Zen and the Art of Millennial Maintenance

By Will Pennington

Millennial Milk

There are some things so fundamental that it is easy to take them for granted. For example, gravity, or Newtonian physics, or the fact the Spurs are going to win 50+ games and have home court advantage in the playoffs. One of these things is cause and effect.

Cause and effect is fundamentally vital to almost every aspect of our lives. It is part of every action we take, and every decision we make. In fact, it is so pervasive it is easy to forget it exists entirely. By remembering to focus on the laws of cause and effect in our own lives we can be happier and more productive.

A 12th Century Buddhist monk named Nichiren realized the importance of cause and effect. A large branch of Japanese Buddhists, and Buddhists world-wide who follow Nichiren’s teaching remind themselves of this daily when they chant Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo. The true meaning is complex and noetic, but roughly it translates to “I submit to the divine law of cause and effect”.

Over and over again and again.

I submit to the divine law of cause and effect…

I submit to the divine law of cause and effect…

I submit to the divine law of cause and effect…

I submit to the divine law of cause and effect…

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

You get the idea.

Recently I have been studying different ways of meditating around the world and I have to say this is one of my favorites. For the Nichiren Buddhist, chanting is something akin to Christian prayer.

My frustration with traditional Judeo-Christian payer is that it kind of tends to buck the responsibility. “Dear Lord, help me pass this test”. If I don’t pass my test I can blame it on God because I asked him for help and he didn’t listen. That’s not on me.

By contrast, there is only so long you can chant “I submit to the divine law of cause and effect” before you get off your ass and go study for that test. Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo is not just a plea to be offered to a greater force, it is taking responsibility for the actions and outcomes in your own life. If I walk past a homeless guy on the street I can ask God to help him, or acknowledging cause and effect, I could do something to make a real difference.

I’m not trying to convert people to Buddhism or anything like that, I am just trying to express how impactful this meditation has been in my life. Rather than hoping for a promotion I am motivated to go out and seize it.

If the effect that I want is to lose weight, I have to enact causes that will bring that about. I know this is obvious, but in its simplicity it is an idea we increasingly overlook in our busy lives. I’m not trying to teach anybody about cause and effect, I am trying to remind them.

The chant is pleasant, it’s kind of like a mental stress ball. It washes over you like waves on a sunny beach. This isn’t some “Guided Astral Vision” or “Ultimate Happiness Hypnosis” or other modern snake-oil that promises to cure whatever ails you. It’s not some panacea that will instantly change your life and make you a millionaire.

But it can help to serve as a reminder for why you get up early every morning. It will help push you to the gym on those days when you “aren’t feeling it”, It can encourage you to make smart choices when eating and drinking.

Really embracing cause and effect makes those hardships you are going through now worth it on the way toward your dream. Cause and effect means taking control of your life now, not waiting until you’re behind the curve.

You know you should be investing now, you’ve seen all the graphs about the differences starting early can make, so do it. You know you need to get serious about getting healthy so get a trainer, or take a nutrition class. Or you know you have had a few too many drinks, so you probably shouldn’t get behind the wheel.

Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo is about foresight, it’s about action and reaction. It’s about common sense. Too many “productivity hacks” and other tips on how to be successful reinvent the wheel. This doesn’t try to do that; it just tries to make us aware of things we have always known.

Next time you are stuck at a crossroads, think about cause and effect. Do what you know you should. Don’t sit around waiting for something to happen, go out and make it happen.