Zen

On Being a Modern Gentleman:

Guideline 26: Zen

This is the final post of the A to Z Challenge, and the conclusion of this month’s special: On Being a Modern Gentleman. I hope you all have enjoyed it.

Today’s post concerns a philosophy many in the US find interesting but few can describe: Zen. At its heart, Zen is a school or sect of Mahayana Buddhism that developed in China and spread throughout Asia. Strongly influenced by Chinese Taoism, Zen would root itself in Japan.

Rather than teach you about Zen, here are some Zen and Taoist proverbs which seem to capture the philosophy:

1. There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically. “May be,” the farmer replied. The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed. “May be,” replied the old man. The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. “May be,” answered the farmer. The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. “May be,” said the farmer.

2. A priest was in charge of the garden within a famous Zen temple. He had been given the job because he loved the flowers, shrubs, and trees. Next to the temple there was another, smaller temple where there lived a very old Zen master. One day, when the priest was expecting some special guests, he took extra care in tending to the garden. He pulled the weeds, trimmed the shrubs, combed the moss, and spent a long time meticulously raking up and carefully arranging all the dry autumn leaves. As he worked, the old master watched him with interest from across the wall that separated the temples.

When he had finished, the priest stood back to admire his work. “Isn’t it beautiful,” he called out to the old master. “Yes,” replied the old man, “but there is something missing. Help me over this wall and I’ll put it right for you.”

After hesitating, the priest lifted the old fellow over and set him down. Slowly, the master walked to the tree near the center of the garden, grabbed it by the trunk, and shook it. Leaves showered down all over the garden. “There,” said the old man, “you can put me back now.”

My last suggestion to you is to study these two proverbs, find the lesson in each, and try to live by them. These lessons, combined with the other guidelines presented this month, will go a long way towards ensuring that you are a modern gentleman. And that’s something we all should strive for, right?

Thanks for reading, folks.

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