November 11, 2020 Harold Tor-Daenens

Life and Death are the Only Things that Matter

7th-century Zen Master Yongjia Xuanjue 永嘉玄覺 once said:


The sayings means “life and death are the only things that matter, and both go by very fast“.

In times like now, when the world is divided, when many lives are being ruined or have been lost, when people worry about their businesses and jobs, this saying comes a lot to my mind.

The most known interpretation of this Zen Buddhist saying is similar to that of ‘carpe diem‘: Seize the day, live your life today. Life goes by very fast and you need to live your life to the fullest, now and today.

To be honest with you, recently I have always been worrying too much.
I worry for my job.
I worry about my mortgage.
I worry about costs of living.
I feel tired and torn between the daily toils of life and what I have to do to feel my life has been fulfilling.
I worry about how some perceive my intentions, that they have misinterpreted my intentions, and the more I explain, the murkier it got.
I feel resentful about how I have been misjudged and mistreated, by people who do not and will never have the experience to fully appreciate who I am and what I do.
I feel anger, because of the injustices of the world, that bad people seem to shine and take control while good people get bullied and silenced.

All these thoughts run through my head. They sometimes keep me up at night. Perhaps you too.

But if we were to die tomorrow, why would all that matter?

Why should it matter what people think of you? If they do not appreciate you in the first place, they never will. Yes, it is unfair they are put in the place where they are allowed to exercise their idea of you. But you also have the freedom to move away from their judgement. They do not deserve your presence, your insights, your goodness, your light.

Why should you worry about the costs of living? The illusion of the middle class is an idea that keeps it hidden from us the fact that the economy has not been very different from the Middle Ages. In fact, most of us have far longer working hours than the average medieval farmer. Yes, we have all the material comfort and the healthcare to keep us alive. But it has never changed that most of us just keep our head above the water. It’s essential to keep us alive, healthy and addicted to ever more material comfort, compared to our medieval forefathers, because we are more productive that way in generating wealth. It is also easy to be envious of people who look like they have everything and do not seem to worry about rent or mortgage or electricity bills. But they most likely have worse worries on their minds than you. In reality, “very little is needed to make us happy”, as Marcus Aurelius told us. Just be happy, and do not allow these thoughts prevent you from being happy.

You are like a shooting star. You appear in an instant and you will disappear in another instant. Between these two instants, shine as brightly as you can by enjoying what you like and doing what you like to do. Now and today, not tomorrow.

This is one of the reasons why this site is called “Don’t Think Too Much”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *