You may well ask, what is Zen driving? The Japanese word zen literally means meditation, and meditation means being fully aware, fully in touch with your surroundings. When you are in a meditative state, you are in your natural self, your Buddha self—and you can do it while driving.
But why Zen driving? The purpose of Zen Driving, the book, is to introduce you to your natural self, which is what remains when you still your mind and ignore your chattering ego. When you do this, you gain confidence in your ability, and finally you are that ability.
The frustrations of other drivers cutting you off or causing you to sit through two red lights because they’re too timid to make a left turn on yellow will no longer make your blood pressure explode. Zen Driving will teach you to look, simply observe without qualification, and then make your move.
Zen driving is effortless, spontaneous, nondeliberate. It is being one with the road. And in turn, driving becomes a pathway to consciousness, an activity that clears the mind and soothes the soul, something to take with you all those other times when you’re not behind the wheel.
Related collections and offers
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Random House|
|File size:||2 MB|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
“So happy to see you,
I have nothing to say!”
—Zen Master Hakuin (1685–1768)
Two ingredients go into creating a good driver: experience and awareness. This little book will give you neither. You cannot drive this book, therefore your experience will not increase; nor, without being behind the wheel, can you expect to expand your awareness. In fact, driving an automobile should be as natural as walking or running. It is folly to imagine that you can learn to become a good driver by reading a how-to book. This book, characteristically, will not do a thing. This book is an exercise in the Zen principle of “non-doing” or “non-action.” There is no need for exertion as you travel along the words and pages that follow. It will not be necessary to master any seemingly abstruse Eastern philosophy. There is nothing to cling or attach to. This is the ease and beauty of such an approach. The way of Zen may be the most effective avenue to driving, but then driving itself is the best way to learn Zen. One is the application of the other. Ultimately, awareness and experience will be your only useful guides. The purpose of this book is to introduce you to those guides without getting in the way.
Friendly Persuasion: The Theory of Zen and Zen Driving
Buddha Behind the Wheel
The purpose of this book is to introduce you to pure awareness/experience, your natural-self, an innate ability waiting to unfold like a coiled snake. To take that unleashed energy, stick it in the ignition of your car, turn over the engine, put it in gear, and head off down the highway, practicing, in a merry state of mind, Zen Driving.
“But everybody already knows how to drive,” a friend commented when I told her I was writing a book about Zen Driving. How, she wanted to know, was Zen Driving different from what she was doing? What could she expect to get out of practicing this Zen Driving? Especially, she added, since she was already “practicing” her own religion.
I explained that though Zen was a form of Buddhism it was separate from any religious doctrine. The Japanese word Zen literally means meditation, and meditation implies being fully aware, fully in touch with your surroundings. To be in a meditative state simply means to be in your natural-self, your Buddha Self. All very simple straightforward stuff. No religious flummery. In Zen, everyone has the Buddha Nature, everyone is (if only they would realize it!) the Buddha.
So what you want, I told her—just to cover all bases—is your plastic Jesus on the dash, and Buddha (yourself!) behind the wheel.
As for the actual nitty-gritty benefits of Zen Driving, there are several. First, you will be a better driver. With an increased awareness of and a better feel for the car, the road, and yourself, you will move through traffic in a more fluid, efficient manner. As a result you will become a much safer driver. In other words, with awareness and ability at their peaks, you will not only not run into things—almost guaranteed—you will not worry about running into things.
All this ability and safety will pave the way for what I consider to be the major purpose of Zen Driving, and that is to thoroughly enjoy the driving experience. Driving can often be a dreaded, boring chore. Zen Driving eliminates those feelings. Driving in your car, ensconced in your own individual sacred space, is a golden opportunity to take time out from whatever you were previously doing, to turn off all worries, erase all mind chatter. And if you choose to use it this way, to be aware, to be on top of things, to feel hooked up and alive—well, a Buddha behind the wheel is a happy and contented driver.
Ultimately, your contented driving experience can spill over into other areas of your life. Those who practice yoga, meditation, and the martial arts all anticipate that not only will these practices make them feel better in the here-now, but that the centered here-now will segue into the rest of the day’s activities. The nice thing about Zen Driving, unlike the above disciplines, happens to be that you have to drive. Zen Driving is a form of meditation/yoga everyone can do. The average American spends a minimum of one full hour a day in his or her car. You can exercise your mindfulness while you take yourself to work, to the store, to a movie. Who can deny that the time we spend in our cars—even if it’s just a ten-minute trip to the local Safeway—does not affect our attitudes once back in the mad walking world? Wouldn’t it be a joy if driving was actually a means of enhancing our destinations, not just, say, a tolerated chore, or a trial in anxiety?
