Zen Guitar and Lessons in Business

I recently picked up a book that I had read seven years ago and rediscovered it. Although the book speaks about learning to play the guitar from a holistic point, it delivers life lessons and most surprisingly, business lessons. The book, Zen Guitar by Philip Toshio Sudo, is filled with insight and life axioms that go well beyond just learning to play guitar.

Here is a sample of the lessons that add meaning to study and to business life:


Discipline governs how we train, when we train and what we do with our training. I heard an athletics coach once say in regard to discipline, “Do what has to be done, when it has to be done, as well as it can be done, and do it that way every time.” … Consider each part:

Do what has to be done…

In life, there are things we want to do and things we know we should do. Usually these things conflict. We’d rather spend than save, watch TV instead of study, eat dessert instead of keep to our diet. Discipline is what compels us to follow our higher nature…

If you have to ask what has to be done: Don’t ask, practice [the guitar].

When it has to be done…

The time is now.

When you catch yourself thinking, “I’ve got to get around to fixing that thing,” get out the tools and fix it.

When you hear yourself saying, “I’ve been meaning to write that letter,” sit down and write it.

When you feel that you have so much to do you don’t know where to begin, start with one task, however small, and get it done. Then proceed to another. As the samurai say, “Attack the corners” – the little things that stick out – then work your way in to the big things.

A famous zen teaching illustrates the attitude required for this kind of discipline:

A monk approached the zen master Joshu and said, “I have just entered the monastery. Please teach me.”

Joshu said, “Have you eaten your rice porridge?”

The monk replied that he had.

“Then you better wash your bowl,” Joshu said

As well as it can be done…

If you are going to do something, take care to do it right. There is no sense in practicing halfheartedly.

The zen master Banzan was said to have realized this point when, as a youth, he overheard an exchange between a butcher and a customer.

“Give me the best piece of meat you have,” the customer said.

“Everything in my shop is the best,” the butcher replied. “You cannot find here any piece of meat that is not the best.”

The butcher knew he had done his work as well as it could be done.

To truly understand this point of discipline, you must also understand the previous point: when it has to be done. Many times we fail to leave ourselves enough time to do things properly. We either procrastinate or underestimate the time needed to do the job right. If you’re going to do something as well as it can be done, give yourself plenty of time. High quality does not come of haste.

And do it that way every time.

The mark of true discipline lies in its consistent application. Surely there were times when the monk had other things to do than wash the dishes, or when the butcher felt too tired to ensure that every cut of meat was the best. How could they sustain such discipline?

The key is not to think of doing things right every time; the thought seems too overwhelming. Just do it right one time: this time, right now. That’s all you ever have to worry about.


The lessons above are valuable both in business and in our personal lives. How often do we fail to get the job done because we procrastinate? How often do we let what we want to do get done instead of what needs to get done? Discipline has a deeper meaning when we look at what drives success with a set of principals guiding our willpower.


Share This: