Montaigne & Buddhism Part 4: Why Should Buddhists Care?

This is the final part of my Montaigne & Buddhism series. In this concluding video I attempt to answer the question “Why should Buddhists care about Montaigne?”  Below you’ll find a rough transcript. Enjoy!

Recently I posted one of the videos from my Montaigne and Buddhism series in a Buddhist Facebook discussion group and the question “Why should Buddhists care about Montaigne?” was one of the first questions raised. I actually think this is a really great question. It’s an apt point and a reasonable concern. After all Montaigne is a French Renaissance philosopher, he was not a Buddhist, and there seems to be no evidence to support that he ever studied or encountered Buddhist thought and philosophy. So why the comparison? Why does it matter? And, to restate the question, “Why should Buddhists care?” In any philosophical discussion or conversation one of the most important questions to ask is “So what?” On one hand it is perhaps self-indulgent on my part, in that my academic background is in both religion and humanities and I relish the opportunity to put my interests into conversation. I think the work of comparative philosophy, putting cross-cultural and cross-contextual figures into discourse, can be quite helpful regardless of one’s predominant school of thought or regardless of the particular affiliation of one’s tradition. My aim here is not to use Montaigne as a referential point of legitimization or substantiation for Buddhism. There is no need to refer to Montaigne. But, because Montaigne did not study or write about Buddhism it makes the close parallels found between the writings of Montaigne and Buddhist thought all the more interesting. There is a fascinating simultaneity. The suggestion, here, is that, in Montaigne’s Essays, he seems to display many ideas that are both similar and conducive with many of the core tenets of Buddhism. Montaigne does seem to practice something closely akin to a mindfully meditative awareness concentrated upon the present moment (Dhyana/Jhana). Such a practice does seem to have cultivated in him ‘a special way of seeing’ into the nature of existence and reality (Vipassana/Vipasyana). Through such ‘insight’ he does seem to suggest that the world, and everything within it, is ultimately impermanent and in a constantly fluxing process of becoming and unfolding (Anitya/Anicca). As such, Montaigne does seem to propose that even the ‘self’ is not immune or exempt from the variable transience, or transitioning, of impermanence (Anatman/Anatta). Rather than being fixed or stable, Montaigne sees the human subject or ‘self’ as an intricately interwoven mass of interconnected substances and things subject to constant change (Skandhas/Khandhas).
However, one possible refutation of the project presented in this paper is that the comparisons outlined are merely a kind of grasping at straws. One could suggest that the proposed parallels between Montaigne and Buddhist thought have been read into, or posited upon, the text rather than actually interpreted from the text. Perhaps, this research has merely shined a Buddhist light on Montaigne’s thought, or perhaps it has only bent Montaigne in a Buddhist direction, forcing words or thoughts into Montaigne’s mouth and mind. Perhaps this is true. However, if, as Sarah Bakewell suggests, that one of the chief questions that fascinated and motivated Montaigne’s writing was the question of “How to live?”, then all subsequent investigations into the thoughts and ideas of Montaigne will be deficient if they are taken up only by a solitary stream of study. The question of “How to live?”, as well as questions into the nature of reality, are far too universal to be limited to a single field of thought. Ideas and insights are not limited to a particular time, culture, or context. Nor is the truthfulness of certain ideas and insights contingent upon the knowledge or familiarity of similar ideas and insights from a differing time, context, or culture. If anything, an unaffiliated, cross-cultural and cross-contextual, simultaneity of ideas and insights is evidence of their truthfulness, and the universality of the human condition. There is, then, a necessitation for comparative philosophy.
I just finished reading a book by Soto Zen priest, Norman Fischer called “What is Zen?” In the book Fischer writes that Zen “engages the large questions: Who are we? Why are we born? Why do we die? What is death? What is the good life?” In other words, Zen and Buddhism, also deal predominantly with the question of “How to Live?” There’s nothing specifically or particularly “Buddhist” about such a question or the effort of grappling with such a question. In fact, I came across a tweet from meditation and Dharma teacher, Daniel Scharpenburg. Scharpenburg posted the following quote from Zen master Seung Sahn:
