Every morning after breakfast, the Zen master gave a short lecture. He talked about all aspects of life, but he always ended on the same note:
“Be simple and easy. Take things as they come.”
One day, some of the students went into town. As they walked around the market, they spotted the master, bargaining fiercely over the price of a bag of peanuts.
They walked up to him and said: “Master, you told us to be simple and easy. Then why are you haggling with this man?”
After agreeing on a price and exchanging the goods, the master turned to his students and paused for a second. Then, he said:
“I said be simple - not a simpleton.”
“He was a simple man.”
Countless stories start with this sentence, but, paradoxically, it’s not a simple line. Because here are some of the synonyms we might use to interpret the word ‘simple’ in this case: stupid, poor, lonely, hardworking, natural, kind, frugal, and ascetic.
That’s a lot of room for interpretation - and a lot of potential to make false assumptions. The truth is ‘simple’ could mean any one of those things or all of them at once. It could also mean none of them.
What’s simple depends, like all things, on its context. Simple is one end of a spectrum. But what’s on the other end? Hard? Complex? Lavish? Complicated? Wasteful?
Seneca was one of the richest men in Rome, owning multiple estates. But he was also a philosopher and thinker, spending most of his time thinking, writing, reading, speaking. Does that make him a simple man or not?
At the end of the day, simple is up to you. You can choose to be simple in owning few belongings, but reject the idea of overpaying for any one of them. You can choose to keep your business simple and hire few employees, yet go on to service millions of people. You can choose a simple workout regimen, but still buy expensive equipment.
Be simple, not a simpleton. Because life is never as plain as it seems.
About Monday Zen: Most people hate Monday. Why? In a good life, it’s a day like any other. At the very least, it shouldn’t be worse by default. That’s what Monday Zen is for: To make sure you start the week with calm, poise, and determination.
Let’s not derail our trains of thought before they leave the station. Let’s enjoy the journey.
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