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8 Profound Principles of the Zen Samurai That Will Give You Strength During Hard Times

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I think we can all agree that sometimes it’s difficult to live a life of virtue. We know that holding ourselves to high moral standards will be beneficial to our lives, but it’s difficult in the face of an increasing workload, or many of the other stresses we face in our daily lives.

What if I told you that the samurai way of life held the principles for living a life of virtue and getting through challenging times? These medieval Japanese warriors had an unwritten code of behavior known today as Bushido, and the principles are strikingly relevant to us today.

It gets better:

By the end of this article you’ll have a basic overview of the samurai way of life and be ready to integrate this into your own life.

Who hasn’t dreamed of being a samurai?

Here are the 8 principles of Bushido, as influenced by Zen thinking, which is the foundation you need to live a life of virtue.

1. Rectitude or Justice

Bushido refers to personal rectitude, which is concerned with ensuring that conducts actions that are aligned with a life of justice.

One samurai defines it this way:

“Rectitude is one’s power to decide upon a course of conduct in accordance with reason, without wavering; to die when to die is right, to strike when to strike is right.”

Another samurai says this:

“Rectitude is the bone that gives firmness and stature. Without bones the head cannot rest on top of the spine, nor hands move nor feet stand. So without Rectitude neither talent nor learning can make the human frame into a samurai.”

2. Courage

Courage happens when one’s actions are brave and exercised in the cause of righteousness and rectitude.

As Confucius says:

“Perceiving what is right and doing it not reveals a lack of Courage.’ In short, ‘Courage is doing what is right.”

3. Benevolence or Compassion

Both Confucius and Mencius said the highest requirement of a ruler is benevolence, which is concerned with showing love, magnanimity, affection for others, sympathy and pity.

Having the power to command and the power to kill just makes it all the more important to to show qualities of compassion.

4. Politeness or Respect

Courtesy and good manners have been noticed by every foreign tourist to Japan. But it’s a quality that is important for anyone wanting to live a life of virtue.

In its highest form, politeness approaches love.

5. Honesty and Sincerity

When warriors say that they will perform an action, it is as good as done. Nothing will stop them from completing what they say they will do. They do not have to ‘give their word’. They do not have to ‘promise’. Speaking and doing are the same action.

6. Honor

There is only one judge of the samurai’s character: oneself. Decisions they make and the actions they carry out are a reflection of who they really are.

You cannot hide from yourself.

7. Loyalty

Warriors are responsible for everything that they have done and everything that they have said, and all of the consequences that follow. They are immensely loyal to all of those in their care. To everyone that they are responsible for, they remain fiercely true.

8. Character and Self-Control

Bushido teaches that the samurai should behave according to an absolute moral standard, one which transcends logic. What’s right is right, and what’s wrong is wrong. The difference between good and bad and between right and wrong are givens, not arguments subject to discussion or justification.

The most important quality of the samurai is character, rather than other qualities such as intelligence. Intellectual superiority was admired, but essentially a samurai was someone of action.

The samurais of today

In today’s chaotic world, who wouldn’t argue that the principles of the samurai are more relevant than ever. Who do you know that lives up to the moral standards of the samurai? What do you need to do to ensure you’re living a life of virtue?

Originally published on Ideapod’s blog, The Power of Ideas.

The Number One Cause of Suffering According to Buddhism (and What You Can Do About it)

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Ever heard of the four noble truths of Buddhism? If you haven’t, it’s basically the four principles of life that govern Buddhism philosophy. They are:

  1. The truth of suffering (dukkha)
  2. The truth of the cause of suffering (samudaya)
  3. The truth of the end of suffering (nirhodha)
  4. The truth of the path that frees us from suffering (magga)

In this article, we’re going to talk about the second noble truth on what causes our suffering and then discuss strategies we can use to overcome it.

What Causes Our Suffering

According to Buddhism, suffering arises from attachment to desires. These desires can vary from material objects, sensual pleasures or even your relationships. The reason desiring causes suffering is because attachments are transient and loss is inevitable.

Buddhism says that the only constant in the universe is change, and by desiring you are trying to control and make something fixed. Suffering will follow because you are going against the forces of the universe, which is what causes anxiety, depression and negative emotions.

Suffering Ceases When Attachment To Desire Ceases

The end to suffering is when the mind experiences freedom from attachment. It’s letting go of any craving or desiring. This state of enlightenment is called “nirvana” which means freedom from all worries, anxieties and troubles. They say that it isn’t comprehensible for those who have not attained it.

How Do You Eliminate Desire?

