Emoji Major No. 6: A Buddhist Education

This week, Zoe Mendelson–just back from a five-day silent meditation retreat–enters the emoji zendo.


I recently completed a five-day silent mediation retreat.


Here are a few things I learned during that time of introspection: in northern California, as opposed to in Midtown Manhattan, you can spend 15 minutes ordering food from a pick-up window and nobody will bat an eye; rich white Buddhists wear a lot of Patagonia and Lululemon; it’s incredibly hard not to think about stuff; Buddhism involves lot of lists.

The retreat was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. All you do pretty much from 5:30 in the morning until 9:30 at night is sit still and be quiet or walk back and forth and be quiet. You get a nightly dharma talk, but the main point is to try not to think. But inevitably you do think, because that’s what brains do.

And what was I thinking about? Impermanence? No. Equanimity? No. Lunch? Yes, sometimes, but not nearly as often as I was thinking about how to emoji the dharma:

Distracted as I may have been, I’m not scoffing. When you get past the expensive outerwear, the whole experience–including the lists–is a good one, especially for an anxiety-driven, phone-addicted, foot-tapping New Yorker.

So welcome to the emoji zendo. The slide show above illustrates a few of my favorite stories and/or lists from the dharma. Note: The Four Noble Truths is the most important list but one I did not emoji, as it would have had to be a whole post on its own.

What you will find emojied here are:


1. The story of the enlightenment of the Buddha (not a list)

2. The Five Precepts, which are like the Buddhist Ten Commandments

3. The Five Hindrances, which are the things that get in the way of meditation

4. The Eight Worldly Winds, which are the states of being in life one should not get too hung up on, because they change unpredictably (yes, like the winds)

5. The Eightfold Path, which describes the necessary steps to escape suffering and reach enlightenment

I mean no disrespect by acting them out in emoji, including little bags of cash and beer mugs and guns in such close proximity to the Buddha–quite the opposite.


As I launched this column with the violence of Breaking Bad, I thought a small emoji peace offering might be in order (not to sound too Lululemon about it). Then there was the attachment to material goods, aka, Jay Z’s “Picasso Baby.” I will leave it up to you whether or not you want to reflect on them without speaking, and if commenting or ordering your lunch online counts as silent meditation.

About the author

Zoe Mendelson is a mushroom salesperson in Brooklyn, NY. She writes a weekly map column for UntappedCities