If you seriously start to think about improving the quality of your life you might wonder where to start. You’ve read some articles or perhaps even books about Zen and a lot of things don’t even seem to make sense. What does ‘the illusion of the self’ or ‘finding your Buddha-nature’ mean ? When starting to walk the Zen Path this whole Zen-thing looks like an unconnected collection of mysterious principles and paradoxes. I also didn’t understand most of what I was reading in the beginning. I sometimes even got a bit impatient and asked myself: “If this Zen-stuff is really that great and clarifying, then why can’t the so-called Zen masters explain it better?” After all, if you understand something you should be able to explain it. “They are probably just faking they understand Zen themselves!” I gave up myself a couple of times and discarded Zen and Buddhism as vague nonsense. But after a while I always came back because I felt there was something very special to be found in this ‘nonsense.’
Do and Feel
Gradually, I realized Zen is not something to read or even think about but something to be done and lived. It is something you have to experience, beyond intellectual thinking. And on a good day (the best day in hindsight) I again read the Eightfold Path about Right Speech and took the first step: I stopped complaining. To understand why this is important we have to take a look at what we do when we complain and why. When we complain (or gossip which is complaining about other people) we are talking about certain aspects of our lives we’re not happy about. We hope others will agree with us and get a confirmation that the problem has nothing to do with us, but that it is somebody else’s fault. This gives our ego’s a small boost and we have successfully denied all responsibility for the matter.
Monkey in a Cage
In Zen we call the ego ‘the monkey-mind.’ I have always liked this comparison and always see before me the image of an angry monkey rattling it’s bars when someone’s (or my) ego is running high. But has the monkey successfully handled the matter ? If we complain about something it means it is something we don’t like. If we didn’t want it to be different, we wouldn’t have to complain. So in fact all things we complain about are our views and nothing else. Deep down we know this, and this gives inner tension. So the result of our complaining is not positive for us (as the monkey tells us) but only negative. And I haven’t even mentioned the fact that the practical effect of our complaining is almost always nil. Things (or people) don’t change just because we don’t like them. When I realized this and stopped complaining, I experienced it is in fact very liberating to not have to complain. You can just experience the world, do something about things you really want to change and accept the rest as it is.
Think about what you say and why.
That is the way.