This is a lovely book for advanced students of Buddhism. It won't do much for beginners, however, because it's simply too interior. Those who haven't had exposure to the strange quarries that the mind in meditation may chase may well find Zen teacher Bayda opaque. He has deep insights into the nature of mind that demonstrate his experienced understanding and diligent practice of Zen Buddhism. The book is certainly well organized; the author, like so many American Buddhists who emphasize meditation practice, has a keenly analytical mind. But it takes patience to follow his somewhat bare exposition. More stories and examples would help, although he does draw on his own life to illustrate difficulties. A more specific title would also signal more of the author's unique insights. The promise of greater joy, equanimity, clarity and compassion is worth sitting around for, however much patience it requires to read Bayda's book. That requirement is not a drawback; patience is a virtue in any religion, and a good flashlight for the Zen path. (July)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Zen Heart: Simple Advice for Living with Mindfulness and Compassionby Ezra Bayda
There’s a secret to spiritual practice, and it’s surprisingly simple: learn to be present with attention. Do that, and the whole world becomes your teacher, you wake up to the sacredness of every aspect of existence, and compassion for others arises without even thinking about it. In Zen Heart, Bayda provides a wealth of practical advice for/i>… See more details below
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There’s a secret to spiritual practice, and it’s surprisingly simple: learn to be present with attention. Do that, and the whole world becomes your teacher, you wake up to the sacredness of every aspect of existence, and compassion for others arises without even thinking about it. In Zen Heart, Bayda provides a wealth of practical advice for making difficult experiences a valued part of the path and for making mindfulness a daily habit.
“This book is like a personal retreat. I’d like to read it once a year. It has the best of the Zen spirit—not indulging but experiencing every ounce of life, good and bad. You will have to read closely, because the lessons are more difficult than they appear. At the same time it is a beautifully simple reflection on what it means to be, rather than to try to be. I’m certain of its wisdom because it is not there to be grasped and celebrated. The wisdom is all in the spaces, the pauses, and the wonderment.”—Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul and A Life at Work
“A clear and comprehensive guide to life transformation. Readers will find down-to-earth advice and effective practices for going beyond basic fears and conditioning to live a more awakened and openhearted life.”—Dennis Genpo Merzel, Roshi, author of Big Mind, Big Heart: Finding Your Way
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Read an Excerpt
From Chapter 12: Transforming Anger
practitioners get discouraged when they realize how difficult it is to
maintain an awake state. Quite often, even after a good period of
meditation or yoga first thing in the morning, where we feel somewhat
aware and awake, we may “come to” later in the day with the realization
that we’ve since spent hours in a state of waking sleep. The question
is, why is it so hard to awaken? In part, it’s because the life force,
or energy, necessary to awaken is constantly leaking away, from morning
Perhaps the most significant leak occurs through the
manifestation of negative emotions, where energy is squandered in small
and sometimes huge doses throughout the day. The word negative,
as used here, doesn’t necessarily mean “bad,” but simply something that
negates or denies. It says no to life. Anger, for example, says, “I
don’t want this!” This does not apply only to loud outbursts of anger.
We manifest negative emotions, in smaller doses, all day long: as
irritability, judgments of self and others, impatience, passive
aggression, and so on.
Working with Anger
important emphasis in practice is learning what closes these leaks.
This is why we must pay attention to how to work with our negative
emotions, particularly the many forms of anger. An analogy might be
helpful in understanding this process: we all know that food provides
energy for the body. But there’s another kind of “food” that feeds our
being, namely our impressions or experience. Every experience, much
like the food we consume, can either nourish or deplete us, depending
on how much awareness is present and what our intention is. When we
react to an experience negatively, it’s like eating bad food. It
doesn’t digest. In fact, it can even poison us. When that happens, we
often spew the poison back out into the world, usually at another
The alternative to manifesting negative emotions is to
bring physical awareness to the actual energy of the reaction.
Normally, we fuel our reactions by believing and justifying the
thoughts that accompany them. But when we disengage from this pattern,
attention can instead be focused on the visceral experience of the
emotion itself. This attention allows a different type of digestion to
take place. For example, when we can stop the expression of anger and
instead experience its actual energy, that raw energy may actually
transform into nourishment for Being Awareness.
suggesting that emotions should not arise, nor that we should repress
them. The practice instruction is simply to refrain from expressing
them, either outwardly through words and actions or inwardly through
spinning and obsessive thoughts. It is only through the process of not
expressing negative emotions and instead actually experiencing their
energy that we learn to live in accord with our true nature, our
natural Being Kindness.
