoto Musashi says that the way of strategy or martial arts is for overcoming men. The first man you must overcome is yourself. Any good soldier, hunter, police officer, or others in similar warrior professions must be able to live a disciplined life, eliminate his own superfluous actions, heightened his perception of surroundings. Living and perfecting this way of life authentically is through the practice of shikantaza — seamless sitting meditation. If we want to enjoy and excel at our professions or any other aspect of life, we must have a disciplined practice of shikantaza.

Siddhārtha Gautama was born of the warrior caste in India before he became the Buddha, which means “awakened one”. To “stay woke” isn’t to be involved in social justice movements, rather it is to practice empiricism beyond rationality. Become a ninja or Conan the Barbarian, who can perceive the slightest movements and sounds, and can move nimbly, swiftly, and silently like a cat. As President Theodore Roosevelt, first American brown belt in jujitsu, said, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Ninjas, Conan, and Roosevelt are “woke”, because they have eliminated superfluous speech and actions. They act with efficiency and authenticity in refined intuition, doing the right thing beyond conceptual understandings of good or bad, true or false. This is the experience found in shikantaza — direct experience of reality prior to the engagement of the judging mind or intellectual mind. It isn’t riding or becoming the tiger, it is being the tiger. All things have Buddha-nature. Through the experience of being the tiger in sitting meditation, you realize that you are the Buddha.

Bodhidharma, who brought Buddhism from India to China and founded Zen, was also born of the warrior caste and he was known as “Barbarian of the West”. Even after he received the mind-seal, he sat upright facing the wall for 9 years. If even the ancient sages were like this, how can we today dispense with wholehearted practice? We must have a discipline of shikantaza to realize the original mind. This is the mastery of the brain prior to engagement of the prefrontal cortex. This is the mind that the barbarians had and Romans forgot when the Roman Empire fell. Zen is the religion of the samurai, because they recognize that discipline and awareness of the empirical mind beyond the rational must be experienced if a society were to continue to exist with strength, stability, and harmony with nature.

From Fukanzazengi by Dōgen, the founder of Sōtō Zen, which emphasizes the practice of shikantaza:

“For practicing Zen, a quiet room is suitable. Eat and drink moderately. Put aside all involvements and suspend all affairs. Do not think “good” or “bad.” Do not judge true or false. Give up the operations of mind, intellect, and consciousness; stop measuring with thoughts, ideas, and views. Have no designs on becoming a Buddha. How could that be limited to sitting or lying down?
“At your sitting place, spread out a thick mat and put a cushion on it. Sit either in the full-lotus or half-lotus position. In the full-lotus position, first place your right foot on your left thigh, then your left foot on your right thigh. In the half-lotus, simply place your left foot on your right thigh. Tie your robes loosely and arrange them neatly. Then place your right hand on your left leg and your left hand on your right palm, thumb-tips lightly touching. Straighten your body and sit upright, leaning neither left nor right, neither forward nor backward. Align your ears with your shoulders and your nose with your navel. Rest the tip of your tongue against the front of the roof of your mouth, with teeth together and lips shut. Always keep your eyes open, and breathe softly through your nose.
“Once you have adjusted your posture, take a breath and exhale fully, rock your body right and left, and settle into steady, immovable sitting. Think of not thinking. Not thinking-what kind of thinking is that? Nonthinking. This is the essential art of zazen.
“The zazen I speak of is not meditation practice. It is simply the dharma gate of joyful ease, the practice-realization of totally culminated enlightenment. It is the koan realized; traps and snares can never reach it. If you grasp the point, you are like a dragon gaining the water, like a tiger taking to the mountains. For you must know that the true dharma appears of itself, so that from the start dullness and distraction are struck aside.
“When you arise from sitting, move slowly and quietly, calmly and deliberately. Do not rise suddenly or abruptly. In surveying the past, we find that transcendence of both mundane and sacred and dying while either sitting or standing have all depended entirely on the power of zazen.”

Start the meditation with attention on your posture. The posture is the foundation of your practice. Your legs on the floor and butt on the cushion should form a tripod. This is a strong, stable shape, much like the mount position in jujitsu. Sit with physical strength and channel that into mental strength. Sit with your spine perfectly straight. All great strategists since Sun Tzu remember the tactical advantage of taking the high ground. It expands your field of perception. In meditation, when you sit as tall as possible, you gain the tactical advantage and heighten your perceptions. Sit with confidence, strength, and alertness, as if you’re ready to steal meat from lions.

