Courage to Be Ordinary

Do you have the courage to be ordinary? To face up to life as no one special? To dare to see yourself, your interests and concerns as no big deal? Do you have the self-confidence to live out your life knowing that you are not the center of the universe, but just one small insignificant part of something infinitely complex and astoundingly vast?

Being ordinary means that we must have the courage to face up to life with absolutely no bragging rights. This means a confrontation with the true nature of self. This means taking the time to step back and see who you really are from an entirely new perspective.

Authentic Humility 

What exactly is authentic humility? It means having the courage to let go of all we might have held as true in the past and finding the amazing grace to live now - as we truly are. This takes tremendous courage because it means that we must now live in a universe in which our needs, our wants and desires no longer take center stage.

When we are willing to be pedestrian - unexceptional, we begin to untangle our lives from all that is truly unnecessary, and we begin to see the wisdom of simplicity. We find simplicity in the way we view ourselves and others, simplicity in the way we choose to live our lives. It is a direct means to untangling the conditioning that has led us astray from our true nature to begin with.

Linji Yixuan

Born in Shandong China, he left his family at a young age to study Buddhism in many places. Linji was trained by the Chan master Huángbò Xīyùn but attained “kensha” while discussing Huángbò's teaching during a conversation with the reclusive monk Dàyú. Linji then returned to Huángbò to continue his training after awakening. In 851 CE, Linji moved to the Linji temple in Hebai, where he took his name, which also became the name for the lineage of his form of Chán Buddhism.

Linji is reputed for being INNOVATIVE & IRREVERENT in his teaching, leading students to awakening by hitting, shouting, saying or doing outrageous things.

The methods ascribed to Linji in the Línjì yǔlù included shouting and striking, most often using the fly - whisk that was considered a symbol of a Chán master's authority: The Master [Linji] saw a monk coming and held his fly whisk straight up. The monk made a low bow, whereupon the Master struck him a blow. The Master saw another monk coming and again held his fly whisk straight up. The monk paid no attention, whereupon the Master struck him a blow as well.


Examples of Linji's iconoclasm or irreverence include these statements that he is known for;

Followers of the Way [of Chán], if you want to get the kind of understanding that accords with the Dharma, never be misled by others. Whether you're facing inward or facing outward, whatever you meet up with, just kill it!

If you meet a buddha, kill the buddha. If you meet a patriarch, kill the patriarch. If you meet an arhat, kill the arhat. If you meet your parents, kill your parents. If you meet your kinfolk, kill your kinfolk.

Then for the first time you will gain emancipation, will not be entangled with things, will pass freely anywhere you wish to go.

The buddhist teachings are assaulted by Linji in his fierce comments:

Those who have fulfilled the ten stages of bodhisattva practice are no better than hired field hands; those who have attained the enlightenment of the fifty-first and fifty-second stages are prisoners shackled and bound; arhats and Buddhas are so much filth in the latrine; bodhi and nirvana are hitching posts for donkeys.

“The Buddha is shit on a stick." — Linji

Linji is the Zen master of “No Big Deal!”...of the sit down be quite and practice school of meditation...of the intentional insistence on the importance of living like an ordinary human being.

His Zen approach leading to enlightenment and meaningful living is “ordinariness”. Having the courage and humility to be an ordinary human not to be anything “put on your robes - eat your food - pass the time.”


Linji is described as using The Three Mysterious Gates to maintain the Chán or “ZEN” emphasis on the non conceptual nature of reality, while employing sutras and teachings to instruct his students:

  1. The First Gate is the "mystery in the essence”, the use of Buddhist philosophy, to explain the inter - being of all phenomena. “If you know inter - being - you know the Buddha”.

  2. The Second Gate is the "mystery in the word”, the process of gradually disentangling the students from “Conditioning” the conceptual workings of the mind.

  3. The Third Gate is the "mystery in the mystery”, involving completely non conceptual expressions “Using Your Intuition”.

Linji used the technique of striking or shouting, which was intended to "remove all of the defects implicit in conceptual understanding”, to rattle the rational mind into an intuitive response to life.

Emphasis on the “Three Gates” are a clear and direct path to enlightenment through meditation practice. The teachings can at times seem repetitious but are needed to inculcate the teachings into the mind and to open up the pathways of intuition in the heart. Zen Master Linji recognized the fact that if one was to attain enlightenment, they must be willing to make their whole life the path and they must be willing to let go of all preconceived notions of self and others.


  1. We let go of all conditioning with as little harm as possible to ourselves and those around us.

  2. We stay open to all of life's ordinary possibilities with gratitude and respect.

  3. We meditate and allow ourselves the time to be still and reflect.

By being ordinary, by being still, we pay close attention and watch the world open up to us. Our anxiety decreases as our intuition increases. We become available to all the details of the life we've been blessed to receive.

He believed that through the giving up of any hope of being the center of the universe - the universe would than open up to you - enlightenment. This notion being beyond rational thought, could only be achieved through the intuitive direct response to life as it is being lived.

He emphasized the relevance of seemingly irrelevant acts of everyday living. The importance of showing up for your life, being present in each moment.

Photo Credit: Japanese painting of Linji Yixuan (Jap. Rinzai Gigen) from Wikipedia is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Resized from original.

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Sangha Without Borders is currently physically located in London, UK