[Sheet Music]

Lesson 99: Zen, Life and Music

Your Spirit

Material riches come and go and everything material can and will one day be taken away from you. There is only one thing that noone can take away from you: your culture, your spirit.

A Feeling of Purpose

Look at playing the guitar as your way to make contact with, develop and elevate your spirit. Look at practicing and playing as a holy gift from above and treasure it like that. It should be something you love, something that gives you peace of mind and a feeling of purpose and satisfaction every single time.

The Learning Process

Two important Japanese words are sensei and unsui. Sensei means "one who has gone before" - not simply a teacher. Unsui means "traveling monk or truth-seeker" - not simply a student. In this regard, both sensei and unsui are travellers on the ( not necessarily the same, but similar) path.

The Journey/ the Way

It is going to be a life-long journey. The journey itself is the goal and purpose. It takes a lot of time, the rest of your life actually and there's no way to make it happen faster. The Japanese word shugyo stands for "training and mastering deeds". Shugyo or skills/ craftsmanship/ mastery/ knowledge/ enlightenment/ wisdom unfolds at its own, slow pace - just let it happen in its own time and it will.


Examine your priorities and get them straight. In life there has to be a time for work and there has to be a time for song and dance. Learn to know the difference. Find and try to maintain a reasonable balance in your life between the two.

Mindfulness/ Presence

It is very important not to be guilty of half-stepping. Half-stepping means doing a job with no commitment of the self. You are what you do and how you live and it is all the same thing. There is no way you can think that "this is just what I do for a living" and then do whatever you like and be whoever you want in your spare time. If you are a teacher, you are a teacher 24/7/365 and that is every single second of the rest of your life. Check out lesson 44 where this is discussed in more detail...

There is only one way to make all of this happen. The key is presence - always be 100% present in the moment and do whatever you are doing like everything matters. Do it like every single movement, every single second is the most important thing in the world. Make every single thing you do count and make a difference and it will. By doing this you will elevate your spirit and this will make a lot of things take care of themselves. This kind of mindfulness with make perfection and this perfection will carry over into everything you do. It will elevate your spirit and simply become you - your way of being, living your life and ultimately playing.

Slowness/ Perfection

Slowness is important. Our market society's ideals - effectivity, productivity and fastness - lead to the replacement of quality by quantity and the replacement of true needs by false. Welfare is not the success of the multi-national companies. Welfare means the well-being of the single individual and this is the only thing that matters.

Doing one small thing a day slowly, mindfully and thoroughly - perfectly - is infinitely more valuable than doing a lot of things half-heartedly. If a thing, a task, is not worth doing perfectly, taking the time it has to take, is it really worth doing at all? Things take time and thoughts take even more time ( "TTT" - a term coined by Bodil Jönsson). There is nothing wrong with that, this is just how it always has been and how it is supposed to be.


You have to believe in something greater than yourself. Life itself, having children, nature, respect for everything living, a god - or why not art itself, the only thing that is going to last that we can leave behind us...

Even if you do manage to elevate your spirit and eventually become a master, you are nothing. You are infinitely small, your existence on this planet is nothing but a small moment in the infinity of time and your very life hangs by a thin thread that can be cut off in any instant. Make the best you can out of what you have. Start today - "let today be the first day of the rest of your life". Do what you can to make the world a better place, "choose life", do something good every day. Then, when you have left this life and your footprints are slowly being washed away on the shore of time, your spririt will live on and you will have made a difference...

Recommended Reading

  • Peace Is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh
  • The Three Pillars of Zen: Teaching, Practice, and Enlightenment by Roshi Philip Kapleau
  • Zen and the Art of Guitar by Jeff Peretz
  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig
  • Zen and the Art of Happiness by Chris Prentiss
  • Zen Guitar by Philip Toshio Sudo
  • The Book of Six Strings: The Six-Fold Path of Zen Guitar by Philip Toshio Sudo & Tobias Hurwitz
  • Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind by Shunryu Suzuki

© 2006 Tomas Karlsson. All rights reserved.