Buddhism is not something categorically separate. It’s just a convenient name given to the practice of attempting to see reality clearly, it’s a name given to the act of grappling with the question of “How to Live?” Returning to “What is Zen?”, Norman Fischer notes that Zen, or religion, or philosophy, or etc. “cannot actually give us answers to such questions; rather, it gives us ways to grapple with them together, in communities that include not only living friends, but practitioners from the past, whose words and deeds still inspire us.” Here, Fischer draws special attention to what Buddhism calls the Triple Refuge or the refuge of the Three Jewels: “I take refuge in the Buddha (the teacher). I take refuge in the dharma (the teaching). I take refuge in the sangha (the community). Fischer explains that “Refuge means literally, “to fly back,” “to return to,” to commit oneself to what is already a deep natural urge of the heart.” Fischer also explains that “A Zen teacher isn’t a person; a “Zen teacher” inevitably involves a world, a context.” Zen teaching is unavoidably engaged within and synonymous with the context of an immanent and material world. Similarly, Fischer not only highlights that “The word sangha…means “community” but, also that “the word sangha as used in Mahayana Buddhism means…the community of all beings.” Fischer goes on to say that In the relative sense, sangha is the people you practice Zen with” and In “the absolute sense, sangha is all sentient beings.” Perhaps, one could even distill that down even further and say that the Sangha is anyone or anything you practice Zen with, or anyone or anything that aids you in your practice of Zen, or contributes to your Zen practice.
Is it any wonder that I find it difficult to separate my practice from all my other activities and interests, they are all deeply conjoined and interrelated. In Zen thought, there is no separation between one’s practice and one’s everyday life. Zen practice is life. In “What is Zen?”, Norman Fischer writes that “Zen…is about how we live, who we are, and how we treat others”. Fischer goes on to say that “there is really nothing else but practice. All our daily activity is practice”. It should then come as no surprise that one can find glimmers of the dharma everywhere, even in unexpected places.
Should a Buddhist care about Montaigne? Maybe, maybe not. Should a non-Buddhist care Montaigne? Maybe, maybe not. But why not explore the discursive potentiality? The Buddha seemed to suggest that the truths he discovered were not unique to him alone, but that anyone anywhere could discover what he had and that they could even do so without a direct affiliation to ‘the path’ he outlined. In his book, What the Buddha Taught, Walpola Rahula, writes that “[The Buddha] attributed all his realization, attainments, and achievements to human endeavour and human intelligence” and that [The Buddha] taught, encouraged and stimulated each person to develop himself and to work out his own emancipation, for man has the power power to liberate himself from all bondage through his own personal effort and intelligence”. As Rahula goes o to say “If the medicine is good, the disease will be cured. It is not necessary to know who prepared it, or where it came from.” I am someone who is attempting go deeper into Buddhist practice and to learn more about the Dharma. But, I am also still one who is steeped within the literary tradition of the humanities. I am hoping that attempts at joining these passions together will help to strengthen both. Perhaps, I’m not alone in such a pursuit and if I’m not I would love to be able to help spur on such a conversation. Perhaps those more steeped in Buddhism my find a few kindred spirits in the literature of western humanities and perhaps those more fluent in the literary humanities will see something synchronous in the middle path. In many ways, I think that thinkers, like Montaigne, help me to be not only a better person but, also a better Buddhist. Or perhaps one could say that because something or someone helps you to be a better person, it will also help you to be a better Buddhist, or a better whatever you are. Take refuge in the teacher, the teaching, and the community of anyone and anything that helps you better grapple with the question of “How to Live?”