It’s important to remember that it’s impossible to eliminate desire completely. In fact, most people that embark on this journey face the obvious dilemma that when you “try” to eliminate desiring, you are desiring not to desire.

What we really need to do is eliminate attachment and desire as much as we can.

In order to end suffering, Buddhists say we must follow the Eightfold Path. This liberation from suffering is what many people mean when they use the word “enlightenment.”

There are eight attitudes or paths you must follow to find freedom from suffering:

1. Right view
2. Right intention
3. Right speech
4. Right action
5. Right livelihood
6. Right effort
7. Right mindfulness
8. Right concentration

What Are Some Practical Strategies?

Here is a brilliant article from Tiny Buddha on 6 ways to decrease suffering. I’ve summarized the most important points below. If you have time, I highly recommend you read it.

1) Let go of creating stories.

When we experience suffering, we tend to create “stories” about what happens. For example, when we face the end of a relationship, we tell ourselves things like “I will never find someone as good again” and “there is no way out of our suffering”. However, this simply adds layers of meaning that don’t exist within the original feeling. Instead, practice positive self-talk and living in the moment. You’ll find that things aren’t as bad as you think and your reality exists only in each moment.

2) Embrace Change.

Buddhism says that the only law in the universe is change. Keep in mind that all feelings, whether negative or positive, will change. This will give you hope during the bad times, and make you realize to enjoy every moment you can because they don’t last forever.

3) Smile, even if you don’t feel like it.

Thich Nhat Hanh once said, “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” This is a wonderful reminder that we have more power to change our mood than we realize.

4) Jolt yourself out of your usual routine. 

Whatever it is that may pull you out of your rut, give it a try and see how it changes the nature of your suffering.

5) Soften someone else’s suffering.

Everyone experiences suffering, and it’s helpful to realize that someone is probably suffering more than you right now. Be kind to someone else. Get yourself thinking about others and it will improve your well being.

6) Remember your basic goodness.

“Basic goodness” is a wonderful concept that comes from the Shambhala Buddhist tradition. It reminds us that no matter how chaotic or negative the circumstances of our life, there is a ground of basic goodness in ourselves and in the universe that we can count on.

Continue the Conversation on Ideapod

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Originally published on Ideapod’s blog, The Power of Ideas.

Science Says Mindfulness Can Literally Help You Turn Off Negative Thoughts

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Mindfulness has become an all too popular buzzword among CEO’s, self-help gurus and religious figureheads. It has become synonymous with something akin to a mental stress ball.

Although the terminology is sometimes regurgitated with blatant disregard for the actual practice, mindfulness can be much more than this and possibly the ultimate key to a good life.

Mindfulness relieves ordinary stress and anxiety and can even help with more extreme disorders of depression or obsessive compulsive disorder.

A Quick Experiment Shows The Necessity of Mindfulness

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Stop thinking for five seconds. Just try it right now. Some will see the futility right away, while others can be so lost in thought they actually believe they had stopped thinking.

It is easy to think “Hey, I’m doing this” only to realize that is a thought in itself. Monitoring this incessant stream that cannot be controlled is what gives mindfulness its power.

Just like the old saying “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it”; problematic thoughts we do not analyze will continue to cause issues.

Most human actions have an extreme dedication to the law of inertia. We tend to repeat patterns of behavior despite the good or bad outcomes that tend to follow.

The Problematic Brain Function That Mindfulness Erodes

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Sam Harris does a masterful job explaining true mindfulness and effective methods in his book and lecture series titled Waking Up.

The opposite of mindfulness, he says, can be explained as being constantly lost in though.

“Being lost in thought, is to be thinking without knowing that you’re thinking”, a state that is sure to bring out much confusion.

Simply observing your thoughts rather than acting on them for a few moments each day often gives clarity on the root causes of the stress in your life.

Is there a thought that keeps cropping up? Time to put that issue to the top of the priority list.

One of the most important takeaways from Harris’s thoughts on mindfulness is that although it is frequently touted in religious circles, it requires no compulsion of any religious belief for it to be effective.

Since no inherent belief is required, everyone can benefit from mindfulness.

Once you have truly began to be mindful you will notice that thoughts continue to rise and fall out of consciousness effortlessly, in reality without any control (as shown in the thought stopping experiment above).

Consciousness is Like a Back Seat Driver

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David Eagleman goes as far as to claim that consciousness is closer to a stow away on a cruise ship than the captain of said ship.

In the co-pilot analogy, consciousness can be in charge of the turn by turn directions, inform the driver of the speed limit and where to make stops just like a backseat driver. However if his attention drifts for just a matter of moments the car could miss an exit and run off course.

