Living in the here and now. What Zen can teach all of us.

Posted: January 5, 2017 in Life, Religion
Tags: , , , ,

We were recently enjoying reading a discussion of Koan on Huffington Post, those unique Zen buddhist stories that deliberately leave the mind searching for meaning and discernment. We were prompted to do so by the observation of a reviewer that Scorsese’s latest film – Silence – is not a parable, but a koan. Never having heard the word before, we beetled off in search of enlightenment.

Anyhow, a bunch of practitioners of Zen were asked their favourites, and this one stood out for us over here at the Wellthisiswhatithink temple.

Koshin Paley Ellison
Co-Founder of the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care

Once a monk made a request of Joshu.
“I have just entered the monastery,” he said. “Please give me instructions, Master.”
Joshu said, “Have you had your breakfast?”
“Yes, I have,” replied the monk.
“Then,” said Joshu, “wash your bowls.”
The monk had an insight.

That fascinating little snippet was attended by this work, entitled “Mumon’s Poem”:

Because it is so very clear,
It takes longer to come to the realisation.
If you know at once candlelight is fire,
The meal has long been cooked.

The Gateless Gate

Ellison’s discussion of the koan was instructive:

“I love this koan. I am the student in the midst of my life, waiting for life to happen. I am the teacher pointing to this latte on my desk. I am the bowl that needs washing and the breakfast already eaten.

How do we enter our life fully? It is right here. How do we want to live? Can we allow all the joys and sorrows to enliven us? Or do we just go along with all our patterns and habits?

People who are dying always remind me: ‘I can’t believe I wasn’t here for most of my life.’ That’s one of the most common things I hear, and the biggest regrets.

Many people have not inhabited their life because they’re just waiting for other moments. Are we waiting for life to happen in the midst of life? How can we give ourselves fully to our lives, moment to moment? Don’t wait. Life is always right here.”


That is powerful ju-ju right there.

The comment ‘I can’t believe I wasn’t here for most of my life’ stuck us very forcefully. We can all find it easy to be distracted, both by the immediacy of what is going on around us, our “worries” and “cares”, and also by our hopes for the future. As John Lennon once put it, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”

We left the reading full of determination to live more in the now.

To value each moment – every single moment – as being full, valuable, with purpose.

Not purpose to do something, or even to prepare for something, just full, in and of itself.

As we write, a desk fan blows cooling air onto us on a hot day. Listening to the world around, we become aware of music we were not consciously listening to, and of birds singing outside. Calm descends. It was always there, this calm, but we were ignoring it, choosing a busy – and ineffectively busy – mind, instead.

Wash your bowls.

  1. gwpj says:

    So true, and thank you for reminding me and the rest of your readers about it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pat A says:

    If we are truly religious, everything we do (as per the washing bowls) we do for God/enlightenment, everything can teach us things, everything is sacred and to be loved.

    There was a short piece in a Christian religious book that I read over thirty years ago that means a lot –

    ‘A young man once looked up the mountain to a monastery perched high on the mountainside, and he asked a monk “What do you do all day, up there in the monastery?”

    The Monk replied “We fall, we get up again. We fall, we get up again.” ‘

    We all fall everyday, but we must get up again, recognise our faults, and our humanity, try and correct our faults and try again.

    As you say it is very easy to be distracted by life, it is so stressful these days that it is hard to chip out a space in our lives to slow down and be calm…. and just be… but meditation really does help, and now surveys say that yoga and meditation are actually good for our physical and mental health, not just our spiritual health – so there are three reasons to try them!

    Thanks for this timely reminder Yolly – am off to meditate!


    • Stephen Yolland says:

      Have no doubt that meditation will increasingly become part of medical practice in the West for everything from anxiety to cancer to blood pressure. It works!


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