The Problem of No Problem

In one episode of Vikings, warrior Hvitserk happens upon a strange man in his Norwegian town of Kattegat. The man has traveled far, all the way from Asia, to now offer his wares in the town. Picking up a small wooden idol, Hvitserk asks if, like the idols he knows from Norse rituals, this one, too, portrays a god. The man breaks into hearty laughter — how could anyone mistake the big-bellied Buddha for a god?

When Hvitserk returns to his girlfriend that night, he relays some of the man’s teachings to her. “Everything is One. And only the One is. Life is a bridge, build no house upon it. It’s a river, but don’t cling to its banks. You’re on a journey.” Hvitserk is not entirely sure whether the Buddhist is serious or just messing with him, but he is now curious about enlightenment.

The next day, sitting across his brother Ivar, the current king of Kattegat, Hvitserk holds the little Buddha statue in his hand. Ivar once again laments Hvitserk’s conflictedness. Having abandoned another one of their brothers to join forces with Ivar, Hvitserk has regretted his choice ever since. But now, thanks to a new perspective

“You jumped ship to be with me, because you thought the gods planned it,” Ivar says. “But then everything I say or do makes you unhappy as if you never meant to jump ship at all.” “There is no contradiction,” Hvitserk responds, “because it’s possible that everything is part of the One.”

In a different world, at a different time, Bruce Lee once explained Zen as follows: “Zen reveals that there is nowhere for man to go out of this world; no tavern in which he can overcome anxiety; no jail in which he can expiate his guilt.” Therefore, if life is inescapable, we might as well embrace it.

“Instead of telling us what the problem is, Zen insists that the whole trouble is just our failure to realize that there is no problem.” As soon as Hvitserk stops brooding about his decision, he can accept where he is. He can live the life that’s already happening right in front of him. Will his path carry him elsewhere sometime? Perhaps, but who cares? Everything is as it is, and whether that’s on purpose or not, there is no problem.

The tricky part, of course, is that if there is no problem, “this means that there is no solution either,” Bruce noted. And humans really love solutions. Our brains want to craft them all the time — even if it means inventing problems where none exist.

Everything is One. And only the One is. Life is a bridge, build no house upon it. It’s a river, but don’t cling to its banks. You’re on a journey — and if you’re not sure where you’re going, just laugh.