If we could see our angry emotional
reactions clearly, it would become obvious how they deplete our energy
and consequently narrow our life. We would also see how, when we’re
caught in anger, we’re cut off from the heart, from a sense of our
basic connectedness. For example, when someone swerves in front of us
on the freeway, anger arises instantly, and we may get caught in the
strong impulse to yell and gesture. We will certainly feel justified in
being irate. But what happens if, instead of expressing the anger, we
simply stay with the visceral experience?
Practicing in this way
over time teaches us to connect more deeply with our experience, and
finally we are able to recognize the situation as it is: that another
driver simply cut us off, and that is all. Perhaps we can also label
the reactions we have as just believed thoughts, such as, “Having a
believed thought: ‘he’s a moron,’” “Having a believed thought: ‘she
shouldn’t be allowed to drive,’” or “Having a believed thought: ‘this
always happens to me.’”
As we learn to see our reactions more
clearly, and to label the thoughts associated with them, we become more
and more capable of experiencing our anger as just what is—heat in our
face or tension in our muscles and gut. We might even see that what
really happened is that we simply got scared. Above all, we no longer
hold on to our emotions and thoughts as the objective truth about what
At a certain point, in addition to
experiencing our emotions and labeling our thoughts, we may even feel
compassion—in this example, for the driver who cut us off—or at least
we might laugh at ourselves for getting so worked up over an
objectively small or insignificant occurrence. The point is, when we
don’t express anger, not only is the energy leakage closed, but the
very energy that would have leaked away also becomes available for
nourishing a genuine reconnection with life.
One common point of
confusion relating to this process is misunderstanding the difference
between nonexpression and suppression. When anger is suppressed, it
means that we are not feeling it. This can be particularly problematic
for meditators who have been brought up suppressing their anger,
because they can easily mistake their suppression for spiritual
maturity. But suppressed anger tends to fester; the poisonous energy of
anger can even pollute the body, often impacting our physical health.
When we instead withhold the expression of anger, it is very different
from suppression. Nonexpression actually allows us to feel—to fully
feel—the emotion of anger directly, letting it simply be there without
needing to do anything about it.
So why is it so difficult to
stop the expression of anger? We seem to hold on to this habit with a
stubbornness that defies all sense. The simple answer is we want to be
angry. We want to be right. This may not always be obvious, but the
feelings of juiciness and power that can accompany the expression of
anger are often intoxicating. This makes sense from an evolutionary
point of view, where raw instinctual reactions served a real
purpose—they allowed us to ward off physical threats in order to
survive. However, even though we no longer face the same kinds of
danger, and thus no longer need the same kind of response, our bodies
and minds have not yet caught on. So that juicy, “good” feeling of
anger remains, though it no longer serves us, particularly if we are on
the path of trying to live a more harmonious life.
What People are saying about this
"This book is like a personal retreat. I'd like to read it once a year. It has the best of the Zen spirit—not indulging but experiencing every ounce of life, good and bad. You will have to read closely, because the lessons are more difficult than they appear. At the same time it is a beautifully simple reflection on what it means to be, rather than to try to be. I'm certain of its wisdom because it is not there to be grasped and celebrated. The wisdom is all in the spaces, the pauses, and the wonderment."—Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul and A Life at Work
"A clear and comprehensive guide to life transformation. Readers will find down-to-earth advice and effective practices for going beyond basic fears and conditioning to live a more awakened and openhearted life."—Dennis Genpo Merzel, Roshi, author of Big Mind, Big Heart: Finding Your Way
Meet the Author
Ezra Bayda teaches at Zen Center San Diego. He is also the author of Being Zen, At Home in the Muddy Water, Saying Yes to Life (Even the Hard Parts), and Zen Heart. For more information, visit www.zencentersandiego.org.
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Zen Heart shares infinite wisdom in a very down-to-earth and accessible way. This book offers tools for those who are ready to do the work, to actually BE with life as it is, to BE with one's self, to BE with all things, including those which are most difficult. I am so grateful for this book and read it at a crucial and challenging time in life. I lost my mom to Cancer ten months ago. I was her primary caregiver for many months before she died and was intimately involved in her dying process. While my grief is still very intense much of the time, my overall feeling is joy and gratitude. There has been a giant shift in the way I relate to myself and the world because of all I've been through this year. There has been a deepening of my own spirituality. Zen Heart and my dad's guidance have been invaluable in helping me through it all.