The Wisdom from East: the Zen Buddhist millenary teachings

by Luiz Fernando Fontes Teixeira

Currently, more and more people are looking for a way to pacify their troubled everyday life, an inevitable consequence of modern times. The search for Eastern teachings and doctrines achieved high popularity in the past few decades. Whether just a fashion trend, or theoric interest in missing elements in the West, what really matters is that more than never the Westerns became closer to the Eastern world. Some singular works have helped during the process of spreading Eastern culture, for example: the classic book The Religion of Samurai by Kaiten Nukariya, The Spirit of Zen by Alan Watts, and, of course, the series ofEssays in Zen Buddhism by Teitaro Suzuki. Nowadays, there is a huge market devoted to present, adapt and translate several different traditions from the East. Apart from specialized publishers, the dissemination of the subject on internet has created a curious phenomenon: not only the Eastern traditions have become popular, but were also somehow vulgarized. It is pretty easy to find distorted readings, misinterpretations, and all sort of confusions and superficialities.

Zen Buddhist Among the most popular Eastern teachings, the Zen Buddhism is one of the most quoted and referenced. It is common to hear someone saying something like: “You need to be Zen, chill out!”, or, “I am Zen today, nothing will bother me”. Most of them have no idea what they are talking about, which is not necessarily a problem. It happens for a complex concept to be imbued on everyday language and lose its meaning. Nevertheless, what does it really means? After all, what is Zen? It may seem weird to say that, but the sentence above-mentioned, “I am Zen today, nothing will bother me” have absolutely everything to do with Zen. Actually, everything has to do with Zen. However, let us think a little about such sentence for a moment. One may understand that this kind of sentence discloses a sort of posture, when, for example, a person who is so unruffled that nothing will take his/her peace, nothing will disturb him/her. Well, it happens that Zen is exactly the opposite. A Zen Master could interpret the same sentence like this: “I am okay with everyday life. However, nothing is disturbing me and I cannot stop thinking about it”. What? What do you mean with that? Exactly this: that a Zen Master is a person who is asking himself/herself on topics that are apparently meaningless, but which reflects the true meaning of existence though. Nothing, or the nothingness, is one of the main issues of Zen thought.

Let me put it straight for you. The Zen Buddhism is a tendency of thought that is unfolded from the traditional Buddhism. After the teachings of Indian Buddhism have reached China, with a monk called Boddidharma, it has assumed some new features and a more radical way of dealing with the doctrines. In contrast to the previous doctrine, the Zen (which is a Japanese word that literally means “meditation”, derived from the Chinese word “Chan”) would not give a behaviour orientation, nor an addressed thinking. On the contrary, it would strike the student of Zen Buddhism with a non-sense question, or affirming precisely the opposite from what has to be reached. I will give you a classic example: it was said that once a lad called Shang Kwang approached the monk Boddidharma, telling him that his mind was distressed, and that he wanted to pacify his mind. The monk would have answered, “So bring me here your mind, in front of me, then I will pacify it”. The man replied to him, “But that is impossible!”. “So I have already pacified your mind” responded the monk. Thence, the man was instantly enlightened. It may seem silly that such trivial answer was able to enlighten the man; it seems more like a joke. Notwithstanding, that is what Zen actually means: to break the logical chain inside our minds, which trap us amid our daily concerns. Once one realizes that, the inquire for the existence is going to make the daily concerns seem silly, instead.

Now, follow me and think about that: how much time do you spend concerned about your work? About the bills that you have to pay? About the taxes, the political collapse of your country, the economic crisis, and everything else? Moreover, when you give yourself a break, what do you do? Go to the movies, to the theatre, to a gig, to have some kind of fun, does not matter what and how. You have to keep yourself busy all the time! Even when you are at your place, you cannot just sit on your sofa and spend your time doing nothing. You have to turn on the TV or open a book, or play some videogames. Well, that is my advice for you: if you are interest in understand the Eastern wisdom, you should do the opposite. Even the opposite that what I am telling you to do. Just do the unexpected. Try yourself a little bit harder. Think about. Not about this or that. Just think about it. You will see that, with time and devotion in what concerns to thinking, everything else will earn a special taste, a new meaning, and you will do all your everyday tasks with a different perspective. And if not, then you are already pacified!