If your legs, knees, or back hurt, stretch more and suck it up. This is the way of the trooper. Only babies and SJWs whine. Arnold Schwarzenegger said, “Milk is for babies, when you grow up, you have to drink beer.” Complaining is milk, and meditation is beer and mead, which the warrior will drink in Valhalla. Bushido is the way of Crom. The Buddha, Conan the Barbarian, the samurai, the tiger, the hunter, and the Navy SEAL are the same. If you can’t even get into this position, then you won’t have good form when you need it the most during combat or the hunt. Maintain this position. It might help to imagine that you’re deep in enemy territory, and if the enemies notices any slight movements, they will open fire on your squad and kill everyone. By not moving, you are cultivating compassion for your comrades and improving your odds of winning the war. You have to embrace the suck. If you feel pain or discomfort, it means that you’re still alive. What great joy it is to know that you’re alive! Don’t injure yourself intentionally, but find enjoyment in minor discomforts. As Jocko Willink, retired Navy SEALS commander, always say, “Good.” We must live with amor fati.

Next, quieten your body, breath, and mind. Don’t make any sounds with your body. Breath softly and silently, but also strong and deep. Observe your thoughts: thinking is the sixth sense. Recognize that it is inefficient to pay too much attention to superfluous thoughts. Don’t try to force out thoughts. Just realize that you thoughts are probably less important in the long run than you currently believe that they are, so you are wasting precious energy on them. Not only that, they distract you, so that if the enemies attack now, you will waste time snapping out of your daydream and die. If you’re hunting, being distracted by superfluous thoughts could lead to your death at the paws of an aggressive bear or missing your opportunity to take down a deer. Both the soldier and the hunter must minimize his own presence while heightening his senses to detect his target. He must detect the target before the target detects him. The Zen state of being allows you to enjoy and excel at your activities as a sniper, hunter, or ninja. The way of strategy is to perceive what your enemies cannot perceive and execute in the present moment. The more noise you make in your own mind, the less you can sense from your surroundings. The bookworm who cannot be clear-minded and calm amidst chaos dies on the battlefield or in the jungle. Be the tiger ready to strike at its prey. This is the mental state you must strive to maintain during shikantaza.

Dogen also wrote in Fukanzazengi, “Why leave behind the seat of your home to wander in vain through the dusty realms of other lands? If you make one misstep, you stumble past what is directly in front of you.” Too often in our modern world, we overvalue vacations while complaining about our everyday circumstances, yet we do nothing to improve our own communities while criticizing or looking down at these who do. While we are all stumbling, the authentic police officer silently observes our surroundings and takes actions mindfully. Therefore, #bluelivesmatter; however, I don’t mean that the police is always good, rather, they should be held to a higher standard of authenticity within the community, so that they act with mindfulness to do the greatest good in the situations that they have control over. The authentic police officer perceives everything in his community with compassion and dedication. Like the tiger, he senses all that’s around him and silently observes his target without being detected, then suddenly overtakes the suspect in a single efficient motion for the good of the community. He doesn’t need to wander aimlessly in other lands. The the moment flow state of his work, doing every action with full devotion and focus, he is the Buddha. Through his work, the police officer wipes off the dust from his own mind and body, then from his community. Like the Guanyin Bodhisattva, he perceives all sounds in his community and cleans up the problems like a lotus flower in the muddy water. Thus we bow to the honorable police officers expressing Buddha-nature, who keep our communities safe.

One is not an authentic police officer just because he is employed as police. The authentic police officer must live by the bushido. The same goes for soldiers, hunters, and all others who are engaged in risk and chaos. Shikantaza isn’t something that you just learn once. It’s something that you have to practice consistently. Jocko says, “Discipline equals freedom” and “get up before the enemy.” He gets up at 4:30 AM, which is also known as the Hour of the Tiger and when Zen monks like to wake up to meditate. In The Book of Five Rings, Miyamoto Musashi mentioned that he was writing the book during the Hour of the Tiger. To have the alertness and power of the tiger, we should consider getting up during the Hour of the Tiger while listening “The Eye of the Tiger” while doing Rocky style workouts.

As beings in this world, we are all Sisyphus. Getting the rock to the top of the hill isn’t the goal. Pushing the rock is the goal. Way and goal are one. If you push the rock to the top of the hill, push it back down yourself. Shikantaza is sitting Zen. If we cannot even live sitting Zen properly, then we have little hope to live Zen in far more complex and chaotic circumstances. The practice itself is the enlightenment.

Once we have some experience with Shikantaza, we can transfer its lessons to other aspects of life. For example, when we lift weights, we should get into perfect posture. In the beginning position of the deadlift, feet should be firmly planted on the ground in the most stable and symmetrical position possible. Spine and arms should be straight and embody strength. Don’t hype up for the lift while shouting, making excessive breathing noises, or having excessive thoughts. These are superfluous distractions that decrease your efficiency. You have to become the deadlift. The deadlift and you are one. You concentrate your awareness and energy directly into your primary movers for the moment and just do it without thinking. This is the most efficient path to true strength. Through the practice of shikantaza, we can embody Occam’s razor and wuwei — just doing the simplest thing that works. Cut out the superfluous. Get after it wholeheartedly yet effortlessly.