Onafhankelijke journalistiek over de Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam | Sinds 1953
18 april 2024

& Cultuur

PhD student teaches meditation and Chinese at the VU

A PhD student in artificial intelligence, bioinformatics and philosophy gives meditation workshops and Chinese lessons at the VU every week. For everyone and for nothing. Does Chao Zhang do that to bring a bit of the Far East to the VU?

“It’s true that meditation practice and the Chinese language both come from the Far East. But what we care about is how the mind works”, says Zhang. “I want to help people take care of their own mind. There are a lot of mental challenges in life and work. Everybody is struggling, pretending it’s okay. But it’s not okay! I want to teach people how to take care of their mind. Because you are the only person who can do that.”

‘Highly educated people have too many thoughts’

Zhang states that society asks too much of people, and that the highly educated people at university have common traits, which are relevant in how they deal with all expectations. “They are super sensitive, they understand things easily, and they are used to do a lot at the same time. That’s why they have too many thoughts, and it can become a burden if those thoughts are not coordinated well. As a result, people may become irritated. That should not be neglected.”

Different opinions

Zhang himself became irritated easily when colleagues felt differently about something. “I work in a very international environment, so there are a lot of people with different opinions. Before, I got a lot of stress from that. But since I started meditation practice I see that each person has his own reality. I am now enjoying the diversity of human minds, and do not get irritated by different opinions anymore.” He smiles and adds: “I am happy and proud to be myself.”

Meditation practice, or “the philosophical exploration of being yourself”, changes the relation between the self and the world, according to Zhang. And that doesn’t only benefit a single person. “Everybody can learn to observe their mind, and know their strengths. It will help you find unique solutions to your unique problems. And you will learn to slow down, and say no – in a polite way off course. That’s my biggest aim with meditation. Because if the mind is okay, you can be more focused to make your research meaningful for society.”

Talking Chinese

Next to his meditation workshops, Zhang also gives Chinese lessons every week. “It’s for people who want to keep up Chinese. I do it together with my wife, who was a broadcaster in Beijing Radio Station and is passionate about Chinese teaching and culture exchange. We focus on language, wisdom and culture and try to avoid politics and ideologies. We want to share the wisdom that comes from language itself.”

Language teaches us a lot, says Zhang. “If you can speak Chinese and a western language, you see many differences between your own language and Chinese. You realize language can’t fully represent ourselves. Language is only a part of our brain, and only represents a symbolic reality. Every language has its own limitations. If you realize that, you understand that you shouldn’t take what people say too seriously. What we say is only part of who we are.”

Mindful Amsterdam: Guided Meditation, every Monday, 6 PM, Global Room (HG 1A36)
Talking in Chinese, every Wednesday, 6.30 PM, Global Room