Saturday, September 27, 2008

12 Essential Rules to Live More Like a Zen Monk

I just found a very cool article--you can read the whole piece HERE

1. Do one thing at a time. This rule (and some of the others that follow) will be familiar to long-time Zen Habits readers. It’s part of my philosophy, and it’s also a part of the life of a Zen monk: single-task, don’t multi-task. When you’re pouring water, just pour water. When you’re eating, just eat. When you’re bathing, just bathe. Don’t try to knock off a few tasks while eating or bathing. Zen proverb: “When walking, walk. When eating, eat.”

2. Do it slowly and deliberately. You can do one task at a time, but also rush that task. Instead, take your time, and move slowly. Make your actions deliberate, not rushed and random. It takes practice, but it helps you focus on the task.

3. Do it completely. Put your mind completely on the task. Don’t move on to the next task until you’re finished. If, for some reason, you have no choice but to move on to something else, try to at least put away the unfinished task and clean up after yourself. If you prepare a sandwich, don’t start eating it until you’ve put away the stuff you used to prepare it, wiped down the counter, and washed the dishes used for preparation. Then you’re done with that task, and can focus more completely on the next task.

4. Do less. A Zen monk doesn’t lead a lazy life: he wakes early and has a day filled with work. However, he doesn’t have an unending task list either — there are certain things he’s going to do today, an no more. If you do less, you can do those things more slowly, more completely and with more concentration. If you fill your day with tasks, you will be rushing from one thing to the next without stopping to think about what you do.


Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Wave and the Ocean

The Heart of Understanding is a short book by Thich Nhat Hahn that offers a simple and insightful commentary on the Heart Sutra.

One of the most confusing parts of the dharma (at least for me) is the paradox of "form is emptiness; emptiness is form".

”Form is emptiness, emptiness is form”.

Thich Nhat Hanh explains form and emptiness this way:…Form is the wave and emptiness is the water…So “form is emptiness, emptiness is form” is like wave is water, water is wave…”

By emptiness we mean that all things are empty of an inherent existence.

To understand this better, consider a glass bowl. We refer to it as empty if there is no food or liquid inside of it. But there is always something inside of it--like air and light for example. So from a physical perspective the bowl is always full of something or other.

But from the Buddhist point of view, the bowl lacks an inherent existence. That doesn't mean that the bowl does not exist, but that its existence as a bowl is dependent upon many other factors and a highly specific set of conditions. Its characteristics don't make it what it is-the glass, the round shape, and the diameter are all qualities of it but no single one of them makes the bowl a bowl. A half of a coconut can serve the same function as a bowl but it is still called a coconut. Other things made of glass are not bowls, they can be many other things like drinking glasses or cups.

Viewing it this way, there is nothing about our bowl in question that is intrinsic to that bowl or any other bowl. The glass material doesn't make it a bowl, nor does its roundness. Its existence depends on several things, because it is interdependent with everything else. In order to be a bowl, it must possess a number of simultaneously existing qualities and conditions. If one of these conditions is tampered with or no longer exists (i.e. it breaks into fifty pieces) then our bowl is not necessarily a bowl anymore since a major aspect of the conditions that contribute to its "bowlness" is no longer in place.

This tells us that the bowl's very existence is completely dependent upon outer circumstances.

Bowls, and everything else in the universe, are empty.