Zen and the Art of Surfing

For a deed to be totally pure, it must be done without any thought of reward, whether worldly or divine. It is this kind of deed which is called a “deed of merit.” And because no merit is sought, it is a deed of immeasurable merit, of infinite merit.

Thich Thien-An

It is not without irony that this quote was read immediately after penning the previous day’s blog.

The blog entitled “The Reward.”

This was read in the book by Jaimal Yogis called Saltwater Buddha: A surfer’s quest to find Zen on the sea. Read while sitting on the toilet, truth be told.

Juxtaposed next to yesterday’s blog, this Zen saying suggests that the manner in which I have been undertaking surfing lacks purity. Because clearly from the blogs title, it has as its end the reward of the wave ridden. Possibly also the men or women impressed, the stories of great adventure and big waves conquered. The stroking of the ego.

So how do we approach surfing in a more Zen way? With a purity of intent?

The answer, presumably is contained in Jaimal’s book. But I have not finished it yet.

So in the meantime, let us ponder the notion here on this blog. It has been discussed in a previous blog that surfing has an aspect of meditation in it. That in moments of pure concentration the mind stops its normally incessant chatter and we simply “are.” We are “in the moment,” “one with the wave,” “in the zone.” It is like meditation on a candle or flower, combined with walking meditation where the goal is to be completely concentrated on the act of walking, thereby losing the “self” in the act.

What is most bizarre and a bit disconcerting about these moments as they occur while surfing is how fleeting they are. The feeling that comes with moments of no-mind seems to be forgotten before it can be savored. And the lasting feeling of peace that comes from surfing, I believe, has more to do with the exhaustion it induces than with anything to do with Zen.

But maybe that’s because there is often another wave to be paddled over, the impact zone to be hurriedly exited and more waves on their way. The activity itself does not ordinarily promote savoring the moment after the fact. But that again contains aspects of Zen…no dwelling on the past. You must remain focused on the present or risk having a big wave dump on your head, or a fellow surfer run you over as you linger on the inside.

One of my favorite books Peace is Every Step was written by a Zen Buddhist, Thich Nhat Hanh. In a less than surprising bit of synchronicity, in his book about Zen and surfing, Jaimal goes to the French village begun by Thay (as he is known). Thay’s book is very much about how we can practice Zen in every day moments. How a stop light can act as a bell of mindfulness. To remind us to be present in this very moment. To discard the incessant and often negative thoughts bombarding our psyche day in and day out.

The Zen in surfing can similarly be attained in the way by which it is approached. Are we entering the water with an open heart, wishing blessings on everyone we encounter – the wave, the fish, the turtles and even the sharks (human and cartilagenous alike).

I mentioned my mantra “surf your surf” in my previous post – this too becomes an act of Zen – to remain focused and concentrated on the activity at hand instead of distracted by the crowd, especially the chest-thumping, testosterone-exuding surfistas. The mood remains elevated and genuine smiles and greetings are exchanged creating a vibe that is open, friendly.

The result is pure magic, pure Zen. The act of surfing becomes a dance with no feet trod upon. The rides full of grace.


Check out Jaimal Jogis’ Video about his new book HERE.

For more about Zen, click HERE.

Click here to order Peace is Every Step.

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