- Published: 12 April 2022
- ISBN: 9780241551820
- Imprint: Michael Joseph
- Format: Hardback
- Pages: 224
- RRP: $27.99
48 Lessons on Achieving Calm
Reduce, let go, leave behind
The Zen way of keeping anxiety and worry at bay
1. DON’T DELUDE YOURSELF
Zen teaches us not to compare ourselves
There is a zengo, or Zen saying, ‘Delude not thyself.’
Put more plainly, it means ‘do not have delusions.’
You might think that delusions refer to any number of figments of the imagination.
But in Zen, the concept of delusion has a much deeper and broader meaning.
Whatever lodges in your mind, that clings to and constrains your heart – these are all delusions.
Selfish desires for this or that, attachments that we don’t want to let go of – these too are delusions.
Envy of others, feelings of self-doubt – these are also delusions.
Of course, it’s impossible to free ourselves of every delusion that takes hold in our minds. That is the state that the Buddha achieved. Being human, we must accept that there will always be delusions in our hearts and minds.
The important thing is to reduce these delusions, as much as we can. We’re all capable of it. But in order to do so, we must first discern the true character of our delusions.
There is a famous quote from Sun Tzu, ‘Know your enemy, know thyself, and you shall not fear a hundred battles.’ Which is to say, without knowing your enemy, you will not understand what you must do in order to face him.
What is the source of these delusions?
It is a way of thinking that sees things in opposition.
For example, we set up binaries such as life and death, winning and losing, beauty and ugliness, rich and poor, profit and loss, love and hate.
Death is seen as being in conflict with life, and when the two are compared, we perceive life as sacred and precious, while death is empty and forlorn.
‘That guy’s lucky. I never seem to catch a break.’
‘How come I lose at everything, while she’s always winning?’
A single experience bleeds into everything. We apply this to our whole lives. Meanwhile, envy of others and feelings of self-condemnation build up inside us until we are consumed by them.
Indeed, one could say that we are under the sway of those around us, that we are bound by our delusions.
But ask yourself this: what meaning is found in comparing yourself with others?
There is a zengo, ‘Once enlightened, there are no favourites.’
If we apply this to human relationships, perhaps we can accept others as they are, regardless of whether we like them or hate them (or whether they are better or worse than we are), without being carried away by our emotions.
The founder of the Soto school of Zen Buddhism, Dogen Zenji, said, ‘The actions of others are not my own.’ He taught that what others do is unrelated to what we do ourselves. Someone else’s efforts do not lead to our advancement. The only way for us to improve is through our own efforts.
Zen teaches that the existence of every thing and every person is absolute, unto itself – there is no comparison.
This is true for you, and true for others.
There is no comparison. When we attempt to compare things for which there is no comparison, we become preoccupied by what is irrelevant, and this is what creates anxiety, worry and fear.
When you stop comparing, you’ll see that 90 per cent of your delusions disappear. Your heart feels lighter. Life is more relaxed.
‘Don’t delude yourself ’ – think of these words every so often.
Let them become a way to cheer yourself on, to say, ‘I believe in my absolute self, without compare!’
2. FOCUS ON ‘NOW’
This is about cherishing ourselves
Some people brood over memories. You might say they are stuck in the past.
There is a zengo, ‘Dwell in the breath.’
Taken literally, it means to live in the moment when you are drawing breath, as conscientiously as you possibly can.
This also resonates with the Buddhist concept ‘Dwell in the three worlds.’
The three worlds are the past, the present and the future. We live in the connections among these three worlds, though when we find ourselves in the present, the past is already dead while the future is about to be born.
This is how we explain the Buddhist concept of samsara, the cycle of death and rebirth – how everything is born and then dies, and everything that dies is reborn.
Put another way, there’s no use rethinking the past that is dead and gone, nor should we think about the future that has yet to be born until it arrives.
That is to say, all that matters is how we live in the here and now.
There is this three-line poem, known as a senryu:
Even the chipped bowlWas once a cherry treeOn Mount Yoshino
What now appears to be a worn-out piece of china was once a magnificent cherry tree in full bloom on Mount Yoshino, where throngs of onlookers gasped in wonder at its beauty.
Our past glory and honour become the foundation for our present state.
But this is not only about Yoshino cherry blossoms. Some people seem never to miss a chance to bring up their brilliant past.
‘I worked on such a huge job.’
‘I’m the one who made that project a success.’
Of course, it’s important to acknowledge the satisfaction one feels about a job well-done. It’s also nice to raise a glass to celebrate a victory.
But is it appropriate to linger so often on old stories? Let’s shift our perspective a bit.
‘Not that old hobby horse again. It’s so tedious and boring.’
Have you ever heard something like that?
Quite honestly, it’s unpleasant to have to listen, over and over again, to long-winded tales of past glories. And isn’t it rather unseemly for the one doing the talking? It’s hard not to think that they are quite unhappy.
A fixation on the past is an indication of a person’s lack of confidence in the present. This is how anxiety, worry and fear creep into your heart and mind.
One might even say it’s equivalent to undermining your present self.
I’ll reiterate this so it will be etched into your mind: all that matters is how we live in the here and now.
If you bemoan the fact that your present self is nothing more than a chipped bowl (or a dead-end job . . .), that will only magnify your unhappiness. Even a chipped bowl can be a vessel for delicious soup to warm someone’s soul.
Now let’s be the best chipped bowl we can be!
To me, that’s what it means to dwell in the breath.
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Hello, I’m so glad you’ve picked up my book.