Montaigne & Buddhism Part 3: Anatman/Anatta – ‘No-Self’

This is Part 3 of my Montaigne & Buddhism series. In this video I talk about the similarities between Montaigne’s view of ‘The Self’ and the Buddhist doctrine of Anatman/Anatta.  Below you’ll find a rough transcript. Enjoy!

Alan Watts explains that “The doctrine of anitya is” not simply “the…assertion that the world is impermanent,” but also that “the more one grasps at the world, the more it changes” (46-47). Because the world and everything within it evades a solid and stable grasping, it goes without saying that the doctrine of Anitya/Anicca also applies to the ‘self’.Owen Flanagan explains that “‘the self’ is like many other natural things, and as such “Personhood is [but] one kind of unfolding” (69). The ‘self’ is impermanent and transitory. There is no fixed or permanent ‘self’. Even the ‘self’, no matter how firm or steady it seems, is also an event or process of becoming and unfolding. Montaigne says “I study myself more than any other subject” (Montaigne). One of the chief objects of Montaigne’s mindfully concentrated observation was his own subjectivity, his own mind, his own consciousness, his own ‘self’. In the attentive awareness he devoted to his ‘self’ he noticed, and gained insight into, this transient impermanence. He writes that “the features of my picture alter and change,” and thus, “I cannot fix my object” (Montaigne). The ‘self’, as object of Montaigne’s investigative awareness, is “always tottering and reeling” (Montaigne). Montaigne can only take the ‘self’ “as it is at the instant [he] considers it” (Montaigne). He cannot paint the “being” of the ‘self’, he can only “paint its passage” (Montaigne). The passage of the ‘self, Montaigne notes, is “not a passing from one age to another, or… from seven to seven years, but from day to day, from minute to minute” (Montaigne). Montaigne says that the ‘self’ so rapidly alters and changes that “I must accommodate my history to the hour,” wondering “whether it be that I am then another self” (Montaigne). Montaigne saw in his ‘self’ “a subject void of form” and it was all he could do to “couch it in this airy body of voice” (Montaigne). Montaigne seemed to recognize that the ‘self’, like the world in which it is a part, is not only impermanent but, ultimately ungraspable. Grasping at the ‘self’ is like grasping at the wind, the more one reaches for or attempts to capture the ‘self’, the more the ‘self’ evades being held, vanishing from sight.

Here, Owen Flanagan suggests that the human subject is “a transient being constituted only by certain ever-changing relations of psychological continuity and connectedness” (28). The human subject is an amalgamation, constantly in motion, and changing before it can ever be fully grasped. In this regard, the doctrine of Anitya/Anicca, when applied to the ‘self’ gives way to another central thesis of Buddhist thought, i.e. the doctrine of Anatman (Sanskrit) or Anatta (Pali), that is the doctrine of ‘no-soul’ or ‘no-self’. Walpola Rahula, a Sri Lankan Buddhist monk and author of the book What the Buddha Taught, explains that the doctrine of Anatman/Anatta proposes that just as “there is nothing permanent, everlasting, unchanging, and eternal in the whole of existence,” so too is “what we call ‘I’, or ‘being’…only a combination of physical and mental aggregates, which are working together interdependently in a flux of momentary change” (66). Rahula states further that “What we call a ‘being’, or an ‘individual’, or ‘I’,” is but a naming convention, it “is only a convenient name or a label given to the combination of these…impermanent” and “constantly changing” aggregates (25). In this regard, according to Buddhist philosophy a human being is a coalition comprised of five Skandhas (Sanskrit) or Khandhas (Pali), that is, what is commonly called the Five Aggregates.

The Five Aggregates that comprise a human subject, as outlined and explained by Zen Buddhist monk Brad Warner, are form (body, matter, or materiality), feelings (sensations or sensorial experience), perceptions (cognition or cognitive functions and operations), “impulses toward actions” (volition, mental formations, or conditionally directed responses to phenomenal experience), and consciousness (Warner 69). There is little in Montaigne’s Essays that directly or explicitly address the detailed specificity of the listed Five Aggregates that constitute a human being (though research for this writing has certainly made an attempt to do so). Given the immense breadth of Montaigne’s Essays, perhaps it is possible to undertake the task of attempting to draw specific comparisons to the Five Aggregates in Montaigne’s writing yet, such a task is beyond the scope of this paper. However, suffice it to say for now that Montaigne does seem to agree with the general trajectory of the idea that the human being is an amalgamated collection, a conglomerated coalition. Indeed, not only does Montaigne recognize that the human subject is “infinite in matter, infinite in diversity,” and “evermore flowing and running, without ever remaining stable and permanent,” he also seems to see the human being as a mass of interwoven connectivity (Montaigne). Montaigne writes that “We are all lumps, and of so various and inform a contexture, that every piece plays, every moment, its own game, and there is as much difference betwixt us and ourselves as betwixt us and others” (Montaigne). Montaigne presents an evocative imagery of the human subject as a lump, so various, informing a contexture. Such an analogizing portrait seems to be firmly in keeping with what is at the heart of the Buddhist notion of Skandhas/Khandhas. It is interesting to note that the literal translation for Skandhas/Khandhas means “heap” (Warner 67). In Buddhist philosophy a human is a ‘heap’, or more specifically a ‘heap’ made up of five interconnected ‘heaps’ (the Five Aggregates). Put in the terms of Montaigne’s thought, perhaps one could say that a human being is a ‘lump’ of ‘lumps’, a ‘lump’ made up of various ‘lumps’, that is to say a collection of aggregations, an aggregated totality. In other words, it seems that according to Montaigne, the human subject is an irregular and indefinite, “compact mass of a substance” (“Lump, n1), “a mass of things,” that is “interwoven together…to form a connected whole” (“Contexture, n1”), marked by both variability and instability.


