Good morning, good afternoon, good evening. It depends on what time of day you’re listening to this. Here it’s about 1:15 in the morning. I’m in Big Sur, sitting by the fireplace, burning some Monterey pine. It’s cloudy tonight. The ocean is overcast. A storm is coming in. It’s very warm, though. It’s December, almost Christmas time, and it’s probably 60 degrees out tonight. Beautiful days—sunny, clear this time of year. The fog doesn’t really come till the spring and summer here, and then it’s only right along the coastline. But when the fog is there, if you happen to be there, you don’t see too well. You can drive away from the fog, go back from the coast a half an hour, and it’s completely sunny. And then come into the coast and you can’t see more than a few feet ahead of yourself when the fog is very thick.

Today our subject is winning—the Zen of winning. Now that may seem to some like a contradictory term, which is appropriate. A lot of people perceive Zen as non-competitive. It’s interesting, I built an advertising campaign around “Gaining the Competitive Edge through the Practice of Zen,” and I got a few angry letters from ardent Zen practitioners—who seem to be terribly stuck in their practice—who said that the ad misrepresented Zen. How could Zen help you gain the competitive edge? Evidently, they’ve all read Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, which is a fine book, and they’ve read that there should be no competition in Zen. But of course there’s competition in Zen. Let’s not be ridiculous. There’s competition in everything in life. Zen gives you the competitive edge to be a winner.

Naturally, being a winner in Zen is very different than being a winner in a sense of competition as most people play the game in the world. Being a winner in Zen means competing and winning in the world of enlightenment, in the world of career, in the world of sports, in the world of personal aesthetic achievement. Winning is doing what you want to do, essentially.

Of course, part of Zen has to do with understanding precisely what it is you want to do. And a lot of people don’t know. They think they know because they’ve been brought up with certain ideas and expectations of what they should do. Zen is very competitive. All self-discovery is competitive. We’re not competing against anyone else who practices. That’s an absurd idea.

There’s enough room in eternity for everyone to be enlightened. We gain or lose nothing by the success of others. But we’re definitely competing. We’re competing against our imperfections, we’re competing against the fog, illusion. We’re only alive for a certain period of time in any given lifetime and we’re competing against time. It’s a race to see if we can wake up before we go to sleep again. That’s the challenge—Zen challenges your mind.

Most people lead boring and complacent lives. By the time they’re 30 or 40, they think there’s nothing new under the sun. They’ve seen it all and done it all. The universe is endless, endless perfection. There are endless possibilities. Gaining the competitive edge, winning, is what Zen is all about—being able to do what it is you want to do and, of course, understanding—knowing—the still center of perfect being. That’s winning, in my estimation. I’m sure one could choose other terms to express it, that perhaps might be less offensive to Zen practitioners who are stuck in their practice, but perhaps that’s not my intent. I like common American usage, personally.

See, one of the problems with Zen or any practice is that it’s a practice. That’s why people don’t win. The reason people don’t win is they get stuck in ideas, habits, ways of seeing mostly—life, ourselves, the universe, what we do, what we don’t do—and these ways of seeing block our natural energy and creativity. We have very fixed ideas about how we should approach things.

Perhaps we have been successful in something before, and now we assume we should approach the project or endeavor, the meditation, the career, the relationship, whatever it may be—sports, athletics, school—we assume we should approach it in the same way. And it’s the doggonedest thing. Even if we were successful before, we won’t be successful again. We might be successful in a certain sense, in that we may be able to replicate the results. Last semester you got all A’s. This semester you used the same approach, and you got all A’s again. But if you use the same approach, it means you’re in the same state of mind, and so from the Zen point of view, you’ve lost.

Some will be quick to say, “Well, you know there’s no winning and losing; that’s just a state of mind in duality.” But duality is part of reality, and there is definitely winning and losing. If you don’t think so, talk to someone who’s gone to the racetrack and lost, and talk to somebody who’s gone and won. Talk to somebody who’s beaten cancer, talk to somebody who hasn’t. There is definitely winning and losing. It’s a state of mind, yes; it’s a way of looking at things. And I think it’s a very honest and accurate way.

It seems to me that a lot of people use ideas of non-duality as an escape from reality. In other words, it is very easy to say there’s no winning and losing, and justify the fact that you didn’t do a very good job, that you didn’t bring something to perfection. I like the idea of winning and losing. It’s clean; it’s sharp, like Zen. You won or you lost. I mean, it’s one or the other. Only you can decide. It’s based upon your inner predilection, your determination. It’s a feeling. Winning and losing are feelings; something in us knows if we’ve won or lost.

