Zorba is a hedonistic man who seeks out employment with a young greek intellectual. The narrator finds Zorba's opinions on life, and the expressive way in which he conveys them, to be of interest.
The book's plot is dry, but this is by design. The book is no more than the soliloquies of the narrator and his conversations with Zorba as they attempt to get an old mine running and galavant about Crete.
The narrator, an intellectual, is taken aback by Zorba's simplistic view of the world.
Zorba sees everything everyday as if for the first time. [...] I felt as I listened to Zorba as if the world was recovering it's pristine freshness.
Immediately one may notice the similarities between the goals of mindfulness which Zorba appears to have naturally achieved. Many practice hundreds of hours to free their mind of thought and preconceived notions and simply experience the world. What some spend a lifetime to achieve Zorba does naturally.
The simplicity with which he adapted himself to the world around him! The way his body and soul formed one harmonious whole. And all things, women, bread, water, meat sleep, blended happily with his flesh and became Zorba. I had never seen such a friendly accord between man and the universe.
It's almost as if Zorba is a child. Everything to a child is magical. A child discovers the world one piece at a time. Each discovery brings the child joy. Not only that, but one of the great joys of raising a young child is that you get to share in that joy all over again. It's as if you, the parent, are discovering the world anew for yourself by proxy. Once again feeling the wonder of a child.
At one point, while explaining to Zorba many theories of phycology and science, Zorba interrupts,
There you go again with your why's and wherefores! I am completely taken up by my work. Riveted to the stone or the coal or the santori.
Once again Zorba showcases a natural affinity to the practices of many schools of Eastern thought. Rather than discus the why's and wherefores of existence, Zorba would rather fully experience the moment. This is seen perhaps most dramatically, when an old widow to whom Zorba had fallen in love, dies from illness. Most of the book Zorba denies to the narrator that he loved her, but following her funeral, Zorba breaks down. Tears flowing down his face, the narrator attempts to cheer him up. To which Zorba snaps.
"Shut up!" he said. I stopped ashamed. That is what a real man is like I thought envying Zorba's sorrow. A man that lets tears run down his cheeks when he is suffering.
Zorba did not wish to be taken out of the moment. He was suffering and he wished to experience it in it's fullness. When it was time to work, Zorba worked. When overcome with grief, Zorba cried.
The narrator makes an interesting contrasting point. We often fail to experience our emotions in the moment. Not only suffering, but also happiness.
While experiencing happiness we have difficulty in being conscious of it. Only when the happiness is past and we look back on it do we suddenly realize how happy we had been.
Oftentimes it takes tragedy to make us aware of how happy we had been.
This is the primary objective of awareness. When we can silence our mind of all of it's commentary, judgments and other static noise, we can more fully experience the moment, be it tragic or full of joy.
One day soon after, the narrator was walking when he came upon a scene and was hit by what may be called, a moment of satori. Suddenly his thoughts were replaced by observation. He noticed and appreciated small details he never had stopped to consider. Zorba had begun to rub off on him and he suddenly discovered a moment in time as if for the first time.
It was as if I had once more plunged into Buddha, but this time without the delusive words and insolent acrobatic tricks of the mind.
Alan Watts once said something to the extent of meditation being a means to an end. You don't meditate for the sake of meditating despite what many modern interpretations of the practice would have you believe. You meditate to an end. You meditate to free yourself from your mind. Meditation is a path, a tool, that allows you to more frequently experience moments of true being. The words and acrobatics of meditation and other practices and schools of thought are not a requirement to experience Nirvana.
The highest point a man can attain, is not knowledge or virtue or goodness or victory but something even greater, more heroic and more despairing; sacred awe.
One of the biggest enemies of happiness is impatience. We experience discomfort or joy and assume it will be forever. Change is the only constant in existence. We must take this into account and allow each change its season. Trying to deny change is futile. Rushing the process can be harmful. Sometimes we just need to observe and understand that in time, this too will change. This is masterfully portrayed by a scene between the narrator and a hatching butterfly. Upon finding the struggling butterfly, the narrator carefully helped it hatch and warmed it with his breath. His intentions were pure, but he interrupted the natural timing and the results were tragic.
It needed to be hatched out patiently and the unfolding of the wings should be a gradual process in the sun. Now it was too late, my breath had forced the Butterly to appear all crumbled before it's time. It struggled desperately and a few seconds later, died in the palm of my hand. That little body, I do believe, the greatest weight I have on my conscience.
How many times have you acted when you should have waited. Sometimes it's better to take a step back and wait for life to resolve. Our reaction to events in our life harm the path of our life more than the event itself. Inaction can, and often is, the greatest action. But damn can it hurt sometimes. By laying everything at destiny's door, we can free ourselves from the pain and guilt that is often caused as a side effect of our action. Otherwise, you may forever have the death of the butterfly on your conscience.
In addition, as humans, we overestimate how much we can truly impact. How many of your anxieties could be solved by you alone?
The anxieties of humanity led to the creation of gods to which we could believe in to provide an anchor in a sea of uncertainty. The narrator has sampled many systems of belief but none of them rang true to him. As a result, the narrator often wrestled with his lack of belief in deities. One day, while mulling over the topic, the narrator asked Zorba if he believed in God.
I believe only in Zorba, not because Zorba is better than the others. Not a little bit, but I believe in Zorba because he's the only being I have in power. All the rest are ghosts. I see with these eyes, I hear with these ears. When I die, everything will die. The Zorbatic world will go to the bottom.