Document the Journey: T.k. Coleman, The Minimalists, & Hakuin

I’m two parts into my “Montaigne & Buddhism” series (Part 1 Transcript and Video & Part 2 Transcript and Video) but, decided to take a little sidetrack this week, and talk about some things I’ve been reading, listening to, and thinking about. In the video above and the rough transcript below I talk about the importance of learning, and more importantly, the importance of “learning out loud”, documenting the learning process, sharing it, and transforming it into creative action. Enjoy!

I read a lot of books, mostly on Kindle. I love the convenience of having the app on my phone as well as having access to the Kindle Cloud Reader from virtually any computer. It means I can have the majority of my library with me at all times. I also love that Kindle saves, consolidates, and centralizes all my highlights and notes in the various books I’ve been reading (I do a lot of highlighting and note-taking). I listen to a lot of podcasts on Stitcher, I can stream all my favorite podcasts, listen to new episodes, and I can save past episodes of podcasts so I can listen to them later. I also watch a lot lectures, talks, interviews, etc. on YouTube. My “Watch Later” list is constantly expanding. I consume content and information obsessively. In Evernote I keep a list of all the books I’ve read throughout the year. I also cut and paste all those notes and highlights from my Kindle reading into Evernote, so I can conveniently search and utilize them at any time from anywhere.
A few weeks ago I was listening to an episode of The Minimalists Podcast, I believe it was episode 131, titled “School”. In this episode their guest was T.K. Coleman. Coleman is an author, thinker, entrepreneur, and he is also the Education Director of an organization called Praxis. Throughout the Minimalists’ conversation with Coleman, he shares some great insights regarding the process and act of ‘learning’.  He says, quoting Chalmers Brothers, that “learning is the process of doing what you don’t know how to do while you don’t know how to do it”.  In this regard, Coleman advocates what he calls “learning out loud”, that is, documenting your journey as you learn, by “advertising those things you’re studying” through either blog or YouTube, or something similar. True to his word, there’s even a section on Coleman’s website called “Reading Notes,” where Coleman “learns out loud,” by regularly posting his reflections on whatever books, blogs, or podcasts he’s currently consuming. Coleman highlights that more often than not when someone is learning something new, or is in the process of mastering their craft, or honing their expertise, “they hide what they’re doing from the world until their confident that they know what they’re doing”. Coleman suggests that such a reclusive tactic not only misses the point of learning but, also misses a golden opportunity. He recommends putting your learning out there. Coleman states that “learning doesn’t count if you’re not combining it with some form of creative action”. I find all of these ideas inspiring and poignant. This is something that I think I’ve been attempting to do myself, although I’m not sure I consciously realized that this is what I’ve been doing.
I started this blog when I began my undergraduate program not as way to share what I ‘know’ or to share my supposed ‘expertise’ but as a way to share what I was in the process of learning, as a way to document that process of learning. In the hope that it would be helpful to others and in the hope that it would deepen what I’m learning about. I’ve personally found that in the act of sharing the things that I’m attempting to learn, my thoughts, views, and my overall understanding of the subject actually becomes more clear and conducive.
I’ve continued trying to do this in my blog as I’ve continued on into my graduate studies and I’m continuing to try to expand this endeavor of documenting my learning, this endeavor to learn out loud, with my YouTube channel. Documenting not only my academic studies, but also my personal studies of the things I’m curious about, and what I’m personally fascinated by. I write these blogs and make these videos not because I’m an expert or because I’m so knowledgeable, but because I’m learning. I’m in the process of learning, the process of doing what I don’t know how to do while I don’t know how to do it, knowing that anything I learn that remains hidden away and disconnected is devoid of meaning, it doesn’t count, and it will be inadequate.
