The Zen of Television

By Ron Kaufman

"But these words
They can't replace,
the life you waste."
-- lyrics from the song "Waste" by Staind

At the heart of all things lies zen. Zen is a philosophy of being. It is a philosophy of existence. The Zen of Television is a person's existential views on television watching. It is a belief system. If one believes that television is a "window to the world," then watching television is how that person connects with the world around them. The reality is that by watching television, you do not really connect with any other living people -- you only really establish a relationship with your television set.

The images on television, however, are quite revealing. These images are also quite mesmerizing. Television images are also not your own thoughts or images. Television shows a world that its producers, writers and editors want the viewer to see. Television is propelled forward by advertising money. Television is entertainment. Television has good points and bad points, but nothing diminishes its hold on people's lives once they enter its grasp. People love their televisions.

For an avid television viewer, their period of zen is sitting in front of the TV screen for hours. This is their life. The buddha says: "Learn to let go. That is the key to happiness." Letting go means ridding oneself from desire and want. The television shows all the things we don't have and tries to light the fire of consumerism. The TV says, "Buy a new car," "Buy microwave french fries," "Buy Pepsi," and "Buy Coca-Cola." The Zen of Television does not want to let go. It wants you to hold tight . . . to keep watching . . . and to desire the things you don't have. The buddha says: "Joy comes not through possession or ownership, but through a wise and loving heart."

Television fills the mind with images of the world. As a passive viewer, does one ever think to question their validity? The television looks real enough. The viewer never stops to consider the effect camera angle, lighting and music play in their TV-watching experience. When the amazingly handsome bicycle delivery guy asks out the beautiful lawyer for a date and injects a plot twist into a daytime soap opera, what's to say this isn't really happening somewhere? Does the viewer every stop to consider that professional makeup artists make these people look so great and that a swell in the music and cut to commercial really can't happen? Television imagery is planned and false. The buddha says: "Let your mind become clear like a still forest pool."

To see television as a waste, but choose to watch anyway is an enlightened choice. The buddha says: "The trouble is that you think you have time." Yet, to choose to do something else with one's time is also an enlightened choice. In 1948, George Orwell wrote a book called "Nineteen Eighty-Four" about a society in which it was a crime not to watch television. In that fictional book, television told the people what to think. It even acted as a portal for thought-police to spy on the citizenry. In a free society, nothing forces anyone to watch TV. It is possible to choose other paths to follow and use other means of entertainment and information. The world around can shine through just as brightly, without the light of the TV set. The buddha says: "Those who are awake live in a state of constant amazement."

To live a proud life in which one's dreams are fulfilled is a common goal. For many who follow the Zen of Television, it is the magic of sitting on a couch with a remote control eating potato chips that is the path to nirvana. However, for some, the television does not inform or help, but only confuses. Television does not speak to everyone. If it does not speak to you, then use your power and turn it off. In a world full of wonder, why waste time in front of the tube?

The buddha says: "There is only one time when it is essential to awaken. That time is now."

The buddha does not watch TV.


© 2002 By Ron Kaufman

Buddha quotes from the book "Buddha's Little Instruction Book" by Jack Kornfield.