“Conquer anger with non-anger. Conquer badness with goodness. Conquer meanness with generosity. Conquer dishonesty withThe Buddha, The Dhammapada
Siddhartha Gautama, whom you probably know as the Buddha, was born on this day, 2,641 years ago, and was a pure embodiment of peace and transcendence in a ruthless world.
He was a true representation of an excellent communicator, comforting his listeners, and ultimately inspiring and motivating them to become the best versions of themselves, continuing to influence individuals’ way of thinking two millennia after his passing.
What is “Zen” anyway?
Zen Buddhism, born out of China, is one of the many branches of Buddhism, similar to the relationship between the protestant branches within the Christian church.
In its literal Chinese translation, Zen essentially means, “meditative state”. However, it’s difficult to encompass the true meaning of Zen in words, as it’s actually a way of living one’s life, rather than a way to describe someone. Zen is felt- not spoken.
The ultimate goal of Zen Buddhists is to reach enlightenment (the highest spiritual state possible). However, unlike other sectors of Buddhism, Zen Buddhism heavily focuses on the power of the self and mind as guides to enlightenment, rather than relying on external factors like performing rituals.
The core of the message of Zen is that all the answers we need are already within us, if only we listen. Self-understanding is key to Zen, just as it’s it’s key to living a peaceful life of any spiritual or nonspiritual background.
1. Be silent
“Know from the rivers in clefts and in crevices: those in small channels flow noisily, the great flow silent. Whatever’s not full makes noise. Whatever is full is quiet.”The Buddha, the Sutta Nipata
During his time on earth, the Buddha spoke about the importance of silence and advised monks to speak only if their words were absolutely constructive and positive.
As much as we discuss the power of the written and the spoken word here, silence is actually an incredibly powerful tool you can use to communicate an effective message, stance, or an answer.
I’m sure we’ve all been guilty of giving someone the “silent treatment” at some point or another. It’s not usually necessary, but I’m sure you’ve seen how effective the silent treatment can be, be it positive or negative.
In the right circumstances, choosing to stay silent can evoke a strong message to others, whether it be that you are avoiding a negative confrontation, or that your opinion could hurt someone deeply. Many times staying silent can be both constructive and positive.
2. Speak with consideration
“Speak only endearing speech, speech that is welcomed. Speech, when it brings no evil to others, is a pleasant thing.”The Buddha, the Sutta Nipata
Speaking the truth is important and l certainly do not advise lying, however, the way in which you speak the truth can drastically change the meaning or intention behind what you’re saying.
Before speaking, try to consider your listener’s possible life experience, as well as their current emotional state. Doing so will ensure that you will not needlessly offend or upset someone.
The most inefficient way to communicate is by speaking to everyone in the same way. We all have unique perspectives and personalities, so it’s helpful to curb our communication styles depending on who we’re speaking to.
3. Listen with empathy.
“Understanding is the heartwood of well-spoken words.”The Buddha, Kimsula Sutta
Think back to the last time someone didn’t- and seemingly refused to- give consistent eye contact or positive body language while you tried talking with them. You likely felt frustrated because you didn’t feel heard, especially if you were attempting to confide in or vent to them. You might not have even completed saying what you intended to say in the first place.
It’s frustrating to feel tuned out, so try not to lead others to believe you’re ignoring them. Being a good listener is a great way to ease your social interactions and strengthen friendships. Try your best to listen as if you’ve been eager to hear what they have to say, and do this consistently. It’s a simple but effective way to make others else feel truly significant and make your conversations go much more positively.
4. Don’t limit yourself.
“When watching after yourself, you watch after others. When watching after others, you watch after yourself.”The Buddha, Samyutta Nikaya
We are a collective, and what one of us says or does can have a ripple effect on the rest of the world. You get to choose whether you radiate positivity or negativity.
If you’re looking to become a better version of yourself, the best thing you can do is push yourself out of your comfort zone as much as possible. Being uncomfortable is the ideal opportunity to progress. Use new and awkward experiences as moments to apply new concepts and grow as an individual.
Reaching enlightenment may not be your thing, but a practical and conscious application of these qualities will help you reach a stronger understanding of the world around you, and have you feeling much more Zen.
Did you know about Zen prior to reading this article? What else from the Buddha could we apply to our daily lives in order to make our interpersonal interactions go more smoothly and feel less anxious?
When you’re comfortable, try applying as many of these qualities as you can in your daily life. If you’re interested, feel free to share your results with
Stay down-to-earth, my friends.
P.S. One of my favorite books about the Buddha’s journey is Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse. It gives a short, but fairly easy-to-follow, interpretation of the Buddha’s path to enlightenment. It’s an interesting read, even if you’re not the biggest fan of spiritual texts.