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Zen and the art of thought

I’m in the Athens Metro (what the English would call underground and the Americans subway). I’m reading a book on ZEN and absorb its brief tips for peace, internal balance, understanding of the humans and the natural environment. Next to me a girl is reading something similar that deals with meditation. On the other side there is a couple of young Chinese tourists, who have just arrived from the airport and are heading towards the center. They open a map with all the athenian sites and try to get a first taste of what they are about to see.

The contrast is impressive. On the one hand, the western world is crammed into means of transportation and tries to grasp the peace and quiet of the Far East, or at least its stereotypes. On the other hand the tourists from the Far East, crammed into the same means of transportation, those thirsty new tourists from China, arrive from their stressed country, where the people are currently in a binge of development, building and consumerism, and long to know another old civilization, the greek one, of which what they only know are some stereotypes.

Well, China and Japan and the other Asian countries aren’t just kimonos and geishas and Forbidden City anymore, nor is Greece just ancient Olympia and Delphi. Today we are all victims of the fast profit “culture”, of fast food and fast life in general. ZEN may have become a fashion, ancient Greek philosophers too. But if they still have something to tell us, something that is beyond fashion, then it might be something important. If they can make us think for just a second, in between karaoke and headphones pouring loud music in our ears or among quick journeys, then it might be worth the while. Even if it’s only one moment of peace. At least I hope so.

Here are some phrases connected with ΖΕΝ.

-Sit quietly, doing nothing. The spring will come and the grass will grow by itself.

-ΖΕΝ isn’t philosophy, it’s poetry. It doesn’t suggest, it just persuades. It doesn’t disagree, it just sings its own song.

-From a withered tree, a flower blooms.

And some questions:

-Has it ever occurred to you to give without waiting for anything in return?

-Are you sure that it’s vitally important to finish everything that you set off to do?

-We all deserve happiness. What keeps you from trying?

And some from the ancient Greeks:

-What is most powerful? The need. The only unbeatable thing.

-A sweet thing when in great quantities, ceases to be sweet.

-Water is the best of all things.

-Of all possessions, only wisdom is immortal.

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