Never subject yourself to the standards of others who define winning and losing in certain ways that may not be applicable to you. In other words, someone says that you’re a winner or a loser; that means nothing, that’s someone else’s idea. Someone’s in the fog and they can’t see well. A boat may pass them, but they don’t even know it’s there. They may hear the rush of the wind and think it’s a flock of birds. So it doesn’t pay to listen much to what human beings have to say in their evaluation of you, since they don’t evaluate themselves very properly. Because from the point of view of enlightenment, everyone is enshrouded in the fog. Once in a while the fog clears a little bit and you see a little better, but then it rolls back in again. Only the enlightened are outside of the fog.

So winning—I believe in winning. I like it. It’s clean. I definitely don’t believe in losing. It’s a bad attitude. It’s not necessary to lose, but it does happen once in a while. And honestly admitting that you lost and not trying to rationalize it or push it off, is an important step in self-assessment and mindfulness. Then understanding why you lost so that you can prevent that from happening again, is progress.

Winning, of course, is based to a certain extent upon personal power. To a large extent, if you have enough personal power you tend to win. If you don’t, you tend to lose.

So the strategy of winning, from the Zen point of view, is gaining personal power. The real challenges, the places you need to win, are not necessarily on the sports field or in the office or in relationships or in running for election, or whatever. The Zen of winning has very little to do with that. It has everything to do with that, ultimately. But there are no techniques to learn that will cause you to win an election or to win on the job. I mean, there are techniques to learn that cause that to happen, of course. But they’re not what you would suppose. In other words, you need power, balance and wisdom to win and to learn from your losses.

It is in Zen practice that you gain power, balance and wisdom, and the battles that you fight are within your own mind. That’s where the real victories and defeats are.

Winning, the Zen of winning, is gaining control of your time, life and mind. Having the competitive edge to be able to succeed is having control of your time, life and mind. It might seem indirect. In other words, in order to win you’re going to go work on a lot of things that don’t seem at the moment directly applicable to your success in any given endeavor or project. But if you win, if you succeed in these small things, then you will find that any project that you approach—within reasonable limitations—you will be successful in. Most people put the cart before the horse, which is an interesting way to go through life. They approach everything directly. But in Zen we approach everything backwards or inside out. So it seems. It’s not. Actually it’s quite direct and very specific.

The description of the world that most people have—how you win, how you succeed, how you become happy—is very limited. They’re in the fog. Once in a while a genuine insight comes through, but most of the time not.

So winning, then, is an approach to life, and the place it starts is not on the playing field or in the business organization. Nor is it competitive; we’re not trying to win something from someone else. We’re trying to do our best to bring perfection into whatever we turn our attention to. That’s winning.

We live in a competitive society. To pretend that’s not there is ridiculous. That’s how the whole planet is set up. If you’re not competitive, you don’t succeed, you don’t survive. It’s part of the system here in this world. Zen is the acceptance of reality, many realities. In other words, there are as many reasons to win as to lose, so you might as well win. If you can marry a handsome man or a beautiful woman and you have two choices and both people are equally nice or obnoxious as the case may be, you might as well marry the wealthy one. That’s what we call common sense, and Zen is definitely not devoid of it.

If you want to succeed in Zen, if that’s winning for you—enlightenment is the game that you’re playing, and there are many battles, many tournaments on different levels—then you should study with a winner. You have to find someone who has already succeeded, who is indeed enlightened. They can show you the way.

If you want to succeed in business, whatever it may be—school—always associate with winners, people who have understood something. You’ll notice that they all share something in common—tremendous attention to detail in their personal lives and associations, a level of self-respect and integrity that seems to go beyond the bounds of necessity. That’s why they win. In other words, there’s the flash in the pan, which is a moment of lightning in the sky; lights everything up. The sudden illumination, the sudden success, and that’s a part of the universal reality, but continued lightning, continued success, is dependent upon tremendous attention to detail.

Everything starts within your mind. Obviously, the way you conduct your life, physical choices you make, drain your power or give you power. If your power is low, then you stay in lower levels of mind and you don’t see opportunities. You don’t see problems coming. If you have more personal power and you’re in higher states of mind, then naturally you see these things and you can adhere to them or avoid them.

Personal power is really the issue.

And it’s only through tremendous attention to detail and searing self-honesty that you will be able to gain personal power.

Self-honesty is not putting yourself down or feeling sorry for yourself. Self-honesty is looking at things as they are and then being compelled to make changes, honestly.

How do you become a winner? What is the Zen of winning? Well, the Zen of winning starts out, of course, as all Zen practice does, with a central idea or reality, if you prefer, of nothing.

