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.
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)