Stories/Koans/Parables: Badu Zen


Allow me to remix a story from the “Another Round Podcast with Heben and Tracy.”


Badu Zen

Badu Zen

A successful writer was visiting a good friend’s home in Los Angels when her friend says: “Badu just text me, do you want to go hang with Badu?” Of course she wants to go, so they arrive to the spot and it’s Too Short and Erykah Badu in a room with servers passing out chicken fingers and bourbon.

Her first thought was “Is this real?!” Her second thought, “This is what my heaven looks like.”

Too Short. Erykah. Chicken fingers. And bourbon.

So they’re hanging out and she decides to tap the wisdom of the room. She approaches Ms. Badu and says:

“Erykah I need life advice. People have been dying in my life. Things have been crazy. I’m at a place that I, you know, I’m grateful to be in but it’s very new to me.”

Erykah maybe took a sip of bourbon, maybe dipped her chicken finger in some delicious sauce, then she says:

“Just keep your altar updated.” 

The writer was taken aback. Erykah continued:

“So anything you don’t want in your life just put it on your altar, and anything you do want in your life put it on your altar.”



A modern day Koan featuring a contemporary Zen master – Erykah Badu. I love the levels to this story, looking at it from a Parable/Koan point of view: The happenstance of being in the right place at the right time, being surrounded by good things but still feeling the anxiety and pressure of life weighing you down, the will and courage to be personal in the moment and take advantage of the opportunity in front of her. But most impressive was the actual advice she received, “Just keep your altar updated.” This may come across as a little passive because of how much importance we place on taking action in this society. But her words speak to the immeasurable power of our intention and the forces that actually make things happen in the world.

Something important we receive from meditation practice is a deep understanding of how much happens without “me” doing anything. Sitting quietly, we notice the body’s activity, the activity of the room, the activity of the world around us. At some point we realize everything is happening, but no one (especially myself) is making it happen.

"Sitting quietly, doing nothing, Spring comes, and the grass grows by itself." -- some other Zen Master

“Sitting quietly, doing nothing, Spring comes, and the grass grows by itself.” — some other Zen Master


It is often more necessary for us to get out of the way than it is to initiate some activity or ritual to meet the happenings of life. People will die around us, things will get crazy, we will find ourselves in new places — grateful but unsure. The woman in this story may have been looking for something like a prescription, but what she received instead was much less invasive: “Don’t worry about the happenings, keep your altar updated.”

Stay focused on your wishes and let Life take care of the conditions. Lay your burdens down and let Life round them out. Besides, as we learned in last week’s story, we never know what blessing will end up being a curse and what pain will end in healing. Keep your altar updated, you’ll be alright.



*Photo Credit #1 “Baduism” by tonderaiarts —
*Photo Credit #2