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Nirvana in a Nutshell: 157 Zen Meditations

Nirvana in a Nutshell: 157 Zen Meditations

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by Scott Shaw

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Nirvana is not to be found in the fulfillment of endless desires, the analysis of profound thoughts, or even hours, days, or years of meditative contemplation. In fact, it is the very act of seeking to obtain happiness, peace, and enlightenment that keeps them out of reach.

Nirvana in a Nutshell offers over 150 Zen meditations to help you discover what you might be


Nirvana is not to be found in the fulfillment of endless desires, the analysis of profound thoughts, or even hours, days, or years of meditative contemplation. In fact, it is the very act of seeking to obtain happiness, peace, and enlightenment that keeps them out of reach.

Nirvana in a Nutshell offers over 150 Zen meditations to help you discover what you might be doing (or not doing) in your life to sabotage your goal of reaching inner peace, your own personal paradise. Let go of the quest and become that which you truly seek and you will find your own Nirvana.

Nirvana is the state of grace where there is no longer any physical suffering, mental anguish, or unanswered questions. Many assume that the only way to achieve that magical state is if they walk away from the world and enter "the spiritual path." But conflict is a part of life — any kind of life. If you allow your peace to be taken away from you by external occurrences or internal disharmony then you will never know contentment. Peace is an inner triumph.

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nirvana in a nutshell


By Scott Shaw

Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC

Copyright © 2002 Scott Shaw
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60925-221-2



What has kept you from Nirvana?
Is it because you are not a monk?
Is it because you are not in India, Thailand, Japan, or Tibet?
Is it because you do not meditate enough?
Is it because you are a bad person?
Is it because you developed negative Karma in a past life?
Nirvana is.
You are.
Be enlightenment.


Is Nirvana something you get,
or is Nirvana something you are?
If you can get it, you can lose it.
If you are it, it is never gone.


People do all kinds of things to find Nirvana:
they meditate,
they pray,
they give up material possessions,
they refrain from sex,
they live in caves.
They do strange things to their bodies.

Why? Because they believe that by performing physical actions they will find Nirvana.

Actions do not equal Nirvana.

Performing an action to obtain Nirvana is no different than the person who believes that once they obtain a desired goal they will never desire anything else. But as soon as they get it, they become bored and move on to their next desire.

Physical action will not lead you to Nirvana.

Be Nirvana, and no external action or technique is necessary.


The concept of Goal Setting is claimed by many to be a necessary element to a fulfilled life.

Monks have claimed Nirvana as their goal for centuries.

Goals are fine but they create an atmosphere which is absent from fulfillment.

Every goal, even that of enlightenment, keeps you from Nirvana.

Why? Because when you believe you should have something you do not currently possess, no matter how seemingly holy, you keep yourself from witnessing the glory and perfection of your life in this moment.

Let go of goals and Nirvana is.


All life is movement.

Every element of this universe is in constant motion.

From science we learn that everything around us, from the smallest subatomic particle to the largest planet, is in a state of continual flux. The majority of this movement is unseen by the human eye.

All of this movement is in perfect harmony.

If it were not in perfect harmony, this place we call life would instantly cease to exist.

If everything is moving in harmony, you too must be moving and progressing in an unseen accord.

By understanding the Universe is in a harmony of movement—this allows you to know that everything which takes place happens for a reason. Thus, everything which occurs lends a hand in the ever-expanding perfection of the Universe.

As you are a functioning part of this cosmic whole, everything which happens to you, no matter how seemingly traumatic, must be happening pursuant to a higher purpose and leading to a greater good.

Nirvana is acceptance. Relax, be peaceful, and watch the perfection of enlightenment unfold.


It is common for a devotee of a particular faith or school of thought to believe that the teachings they follow are the most profound and holy, and will lead its practitioners to self-realization in the most expedient fashion possible.

Nirvana is faithless.


People enter onto the Spiritual Path for an untold number of reasons. Once this inclination strikes, they often times join a particular religious group. Those who remain involved within a specific sect, through time, come to gain prominence, respect, high ranking, and develop a strong voice within their denomination.

Prominence, respect, high ranking, and a loud voice does not constitute enlightenment.

Nirvana is unnoticed and silent.


Nirvana is believed by many to be salvation.
Why do you need saving?
If you were saved—what would be different?


People seek salvation because they are experiencing emptiness in their lives. This emptiness can take the form of lack of love, lack of purpose, lack of fulfillment, and so on.

In Zen—emptiness is sought after.


Sunyata is the Sanskrit word which describes Spiritual Voidness—the state beyond conceptual reality.

Sunyata is known to be the stepping stone to Nirvana.

The moment Sunyata becomes a desire in the mind of the zealot, however, and techniques are designed for its obtainment, its true spiritual purpose is lost.

Desires and techniques, in all cases, keep you from Nirvana. Because they bind you to the doing, not the undoing.

Let go of desires.

Forget techniques.

Embrace Spiritual Voidness.

Know Nirvana.


When people enter onto the Spiritual Path, they oftentimes become very judgmental about other people who are not so inclined or who follow a different teaching.

