101 Great Zen Sayings and Proverbs

You do not have to subscribe to Zen Buddhism, or indeed be religious, to appreciate the wisdom of these sayings (many of which are not, in any case, explicitly spiritual or Buddhist in origin or application). I know quotes can seem trite and vacuous, but a lot of these are worth reflecting on.

My personal favorite is the following by B. D. Schiers (whom I oddly cannot find much information on).

If you want to change the world, start with the next person who comes to you in need.

This goes back to one of the first lessons I ever learned on the path to better moral living: that no good deed is too small, and that change on any level, even just the way we treat a stranger on the street, can be the start of a better world in the aggregate.

While the bigger picture is of course important and should not be overlooked, but you have to start somewhere, so why not during the routine interactions and moral decisions we encounter every day?

Feel free to share your favorite quotes from this list and what you take away from them — or offer your own if not mentioned.

Hat tip to Buddaimonia.com for the list.

An Interesting Anecdote for Whenever Life Gets Rough

The following parable has been making the rounds on Tumblr, and I’m not sure who the author is or whether it’s even true, but I don’t think it matters. The message is a good one. For all the nonsense the permeates the web, there is quite a bit of wisdom to be found, if your willing to do some sifting.

When things in your life seem, almost too much to handle,
When 24 Hours in a day is not enough,
Remember the mayonnaise jar and 2 cups of coffee.

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him.
When the class began, wordlessly, he picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls.

He then asked the students if the jar was full.
They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured
them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly.
The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls.

He then asked the students again if the jar was full.
They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar.
Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous ‘yes.’

The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

‘Now,’ said the professor, as the laughter subsided, ‘I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life.’

The golf balls are the important things – family,
children, health, Friends, and Favorite passions –
Things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, house, and car.

The sand is everything else —The small stuff.

‘If you put the sand into the jar first,’ He continued, ‘there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls.’

The same goes for life.

If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you.

So…

Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness.
Play with your children.
Take time to get medical checkups.
Take your partner out to dinner.

There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal.

‘Take care of the golf balls first —
The things that really matter.
Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.’

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented.

The professor smiled, ‘I’m glad you asked’, he said.

‘It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem,
There’s always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend.

As always, it’s about the simple things in life. Don’t underestimate the little breathers that come between all the hustle and bustle of our daily routines. They can often make or break our lives, and it will be those moments that we’ll reflect on when we’re judging the quality of the lives we lived.

On Judging Others

“When we see men of worth, we should think of equaling them; when we see men of a contrary character, we should turn inwards and examine ourselves.” – Confucius

Anyone could judge someone else; humans do it instinctively. But it’s much harder to analyze ourselves. When we see a bad or otherwise disagreeable person, take a moment to wonder if you’re any different than they are. Most people are hypocritical without even realizing it.

I would also interpret this quote as suggesting that we should look at such negative individuals as examples of what not to be. Emulate the good and virtuous, but try to learn from the immoral as well. Confronting both positive and negative characters can be very educational.

Great Winston Churchill Quotes

Click here to read all 15 of them, and here to read many more. Note that quotes number 2, 3, and 11 are actually misattributed to Winston; in any case, the man certainly had a way with words. He was by no means a flawless character (who ever is?) but he’s definitely one of history’s most colorful and inspirational ones, just with his words alone (fun fact, he actually won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953).

Hat tip to my friend Javier for sharing this with me.

About the Header and Background

Since I was new to blogging, I hadn’t yet gotten the hang of tweaking my profile. In retrospect, my original header and background were a bit bland, as well as uninspiring – I needed something more aesthetic as well as meaningful, a search that wasn’t made any easier by my indecisiveness.

The image I’ve finally chosen to define my blog is titled The School of Athens (Scuola di Atene), a well-known fresco painting by famous Italian Renaissance artist Raphael. Located within the Apostolic Palace of Vatican City, it depicts an idealized gathering of the greatest minds in philosophy, ranging from Plato and Aristotle (the central figures), to Epicurus, Zeno of Citium, and Averroes.

With the definite exception of the first two, there is much dispute about the identities of the others, and different scholars and art historians have postulated their own theories as to who’s who (the artist himself gave no clear indication). Read more about the probable list of identifications hereand do feel free to read up on each of them.

