Influence of Zen

Does Zen influence your creative process? How?

What have you read to learn about Zen and how has it affected you?

Are you (like me) curious to learn more about it?

What is the sound of one hand clapping?



Read up on John Cage

Read Zen Mind, Beginners Mind

Sit quietly and follow your breath with your attention



On our very last day together, just a few months before his death, a teacher of mine told me this story.

“If you allow it, life will crush the art out of you. Do not let it.”

A man traveling across a field encountered a tiger. He fled, the tiger after him. Coming to a precipice, he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself down over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling, the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him. Only the vine sustained him.

Two mice, one white and one black, little by little started to gnaw away the vine. The man saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other. How sweet it tasted!


and old shoe would look good on this post


show me your face before you were born

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For me it’s not Zen so much as Taoism. Often when creating music I feel like I’m following the course of a riverbed that was carved out by the first few sounds in that session.


Zen has helped me to persist even when my mind has told me to quit, that I’ll never get it, and that I’m not good enough. It has also helped me to be more vulnerable while writing, performing, and releasing music.

Prior to studying Zen and engaging in a fairly regular meditation practice, I was hitting wall after wall creatively and it got to the point where I wasn’t writing or playing music at all. Even though Zen isn’t about accomplishments or building up your ego, I have found the process of music creation to be much more fulfilling in recent years regardless of the outcome.

As far as book recommendations, I’ll include some below that I have found helpful:

Zen and music:
-Anything by John Cage (like everyone else said above)

Zen influenced psychology:
The Happiness Trap - Russ Harris
Things Might Go Terribly Horribly Wrong - Kelly Wilson

Anything by Thich Nhat Hahn
Anything by Pema Chodron
You Have to Say Something - Dainin Katagiri
Nothing Holy About It: The Zen of Being Just Who You Are - Tim Burkett

Formal Zen/Koan Study (These would be harder to consume without a teacher):
The Gateless Gate - Wumen Huikai
Blue Cliff Record - Various authors - Thomas and J.C. Cleary translation
The Book of Serenity - Thomas Cleary translation


I believe that making music is a meditation itself, because you are only focused on that while being in a flow state that could continue for hours.


I was put off by the cheesy name but this book is fantastic: Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists


Zen has influenced me in many ways. Probably the strongest creative influence was reading this book many years ago:


why you are curious to learn about zen?

Curiosity is at the heart of beginner’s mind.


yeah the tao is (infinite) huge in my view of life and creativity. meditation (i find literally every reason not to do it but still do it pretty often) and creative expression are the ways i build that connection and beyond.

it’s based on transcendental meditation i think but that david lynch book i found nice and simple. have gone through and continue to go through a (probably horrible lol) translation of the tao te ching. reading it and discussing it this last year with my wife has been really cool for both of us.

i need to check out that JC book Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists.

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I’d highly recommend the Stephen Mitchell translation. I found a website comparing a number of translations and even picked up another translation from a free library box in my neighborhood… his is by far the one that’s resonated with me the most and not been steaped in jargon.

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hahahahahahaha his is my version. it totally resonates with me too…but my trouble is the white male perspective i carry may share similarities with his outlook and that may not … be quite what the original author intended?

the ha’s are meant in joy laughter, not judging or being shitty. sorry if that doesn’t read through.

I absolutely agree with you and have felt similarly, specifically in regards to the male/female master business; i.e. I know he says he tried to use both equally, but I sense a bias as to when he uses which pronoun . I’m also by no means a heavy student of taoism or zen, so I also can’t comment on authenticity or intent.

One thing Ive always kept in mind when reading it is that there’s bound to be a lot lost in a translation between two languages that we’re developed in fairly different cultures, regardless of the translator’s skill. The mechanisms of the languages could be so different that a perfect translation probably can’t exist. So I’m happy to settle with one that seems to resonate while staying aware of the possible and likely bias of the translator.

& I found that translation comparison, Mitchell’s still seems to me the best if that bunch:,1988,1996,2004/section:1

Would be happy to find another alternative version that resonates! Sorry for the tangent y’all… I’ve been noting all your Zen book recommendations, thank you!

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Mitchell was my first zen teacher back in about 75 or so , when he was one of the elevated students of Seungsahn at the Cambridge MA Zen Center.

A very nice guy, I suspect his translations are pretty well suited to contemporary western people…

There is no doubt that the zen tradition as it developed in Asia had elements of sexism… however, there are a good number of western teachers of the female persuasion… not sure about any trans teachers, I haven’t been active in any formal sangha activity for several decades…

Incidentally, there is a very cool book called Zig Zag Zen about the zen-psychedelics nexus…

Reading between the lines here I would hazard to guess that there are a significant contingent of psychedelic alums on the forum…


i love karesansui/dry gardens - they have deeply effected my thinking about music

the very first time I visited Japan a decade or two ago, a friend took me to Daisen-in in Kyoto
and that was also the first time I ever experienced karesansui myself, and it blew my mind
After sitting quietly in total wonderment at it, for maybe half an hour
the gravel suddenly started to move - it was the strangest feeling,
at first it started moving in a pointillistic way, then became denser
it took a few minutes to realise it had started raining…
one of those moments i will never forget

ever since, every time i revisit Japan i research & seek out similar experiences
(eg the caves in Ofuna, hand carved by monks & incredibly resonant…
chanting sutras in there must have been a total out of body experience)


i love “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind” in that it constantly reminds the reader to attempt to open to everything with an unjudgemental mind. that is fantastic for the creative process as it encourages one to first look for possibilities.

Zen-inspired art is wonderful. there seems to be a lot of focus on minimalism and just-enough. i also appreciate the transitory nature of many of their artistic practices.

i have not studied Zen formally beyond a couple classes, but i did learn wuji from Daoists which is a very similar practice. it also uses very basic postures and leaves most of the work up to the practitioner to figure out. i’ve also studied some more structured systems that come out of Indian yoga and Tibetan Buddhism, and really resonate with the Tibetan system in particular because it offers a lot of different flavors to try out, which seems like a good approach for to accommodate diverse learning styles.

re: the male perspective - this is unfortunately fairly predominant in authentic translations of most Buddhist texts that i’ve seen. in Nepal I studied the Lam Rim (a compendium of teachings that’s core to modern Tibetan Buddhism) and there are entire meditative practices around recognizing that your precious human rebirth will only empower you to be enlightened in part because you are male. modern western teachers usually reframe or eliminate that but it’s barely below the surface in many traditional teachings.