They believe they are somehow more.

The moment this thought occurs—more becomes less.

We all are who we are—each person serves their own universal purpose.

Simply by considering yourself to be on the Spiritual Path does not give you a ticket to judge others.

All people are as important to this cosmic drama as you are.

No one is more or less.

The moment you think that you know—tells you that you do not know.

Experience, but be silent.

Know, but say nothing.

This is the true essence of Zen.


When people enter onto the Spiritual Path they generally seek guidance from a higher power. They often times go to a Guru or Spiritual Teacher in order to be directed down the road to Nirvana.

If we all are human beings and we all possess the Buddha nature.

What does one person possess that another person does not?

What makes one person more than the next?

Is it simply because they have disciples?

How many people, throughout history, have claimed to hold the keys to Nirvana only to be later revealed as a fake?

If somebody claims to hold the key to Nirvana— ask them to give it to you right away.


You can listen to what other people have said about Nirvana.

You can worship them as being great knowers.

But, as long as that is all you do, you are not on the path to Self-Realization, you are only on the path to being a devotee.

Realization can only come when you stop being a disciple and start being a personal realizer.


People who seek enlightenment oftentimes turn to the teaching of Ancient Masters, believing that they were the only ones to teach the true Dharma.

The stories of enlightened accomplishments of these Ancient Masters are easy to tell. These people are no longer in their physical bodies.

Thus, their mastery can not be observed.

The written word is easier to follow, when you do not know the faults of the author and do not have to look them in the face.


Because Nirvana is an abstract concept, people are allowed to attach all types of metaphysical qualities to its obtainment.

"After achieving Nirvana this saint could perform the miracles of controlling the minds of other people and changing the flow of the river."

If somebody could do this—so what?

Does that make the world a better place?

Is Nirvana about the achievement of paranormal powers or is Nirvana about coming to embrace universal wholeness?


There are many who vainly claim that they are fully enlightened and state that they are above the constraints of this physical existence.

Next time you meet one of these people, spill a glass of water on them.

Is their cup half full or half empty?


When the Buddha was asked, "Are you a God?"

He answered, "No, simply a man."

"Then are you a Guru?"

"No, simply a man."


The spiritual path is not a thermometer.

Spirituality is not gaged in the linear, higher or lower.

We all just are—each serving our own purpose.

The higher you get, the more you will realize this.


Throughout the centuries the holy have walked upon the Spiritual Path embracing nature as Buddha Ksetra, "The Buddha Realm."

They have believed that by living close to nature, Nirvana was close at hand.

Nature is soft in its appearance.
Nature is calm in its expressions.
Nature promises peace and serenity.
Beauty is readily witnessed in nature.
Meditation occurs with ease in nature.

Nirvana, however, is beyond the stimulation of the physical world.

Nirvana is not dominated by the serenity, or lack thereof, present in any given environment.

Can you only be enlightened in nature? No, enlightenment is everywhere.


Renunciation—for thousands of years people have renounced their worldly possessions, attempting to free themselves from the constraints of the material world in order that they may truly enter onto the spiritual path.

What are possessions?

Temporary physical objects—which, like human life, only last as long as they last.

You can give them up if you want to.

But does giving them up make you more holy?


Giving them up only makes you someone who has given them up.

Nirvana does not come from releasing your hold on physical objects, which simply go back into the energy circulation of the material world.

Nirvana comes from not caring one way or the other about material possessions.


Your needs are your choice.

Because they are a choice, this means you are not bound by them.

You can choose to change your needs.

With no needs—Nirvana is known.


Ecstasy is not Nirvana.

Ecstasy is emotion pushed to its maximum level.

Ecstasy creates desire for a reoccurrence of the experience.

That desire for ecstasy creates the lack of Nirvana.


A Koan (a short Zen-based statement) speaks the ultimate reality.

Why? Because it says nothing.

"The moment in this vision is nothing to be stared at."


Zen is an abstract pathway towards realization.

Yet, countless Zen Doctrines have been written about how the individual must practice this, and perform that to obtain Nirvana.

Though many of the tenets are similar—many are also different.

Shouldn't the pathway to Nirvana be the same?

Shouldn't what one person says about Nirvana be no different from the next?

Why are there differences? Because the people who wrote the doctrines don't know.

They are only expanding the illusion about Nirvana—making it something impossible to obtain.

Nirvana is easy.

It is following all the paths to Nirvana which is difficult.


People become distracted from experiencing Nirvana by the intensity of everyday life.

Jobs to go to because of bills to pay. Concessions to make because of relationships.

If only you could be somewhere else, doing something else— in a place where you could just be free, doing what you like ...

Does doing what you like equal enlightenment?

No, Nirvana is where you are, doing what you are doing.



Go outside.

Take a walk down the busiest street you know.



See love everywhere.

View the perfection of the nonstop interwoven components of this very unique and interesting world.

This world is perfect—if you see it as perfect.

All of your actions, all of your emotions are perfect.