Needless to say, this one of the most beautiful and famous of Raphael’s works, if not the entire Renaissance. However, I didn’t choose it only for it’s aesthetic beauty, which was nonetheless a major factor. Rather, it appeals to me mostly because it represents an idea very close to my heart: that of the dialectic, a form of argumentation that has underpinned philosophy, and the search for truth, since ancient times.

The dialectical method consists not of debate or rhetoric, but dialogue. Rather than be committed to a position and concerned only with being right (and proving it), those engaging in a dialectical approach with one another are looking to establish truth, through reasoned argument and rational inquiry. Rather than try to persuade through appeals to emotion or the like, the dialectical person looks to ask questions, understand other positions, and put forward their own views with the intention of validating its truth value. Through civil discourse, an open-mind, and tireless curiosity, one tries to seek the truth.

I try to imagine what it would be like to share a platform with all these wise figures, and the many who have since emerged thereafter. Looking at this image, I fantasize about being a part of it, if at the very least as a spectator. Just think of the great pool of knowledge that would form from doing nothing more than engaging in thoughtful and reasoned conversation.

The image represents, in the most romantic of fashions, precisely what I mean to promote on this blog and throughout my life. I’m just one person of course, and hardly qualified to bring about a paradigm shift on my own; I have no delusions of granduer, nor the arrogance to presume otherwise.  But the point of progress through the advancement of human wisdom is that we’re all in it together. Human knowledge is the sum of generations of contributions, often times brought about by nothing more than critical thinking and open-minded exchanges with others.

I wouldn’t feel so enlightened to the world were it not for my valuable interactions with the multitudes of people who have enriched my life in some form or fashion. With increasing interconnection, coupled with a sense of global and pan-humanist consciousness, the entire world is a bona fide School of Athens.  We don’t always get it right, but more and more of us are talking, learning, and progressing in the same spirit of dialectic captured so beautifully in this painting, and responsible for so much richness within human thought. I couldn’t have asked for a greater welcoming banner.

So join me – share your thoughts, concerns, views, and works. Let’s have a discussion, as sincere in its search for truth as it is in its mutual civility. I welcome your wisdom.

Evolution: Fact or Theory?

Well, it’s actually both, though most people don’t realize that the term theory as used in science is nothing like how it is used colloquially. Indeed, it’s rather common for folks that don’t believe in evolution to predicate their doubt on the fact that evolution is “only a theory.” Even a fact is defined differently by scientists from how it is by a layman: within science, a fact is a verified empirical observation (from which evolution has been determined), whereas in vernacular contexts, a fact is assumed to be anything for which there is overwhelming evidence, a standard that would rule out quite a bit of accepted scientific truth. It is largely – though not exclusively – due to this lack of scientific literacy that nearly 44% of Americans disbelieve in evolution, despite the considerable amount of evidence in it’s favor.

Unfortunately, despite my vast interest in this topic, I don’t have much time to get into it as further as I’d like. However, I did find a great page that concisely discusses the nuances and misconceptions about evolution and scientific language. The link is available here, and I definitely encourage you all to take a look (it’s an all-around good blog for matters related to evolution and biology). By far my favorite excerpt from this post is the following:

The honest scientist, like the philosopher, will tell you that nothing whatever can be or has been proved with fully 100% certainty, not even that you or I exist, since we might be dreaming the whole thing. Thus there is no sharp line between speculation, hypothesis, theory, principle, and fact, but only a difference along a sliding scale, in the degree of probability of the idea. When we say a thing is a fact, then, we only mean that the probability of it being true is high—so high that we are not bothered by doubt about it and are ready to act accordingly. By this use of the term “fact”—the only proper definition—evolution is a fact. For the evidence in favor of it is as voluminous, diverse, and convincing as in the case of any other well established fact of science concerning the existence of things that cannot be directly seen, such as atoms, neutrons, or solar gravitation…

This pretty much sums up the proper attitude to have not only towards evolution but with all matters of truth. Nothing can ever be known with certainty no matter how strongly we feel about it (since feelings and intuitions can just as easily be false or malleable). A true pursuer of wisdom and knowledge will know this, own up to it, but nonetheless still be able to assert what is most likely true, based on what we can thus far determine.

In other words, while it’s often foolish to assume with total  confidence that something is undeniably true, it’s just as untenable to take a post-modernist view of the world and remain unable to commit to anything as a fact. It’s all about basing your position on as much empirical, logical, and rational evidence as possible, and taking an approach towards knowledge that is a fine balance between humility and confidence.