About a decade ago, a friend introduced me to Zen Buddhism through the book Buddhism for Busy People by David Michie. In all honesty, I wasn’t busy but I was miserable, utterly so. I was grieving for a very long period of time and even though I kept myself distracted with plenty of activities, it was really hard to focus as the emotions would often take over and I would just burst into tears. I was never much of a religious person but I did remember some basic buddhism principles from my school days, so I decided to give the book a go. Having said that, it’s not the best book for zen buddhism practice (it’s more of an autobiography) but it was relatable enough at the time to be useful.
“Before enlightenment chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.” — Wu Li
I especially like Zen because of its simplicity. It does not judge, it does not seek answers, it simply is. Just you and silence. No thoughts. Nothing. Over time, being zen helps me to become more patient, generous, less judgmental and more importantly, to also appreciate the beauty of simplicity in every day things. This includes awareness of the present.
Zen monks live a disciplined, routine life. I try to adopt as much of that discipline in my work. If you can single-mindedly focus on a task or a goal and work your way towards it without complaining about the grind or wonder about other distractions, you’re already halfway there. The other half is to not let the criticisms, doubts, barriers and setbacks get to you. Life is a dynamic cycle and it is impermanent. Emotions, people, success, reputation — they all come and go. The zen monks rake their garden everyday, knowing very well that it will get ruined by the wind but they are willing to repeat the whole process again the next day. They do not get attach to anything.
Sometimes the smallest, simple things can bring us plenty of joy. A smile from a baby. A bike ride through the neighbourhood on a sunny day. Receiving a postcard from your adventurous friend through the post. Family showing up on your doorstep. Joy doesn’t need to be expensive, materialistic or ‘instagrammable’. Joy is blissful moments in life without expectations. Joy is at peace with oneself.
Ultimately, Zen teaches us to live simply, so that we can all peacefully live. Zen has a profound impact on me and my life and I’m so grateful to the community. If you haven’t been to a zazen session, please do try to go. I can write a lot more about zen, but I also feel that keeping it simple is better — and besides, my mind is empty right now.