Or old Zen, rather.
I’ve been trying to find a spiritual tradition to hang my metaphorical hat on. Since I was a kid, I have been fascinated by samurai, ninja, and Buddhism, particularly Zen Buddhism. I read up on it on my own, took college classes (and nearly got a minor in Religion), and even went to meditation classes and Sunday programs at the local Zen temple, but while the ideas and philosophy I generally liked, the actual experience of Zen practice didn’t seem to help me. To me, Zen comes down to: sit still, empty your mind of thoughts, eventually touch enlightenment, then do it all over again. It’s kind of lonely and frustrating.
So I gave Jodo Shinshu (aka “Shin”) Buddhism a shot. Instead of a self-reliance philosophy, Jodo Shinshu relies on Amida Buddha, so there is a lot less pressure to enlighten yourself. You express your gratitude to Amida Buddha for his compassion by saying his name (Namu Amida Butsu—“I take refuge in Amida Buddha”), and with your faith in Amida, you are granted entrance into the Pure Land (not exactly Heaven, but essentially a place of enlightenment). This is a religion for the average person, and is often seen as the “easy” path to enlightenment. Jodo Shinshu temple is also more like a traditional Christian church with an engaged community that holds potlucks and festivals, and has Sunday services with songs and sermons. It definitely felt warmer and friendlier than Zen to me, and being able to leave my worries to Amida felt kind of nice, but it still wasn’t what I was looking for.
Then I stumbled onto Stoicism. I read Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations years ago and I liked it a lot (“Read again!” I wrote in my notes), but I hadn’t thought anything more about it. Then I read some posts from folks who were getting into Stoicism and explaining how it was helping them, and I thought I would look into it further.
There are a lot of similarities between Stoicism and Zen (developed by warriors doesn’t hurt), but it seemed to me that Stoicism is more practical. How so? Try this:
Concern yourself with only what you can control.
Don’t worry about things you cannot control.
Sure, I’d heard “Not my circus, not my monkeys” time and again, but it didn’t resonate like this. And this is something I can use, that I can (and have) put into daily practice and it helps. Really, it does.
Worried about something? Can you actually do anything about it? If yes, then do it. If no, then stop worrying and instead focus on something you can do something about.
Words of 1st century wisdom. Brilliant.
While Stoicism isn’t exactly a spiritual tradition, I feel like it’s a start along that path.