Learning Zen Buddhism is in ways like learning a language.  Or relearning a language.  Some words are added; some words are banned.  Some words have different meaning.  I’m starting to believe that relearning a language affects the way one thinks.  This is not an original idea.  It’s called linguistic relativity.   Here are some examples:

Banned Words

Should.  Totally banished.  Should is now replaced with the concept of, “If I do this, that will happen.”  Causality.  Karma.  Without judgement.  But as they say, “Karma’s a bitch.”  So it’s not so much as you can do anything you want, but that you can do anything you want and will reap the benefit or pay the price for it.  So choose your actions skillfully.

Good/Bad, Right/Wrong. Instead of thinking in these terms, one can think in terms of whether things are born of compassion, contentment, and wisdom, or anger, attachment, and ignorance. Swapping out these terms allows us to be less judgemental but still gives us a way to evaluate how to navigate all the choices that confront us throughout the day.

Words With New Meanings

Suffering.  I used to think I rarely suffered.  Suffering, to me, brought to mind a mother in a third world country struggling to feed her children.

Karma. Karma used to mean to me an explanation of why things happened. If you get hit by a car, it must be bad karma. If you win the lottery, it must be good karma. But now I’ve come to understand that karma serves not so much to explain the past, but to guide us to the future. Karma ties into the law of cause and effect. If our actions stem from compassion, contentment, and wisdom, then we accrue karma. If our actions stem from anger, attachment, and ignorance, then we accrue karma. It is up to us which karma we want. This ties into the fifth of, “The Five Remembrances,” Our actions are our only possessions. We cannot avoid the consequences of our actions. Our actions are the ground upon which we walk.

Attributing Responsibility

Instead of saying, “He is really good at making me feel ashamed,” one can say, “He is really good at [fill in action], and I am really good at letting this make me feel ashamed.” This change in syntax allows us to assume responsibility for our feelings, thoughts, and actions. If one doesn’t have a feeling of responsibility, then it’s harder to deal with our thoughts and feelings.

Doing the Right Thing

The whole idea of doing the right thing has taken on a new meaning.  I said that I thought I was “doing the right thing” in regards to something, and a nun friend of mine came back with, “Doing the right thing for whom?”  That put a whole new spin on what was a core belief of mine.

Doesn’t Exist/Is Unreal/Is Empty

These terms get used a lot, and my mental inner translator translates all these to the following:  Isn’t independant and isn’t permanent.