Zen - Volume#2 - The Stoic Buddha and How to "Move Still"

Stoic Buddhism is a lifestyle - or Life OS (Operating System) - I've crafted by mixing two philosophies I've grown fond of : Stoicism and Buddhism. I have to thank Osho whose Zorba the Buddha had initially struck me as genius. Zorba the Buddha however is not suitable as an OS for someone who's chosen to live an entrepreneur's life. Treat this as a work in progress :)


Entrepreneurship is not only a risk-taking attitude towards business. I ran through this amazing (long) excerpt from Brain-pickings regarding some of our irrationalities and emotional biases which also highlight the mental drawbacks an entrepreneur sometimes encounters (bold is mine):

"Citing the work of psychologists Daniel Gilbert, whose exploration of the art-science of happiness remains indispensable, and Timothy Wilson, whose work has revolutionised the way we think about psychological change, Schwalbe reminds us of the "impact bias" – our tendency to greatly overestimate the intensity and extent of our emotional reactions, which causes us to expect failures to be more painful than they actually are and thus to fear them more than we should. Schwalbe explains:

Gilbert and Wilson highlight two phenomena to explain this bias. The first is immune neglect. Just as we have a physical immune system to fight threats to our body, we have a psychological immune system to fight threats to our mental health. We identify silver linings, rationalise our actions, and find meaning in our setbacks. We don’t realize how effective this immune system is, however, because it operates largely beneath our conscious awareness. When we think about taking a risk, we rarely consider how good we will be at reframing a disappointing outcome. In short, we underestimate our resilience.

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The second reason is focalism. When we contemplate failure from afar, according to Gilbert and Wilson, we tend to overemphasise the focal event (i.e., failure) and overlook all the other episodic details of daily life that help us move on and feel better. The threat of failure is so vivid that it consumes our attention. This happens in part because the areas of the brain we use to perceive the present are the same ones we employ to imagine the future. When we feel afraid of failing at a new business or anxious about the shame of letting investors down and what our peers will think, it’s hard to also imagine the pleasure we will get from our next venture and the other everyday activities that are a necessary and enjoyable part of life."

Entrepreneurship is a general attitude towards every aspect of life: Financial but also physical, emotional, spiritual and mental. Just daring to think about the positives of gay adoption is a challenge to some for example. Overcoming focalism and immune neglect turns one into a "Total Entrepreneur" whose risk-taking attitude transfers into every aspect of one's life.


Based on the above, considering Zen is the practice of deliberate attention to what's around us here and now, it appears obvious that Zen, or let’s just call it deliberate attention, can help us focus on the moment, not the future and hence avoid 1) underestimating our resilience 2) overestimating the impact of our failures. Zen can help us be more entrepreneurial and increase our risk appetite. By realising "There is no spoon" and no such thing as failure, Zen pulls us out of our self-imposed mental matrix.

More so, Zen is also a loud affirmation of independence,  a major entrepreneurial characteristic. To practice Zen, one needs to come to terms with being with oneself. Or vice versa. It’s one and the same. Zen means being OK with solitude. It’s different from lonely though : A lonely person has no friends and social contact is beautiful - though too much of a good thing is a curse. So, someone who can’t stand solitude i.e. spending a second without friends cannot grasp the maturity independence entails. Put simply, one source of unhappiness is the inability of spending time with oneself. Independence is at the root of happiness as Elizabeth Cady Stanton writes to her daughter:

"I am so glad, dearest, to know that you are happy. Now, improve every hour and every opportunity, and fit yourself for a good teacher or professor, so that you can have money of your own and not be obliged to depend on any man for every breath you draw. The helpless dependence of women generally makes them the narrow, discontented beings so many are."

In the vein of Zen being an enjoyment of one's own mind, Henry Miller adds:

"It is just this ability to stand alone, and not feel guilty or harassed about it, of which the average person is incapable. The desire for a lasting external security is uppermost, revealing itself in the endless pursuit of health, happiness, possessions an so on, defence of what has been acquired being the obsessive idea, and yet no real defence being possible, because one cannot defend what is un-defendable. All that can be defended are imaginary, illusory, protective devices”

Howe by describing self-acceptance extends the definition of independence:

‘Normality, is the paradise of escapologists, for it is a fixation concept, pure and simple. It is better, if we can, to stand alone and to feel quite normal about our abnormality, doing nothing whatever about it, except what needs to be done in order to be oneself.’

Zen is terrific to be at peace with the now, the here and the self. An essential feature to carving one's future mindfully. Zen imho should be one's default Life attitude. But what if one falls off the wagon? It's hard to be constantly mindful.