This is a beautiful response, Zorba explains that he doesn't not believe in God. But what difference would it make? Zorba was the only being he had in his power. Why worry about the thoughts, religions and motives of others? You can't do anything about them anyway. Why worry so much about eternity when all we have control over is now.
What is eternity? Eternity is each minute that passes.
Once the narrator came to accept his political and religious beliefs, he felt the need to share them with others. A scroll through Facebook is all it takes to see this mentality in real time. He explains to Zorba that he needs to explain to them the error of their ways. To which Zorba responds,
"Let people be boss, don't open their eyes. And supposing you did what would they see? Their misery? Leave their eyes closed boss and let them go on dreaming. Unless...when they open their eyes, you can show them a better world than the darkness in which they're galavanting at present. Can you?" I did not know. I was fully aware of what would be destroyed. I did not know what would be built out of the ruins. No one can know that with any degree of certainty I thought.
I think we as humans are all too good at recognizing errors. But we fail to implement something better. As a result, we like to pull down and bash the beliefs of others, be they political or religious. We're all quick to point out the failings of capitalism or a political party, but can you create something better? We're far too happy to tell relatives they need Jesus or tell them that God doesn't exist. But are we ready to offer a new theory of life and meaning? Who are we to rob someone of their happiness if we have no way to replace it?
This book doesn't bash religion, but it doesn't justify it either. Part of the beauty of humanity is that we can have multiple theories to support the unknown. These theories, or religions, present an idea that may mean life or death to some, while at the same time be completely disregarded by another. This is well presented in a scene where a man who has a splinter of wood that he took from a doorframe rumored to be constructed from the wood of the cross of Christ.
The idea is everything. Have you faith, a splinter from an old door becomes a sacred relic. Have you no faith, then the whole holy cross itself becomes a door post.
This is where religion takes a dark turn. In the same way that the narrator wanted to share his findings with others, there are radicals of every group that won't tolerate views different from their own. Another scene has a group of monks from the local monastery returning from burying the body of a fellow monk that thought differently from them.
Monks walking back after burying body; What a pity I thought, that such austerity and nobility should be without a soul.
Religion can turn you from a saint to a devil. While there are groups that resort to violence, I'd say that's the minority compared to the many who deny others the right to their beliefs mentally. How many of us silently judge our friends, family or random people in the store for their life choices?
Here's the dirty little truth; we all are devils. The reason Christians worship Christ is due to him living a sinless life. If this was a common life path, why would we hold Christ on a pedestal? The fact that many worship Christ would lead one by extension to reason that a life of sin must be the norm. What sin defines is different from group to group, person to person. The act of believing in Christ may be a sin to some groups. We proceed to judge others by their sins, which, in many cases, are subjective.
I have a kind of devil inside me too boss. And I call him Zorba.
We must acknowledge this devil. It doesn't mean we are defending our actions, but we must find solace in the fact that every human is a devil, if not to our own beliefs, then to someone else's. It's our duty to issue mercy and grace to every human as a result.
One might argue that taking such a wide view of the world or even of just your life, could lead to depression. I feel like this is an inevitable side effect of refusing to accept one way of life.
One day, when strolling the beach, the narrator encountered an old man and proceeded to strike up a conversation to probe out his wisdom. The old man offered the following:
I have nothing to complain about. And yet, If I had to start my life all over again I'd throw a stone around my neck and throw myself into the sea. Life is hard, even the luckiest life.
A system of beliefs and meanings provides people with a method by which they can continue living this hard life. Id'd add that awareness can be utilized to counter this as well. By focusing on the moment, one day at a time, it relieves us of the overwhelming weight which is our life. A weight that when viewed in it's entirety, would cause us to destroy ourselves to avoid the pain that would be experienced over the course of it's duration.
This is the moment when our narrator hits a rough spot in the river that is his life. He received word that his friend back home had his life cut short.
It's easy to see why belief in an afterlife is so appealing. We are all creeping closer to the darkness that is the unknown mystery of death. Our fear of death drives our decisions more than we care to admit. And naturally, we seek comfort and answers where none can be found.
I could feel another leaf falling from my heart. I was taking another step towards the black pit. Bent thus over the awe inspiring abyss we tremble with terror. Some grow dizzy and delirious, others are afraid. They try to find an answer to strengthen their hears and they say, "God"! Others again from the edge look over the precipice calmly and bravely and say, "I like it".
In addition, his mining operation fails, the woman he fell in love with is executed, and Zorba moves far away.
What follows is an experience that you simply must experience to understand. I believe the following is what is meant by an end to suffering.
I had lost everything, my money, my men, my trucks. It was all lost. It was precisely at that moment that I felt an unexpected sense of deliverance. As if in the hard somber labyrinth of necessity I found liberty.
This is what I believe is meant when many refer to becoming enlightened_. It's as if the suffering becomes so great that they detach in a way and suddenly they can view their life as if from third-person. They transition from being the experiencer of the pain to the observer in an instant.
Awakening in me was the soul of the first men on earth such as it was before it became detached from the universe when it still felt the truth directly without the distorting influence of reason.
In summary, we as humans have beautiful amazing brains that try to reason out things as complex as existence and death. We develop tools to cope. For some, that's religion, for others, awareness. Regardless of the method, we seem to have an issue that plagues all humanity; we invent elaborate schools of philosophy and beliefs to understand the unknown. In so doing, we muddy the water that is a rather simple existence. We could all use the philosophy of Zorba.
Spiritual heights which took us years of painful effort to attain were attained by Zorba in a single bound.