Everything is nothing. The way of nothingness is the way of Zen, or we could say the way of everythingness is the way of Zen. It’s just a term. The contemplation of nothingness or everythingness is where everything starts.

There’s a still center to the universe. Within that still center are all things, all achievements, all losses, all gains, all states of mind. Everything and nothing exist there. When you place yourself in harmony with that, that is to say, when you become aware, consciously, of the still center of being, you’ve won.

All that stands between you and that, are your uncontrolled thoughts, uncontrolled desires, attachments, aversions, your conceptions, your sense of a past, ideations of the future, your sense of self, tendencies from this and other lives.

When all those things are erased, there is nothing but eternity.

It’s impossible to distinguish you from the still center of perfect being. So winning and gaining power has to do with addressing these subjects with patience, with clarity, with tremendous willpower.

Willpower, of course, is winning—gaining willpower and using it correctly and not abusing it, because when you abuse willpower, you waste it. There really is not an infinite supply of it at your disposal.

There is an infinite supply of it in the universe, but not necessarily at anybody’s disposal.

As I suggested, winning begins with nothingness; matching yourself against nothingness. That’s your only real opponent—nothingness. You’re fighting against nothingness all the time. And the way you fight against nothingness is by creating a series of shields that you call personality, life history, feelings, ideas, ways of seeing. These are your shields against nothingness. You fight nothingness all the time.

Thought control is the ability to direct mind and attention anywhere. Your ability to win is dependent upon the power of your concentration. Winning is a state of mind.

First of all, you need to conceive of yourself as a winner, not a loser. And as I said, it’s very helpful to associate with people who are successful in meditation, in enlightenment, in business, in sports, in cultural activities, in personal happiness—whatever the arena is, you pick it.

You need to model a new image of yourself as a winner—as a hero—not in an egotistical sense, but in a pragmatic and realistic sense.

We are nothing, we are made up of nothing.

There is no self.

We are whatever we decide we are.

If you decide that you’re a winner, and if you hold that image in your mind strongly enough, you will become a winner.

Most people are taught from an early age on, to conceive of themselves as losers.

They’re taught that there are a very special few who are eminently successful in life.

And unless you were raised among people who had that image of themselves—if your parents considered themselves to be winners and passed that conditioning on to you, then it will be easier for you.

But in most cases, that’s not what it’s like. Most people’s parents don’t conceive of themselves as being winners. They may be satisfied, they may feel that they did OK in life, or they may feel that they’re inadequate, that they have failed, that they haven’t done as well as they could have.

It’s necessary to conceive—or hold in the mind—an image, and that image has to be backed up with reality.

You need to approach each task in your life, no matter how simple or how complex, with power.

And I feel it is better first to start winning on a small basis. That is to say, to pick and choose things initially, life tasks for yourself which are challenging, but which are not impossible to succeed at.

So you begin by learning something. Maybe you can’t type, so you learn how to type and you do well at it. Maybe you’ve never practiced martial arts so you study karate or judo or aikido, and you gradually become better and better at it. Maybe you’ve never skied and you learn how. You’ve never meditated and you practice meditation, and you become better and better at it.

You go to school and you don’t take the most difficult subjects to start with, or you don’t go to the most difficult school, and you do well. Then go to a more difficult school.

In other words, you can raise the level of challenge, but first you have to develop a winning profile.

Naturally, as I’ve discussed on other tapes in this series and at the seminars, you need to continually examine your life, inner and outer, and see where you’re losing and gaining power.

If you’re losing power in your relationships with others, then you have to try and remedy that, and if you can’t, you need to sever the relationship—if your primary goal is winning.

In your thoughts, you need to be selective.

Thoughts are powerful, powerful vehicles of attention and you have to only think positive thoughts about yourself and your endeavors, and think well of the endeavors of others.

When you hold positive thoughts and images in your mind all day long, all night long, you raise your power level and you create a vibratory energy around those thoughts. Those thoughts are more likely to manifest.

If you think of thoughts of success and back them up with the hard work necessary to accomplish that success, then you’ll be a winner.

If, on the other hand, you cherish doubts, negative thoughts, “Oh I can’t,” “Oh, it probably won’t work out,” “Oh, why bother?”—then you won’t be a winner at all.

There’s a tremendous amount of psychic transference that occurs.

People we are emotionally open to and close to affect us more than most people realize. So if you are emotionally open to people who conceive of themselves as losers, they are filled with self-doubts and anxieties, uncontrolled and unmitigated desires and angers and hates and jealousies, then you’ll pick up a lot of that and you’ll find yourself experiencing the mental states of others. If, on the other hand, you associate with people who are much more progressive, you’ll pick that up. You won’t steal anything from them; they will retain it, of course. But you’re just sharing the positive energy and avoiding the negative energy.

