Thursday, January 22, 2015


Is there a ‘secret’ to successful living? I have come to the view that there isn’t. Certainly, there is no one thing that must be done, or not done, in order to live a happy and fulfilled life. However, having said that, there is one thing which seems to me to be of great, even paramount, importance. It is this---live in the now. The now is the portal through which we experience the present moment, indeed every moment.

All too often we ‘live’---if you can call it living---in either the past or the future. We all know that is not the way to live, but we all do it. Many books have been written in recent years about the importance of living in the now … so many books that you would think it is a new idea. It’s not. All the great religious teachers spoke of the importance of living in the now, as did others such as Seneca and Marcus Aurelius. I love these words from Seneca:

True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.

Marcus Aurelius had much to say about the importance of living in the present moment. He wrote, ‘When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive - to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.’ He also gave us this wonderful advice: ‘Confine yourself to the present.’ Yes, more than half of our problems would vanish---indeed, die from atrophy on the altar of life---if only we confined ourselves to the present.

Buddhists have had much to say over the centuries about the importance of living in the now, that is, from moment to moment. How many of you have heard of Layman P'ang? Not many, I suspect, but that’s OK. The important thing is what he had to say about successful living, for it should help you greatly.

Layman P'ang
(Páng Jūshì [Ch]; Hōkoji [Jp]) (740–808) [pictured left] was a highly respected lay Buddhist monk in the Chinese Chán (Zen) tradition. A bureaucrat, he worked for the Chinese government of the day. He studied with a Zen teacher named Shítóu Xīqiān (Sekitō Kisen [Jp]). It is written that Shítóu asked of Layman P’ang, ‘How have you practiced Zen since coming here?’ P’ang is said to have replied, ‘My daily activities,’ by which he meant activities such as drawing water and chopping wood. Yes, it’s in those little, daily activities of life---even the most humdrum things of life---that we are to practise truth principles. And that’s where we find truth itself. Don’t look for it elsewhere. You’re wasting your time if you do.

P’ang wrote much on the subject of ‘empty-mindedness,’ that is, on the need to develop what I call ‘a mindful mind of no-mind.’ Sounds
? Well, in a way it is. You see, what we are talking about is a state of mind that is transrational. Anyone who meditates regularly will know what I am talking about. Listen to these words of P’ang:

The past is already past. 
Don't try to regain it. 
The present does not stay. 
Don't try to touch it.

From moment to moment. 
The future has not come; 
Don't think about it 

Whatever comes to the eye,
Leave it be. 
There are no commandments
To be kept; 
There's no filth to be cleansed.

With empty mind really 
Penetrated, the dharmas 
Have no life.

When you can be like this, 
You've completed 
The ultimate attainment. 

There’s a saying in Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve-step fellowships, ‘Let the past stay in the past.’ That’s damn good advice. The past is already past. It’s gone. Yet it is an undeniable fact that most of our thinking pertains to matters in the past. And almost all the rest pertains to hopes, expectations, and fears about the future. It’s crazy, isn’t it? Worse, because so much of our thinking pertains to the past, we are conditioned to act ‘out of the past,’ so to speak. We do not act rationally but rather on the basis of misbeliefs that are grounded in our conditioning, which is the past.

The Dalai Lama [pictured right] was asked what surprised him the most. He said:

Man, because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then he dies having never really lived.

Wow! That’s the truth, isn’t it? So, the ‘secret’ (except it’s no secret) is to live in the now. We cannot really live ‘in’ the moment because, as Layman P’ang says, the present ‘does not stay.’ It is so very ephemeral. But we can live ‘from’ moment ‘to’ moment, and that is the advice of Layman P’ang and almost every other wise person who has ever considered the matter deeply.

There is more good advice from Layman P’ang. Here’s another gem---‘Whatever comes to the eye, / Leave it be.’ That’s the law of non-resistance. Don’t fight against what is, nor cling to it. Enjoy the reality of the present moment, from one such moment to the next, but learn to let it go. The present moment is ever renewing itself as another present moment, then another, and then another … . To live is to let go, but before we can let go we must---‘let be.’ If we analyse, judge, interpret, evaluate, compare or contrast the present moment we are not letting be. By identifying with the present moment we end up getting stuck in the past because before we know it the present moment in question is the past.

An ‘empty mind’ is not a dull or unintelligent mind. It is a mind that it so open to whatever be the content of the experience of life from one moment to the next it has penetrated the very core and essence of be-ing-ness. It is a mind that contains no 'shoulds' or 'oughts,' that is, beliefs and misbeliefs about how life ought to be. It is a mind that, so far as is possible, is free of all conditioning. In a previous post I wrote about the ‘empty mind’:

It does not mean the absence of mind, or absentmindedness, but rather a mind which is non-discriminating, uncoloured,  fluid, unbound and free from deluded thought ... indeed, a mind where there is no conditioned thinking, desiring or controlling ... a spontaneous and detached state of mind characterized by inward silence and no knowing awareness ... a mind which effortlessly thinks what it thinks ... without there being any interference (judgment, analysis, etc) by some 'thinker' or 'ego' within the mind.

When you live moment-to-moment with such a mindset Layman P’ang says that ‘the dharmas / Have no life.’ I interpret that to mean that the teachings on the right way of living are exhausted, and have no more work to do. In a sense you have become those teachings, for you have come to fully embody them in your daily life. Yes, you have attained enlightenment. That means you have---woken up!

Here’s some more wisdom from Layman P’ang:

My daily activities are not unusual,
I’m just naturally in harmony with them.
Grasping nothing, discarding nothing.
In every place there’s no hindrance, no conflict.

That’s what is meant by an empty mind.

So, what are you waiting for? Go empty your mind.

Calligraphy [below]: Mushin (empty mind).

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