Sunday, November 6, 2011

What Westerners Can Learn from an Ancient Eastern Religion

Zen may seem a little foreign to you—it sounds so otherworldly, or at least other-culture-ly. But just be-cause Zen is an ancient Eastern religion that origi-nated in India and traveled to China, Korea, and Japan doesn’t mean it isn’t fully real and organic to you. The British Zen scholar R. H. Blyth, in his Zen and Zen Classics, writes:
Zen arises spontaneously, naturally, out of the human heart. It is not a special revelation to any person, class, or nation. Thus, to say it came from India to China and from China to Japan is non-sense. One might as well say that the air we breathe in one country comes from another.

That’s not to say there isn’t a fascinating history attached to Zen’s arrival in the Western world (see Chapter 2, „A Brief History of Zen Buddhism“). But Zen’s antiq-uity simply doesn’t affect its truth. We can learn a lot from living Zen, as much as anyone ever did in any country, in any century. We can learn to be, to relish life, to live each moment perfectly. We can learn a few other things helpful to our lives, too. They include the lessons in the following sections.
Moderation in All Things
The Buddha himself, Siddhartha Gautama (see Chapter 2), proclaimed the importance of the Middle Way. After living a privileged life of luxury, then spending years being an extremely deprived ascetic, the Buddha discovered that moderation is the only way to find true balance and the best way to live fully and with a complete and mindful awareness. That means making a conscious effort not to overconsume, overindulge, live inconsiderately, or hurt others. It also means refraining from asceticism or subjecting oneself to other extremes of deprivation and self-denial. Moderation in all things, as they say. These are words true for Buddha, and words to live by today.
Cut the Chaos
Living in the moment, without attaching yourself to regrets about yesterday or worries about tomorrow, goes a long way toward cutting through the chaos of everyday life. Have you ever noticed that the more hectic your life becomes, the more you start to misplace things (your car keys, your planner, that crucial computer file), forget things (the new employee’s name, that dentist appointment, picking your son up from soccer), even get clumsier (tripping over your own feet, dropping that water glass, accidentally tossing the salad all over the kitchen floor)?
Chaos breeds chaos. Zen stops the cycle. Suddenly you remember exactly where you need to be (and exactly where you put your car keys). Your mind is centered and clear, like an organized desk, so all that information is much easier to access.
Ducks in a Row
Do you ever feel like you just can’t keep track of all the different threads of your life? Are you full of plans about things you will organize, someday? Decisions you’ll make, someday? People you’ll get back in touch with, someday? Another benefit to a calm, organized, undistracted psyche is the ability to pull it all together and do the simple things you need to do to keep your life in order.
Know Thyself
A person with self-knowledge is a wise person, and knowing the self is the first step toward knowing all humankind. Zen living means recognizing that all is one just as each living thing is an individual. Zen exists on the edge of this contradiction: Each thing is diverse, and all things are one.
Knowing the self is helpful, then, on two levels: Who are you, that person who is completely unique and different from anyone else before? And who are you, that
person who is, in essence, the same as the whole walks of life.
Serenity Today
Whether or not you ever attain something akin to nirvana (enlightenment), living Zen can bring a level of serenity into your life that you might never have known. You can feel more calm, tranquil, relaxed, and peaceful today. Because Zen is today. It works right now. It will work better the more you do it, sure. But it starts working the moment you embrace it. So what are you waiting for?