You may say, “Well, I love so-and-so, how can I let go of them?” You don’t have to. You do whatever you choose, but you must realize the result. What you think, you become. And your thoughts are affected strongly by those you are emotionally open to.

Winning begins in the home. It begins with your thoughts and your actions. You need to create a body of success—a strong physical body, a body you feel good about, that looks good and feels good within the range of age that you have. It’s most important to engage in regular physical exercise, to maintain a high energy level, for most people. And it’s important to feel good about the way you look, to care for your clothes and your appearance. It’s all part of generating a winning image.

Naturally, real winning and losing all takes place at the meditation table. This is where the battles are, and, of course, in daily thought.

Winning is stopping all thought for protracted periods of time. Losing is sitting there and being subjected to all kinds of ridiculous thoughts.

Every time you sit down to meditate, you have to sit down with a resolve to win. You’re going to win at zazen.

When you go to a Zen seminar, you need to have the resolve that you’re going to use that seminar and not just sit there and think a lot of negative thoughts, or perhaps even pick up the negative thoughts of others and let them stay in your mind—their angers, their hostilities and their problems. You’re going to sit there and will your mind to be happy, quiet and still, and learn from your teacher.

A lot of winning has to do with being happy and satisfied.

A lot of people miss this part. You need to feel good about your life. Winning is a great idea, but you can get stuck in it too. It’s just another idea. It’s another way of looking at life, an idea form.

But you need to renew yourself and your spirit, which you do of course in meditation, and you also do it

Remember, winning is not winning or losing as the world defines it. You could lose the race, but win.

Winning means giving your very best effort to whatever you do—that’s winning.

And if someone else runs faster than you or makes more money than you or is more adept in anything, that doesn’t mean you’ve lost.

You’re not measuring yourself in winning and losing against anyone else—only against yourself and your tendencies not to win, not to succeed, not to do all that you are capable of doing or be all that you are capable of being.

No discussion of winning and losing would be complete without considering not only the obstacles within yourself that you need to overcome and win, over—the mental conditioning, the ideas, the insecurities, doubts and so on, which gradually you have to root out one by one and replace with positive thoughts—

People whom you love and whom even love you to a certain extent will try to block your success. They’re threatened by it, particularly if it’s spiritual success or inner success.

Human beings fear light and knowledge and power, and there’s a weird quirky sort of thing that happens with people. When you log on to the truth and you start to become it, it threatens them because they live with countless falsehoods in their life.

If they recognize that you are achieving some level of self-awareness and becoming honest and true, then they have to look at their own lives and see that they’re not doing the same.

A lot of people would rather not do that because they don’t want to go through the struggle of change. Even though it will make them happy and feel wonderful, they don’t want to. That’s their conditioning because they think of themselves as losers subconsciously.

So people will try and block you. Some will do it just for pure hostility. But most are just afraid themselves. When we see a hero, on the one hand, we applaud them; on the other hand, there’s something in a lot of people that wants to tear the hero down, that wants to see that the President is at fault, that wants the enlightened person to make mistakes, to fall—that’s only the part of a being that is afraid of truth and light and knowledge and power.

So there are those who will seek to block you.

There are also non-physical forces, call them demons or entities or what you will. They exist—astral beings who try to do the same thing for the same reasons. So in order to win in the world of enlightenment, it’s necessary to be able to will away these forces, to see that they’re insubstantial.

Everything is voidness. Everything is emptiness.

And when you see the essential voidness and emptiness of all your opponents, they will have no power over you—when you see that they are only idea forms of the infinite mind.

This realization will come about in the deepest practice of meditation. When you stop all thought, when you win in meditation, the battle is won, the war is over and everything is still and peaceful.

You will come to see the eternal voidness of all things, the emptiness or completeness or fullness of all life and you will see that nothing is, really.

All the manifest forms of existence are but illusions. They’re momentary displays of consciousness, flashes of lightning in the sky. They’re there for a moment and then they’re gone.

That’s all life is.

Winning, then, has to do with gaining personal power through the practice of meditation and mindfulness, thought control; not draining your energy on ridiculous things or people; having a sense of mortality; realizing that you don’t have endless energy and you need to conserve it and gain it; gaining a winning profile, conceiving of yourself as a winner, not a loser; being observant of those who would block and interfere with you and with your success and, of course, avoiding a sense of competition within your own being. [It’s a] tremendous waste of energy to try to block anyone else. That same energy could be applied to furthering your own success.

What a foolish person who tries to block the success of another. They really interfere with their own success more.

How much better to use all of your energy just to be all you can be.

