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The Zen Mirror
Every Day is a Good Day

By Jeff Brooks

"Every day is a good day" is a quote from a Zen koan, spoken by Zen Master Yun Men, who lived and taught in 10th century China. It is found in one of the most influential classics of Zen literature, The Blue Cliff Record, a compilation of the sayings of many generations of Zen Masters and practitioners.

What Yun Men meant by these words is an interesting question to investigate and study. Here is what they mean to me:

To have the conviction that every day is a good day means that we are really living our own lives. If we discriminate based on our own feelings of happiness or unhappiness and say: "I wonder if today will be good," or "Today I am happy so it is a good day," or "Today I am unhappy so today is a bad day," or "If something nice happens to me today I will have the opinion that today is a good day," then we lose our lives. That kind of attitude means we are living passively, as if life is just something that happens to us. If we live this way we have given up the direction of our own lives and we will inevitably decline.

To understand that every day is a good day takes courage. Because on some days we will suffer. Then, when that is necessary, when that is the reality of our lives, it is our day to suffer. That reality shifts, as we all have experienced, from day to day, even from moment to moment. It shifts as a result of our intention, as a result of our karma. Some days we will be happy. Then it will be a good day to be happy. Some days we will have to struggle. Then it will be a good day to struggle. Some day we will need to fight. Then it will be a good day to fight. Some day it will be our day to die. Then, as Black Elk said, it will be a good day to die.

This attitude can seem contradictory to our familiar mental habits. We might prefer it to be untrue, because the implication of thinking this way is that we are responsible for our own lives. However, in fact, we are. And if we treat every day as a good day to face what we face, then our lives begin to change.

When we learn a new kata we are asked to move in unfamiliar ways. At first it is difficult and awkward. Then our movement becomes agile and powerful. If the kata is well made we see good results from our effort to master it. The kata is asking us to change our physical habits in a way that adds skill, removes obstructions, makes us more free.

That is the way it is with this sense of every day is a good day. We can work it as a kind of philosophical kata. By applying it, testing it, using it frequently, it will change our mental habits and the quality of our life. This philosophical kata, this koan, will help us eliminate the obstructions which hinder our freedom, and through our effort, bring us strength and peace.

Why do we print this on dojo mugs? A practitioner once asked a Zen Master: "What do you do once you become enlightened?" The Zen Master said: "Have a cup of tea." Be ready.

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About the author:

Jeffrey M. Brooks holds a Go Dan Fifth Degree Black Belt in Matsubayashi Shorin Ryu, training in Okinawa, Japan and the USA. He is a practitioner in the Soto Zen tradition. He has an M.F.A. from NYU Film School and works as a speechwriter for public figures. He is founder and director of Northampton Karate in Northampton, Massachusetts, offering classes daily for adults and children since 1988. Through Northampton Zendo he leads meditation programs for the members of the karate dojo, the community, as well as special programs for prison inmates and youthful offenders. (www.northamptonkarate.com)


To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

Zen, Yun Men, Koan


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