Friday, January 26, 2007

Every Day is a Good Day

The following is reproduced without permission from

One of Kuwahara Sensei's favourite expressions to portray in calligraphy is "every day is a good day". I've even got one myself at home. Everyone knows the saying; you hear it all the time even outside Zen circles. But what does it mean, exactly? I suspect that not everyone who says it really knows what they're talking about.

To me, every Zen saying means pretty much the same thing. Whether you say "Every day is a good day", or "How red the plum blossoms!" or even "The Buddha is three pounds of flax", you're always pointing at one and the same truth. You might as well say that every day is a bad day – at least then people wouldn't be tempted to quote you so often! The point is that the expression is not the Buddhist equivalent of "have a nice day", i.e. that you can find something good in every day. Or worse, that if you somehow live your life "buddhistically", that every day will magically become some happy, sunny and peaceful dream-world.

On the contrary, "Every day is a good day" really means that in this life, on this day and at this moment, you have absolutely no choice. "Good" in this sense therefore doesn't mean "as opposed to bad", but rather "as opposed to nothing at all", since everything else is purely the product of your own imagination. You are standing right where you are and that's the end of it: you can make choices for the future, but the present is right here and now: this is it! To take a concrete example, I'm often in a lousy mood when I get up or when I get home from work. I just want to write off the rest of the day and mope around. But Zen tells me that I only have my own means, and my own tools, to work with right now, so get to it! It's easy to think that I'm having an "off day" and that I'll feel better tomorrow, but in truth it's not some mysterious mood that's making me unhappy, but rather that very comparison to tomorrow itself. Wishing I were otherwise just makes me even more pathetic: I'm not superhuman, so that the only way that every day really becomes a good day is if I give up all theoretical comparisons with "a potential me" altogether.

Understanding this and putting it into practice are two different matters, of course. That's where Zazen comes in. And by coincidence, the expression turns out to be very handy with regards to doing Zazen itself, since most people only ever sit when they happen to be in a good mood for it. That's dangerous, however. If you want to really understand the truth of "Every day is a good day", it's better to set yourself up a weekly Zazen schedule beforehand and stick to it, regardless of "good" or "bad" mood. That, way, slowly but surely, you will come to understand the meaning of the saying. In the meantime, you can at least buy the calligraphy!

What's this Life for?

The way I see it, we've got one shot. We can make anything we want of it.

I've got a lot in my head right now. I'll try and put some of it down coherently. I feel like, in the spirit of "we can make anything we want of it", that I should say, don't take anything I say or anyone else says at face value. We all see the world differently and need to find our own meaning in things.

Our family, friends, society, put constraints on us. They expect us to act a certain way, to live a certain way. As we grow up, we reflect everything we see and hear. It's a part of learning to interact and communicate. It seems to me, though, that at some point this becomes boring and mundane. We grow tired of just copying and doing what we were always told we should be doing; trying to measure up to other people's standards.

Isn't everyone else going through the same thing? They were taught all kinds of things and continue to teach similar things to others. It's a big continuous cycle. But, I ask, where did it start? Everyone's saying something a little bit different. Who's right and how do we know that they're right?

At some point, don't we have to ask what's important to ourselves? What do we want to do?

Of course, no man is an island. The things, activities, ideas, that I love are a hundred times more joyful when I'm sharing them with someone I love. So communication is important. All those things that reigned us in when we were growing up give us a basis for sharing later on.

Hrm... how do I say it? If we can break some of the constraints on us, that tell us who we should be, we can start to be who we think we ought to be. Why should it matter who we are or what kind of life we live, if we're acting by our own compass and embracing what's meaningful to us? This philosophy ought to be held highly over being another sheep in the flock. Take the road less traveled! Why not do what we believe in and be passionate about it and confident in it?

If people around us are afraid to accept us for who we are, isn't that just indicative of closed-mindedness and self-consciousness? Aren't they just afraid of what some other people will think, like, guilty by association? What if the confidence we show them, leading our own lives, rubs off a bit? So what if someone puts a label on us, if we aren't so concerned with what other people think? All the derogatory sexual, racial, gender, etcetera, terms that are used to keep us in control are meaningless if we don't get offended and feed the ego of whoever's spitting them. Why not respond with sympathy? They're just as confused as we are, probably. A little love might turn them around!

This journey we call life, is exactly that! Nobody really knows where we're going or what's really out there. But every day we learn something new. We can choose to believe anything we want. I see the whole thing as a great mystery! Each day brings about excitement and new revelations. Each day is an opportunity to take a chance, broaden our horizons, and try something new. We've got a chance to come up with some new material to feed the next generation and make our world what we want it to be.

Blahr, 'nuff for now. Peace.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

What's important?

I've been thinking about this a bit. When it comes down to it, what's more important than our relationships with the people around us? Sure there's all kinds of stuff we want to do and accomplish, but it's just a means to sharing something with someone else.

This is good, but how can we be closer to the people around us? We know that our friends and family have certain expectations for us. It's reasonable for us to meet some of those expectations. Sometimes it's not; we have different beliefs and hold different things important to us. But if we have a plan, if we have things we want to accomplish and we are making steps forward toward those goals, then we can be sure of ourselves and have no reason to distance ourselves from others.

Sometimes people tell us what we need to change or do differently. A lot of things are difficult, if not impossible, to do differently if we don't have a good reason or motivation to do so. Some things we have to learn for ourselves. There's no shame in this as long as we continue to learn as we go along. I kinda feel like the journey is the fun part anyway. It's good to deviate from the normal path once in a while and gain some perspective. If we aren't stumbling blindly (sometimes if we are, too, I guess ;-) , then we can learn all kinds of things to share. If we lead by example and are open with others, they may respond and share a bit and grow a little closer.

Something else to consider is that if we do have a plan and are somewhat sure of ourselves, we can listen to others without feeling threatened. You can just say (or think), "that's cool, but I still want to try this", to whatever they tell you. Then you can try not to scare them and tell them your idea. Oh yah, groovy.