For about the past few years I’ve been dabbling, off and on, with meditation practice. I’ve gotten more serious, more formal, and more committed to mediation in the past two years, and in the past year I’ve actually begun digging deeper into Buddhist thought and philosophy. I’ve been trying to teach myself more about mediation and I’ve been giving myself a crash course in Buddhism, especially Zen Buddhism. One of the books I’ve recently finished reading is a book called The Zen Experience by Thomas Hoover. In The Zen Experience Thomas Hoover recounts the long and evolving history of Zen. One of the figures that Hoover discusses is a Rinzai Zen master named Hakuin Ekaku. Many scholars have suggested that Hakuin is one of the most important Zen teachers. In fact, Rinzai teachers, to this day, trace their lineage back to Hakuin. He was an artist, a poet, and a brilliant Zen philosopher. Hakuin breathed new life into Zen at a time when Zen practice seemed to be waning. In many ways he seemed to democratize Zen, so much so that Hakuin has been called “the Zen master of the people”. Hakuin extended Zen teaching, practice, and philosophy beyond the monastic communities of ordained Buddhist priests and nuns, and instead included people from all walks of life. In Hakuin’s teaching, “If meditation bears no relationship to life…It is merely self-centered gratification” (Hoover, 232). According to Hakuin, “Just to hide and meditate on your own original nature produces inadequate enlightenment, while also shutting you off from any chance to help other people, other sentient beings” (Hoover, 233). In fact,
“Hakuin says to test your meditation outside, since otherwise it serves for nothing. And today Rinzai monks are expected to silently meditate during all activities, including working in the yard of the monastery, harvesting vegetables, or even walking through the town for their formal begging” (Hoover, 233).
Hakuin, himself, seems to be saying that “learning doesn’t count if you’re not combining it with some form of creative action”. He seems to go so far as to say that even something as weighty, worthwhile, and grandiose as the idea of ‘Enlightenment’ is ultimately meaningless if it is disengaged from everyday life, if it is disconnected from boots on the ground experience. If ‘Enlightenment’ is shut off and disconnected from other people and from other sentient beings it is an inadequate Enlightenment.
This process of learning out-loud, this kind of documentary learning, is something I’m trying to be more committed to, not only as a graduate student and as an aspiring academic, but also as a person in love with learning, in love with curiosity, and especially also as someone who is becoming increasingly devoted to the practice of meditation and Buddhist philosophy. You don’t have to be a graduate student, an academic, a meditator, or a Buddhist to document your journey, to advertise your learning. Whatever you do, whatever you’re passionate about, whatever you’re interested in and fascinated by, do it and do it out loud, even and especially when you don’t know how to do it.

Montaigne & Buddhism Part 2 (Video)

This is the second part in my Montaigne and Buddhism series, excerpted from a paper I wrote for a graduate course I’ve recently completed. Here, we take a look at Montaigne and the ideas of ‘Impermanence’ and Anitya/Anicca. Enjoy!

Montaigne & Buddhism Part 1 Video:… Montaigne & Buddhism Part 2 Blog post:… Montaigne & Buddhism Part 1 Blog post:…

Books Utilized:

The Bodhisattva’s Brain by Owen Flanagan:…

How to Live by Sarah Bakewell:…

The Way of Zen by Alan Watts:…

Montaigne & Buddhism Part 2: Impermanence & Anitya/Anicca

This is the second part in my Montaigne and Buddhism series, excerpted from a paper I wrote for a graduate course I’ve recently completed. In part one I discussed Montaigne and ‘meditation’, or more specifically the parallels between Montaigne’s literary approach and the Buddhist ideas of Dhyana/Jhana and Vipassana. You can read part one here and you can watch the video of part one here or here. In part two we look at Montaigne and the ideas of ‘impermanence’ and Anitya/Anicca. Enjoy! 


