By Lee Glazier
I dig tranquility.
It’s probably my favorite (uh, I don’t know what I’d call it) I guess, maybe virtue (in the parlance of our times). I’m a Dudeist priest and I’ve practiced Zen and Taosim on and off for a few years, but if I had to slap a “serious” label on my practice and philosophy, it’d be called “Tranquilism.” Or maybe Idleism. Get it? Like Idolism but, ya know—nevermind.
Tranquility as a religion, a philosophy, a worldview, a psychology, a sport, a political idealogy—an all-encompassing laid-backness. Dana Gornall wrote an article about hygge recently. If ya don’t know what that is, just check it out. It’s cool with me if you do, I mean, you and I never said that we can’t see other writers.
Anyway, I take unconditional tranquility as hygge-like, only perpetual hygge. A lifetime of unceasing hygge that all the nukes in North Korea and crotch grabbing presidents couldn’t touch. You can piss on my rug, but you can’t piss on my Tao. That sounds kinda naive, but what can I say? I’ve gone to great lengths to preserve my naivete.
The mental medicine for affliction is the opposite of the affliction, and “get up and go,” is the affliction of the modern world. We’re brainwashed, from early on, to be motivated people. We’re taught that the greater the struggle, the greater the reward and that we should fight for all the pudding we can stomach. We’re taught that idlenss is a sin, and that being happy with very little is a sign of stupidity. We scorn the hobo and venerate the wealthy, even though the hobo has to work a lot harder to survive.
We’re so mentally mismanaged that we twist ease into boredom because we’re habitually dissatisfied with being alive.
That’s some fucked up shit there, man. We really dropped the ball with this whole civilization thing. If we can just give a solid, “Fuck it,” to all that, then we’re at a good place to start practicing chilling out.
By tranquility I mean the subjective experience of being mellow as well as the limberness of mind that can come with it. It’s a special calm that’s free of judgments and meaning-making. It’s wu-wei, inaction in action. Like when you’re so chill that you do something and feel no worse for the wear having done it; like whatever it was expended no energy and had zero effect on your mind, which was already perfect and complete to begin with.
It’s like being a cup that is emptied and filled with each passing moment so that within each thought and feeling, there is no trace of the thoughts and feelings that preceded them. Instead of a thought causing another thought, each thought is caused by… I don’t know what it is, but it’s like a breeze or space—space breeze. Even if there may be the rare bit of frustration, it burns out in seconds and leaves no impression. It’s like being a traveler through the snow whose footprints are immediately covered by the wind.
Tranquility isn’t stagnancy, that’s just what it looks like from the busy mind. Tranquility is continuous renewal. It’s only when something lingers that it falls into chaos or suffers stagnancy. Tranquility isn’t constantly present, it’s constantly generated; it comes from each fresh second. It doesn’t carry over from the last second. All that said, we can’t call tranquility good and uptightness bad—because that’s uptight thinking. Tranquility can’t be commodified; it’s a value but it doesn’t have a value. It’s worthless, that’s why it can never be used up. Something can only have a worth or value if it’s limited, like money. If there was limitless money, there’d be no difference between a penny and a million dollars.
The tranquil path is actually pretty simple.
Huineng summed it up as, “Just don’t think of good and bad.” That’s it, Dudes, that’s all there is to it. If we just strip away value judgments, then tranquility is boundless. Pain isn’t bad, it’s just painful; pleasure isn’t good, it’s just pleasurable. When you pay attention to how we habitually judge things, you see that we’re always feeding the monkey. If we can just relax and breathe without judging the breath and superimposing “is” and “isn’t” onto it, then we’ve just stumbled on the fruit of all the wisdom traditions. If we can then take that and apply it to everything we experience, then there’s no need for any kind of doctrine whatsoever.
I think tranquility is the highest virtue because it has practical and existential benefits, ya know? When we’re at ease we can love deeper, think clearer, and live fuller lives. We can solve conflicts—from maritial difficulties to all out warfare—and prevent new ones from developing. Tranquility can even help us break some nasty habits like overeating, because tranquility is satisfaction. If you’re always satsified for no apparent reason, then there’s no urge to do anything that isn’t absolutely essential for survival and well-being.
You could sit for hours just watching a stream, or toil for eight hours at work and it would feel no different than sitting idly by watching a stream. You could be a homeless vagabond dying of starvation, or a corporate fatcat and there would be no difference in how satisfied you are.
You could say, “Thank you,” to both praise and insult because neither of them could add or subtract from the serenity in your mind, which is the serenity that you can then share with others as well.
I know a lot of people wiser than myself caution us to not get stuck on tranquility—that Buddhism and Taoism are about so much more than just being calm, but I don’t know if that’s appropriate advice for the time and place we live in.
Our minds are so scattered and there are so many novel distractions that even the wisest teachings struggle to get through the noise. Remember, Eastern wisdom developed in a world without Facebook and smartphones; a world without interstates and Netflix. Enlightenment might be too much to demand of this era; in some ways it’s almost cruel to stress wisdom over relaxation. I don’t personally see a difference between the two, just laying it out in case you do.
Why can’t we just be happy with samatha—with going through the jhanas without any need for insight (vipassana)? Insights which we then take online and argue about. I mean, if you don’t believe in reincarnation then you don’t really need nibbana and the same thing goes for enlightenment, really. What’s so great about knowing your true nature or the true nature of reality? It isn’t going to give you magical powers or anything.
And since we have to have such realizations ourselves without depending on words and letters, your enlightenment isn’t gonna do much good for anyone else. You could say something to a person now and then say the same thing to the same person after you’re enlighened and they’re not gonna notice any difference. If they noticed that you were enlightened, it’d be because they’re enlightened as well so either way it doesn’t really have anything to do with you.
Odds are that enlightenment will just make you really annoying.
So that’s my, uh, case for tranquilism or idletry, Dudes. Love more, want less, mellow out; in all my years of fumbling, I’ve never found a truth more simple and useful than this. May you Abide and life Abide you.
“Dude” Lee Glazier is a Dudeist Priest, Zen adherent and Taoist enthusiast from Golden, Colorado. He likes reading, writing, hiking, taking baths, listening to classic rock, drinking White Russians, smoking, and having the occasional acid flashback. The only thing he truly believes is that everyone needs to slow down, mellow out, and unwad their underpants. He feels that that would solve all the world’s problems in a heartbeat. “Do you have the patience to let the mud settle and the water clear?” Feel free to like or contact him through his Facebook page.
Editor: Dana Gornall