The same is true in brain activity. Slight changes in thoughts or attention can run you way off course.

A simple wrong turn in thought can lead people to a snowball of anxiety and other problems.

This is why mindfulness can be so important. Just as the driver can turn around and adjust course once he is notified of the missed exit, paying close attention to your thoughts can stop you from going all the way down roads of negativity.

Research Is Showing Its Benefits

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Continuing practice of mindfulness shows endless benefits. Everything from lowering blood pressure to boosting memory is possible with mindfulness.

Other studies show significant pain reduction in individuals with fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis.

While all of these benefits show great promise for further health studies on the subject, the most important assistance I have found through mindfulness is its ability to give you a unique insight on YOU, who you really are, what drives you and what you want out of life.

Originally published on The Power of Ideas.

The Alternative Method to Mindfulness Meditation That You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

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Over the past few years, we’ve seen countless studies showing how beneficial mindfulness meditation can be. It has been shown to change our brain, make us feel better and improve our lives.

But what do you do if it doesn’t work for you? What if practising meditation makes you feel stressed or anxious? It doesn’t exactly feel Zen.

The good news you don’t have to specifically practice mindfulness meditation to achieve inner peace. There are other ways too.

The alternative method to mindfulness meditation that you’ve never heard of

If you’re unable to do meditation, Dr. Emma M Seppala suggests you do breathing exercises instead.

She has worked with veterans returning from war in Iraq and Afghanistan with heavy trauma and suggests that yoga based breathing exercises can help those who can’t be inactive for too long.

It is a more active meditation because it requires you to do something. What’s more, it leads to quick results, as breathing can literally slow your heart rate.

In her study, she suggests that veterans’ PTSD scores normalized within a week of practising yogic breathing.

Why does breathing help?

Breath helps you tap into your parasympathetic nervous system, which is the rest and digest part of your nervous system, the opposite of the flight or fight.

Research shows that when you breathe in, your heart rate speeds up and when you breathe out it slows down. If you want to relax quickly, you can lengthen your exhales. You can do this anywhere, anytime.

How do you practice breathing exercises?

If you want to practice a more formal breathing meditation every day, Helpful Guide have laid out a step by step guide. Here it is:

1. Sit comfortably with your back straight. Put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach.

2. Breathe in through your nose. The hand on your stomach should rise. The hand on your chest should move very little.
3. Exhale through your mouth, pushing out as much air as you can while contracting your abdominal muscles. The hand on your stomach should move in as you exhale, but your other hand should move very little.

4. Continue to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Try to inhale enough so that your lower abdomen rises and falls. Count slowly as you exhale.

You can also try this course on Udemy which we highly recommend as a great way to get started: Comprehensive Summary of Yoga Meditation Practices.

Here is a TedX video of Emma Seppala explaining the science behind why breathing exercises work:

Originally published on Ideapod’s blog.

A Philosopher’s 350-Year-Old Trick to Get People to Change Their Minds is Now Backed up by Psychologists

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Blaise Pascal, a 17th century philosopher is best know for his theory “Pascal’s Wager”, which says that believing in God is the most pragmatic decision. But what you may not know is that he had some psychology theories too.

As Brain Pickings points out, Pascal found the most effective way to change someone’s mind:

When we wish to correct with advantage, and to show another that he errs, we must notice from what side he views the matter, for on that side it is usually true, and admit that truth to him, but reveal to him the side on which it is false. He is satisfied with that, for he sees that he was not mistaken, and that he only failed to see all sides. Now, no one is offended at not seeing everything; but one does not like to be mistaken, and that perhaps arises from the fact that man naturally cannot see everything, and that naturally he cannot err in the side he looks at, since the perceptions of our senses are always true.

Pascal added:

People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others.

In other words, Pascal suggests to point out the ways they are right before disagreeing with someone.

And to actually persuade someone to change their mind, get them to discover a counter-point of their own accord.

Arthur Markman, psychology professor at The University of Texas at Austin, says both these points hold true.

“One of the first things you have to do to give someone permission to change their mind is to lower their defenses and prevent them from digging their heels in to the position they already staked out,” he says. “If I immediately start to tell you all the ways in which you’re wrong, there’s no incentive for you to co-operate. But if I start by saying, ‘Ah yeah, you made a couple of really good points here, I think these are important issues,’ now you’re giving the other party a reason to want to co-operate as part of the exchange. And that gives you a chance to give voice your own concerns about their position in a way that allows co-operation.”

Originally published on Ideapod’s blog.