Zen and Recovery: The Zombie Apocalypse

Zen and Recovery: The Zombie Apocalypse March 27, 2023

Why have there been so many apocalyptic Zombie movies and TV shows over the last several years?

I think I have an idea.

Photo by Simon Wijers on Unsplash

When I used to teach beginning meditation in a yoga studio near me, I would ask this same question. As a set up. To show how Zen meditation might be useful to people in ways other than lowering blood pressure or stress reduction. I took the position that the reason there are so many new Zombie movies/TV shows appearing is because our great fear in contemporary times is to become the walking dead. Sleepwalkers in our lives.

Borrowing from Carl Jung I took the position that this zombie phenomena were a result of our collective unconscious (disclaimer: I’m not a Jungian). And that our contemporary collective unconscious is producing a new archetype, the sleepwalker. That with the continued bombardment of tools of distraction, from smart phones to designer drugs, a new universal fear has been born. That we will be ultimately taken over by the virus (the distractions), destined to groan and slobber our way through life, as the living dead.

In the Zen Recovery Sangha, I facilitate for the Empty Moon Zen Collective, we are going through the Dhammapada. The Dhammapada is a collection of sayings of the Buddha and one of the most widely read and best-known Buddhist scriptures. The original version of the Dhammapada is in the Khuddaka Nikaya, a division of the Pali Canon. Recently we read chapter two titled Appamada, which is often translated as Vigilance, Watchfulness, or Wakefulness. In this chapter you can find the antidote to becoming the walking dead. It opens with how we can become “deathless.”

Vigilance is the path of the deathless;

Negligence the path to death.

The vigilant do not die;

The negligent are as if already dead.

(Fronsdal & Kornfield, 2008).


We live in a world that offers up a steady stream of opportunities to fall asleep to our lives. In chapter two of the Dhammapada, the Buddha warns that we must, with energy, be consistently mindful. This is especially true for those of us in recovery. It is my experience that folks in recovery are more vulnerable to certain feelings and emotional states. Boredom being one of the most treacherous. For folks in recovery when boredom shows up there is often a move to get out of that experience as quickly as possible. A seeking for distraction, pleasure, or escape. The Buddha warns us against this reaction:


Don’t give yourself to negligence,

Don’t devote yourself to sensual pleasure.

Vigilant and absorbed in meditation

One attains abundant happiness.

(Fronsdal & Kornfield, 2008).


Tall order I know. But through this sort of self-discipline the Buddha promises that we will be able to meet all the challenges of our life without becoming overwhelmed by them.


Through effort, vigilance,

Restraint, and self-control,

The wise person can become an island

No flood will overwhelm.

(Fronsdal & Kornfield, 2008).

Now, back to Zombies. The Buddha has something to say about the sleepwalkers. If we are vigilant and awake to the steady stream of distractions that come our way, consistently mindful. We can be liberated, deathless, free. That we will be wide awake among the sleeping and that we will advance in our lives like a swift horse leaving a weak one behind. Which is especially good news, because I do not want to get caught or bit by the zombie virus.

Stay awake friends.


Fronsdal, G., & Kornfield, J. (2008). The Dhammapada (Book and Audio-CD Set): Teachings of the Buddha.

Please join me for the Empty Moon Zen Recovery Sangha on Monday nights at 7pm

None of this was written by AI

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