Tasty Morsels of Wisdom from Great Minds East & West, New York: Penguin Compass, 1997.
Zen Soup by Laurence G. Boldt is one of the most original little tea table books I’ve got my hands on. It’s definitely more than a tea table book with the profound wisdom it shares and promotes.
I should say first that this little booklet is not limited to sharing Zen wisdom, specifically. It’s well in the spirit of Zen, and there are among the many quotes also those from Zen masters. But there are also quotes from Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Seneca, George Bernhard Shaw, Thomas Merton, Ralph Waldo Emerson—to name only these.
This book in my view belongs in a business library more than in a Zen library because it contains not only wisdom quotes but also smart and pointed introductions into each of the 25 chapters. Only reading over the chapter titles, you will see that the booklet is something like a companion guide to the two reviewed before in that it has a strong and purposeful orientation toward the career path.
I say this because there might be many interested in wisdom who are not particularly attracted to the teaching and the practice of Zen. Accordingly, my focus will not be in reviewing the quotes, but some of the introductions to the chapters, as here lies the original part of the book.
The chapters read as follows:
—Be Here Now
—The Game of Life
—The Art of Zen
Be Here Now
Living in the present is perhaps the greatest art in life— and it certainly has an impact upon professional life as well. When you are fixated upon your past, you will not be totally open to deal with your professional challenges for a part of you will be untouched by the perception of the now. The author points out:
The mind, with its guilt and resentment about the past and its fears and hopes for the future, the mind that confuses thoughts about people, things, and events with the people, things, and events themselves—must be transcended. /1
In effect, as the saying goes in Zen, the finger that points to the Moon, is not the Moon. We will always confuse the map with the landscape when we are not grounded in the present so that we can perceive the real, not our inner picture of the real.
The ‘beginner’s mind’ is a metaphor in Zen. It says that whatever we do to perfect ourselves, we will never be perfect, which is why humility is considered as important in the self-development approach of the old wisdom traditions both of the East and the West. There is a psychological truth in this saying in that when you remain ‘young’ inside of you, and you don’t think you have ‘ultimate knowledge’, you remain fresh, curious, and intuitive, and before all: flexible. You will then easily learn new skills or whatever you need to keep up with the changes in life, and in professional life. The author writes:
The beginner’s mind applies not only to learning new skills, activities, or information but to all we think we know about life. Many of us walk around with deeply ingrained beliefs that limit our experience. (…) When we embrace the humility to meet life head-on, without the baggage of what we think we know, we make room for ourselves to grow. /7
It is obvious that courage is important in life, and even more so in your professional career. Courage is an ability to go beyond fear. Contrary to common belief it doesn’t say that the courageous person never knows any fears. Quite the contrary is true. The strength of courage, its energy so to speak, is built from the precise energy contained in the fear the preceded it. In other words, fear is the fuel of courage. What does that imply? Very simply so, it means that you shouldn’t go around your fear but right through it, and toward your goal. The author writes:
We have no greater enemy than fear. It hems us in, sucks the joy out of life, and leaves us with disgust for ourselves. Nothing of importance can be undertaken or achieved without facing, challenging, and finally mastering fear. If it takes great courage to attempt and accomplish things of real merit, it takes even more to be what we truly are. /17
Right thinking is a concept not just related to Buddhism, Taoism, Zen or Eastern thought. It also is an old teaching in the West. All our scriptures are very much focused upon teaching that right and wrong of action, and what precedes action is thinking. The Proverbs, in the Bible, for example, focus upon ‘righteous thinking’ as a way to moral perfection. In a pragmatic sense, and even if you are agnostic, right thinking is a way to deal effectively and wisely with karma, the law of cause and effect. We reap what we sow, we harvest as a result of our investments. We shout in the forest and we hear the response. This is a very basic law in life, and it is certainly also very important in business life. Laurence G. Boldt writes:
We can think ourselves into happiness or a deep depression. We can think ourselves into health or illness. (…) By our thinking, we create our individual and collective experience of reality. Changing our thinking for the better improves the quality of our lives, and in so doing, uplifts all around us. /28-29
Responsibility is perceived by many as a burden. In truth it is the only way we get real appreciation in life. It is through taking responsibilities. The more you are responsible for others, the more you are influential in society. Many do not see this and creep into the victim role which is in reality an escape from life. Nothing we have experienced in life justifies this kind of behavior, and that is probably why it’s so unproductive. When you stand up for yourself, and your choices, you gain respect. And you avoid the temptation to judge or blame others or ‘the world’. The author writes:
When we give up the habit of making mental comparisons, we release our psychological investment in what we like and dislike and say yes to life—total and complete. /45
There is a strange confusion about selfhood and the ego in new age circles. People say they want to get ‘become spiritual’ and make trips to India to see X or Y guru who tells them to ‘abandon their ego’. But sorry, without your ego you will turn psychotic (mentally ill) almost instantly. Are you aware of that? The challenge in self-development is not to give up your ego, but to strengthen the relationship with your self. The self is not the ego, but this distinction has been blurred by a number of spiritual teachings. When you are guided by the self, you will transcend your ego, and accordingly, your egotism. The author writes:
There is no point in trying to be somebody else or in letting concern with what other people think dictate your life. We must each find our own path and discover for ourselves the joy of being what we are. /55
Imitating others is a behavior pattern that is luring when you are not grounded in your self. You need to structure your ego, not abandon it, to get there. When you value your difference—and even your marginality—you honor your self, and you won’t have a problem with your ego!