All of the actions and emotions of others are also perfect—even if you choose not to like them.

Everything is perfect and in divine harmony with the universe.

See perfection as you encounter the world. Accept perfection and Nirvana is on every corner.


People commonly assume that if they could only become enlightened everything in their lives would change.

If you obtained Nirvana, what would be different?

Would you no longer need to eat, drink, or sleep?

Would you no longer need a place to live?

Would you no longer need money or a means to provide things for your physical body?

Nirvana equals change—yes. But life is life—a human body is a human body.

Remember the old Zen saying, "Before enlightenment—chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment—chop wood, carry water."


The Sanskrit word Maya is used to describe illusion.
This understanding details that all of life,
all of this world, is illusion—it does not really exist.
It is simply a projection of our deluded minds.

But, then what is life?
Why do we believe that we exist?

Some say this gives us the chance to regain the understanding that we are, in fact, enlightened.

But why bother if we already are?

Maya additionally details that you not realizing you are already enlightened is also illusion.

Maya is a concept.
Life is life.
The ultimate illusion is that there is no illusion.

Be Nirvana and Maya becomes your friend.


What is an understanding?

Something which is accepted by more than one person.

A lot of people have accepted a lot of things—believed them to be truths, only to find out through time and experience that what they believed was, in fact, false.

Just because people have claimed an ideal to be true, does not make it true. No matter how ancient the understanding is proclaimed to be.

Truth is what you experience to be true.


All of your perceptions are defined by an untold list of parameters:

your culture,
your economic status,
your previous experiences,
your emotional state in a given moment,
and the condition of world politics, to name a few.

Perceptions are not truth. They are only perceptions.

Truth lives beyond the temporary.
Truth exists in the realm beyond the thinking mind.

Let go and know the truth.


Each person's reality is different.

Though you may be living in the same world, same country, same city, even the same house or same room as another person—their life experience is different from yours. They have known different life defining events.

They are who they are. You are who you are.

With this understanding, is Nirvana the same for each individual? Or is it experienced by each person in their own way?


In meditation, the mind is trained to become one-pointed. With a one-pointed focus it can not be distracted. This one-pointedness is said to allow an individual to remove the veils of Maya and know Nirvana.

One-pointedness is nice. It gives you the ability to focus your attention precisely to accomplish worldly objectives.

Nirvana is not a worldly objective.

Nirvana is free from everything defined by the world.


Bodhidharma, the Indian monk who is credited with laying the foundation for modern Zen, traveled to China to become Abbott of the Shongshan (Shaolin) Monastery at the request of his teacher Prajnatara in the sixth century C.E. He is said to have sat in meditation, staring at a wall, for nine years.

What does sitting in front of a wall for nine years provide—Enlightenment?

Nirvana is.

If you want to sit in front of a wall for nine years to realize this, please do so.


Do you like what you see?

If you do not—look somewhere else.


A spiritual seeker looks into the mirror and says,
"No, I am unworthy."
A monk looks into the mirror and says,
"No I am unworthy."
An ego-filled, young, attractive, successful, business person looks into the
mirror and says,
"I am very worthy."
What is the difference?

From a worldly perspective, people believe they can have it all.

From a spiritual perspective, people are indoctrinated into believing that spiritual experience is such a far off plateau that there is always more to know, more to learn, more good deeds to perform before they can even hope to have a glimpse of the absolute.

Nirvana is, Right Now, where are you?

Thinking about how unworthy you are?


Why have seekers of enlightenment, throughout the centuries, performed seemingly unnatural acts in order to gain insight, wisdom, and enlightenment?

Because to understand Nirvana, you need to step outside of the normality of everyday existence and rational thought.

By stepping outside of everyday existence, you enter a world of abstraction.

When you come to embrace the abstract—Nirvana is instantly realized.


Many of life's ongoing experiences become accepted discomfort.

When you were a child and you did not like something, most likely you expressed your discontent by crying.

As you grow up, you learn to temper your feelings and accept situations you do not particularly feel comfortable in: jobs, living conditions, dysfunctional relationships, and the like.

If you relate this understanding to the average person, they will simply tell you, "That's Life" or "You've grown up."

But, is that what life is about—acceptance of discomfort?

Many people personally direct their bodies into discomfort by working out in a gym or sitting for untold hours in meditation.

Is this truly a pathway to a healthier body and a more enlightened mind?
If you step outside of what is expected of you,
if you move beyond what society has guided you to do,
you will find a completely different world—defined by a completely new set of
rules—a place where there are no rules.

No rules = Nirvana.

Excerpted from nirvana in a nutshell by Scott Shaw. Copyright © 2002 Scott Shaw. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Scott Shaw is an accomplished martial artist and practicing Buddhist. He is the author of several books, including Zen O'Clock, Samurai Zen, Ki Process and Tao of Self Defense.

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Nirvana in a Nutshell: 157 Zen Meditations 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In today's stressful and disappointng times, my hard copy of this book is a constant resource on how to glide through life like, Montaigne teaches us in a most succinct/concise way. Don't live without it.