Subtotal: $0.00

Go Back

What We Can Learn From the Most Prolific Zen Masters?


Nowadays, we frequently hear the term Zen master used to describe individuals who remain calm in stressful situations. Historically, however, the term has served as a catch-all for various titles across Zen traditions—including seike, roshi, sensei, osho.

It's a respected title given to those who have devoted their lives to studying and practicing Zen Buddhism. Even if Zen teachings seem far-off or unrelated, we can learn valuable lessons from Zen masters that help in our meditation and everyday life.

Zen Master #1: Thich Nhat Hahn

Learn to love your enemies

Thich Nhat Hahn (pronounced “Tik Not Han,”), born in 1926, is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, widely known for his global peace activism. He also founded Engaged Buddhism—a type that emphasizes using mindfulness in everyday activities like walking, cooking, and listening, as well as in social action (1).

Of Nhat Hahn’s 100+ published books and vast teachings, he’s perhaps most famous for his nonviolent approach to conflict. His solution? Learn to love your enemies. While that may seem impossible to practice, his unique perspective and insight might help.

zen master, meditation

To illustrate his point, Nhat Hahn has often told a harrowing story of sea pirates robbing and violating innocent travelers. He says our natural instinct is to get angry at the pirates who’ve robbed us or the government officials who’ve abused their power. But he believes this approach misses the root of the issue:

“To remove only the bombs and nothing else is naive. Because
the bombs are the fruit of the tree. And if we don’t look at the
tree and the roots, we are going to have more bombs (2).”

He says our degree of awakening—our way of life—is the root of everything. So when we’re faced with a difficult person, instead of getting angry, we should ask ourselves: Why are they like that? In what way has our society (and their upbringing) led to this outcome?

Most importantly, this can remind us that if we were born and raised in the same conditions, we could have turned out just like them. Zen master Nhat Hahn says it’s from this viewpoint that we can act from a place of love and stop blaming.

Zen Master #2: Shunryu Suzuki

Keep a beginner’s mind

Shunryu Suzuki (1904-1971), often called Suzuki Roshi, was a Japanese Zen Monk and teacher who helped popularize Zen Buddhism in the US. He founded the first Buddhist monastery outside of Asia as well as one of the most influential Zen organizations in the US—the San Francisco Zen Center.

zen master, meditation

Suzuki’s wisdom lives on through his works which include Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind—one of the most popular books on Zen and Buddhism in the West (3). In it, he highlights the value of keeping a beginner’s mind in any endeavor:

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the

expert’s there are few (4).”

He says many of us think too much and get so caught up in Zen (or any practice) that we miss its real meaning. But with a beginner’s mind, he says we can stay curious, and keeping this curiosity is the purpose of all Zen teaching— “to make you wonder and to answer that wondering with the deepest expression of your own nature (5).”

Learn more about beginner’s mind >

Zen Master #3: Philip Kapleau

There is value in every experience

Philip Kapleau (1912-2004) is known as one of the founding fathers of American Zen. His mission was to bridge the gap between theory and practice, making Zen Buddhism accessible to everyone.

Unlike many of his peers, Kapleau's journey to becoming a Zen master wasn't straightforward. Born in New Haven, CT, he was working as a court reporter covering the Tokyo War Crimes Trials in Japan when he discovered Zen Buddhism

zen master, meditation

Two decades later, he founded the well-known Rochester Zen Center in western NY (6). As in the roundabout way he came to Zen and adopted its teachings, one of Kapleau’s central teachings was around the simple belief that there is value in every experience.

In addition, he popularized the saying “grist for the mill,” which highlighted this tenet of his philosophy (4). All our problems and mistakes can teach us something valuable, even if we don't see it right away.

Zen Collection in the Muse App

We can see how useful and relevant the teachings of these Zen masters are for our lives today. We don't need to go to a distant monastery to follow them. In fact, with tools like the Muse 2 Headband and the Muse S Headband, Zen teachings are more accessible than ever.

In the Zen Collection of our Muse app, we’ve worked to bring more of these practical Zen teachings and insights to light. With our Zen teachers, you can explore basic Zen meditation practices and Buddhist wisdom to apply to everyday life.


  1. Plum Village – Mindfulness Practice.
  2. Nhat Hahn, Thich. Peacemaking: How to Be It, How to Do It. 2002.
  3. Buddhism: Zen: Contemporary Masters & Teachings. University Libraries. University at Buffalo. 2020.
  4. The Three Pillars of Zen. Project Gutenberg Self-Publishing Press.
  5. Suzuki, Shunryu. Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. 2011.
  6. Philip Kapleau. Encyclopedia Britannica website.

    Get Ready to Experience More Calm & Focus in Your Life With Muse

    Hello! You're visiting Muse from somewhere outside of the US.

    Please select your country below so we can display the correct prices, delivery times, and delivery costs for your location.