The idea is to tap into an inner ability that allows you to feel good, so that when you arrive and park, like coming to the end of a ski run or a long meditation, you emerge in a fresher, more alive, more assured frame of mind. In short, and it may sound a bit corny or farfetched, you can improve the quality of your life through proper driving practice. Better living through better driving.
What is Zen Driving?
But what exactly is Zen Driving?
Well, now we come to a very difficult task right here at the start of things. Because to answer properly the question, “What is Zen Driving?” you yourself would have to be a Zen Driver in the process of Zen Driving. For a definition we cannot consult the Ancient Ones, the sutras, or oral tradition; nor do I believe there’s an explanation in your local state driver’s handbook. Zen Driving is an experienced state of being. Words don’t do it much justice. To know exactly what it is you must experience it.
A young monk was sitting in his parked car next to the Great Highway. Riding shotgun was the Zen Master. The monk, eager and troubled, finally turned to the Master and pleaded, “Please, Zenji, show me the way to Zen Driving!” The Master replied, “Do you hear the rushing roar of the highway river next to us?” “Yes,” the monk said, “I do.” “Enter there,” said the Master.
You are now driving on the open country highway. No mind, no thought, no form. The shapely hills and orchards slip through your consciousness as gently as the warm wind. The white lines skate beneath you, the telephone poles and wires slide evenly by your side. Your hands on the steering wheel tingle with the rhythms of the whirring engine and you can feel your car around you as though you were wearing it. Floating through every turn, accelerating, passing slower vehicles, you can feel the road pouring under your tires. It’s a glorious day and the sun is glistening; you, the road, and the car respond to every nuance of motion and traffic.
But now you are late for work in deep heavy downtown traffic. (Uh-oh.) Suddenly your Zen mind begins to wobble. Suddenly you’re creeping along in the left lane, your hands already sweated to the wheel, when some fine fellow driving one of Detroit’s finest (and largest) cuts you off. Deftness, natural agility, saves your insurance rates from going up. But that isn’t what you experience. To you it’s just pure dumb luck that saves you. Awareness gives way to suspicion. You grow uptight and overly cautious. You cinch your seat belt tighter. You ride the brakes. You recall the lousy thing your best friend said to you the other day—and nearly rear end the car in front of you! You slam your fist against the steering wheel. Junk! You want a new car. You want a new job. You start punching all the buttons on your car radio, but no song seems to fit this mood.
It sure would make a difference if driving in city traffic was as soothing and as enjoyable as driving on the open road. This is the song you’re looking for. It’s an inner tune. Real Zen Driving, when tuned in, allows you this unfettered feeling. With perfect aplomb you are able to respond to traffic situations instinctually. With unclouded confidence your awareness is keen, and maneuvering through traffic is like gliding along on a track. This is true Zen Driving, a self-assurance springing from a true sense of personal power and innate ability. But, unfortunately, this is not always your normal driving mode. (Perhaps it is never your normal driving mode!) It is something that must be developed. Furthermore, there exist impediments—personal stuff—that pop up to block and obfuscate this clear, natural driving ability. In reality, one minute you’ve got it, one minute you don’t.
A Two-Pronged Approach
So, given this situation, how do you become a Zen Driver?
On one level you want to become aware—bring to your conscious attention—those impediments, often unconscious, that are blocking your natural abilities. According to Zen gospel, these impediments are caused by delusions and attachments. A student asked Roshi Kapleau, “What can a Zen teacher give me?” And Roshi Kapleau replied, “He can’t give you anything you don’t already have. But he can take away much that is foreign to your True-nature.” It’s not so much a matter of what’s missing as it is a matter of what’s getting in the way of what you already have.
The fact is, you already have the Buddha Nature, your natural-self. You already possess the innate ability to become a Zen Driver—if you would only realize (make real) the fact and use it. But, like having a million dollars, you can’t spend it unless you remember which mattress you hid it under. Having it sit there, unaware, does you no good. The same is true with your natural-self, that which allows you to become a Zen Driver—you must realize you have it, constantly remember to use it, and simultaneously examine those things that cloud your remembering of it.