At the same time, it is necessary to be aware of those and disassociate oneself from those who would interfere with your success in enlightenment, in your career, in your life. They’re not worth it.

The main thing that blocks you are your associations with others.

That’s the main reason people fail, is they become attached to others who hold them back. Letting go of others and going forward may seem like a lonely and impossible task, but I assure you it’s not.

Naturally, if someone is in the same state of mind and doesn’t seek to block your success, then of course you have a friend and the two of you can strengthen each other. Such friends are rare, and if you find such a friend, value them.

There is no beginning and there is no end to life. Life is endless reality. There is reality after reality, spinning on endlessly into the cosmos, billions and billions of manifest universes. And underlying all of this is the unmanifest, the absolute reality. Both are existence, and then there’s something beyond both the unmanifest and the manifest. We call it nirvana, beyond winning and losing. My idea is that as long as you’re in the relative worlds, you should be realistic and know there is winning and losing here.

In nirvana there’s no winning or losing. There’s no one there to win or lose. But as long as you’re in this world, there’s definitely winning and losing.

Only the completely enlightened are beyond winning and losing.

Yet strangely enough, they had to win to get to the point of being beyond winning and losing. It seems contradictory. The rocket has to have enough thrust to get beyond the gravitational pull of the earth, then they can shut off the engines and coast. The thrust isn’t necessary.

It is necessary to win in zazen, in meditation, in mindfulness, to be with a teacher who has already succeeded and learn from them, to win in your association with that teacher—meaning to do a good job, to bring perfection into everything in your life so you can go beyond all of this transitory nonsense and merge with the eternal. We would call that winning from the relative view, from the ten thousand states of mind. We’d say that’s winning, from that point of view, those points of view.

But absorption in nirvana, there’s no winning or losing. At that point, we’ve gone beyond space and time and condition and dimension and mind. There, there’s no winning or losing.

I think it’s very important to view life in terms of winning and losing until complete enlightenment has occurred. After that, there are no views, there is no mind, there is no self. There is only reality, and that’s but a vague word to define that which is impossible, and I wish you well on your journey towards that goal, if we can call it that.

The absorption in nirvana, in perfection, is all that matters.

In all of the strategies in your life, in all of the winnings, they’re only there to strengthen you and empower you for your final assault on the impenetrable cliffs of forever, which will one day give way. The windy cliffs of forever. The white light of eternity. The dharmakaya, the clear light of reality, in which all things are knowledge and perfection.

So I’m up here at Big Sur on the coast of California. It’s around 2:00 in the morning. The world is sleeping and dreaming. Tomorrow it will awaken and everyone will spin off in a million and one directions, and so it will be forever—winning and losing, success and failure, pleasure and pain, loss and gain. That’s the way it is in the maya, in the illusory worlds.

Even in the enlightened worlds—that are still worlds—there’s winning and losing.

But beyond all of this, there’s another condition and that’s what I would direct your attention to.

Strangely enough, as I said, you need to become a winner to go beyond winning and losing.

But beyond all of this, my friend, there is something else.

Perfection. Not as just an ideation—as a living reality. It is a reality.

Think of that sometimes, dwell on that idea. Even though it may just be an idea for you, hold that idea in your mind. Don’t worry about when it will happen, or how, or why. That isn’t important. All that’s important is that it exists; it is.

The universe is perfection, but there are just different ways to look at it from different stages of attention.

But beyond all views, there’s nirvana—shining, clear, perfect, void, full—and that is all that matters.

So it’s necessary to go through all of the daily tasks and bring perfection to them, to learn to be perfect in your meditation, to win in all your endeavors so that one day you will be complete again as you once were in that perfection that is nirvana—that absolute absorption beyond time, space and condition, yet right here and now.

So this is Zen Master Rama from the windy cliffs of forever, of Big Sur, wishing you well on your journey and telling you that you can win. You can be a winner. It takes work, effort, but it’s definitely worth it.

It is much nicer to live in a perfect mind, free from pain and agony of the thought forms that dominate most individuals—the jealousies, the deceptions, the hates, the revenge plots. What a terrible way to live. How painful to be unenlightened. Buddha called it “the nightmare of the day.”

Anything but enlightenment is pure pain; it’s the lack of enlightenment. There are joys, of course, and they should be enjoyed. And there are sorrows, and they should be passed over briefly. But enlightenment is reality. Meditate on that truth. Feel it, grow into it, become it, do whatever is necessary. It’s all that is worthwhile.

So from the world of Big Sur, where the waves crash and the seals are all in the water by the rocks barking, or it’s cloudy and moody and desolate in the wintertime around Christmas, I wish you well.