Zen beyond Mindfulness – Jules Shuzen Harris Book Summary

Zen beyond Mindfulness – Jules Shuzen Harris | Free Book Summary

Zen beyond Mindfulness – Jules Shuzen Harris

Jules Harris, the first African American Zen master, makes an argument to go beyond mindfulness towards a more classical view of Buddhism. His method combines psychological interpretation of Buddhist texts with psychology.

Jules Harris’s Method

For Jules, true enlightenment can still be obtained in the modern world. 

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Understand the Buddhist conception of consciousness and the role of the ego in it.

Understand that clinging to a narrative is how the ego fights back. Know the skandhas, or the sources of suffering.

Become familiar with the buddhist realms of existenceFree book, podcast summaries

Use the realms to make mind maps, thus combining Zen philosophy and practice with modern psychology.

Use the maps as a guide towards deeper investigation and as a starting point in Zazen (Zen meditation).

Buddhist Consciousness

Consciousness is an unresolved scientific problem. We don’t really know what makes us aware. Because it’s so hard to define, we think of ourselves as made up of matter and spirit. In Buddhism, however, there are nine levels of consciousness:

  • 6 senses (touch, hearing, smell, taste, seeing … & thoughts). Thoughts are considered sensations because they come just like the senses.
  • Ego: the false feeling that there is a static “you.”
  • Subconsciousness is the part of your mind that operates without your awareness.
  • Pure original consciousness based on the substance Buddha nature.

Desire And Clinging

We may think Buddhism is about living in a world free of desires and pleasures. It’s impossible and not true. Clinging to desire is the problem.

Say you are excited about dining at your favorite restaurant, but when you get there, you find it closed. It’s okay to want to eat your favorite food, but the real problem is when an unexpected event like its closing ruins your day.

Skandhas, Why We Suffer

In Buddhism, it refers to the five aggregates of clinging (the source of suffering). To understand them, let’s think of hearing a person clap:

form (or material image, impression) – This is the experience of the clapping sound

sensations (or feelings, as received from form): is the clap a pleasant or displeasing sound?

perceptions – Noticing the person clapping

mental activity or formations – We notice he clapped to gain attention

consciousness – We remember of a story about clapping

All of these usually happen in less than a second. Experiences are actually made up of multiple groups.

The Six Realms of Existence

For Buddhists, these six realms represent all possible states of existence. They were traditionally conceived as real places but can also be interpreted symbolically:

  • Heavenly Realm: Life in heaven is a continual round of pleasure, but finite. Gods ultimately die.
  • Demigods Realm: Demigods are locked into a continual struggle with them. They are primarily driven by envy and greed for power.
  • Ghost Realm: Ghosts are described as being tormented by hunger and thirst.
  • Animal Realm: Animals are run by instinct.
  • Hell Realm: The realm of true suffering, which is hate.
  • Human Realm: Human beings with agency.

Using mind-maps in Zen

Adopt mind maps (a tool in the I-System) and combine them with the skandhas and the six realms to get a better understanding of yourself.

Choose a question from one of the realms. like “What gives me pleasure?” Write in the middle of a blank page. 

Using Zazen or simple reflection, write about how that manifests in you. Unfiltered map. 

Repeat the next day. Over time, as you explore more questions and as you meditate on these issues, you will have a repository of maps that show your evolution in how you describe your reality.

Using the Six Realms to calm the ego

Jules Harris proposes we interpret the realms psychologically to guide us to make mental maps for ourselves.

  • Heaven (pleasure, comfort): What am I addicted to? What are my desires?
  • Demigods (jealousy, arrogance, power): How do I defend my happiness? What am I jealous of?
  • Ghosts (lust, hunger): Why am I dissatisfied? 
  • Animals (fear & instinct): What do I fear?
  • Hell (hate): What are the triggers for anger & hate?
  • Humans (doubt & change): What’s on my mind? How can I improve?

You can use meditation to investigate these questions & write the answers as a mind-map.

Stages of Zazen

Zazen, the Zen meditation, can start easy and progress towards complexity:

Count breaths & exhalations. Breath in – 1. Breathe out – 2. Do it until you get to 10 & restart. If you notice any thoughts just label them.

Concentrate on a full breath cycle. Count only exhalations.

Concentrate on “pure” breathing. No counting. 

Shikantaza, or simply resting without any thoughts.

Study a koan, or a Zen riddle like “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”. Ideally done with a teacher.

Don’t look at these techniques as a progression. You can study koans one session & do counting in the next.

Hints for a better Zazen


There is no bad Zazen. If you start to appreciate your state or if you get frustrated by your thoughts you are only bringing your ego into the forefront. 

If you get addicted to a good sensation you only get through meditation, you are most likely stranded off the path and you should seek support. 

Don’t judge your sessions. There is no purpose in Zazen, no good or bad. Just be!

3 conditions for Enlightenment

A Zen student needs 3 foundational conditions:

  • True Faith: Have faith that everyone has Buddha nature. have faith that you can get to this truth.
  • True Doubt: Doubt what seems to be reality. Most of the time the reality are just a construct of your ego.
  • Powerful Will: Have persistence to keep on the path when you are troubled, worried, frustrated etc.

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