There’s this great article from Tim Ferris’ bog written by Ryan Holiday. It breaks down Stoicism into its bare essentials:

  • Practice misfortune. Seriously. It means a day without eating, wearing ugly clothes on purpose, walking in the cold… It means living face to face with what you fear and most importantly seeing that you’ll survive so you can relativize your fears.
Emotions like anxiety and fear have their roots in uncertainty and rarely in experience. Anyone who has made a big bet on themselves knows how much energy both states can consume. The solution is to do something about that ignorance. Make yourself familiar with the things, the worst-case scenarios, that you’re afraid of. Practice what you fear, whether a simulation in your mind or in real-life. Then you, your company, and your employees will have little left to keep you from thinking and acting big. The downside is almost always reversible or transient.
  • Train perception to avoid good and bad. For the stoic everything is opportunity. If you tie your first response to dispassion, you’ll find that everything is simply an opportunity. Suppose for a second that you are trying to help someone and they respond by being surly or unwilling to cooperate. Instead of making your life more difficult, the exercise says, they’re actually directing you towards new virtues; for example, patience or understanding. Or, the death of someone close to you; a chance to show fortitude. Marcus Aurelius frames this in the most amazing way possible:
The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.
This one took some time to 'get'

This one took some time to 'get'

  • Remember - It’s all ephemeral

More so, Stoicism is a courageous acceptance of inner conflict as a defining part of life. Brainpickings cites Viktor Frankl beautifully:

And yet fulfilling work doesn’t come from the path of least resistance. He cites from Viktor Frankl’s famous treatise on the meaning of life: "What man actually needs is not some tension-less state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him."

Maria Popova (the mastermind behind Brainpickings) goes on to add Henry Miller’s thoughts:

"Life, as we all know, is conflict, and man, being part of life, is himself an expression of conflict. If he recognises the fact and accepts it, he is apt, despite the conflict, to know peace and to enjoy it. But to arrive at this end, which is only a beginning (for we haven’t begun to live yet!), a man has got to learn the doctrine of acceptance, that is, of unconditional surrender, which is love”

Beyond accepting inner conflict though, Stoicism is also a way to accept outward conflict and transcend it. Very often we find ourselves hostages of others’ opinions and expectations. Seneca, by inviting us to practice misfortune, extends the invitation to own nothing and being owned by no one. Let your time be yours and only yours. Let yourself be a reflection of your self and only that. It meets Zen and ultimate independence on that point.


So basically, Zen helps you see the beauty of the moment and Stoicism helps you transcend life's obstacles. Zen kind of lacks Stoicism's ‘preparedness’. Obviously because Zen means being Zen all the time. Only here's the thing: Stoicism can be the way to handle situations where we fail at Zen. Because it means having a mental state able to handle difficult situations, able to tame the waves when they get too high, Stoicism helps us take distance in these moments and henceforth be, again, fully in the moment.

Stoicism is a mental blueprint for a stress-free lifestyle. Zen is a spiritual blueprint for a mindful lifestyle. Stoicism is directed towards the future and gives us tools to face life’s events. Zen is an uncompromising contemplation of the now or 'the grand scheme of the moment'. Because they tackle two facets of our relationship to life and time, they’re complimentary. More accurately, I’d say Stoicism completes Zen. Our relationship to the future is crucial in our attitude to the moment. As Miller summarises Howe’s proposition:

"An attempt, in short, to arrive at a total grasp of the universe, and thus keep man anchored in the moving stream of life, which embraces known and unknown. Any and every moment, from this viewpoint, is therefore good or right, the best for whoever it be, for on how one orients himself to the moment depends the failure or fruitfulness of it."

The way Stoicism and Zen operate in symbiosis might be in the following: "Choose your direction and move. Blaze through. Enjoy it to the fullest, live the moment, but don't expect it to last. Expectations are the culprit. Have no expectations.” Tim Ferris adds some great thoughts to “Stoicism 101” that might be a great mash-up between Zen and Stoicism:

"The part that bothers me is the entire “Remember you’re small” bit, which doesn’t jive with start-up founders. To do huge things, I really think you need to believe you can change the world and do so better than anyone else in some respect. It is possible, however, to simultaneously recognise that all is impermanent: the transient pains, bad PR, disloyal false friends, irrational exuberance, hitting #1 on the NY Times, whatever. I think it’s about not dwelling on pain and not clinging to ephemeral happiness. Enjoy it to the fullest (this is where I disagree with some of the Stoic writings), but don’t expect it to last forever, nor expect some single point in time to make your entire life complete forever"

See Stoicism is a cheat sheet. Zen is a special pair of glasses. The former gives you a tool to face new life events, the latter is a way to view life at all moments. The former is an "if, then”, the latter is a plain “do”. Together, they are all a life program needs to run and function. Hence the Stoic Buddha, the happy modern risk-taker. "Move Still" emerged out of the necessity to sometimes "Stand Still" (Zen) and the imperative to "Move" (Stoicism) as motion is an all-defining feature of evolution. It's like being in a train and enjoying the view

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