If one concedes, or agrees, that Montaigne’s attentively concentrated awareness to the present moment did, in fact, cultivate a special way of seeing, one may still pause to wonder or to ask, what insights into the fundamental nature of reality did Montaigne discover? Montaigne’s forays into something closely akin to Dhyana/Jhana and Vipassana/Vipasyana seem to have provided him with two very Buddhist insights into the nature of existence; impermanence and the illusion of the ‘self’.  Here, Montaigne’s meditations, as seen throughout the Essays, seems to display a similar parallel with one of the central doctrines of Buddhism known as Anitya (Sanskrit) or Anicca (Pali). The doctrine of Anitya/Anicca is the doctrine of ‘impermanece’, that is, the doctrine of Anitya/Anicca, in its simplest definition, states that the entirety of the phenomenal world is impermanent. Everything that is, is subject to change, whether material or mental. Nothing is static. Nothing is stable. Nothing is concrete. There is no constancy. Further still, the doctrine of Anitya/Anicca suggests that not only is everything transient, but also that everything is in-transit. Everything is in transition. Everything is transitioning, arising and passing away. In his book, The Bodhisattva’s Brain, Owen Flanagan writes that “Everything is in flux” and “Each kind of thing in the cosmos is an unfolding” (69). “The Buddhist wisdom” of the Anitya/Anicca doctrine, Flanagan continues, “says that everything is becoming…What there is, and all there is, are events and processes” (20). Every-thing that is, is an event. Every-thing that is, is a process. Indeed, Alan Watts highlights that “objects are also events,” and “our world is a collection of processes rather than entities” (Watts 5). The example Flanagan uses to illustrate this point is that of the Himalayas which appears to be a fixed, static, and stable object if ever there was one, but, in fact, is “a very slow unfolding,” albeit at an incremental rate over the course an extremely long time (69). All this is extremely reminiscent of what Montaigne writes in the Essays. Montaigne writes that “the world eternally turns round; all things therein are incessantly moving, the earth, the rocks of Caucasus, and the pyramids of Egypt, both by the public motion and their own” (Montaigne). Here, Montaigne goes on to say that “Even constancy itself is no other but a slower and more languishing motion” (Montaigne). Stability and fixity, according to both Montaigne and the doctrine of Anitya/Anicca, are not as they seem. Instead they are simply examples of an incremental gradualness of becoming and unfolding.

Montaigne & Buddhism Part 1 (Video)

Montaigne & Buddhism, Part 1: Dhyana & Vipassana


For a Western European writer steeped within the Renaissance era, Montaigne’s approach and content seems uncannily Eastern, or, more specifically, the content of his writing seems to be uniquely Buddhist. One can only speculate as to whether or not Montaigne was familiar with Buddhist philosophy. It seems to be an unavoidable truth that there is little to no evidential support as to whether or not he had ever even encountered Buddhist thought. It would, then, be academically and intellectually irresponsible to suggest that Montaigne, a committed catholic (though not in the most orthodox of senses), was, somehow or in some way, a secret student of the Dharma. Thus, it is not the aim of this paper to make such a claim. However, what this paper does intend to highlight is that, whether Montaigne intended as much or not, there are deep resonances and immense parallels found between his thought and Buddhist philosophy, especially in regards to the ideas of mindfulness/meditation, impermanence, and the self.

