Monday, October 12, 2009

Zen thoughts

Thich Nhat Hanh, the genial Zen master, says, "The seed and the fruit are not two different things. The fruit is already contained in the seed. It's waiting for different conditions in order to be able to manifest. The fruit doesn't have a separate existence; it's a formation. Using the word 'formation' reminds us that there is no separate existence in it. There is only a coming together of many, many conditions."

These statements are a characteristic expression of the Buddhist idea that all things are connected and contingent. A fruit must come from a seed, but conditions in the surrounding world -- favorable and unfavorable, same direction and opposing direction -- determine how the fruit is manifested. Not a bad general framework for analyzing everything from nature to business endeavors to geopolitics. Modern systems engineering employs similar ideas in turning requirements (seeds) into fully implemented designs (fruit) under the guidance of operational concepts (conditions and constraints).

Thich Nhat Hanh also says, "The best way of preparing for the future is to take good care of the present, because we know that if the present is made up of the past, then the future will be made up of the present. All we need to be responsible for is the present moment. Only the present is within our reach. To care for the present is to care for the future."

While I find Zen Buddhism unsatisfying with regard to ultimate meaning and consolation, it offers a helpful counteractive to the tendency toward narrow and hasty thinking common in the consumerist West. This practical advice about mindfulness has some wisdom, and wisdom is to be valued whatever the source. The advice, of course, is echoed by many other religions and philosophical traditions. The New Testament itself offers a teaching about living in the present, although Christ stated this wisdom with authority, as commands to be obeyed rather than mere advice for peaceable daily living amidst an enveloping web of life's causes and effects.

Matthew 6:31-34 "So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat? or 'What shall we drink' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."