Basic Principles

Compiled and/or created by

Tadao Ogura, M.D.


II.  On Choices in Life
1.  Do what you hate to do first; the rest comes easy
2.  Always take the harder of two choices
3.  If you don’t know what to do, do nothing
Get out of your head and heart and tune into your gut

In life, we are constantly forced to make choices of one kind or another.  Too many times, one choice looks just as good as the next and we cannot decide which to choose. 

If we could clearly see through the maze of which choice is good, we would not have any confusion or problem in our decision-making.  Unfortunately, however, many critical choices we must make are often nerve-wrecking and overwhelming since the consequence of a wrong choice can be disastrous.  Naturally, faced with a critical choice, we tend to react with fear, worry, hesitation, and we may even freeze.  In such occasions the above basic principles will guide us to make better choices, if not the best.

The first step in making a good choice is to “get out of our heads.”  It is necessary for us to gather as much information about the problem or issue involved as we can.  However, we can never have all the information we want.  There is a limit in everything in life. We have to settle for all we can get and stop wondering about the remaining, unavailable pieces of information.  After all, no amount of information can be perfect.

The reason we tend to spin our heads too much is because we are reacting to our inner fear of making a wrong, potentially disastrous choice or are afraid of “looking bad” in the eyes of others for our “bad choice.” 

Therefore, the second step is to “get out of our hearts” in that we must go beyond our emotional reactions about the choice we must make.Sometimes we may hate to do something.  That is usually when it is too painful or too hard for us to do that something.  By our animal instinct, we want to go for an easy way. 

Therefore, Do what you hate to do first, the rest comes easy” can guide us.  This principle is one way for us to overcome our emotional reactions that often misguide or mislead us.

In the same token, “Always take the harder of two choices” should make sense now.  What seems to be the harder of two choices looks harder only in our mind.  Actually, it may not be that hard.  But we may see it as “hard” because of our emotional reactions.  After we stirred up our last ounce of courage and dared to challenge that harder of two choices, we often see, “That wasn’t that bad.”  Our perception is by nature distorted.  It is necessary for us to constantly check ourselves not to fall into this trap.

However, there are occasions when we just cannot make up our minds about the choice.  After exhausting our thinking and managing not to react to our emotions, we may still not be able to decide.  That is when “If you don’t know what to do, do nothing” principle should help.  It actually takes a lot of gut not to do anything when there is a tremendous pressure to do something.  We must resist such a pressure or temptation to make a hasty decision.  By waiting when waiting is almost impossible, we will suddenly come to see which way to take.

Unfortunately, there are occasions where we are not allowed to wait and do nothing.  That is when “Get out of your head and heart and tune into your gut” principle comes in.  Often, it is not enough for us to stop spinning our thoughts and not to react to our emotions.  That is when we must go one more step beyond the head and heart to tune into our gut.  Here, “gut” does not mean our “instincts” or “intuitions.”  In oriental tradition our “gut” has been said to be located at the center of our body through which we are connected to the Universe. 

This “gut” is called “Tan-Den” in Japanese and “Tan-Tien” in Chinese. “Tan-Den” is often said to be located at about a two-finger breadth below the navel and about two inches inside.  Often, a Zen master would encourage a new student to keep tuned in at his or her Tan-Den in order to get out of the head and the heart which constantly distracts our “mind” away from concentration on “Mu" (nothingness!).

However, it takes hard and long practice to tune into the Tan-Den to get out of the body altogether and merge with the Universe. Unfortunately, too many people try to keep their mind fixated on the physical spot of the Tan-Den, misunderstanding that the Tan-Den is there!

The Tan-Den is only a symbolic channel to the Universe, not a physical spot. “Tuning in” is also a process of emptying our mind and getting out of our ego.  Otherwise, “tuning in” may only be another illusion.

Once we manage to truly tune into the Universe through the Tan-Den, we may suddenly see everything transparently clear, allowing us to make the best choice possible for that moment and for that occasion.


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