‘Mediation’ or ‘Meditations’ within the Western philosophical tradition are not foreign concepts. For example, two pivotally important philosophical texts donning the moniker of ‘meditation’ are the Meditations of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, and the Meditations on First Philosophy by renowned French philosopher Rene Descartes (Descartes, himself, being a kind of purveyor of modern thought). In these two examples ‘meditation’ is used “in the common sense of ‘thinking things over’ or ‘musing’” (Watts 54). Here, it would be easy enough to class Montaigne’s Essays as an example of this sort of meditative ‘musing’ or ‘thinking things over’ yet, such a classification would seem to be a diminution of what one witnesses in the writings of Montaigne. In this regard, there seems to be a dichotomy between ‘mediation(s)’ in the Western sense of the term as a kind of pondering rumination, and in the more Eastern/Buddhist sense of the term (more on this to come). Montaigne’s mediations seem to be much more than a mere intellectual pursuit or activity. The suggestion that Montaigne’s Essays is indicative of something more than musings of the intellect is not intended to be interpreted as a refutation of Montaigne’s intellectuality. Even a scant or peripheral perusal of the Essays will clearly reveal a thinker of incredible intelligence and robust reasoning. However, what is being proposed is that what Montaigne demonstrates in his meditative writing seems to be much more in line with the Buddhist concept of Dhyana (Sanskrit) or Jhana (Pali). Dhyana/Jhana are the words translated as ‘mediation’ yet, the word ‘meditation’, as seen in the usage of Aurelius and Descartes, is “a most misleading translation” (Watts 54). Dhyana/Jhana is not an example of a musing rumination but, instead “can be described as the state of unified or one-pointed awareness” intensely “focused on the present” (Watts 55). ‘Meditation’, or Dhyana/Jhana is a focused and concentrated awareness fully present to the present moment and all of its contents, including all the contents present within consciousness, that is, both mental and material. Indeed, as Jon Kabat Zinn explains, the only goal of the kind of mindful meditation exhibited in Dhyana/Jhana, if there can even be said to be a goal, is the deepening of “attention and awareness”, deepening the attention and awareness to one’s own mind, deepening the attention and awareness to one’s consciousness, and, ultimately deepening the attention and awareness of the present moment, accepting all the realities of the present just as they are (Zinn xvii). In this regard, as Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh writes, and as Montaigne will show, “It’s better to be than to think” (85).

Dhyana/Jhana goes hand in hand with Vipassana (Pali) or Vipasyana (Sanskrit). Vipassana/Vipasyana is derived from two root words; Passana meaning “seeing and perceiving”, and Vi meaning “in a special way” (Gunaratana 27). Vipassana/Vipasyana, then, is a special way of seeing and perceiving, which provides ‘insight’ into the fundamental or basic nature of reality (Gunaratana 27). It is the cultivation of ‘insight’ that sees and perceives “into and through” the reality of what is observed with the “clarity and precision” provided by the focus and attention of a one-pointed awareness (Gunaratana 27). This seems to be precisely what Montaigne presents in his Essays, a special way of seeing, a mindful, meditative awareness fully concentrated upon the present, seeing though to the very core of what is.

Montaigne writes the following:

When I dance, I dance; when I sleep, I sleep. Nay, when I walk alone in a beautiful orchard, if my thoughts are some part of the time taken up with external occurrences, I some part of the time call them back again to my walk, to the orchard, to the sweetness of that solitude, and to myself (Montaigne).

Clearly, Montaigne attempted to live his life with, what Sarah Bakewell calls, “an almost Zen-like discipline”, demonstrating “an ability to just be” (27). Yet, Montaigne’s ability to just be with the present moment, mindfully focused and attentively aware of the present, is an ability he not only speaks of in his writings but, is a mindfulness concentration taken up by and acted out by his writings. Everything which occurs within the present moment of everyday life is of noteworthy importance to Montaigne. Nothing is too trivial, too mundane, or too ordinary to be documented. Montaigne states that “whatsoever presents itself before us is book sufficient; a roguish trick of the page, a sottish mistake of a servant, a jest at the table, are so many new subjects” (Montaigne). Montaigne proposes “a life ordinary and without lustre” as being of “richer composition” (Montaigne). Regardless of each essay’s proposed topic, each essay contains constant diversions and sidetracks. Montaigne writes that one of his aims is “to record all the little thoughts that present themselves,” saying that “I give ear to my whimsies, because I am to record them” (Montaigne). These ‘diversions’ are not instances of distraction but, rather an example of Montaigne’s mindful observation of his own mind, a transcription of all that arises within consciousness, a transcription of arising consciousness, which he accepts and embraces non-judgmentally, just as they are. Sarah Bakewell notes that “Even when his thoughts are most irrational and dreamlike, his writing follows them” (6). In this regard, Montaigne’s Essays is not only a transcription of his meditation practice, but rather the writing of the Essays, itself, is his practice of Dhyana/Jhana and Vipassana/Vipasyana, his mindful meditation, his insight.