The Way of Life

For the past month nearly I've been studying the principles and philosophy of Zen or Zen Buddhism, which then extended into Buddhism as a whole. Where did this interest in eastern philosophy begin? There are a multitude of reasons I find myself captivated by such things, but none of them are of any importance, just as the birds don't explain why they fly around in groups and perch in specific spots, they simply do. To explain Zen to people unfamiliar with the idea, a path must be cleared for them to follow. Those who don't yet know of Zen, I believe, are aimlessly wandering in a thick and dark forest, and it is the Zen master's job to cut a path through that forest on which the lost can follow for themselves.

I find it much easier to comprehend Zen after reading the Tao Te Ching. In it, this ancient text explains to the reader the Tao. Understanding Tao is the most difficult part of this entire process, luckily though, there's an entire book to help you understand. The book itself is credited to Lao Tzu, a "contemporary" of Confucius. In fact Confucius visited Lao Tzu one day and asked for his tutoring. This was Lao Tzu's response:

Those you talk about have turned to dust. All that remains is their words. When a nobleman lives in good times, he goes to court in a carriage. But when times are hard, he goes where the wind blows. Some people say that a wise merchant hides his wealth and thus appears to be poor. Likewise the sage: if he has great inner virtue, he appears outwardly to be a fool. Stop being so arrogant with all your questions, your self-importance and your overbearing obsessions. None of this is the real you. That is all I have to say to you.

Confucius later told of his meeting with Lao Tzu:

I know that birds fly, fish swim, and animals run. Creatures that run can be trapped, those that swim can be caught in nets, those that fly can be shot down. But what to do with a dragon, I do not know. It rides on the clouds and the wind. Today I met Lao Tzu, and he is like a dragon.

It is my belief that Lao Tzu didn't write the Tao Te Ching though. In the book itself, it states:

The Master puts himself last and finds himself in the place of authority. He detaches himself from all things, therefore he is united with all things. He gives no thought to self. He is perfectly fulfilled.

Why would he say all of this, only to take credit for authoring the exact text he is writing? I believe, as was common in those days, a student of Lao Tzu wrote the Tao Te Ching and credited Lao Tzu as the author. Not because Lao Tzu is the true author, but because the ideas of Tao Te Ching are the ideas of Lao Tzu, although surely he would say they are the ideas of no one.

The Tao, or simply Tao, is directly translated as "the Way". Though I could never dream of conveying such a complex subject through words alone, I will attempt to do so. The Tao is the way of life in which you are one with everything around you. Some have likened the Tao to a constant flow state, a state in which you are wholly focused on everything around you, and yet no thoughts run through your mind. The easiest way to achieve such a state is through performing a difficult task with ease. This is why martial arts are so heavily tied to philosophy and the Way of life. Practicing martial arts allows one to enter a flow state fairly easily, with practice of course, and thus experience the Tao, or Zen.

Though I've introduced them as though they are separate, Zen and Tao are the same. Both are ideas of oneness with the present world surrounding you. Both require the emptying of the mind, or put simply, no thoughts. When you experience it for the first time you'll likely respond with something like, "This is it? Isn't there any big revalation?", but that isn't to say it's a disappointing experience. In fact, it's truly amazing. The act of living through life only in the present, no thoughts in your mind to distract you. When the wind blows in from the east, you notice immediately. When a group of leaves twirl in circles before dissipating, you're bewildered at the sight. It's as if you know everything there ever was to know. When you have an internal feeling like hunger, you don't say to yourself, "I'm hungry, what should I eat?", you simply seek out food. There is no difficult decision to be made about where to eat and what to eat and how much you should eat and "Ah but what about my daily calories" and "Hmm I really shouldn't be eating so much sodium" and all this nonsense. You simply find food and eat it. Is there really any more to be done when you're hungry? Zen Master Rinzai, when asked by a student, "What is the essence of Zen?" replied: "When you are hungry, eat. When you are sleepy, sleep." The student replied with something like, "Well in that case aren't we all Zen masters?", and Rinzai again, "No. When you eat, your mind is filled with all sorts of thoughts, and when you sleep you're dreaming all sorts of dreams. You must be truly here in the moment."

This is why I've begun practicing Jiu Jitsu again. When I first began, I was a wrestler. I wasn't sure why I enjoyed wrestling, but I had fun fighting people. Some years after I quit wrestling, I decided to do Jiu Jitsu, only because I wanted to continue fighting. Now, though, I understand the true value of performing such a physical action against an opponent. Before, I did it because it was fun. Now, I do it because it allows me to enter this state of flow effortlessly. I no longer get caught up in memorizing moves and their defenses and counters. When I fight, I move purely based on instinct. Of course, I'm not as skilled as many others there, but this is because my instinct needs training. When you focus on movesets, or pick a favorite move as I've seen many others do, then the fight becomes a matter of academics and loses all meaning. By relying on fighting instinct, by being completely one with everything around me, I can respond to attacks in ways that I haven't even learned yet, simply because I'm listening to my body, not my brain.