Is Juan Tamad Really Lazy?

Juan Tamad (c) Anton Diaz /  Our Awesome Planet
Juan Tamad (c) Anton Diaz / Our Awesome Planet

Picture this: a young man sitting beneath the shade of a guava tree, lying restfully with its native hat covering its head. He sleepily sits there, waiting for the guava fruit to fall instead of picking it. This image of a familiar folklore character has been known for ages across generations of many Filipinos. He is Juan Tamad, or Lazy John, a stuff of many folk tales, and, unfortunately, a common negative image referring to those who incarnates his eponymous name.

Juan Tamad has become a cliché, a metaphor for laziness, procrastination and complacency. A character that though appears to be Filipino in origin but always renounced, shunned and judged by many Filipinos. I grew up reading books on Filipino stories, and I encountered some of Juan’s lazy tales. And I keep on hearing his name and his shadowy reputation, almost a stigma that labels  anyone who is deemed as unproductive, whether at home or in the workplace. Yet I am prompted to question this thought: Is Juan Tamad really lazy? Or is there some hidden truth one has to see?

I thought, maybe Juan Tamad is not really lazy at all. Perhaps he just stops and rests for a while after a long day’s work under the tiring heat of the sun. Maybe the guava tree is the nearest to him and finds its shade a nice spot to relax. He feels tired and to rest is not a requirement but a natural thing to do. He knows when to stop after too much work. Perhaps this is the value Filipinos have forgotten all along, when in the middle of frantic tasks in our daily jobs and routines, our bodies and minds get tired yet we don’t spend time to rest. Juan, more than just a lazy image, can be an image of restfulness, a siesta for the soul.

Or maybe Juan has wisely and patiently learned how to wait. At rest or not, he knows that the guava, like every other fruit, falls naturally. It comes to a point when the fruit’s stem detaches from the branch of the tree, and gravity is undoubtedly a force that causes the fruit to fall. A friend hinted another idea that also crossed my mind: that Juan is wise enough to observe the course of nature, like what Isaac Newton did that made him discover the law of gravity. Juan may not be a physicist, but he understands life and nature. To sit or lie down, to observe and to wait all seem laziness to us, but Juan reminds us otherwise – there is wealth of wisdom found in such moment.

To sit or lie down, to observe and to wait all seem laziness to us, but Juan reminds us otherwise – there is wealth of wisdom found in such moment.

This brings me to remember wu wei, a teaching by the ancient Chinese sage Lao Tzu who wrote the  beautiful verses of Tao te Ching. While wu wei or Nondoing in English can be said as the whole theme of this ancient book, a clear reference to it is found in the 38th verse: “The Master does nothing yet leaves nothing undone. The ordinary man is always doing things yet many more are left undone.” (translated by Stephen Mitchell) Though such paradox is tough for a logical mind to digest, Nondoing is a common truth found in all natural things. We can never force a seed to germinate or a flower to bloom. They all follow their own time, their own pacing and their own natural process. Nondoing is doing without doing, allowing things we cannot control to happen and accomplish in their own accord. We do more if we control less.

(c) Kavita / photoxpress.com
(c) Kavita / photoxpress.com

Maybe Juan understands this truth. In the surface he appears lazy, but we cannot see what is beneath where his discernment and understanding lies. In a land of natural abundance, Juan, who often typifies a Filipino worker in the countryside, works his way in the field, and trusts that the Earth he has tilled is fertile enough to bring countless blessings, without forcing it to produce or to grow anything he needs. All he needs to do is to wait, be patient, and keenly observe. Like the oft-quoted Zen saying, “Spring comes and the grass grows by itself”, Juan knows this truth – he does and finally does nothing. He returns to his quiet being, sitting beneath the guava tree and appreciates the moment in serenity and harmony with all there is.

For years, Juan has become a cultural stereotype and Filipinos have popularly accepted that “fact” without questioning and digging deeper meanings. Exploring Juan in a different light is not to reverse his reputation but to find and add meaningful insights to his image, and inevitably to the Filipino spirit. Perhaps Juan is a beautiful archetype that encodes this undiscovered Filipino psyche of patience, of creative incubation, of restful awareness that chart the regions of our innate spirituality universally found in ancient teachings. Somehow, we can find this beauty not just outside but inside of us, and that is a refreshing way to be proud as a Filipino.

What do you think about Juan Tamad? Feel free to comment below or send me your email message at pathfinderscommune@yahoo.com

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17 thoughts on “Is Juan Tamad Really Lazy?

  1. For me, it speaks to the assumptions by which we live. Do we assume that productivity is the highest human state? Then Juan is lazy, unproductive. What if, however, the highest human state is presence? Then waht one does really does not matter as along as one is present to it. The latter, of course, can create all sorts of ethical issues (is a thief in the highest human state because he is fully present to his theft?). I suspect that no one state is perfect all of the time.

    1. Thanks, Pete! That’s a thought-provoking insight you’ve brought up here. Yes, true that our society has long been resorting to productivity as a mercurial meaning of life. And we are now discovering it is not, but being and presence. I think a thief steals because deep within him/her is this void of meaning, and his/her only resolve is the meaning of productivity, materialism and consumerism that our society has perpetuated. That he/she has learned to fear life and the only life’s meaning is to physically survive. To steal, we can presume, is a thief’s way to frantically search that being and presence, but he/she has been deceived by such illusion.

  2. This is a really interesting way of looking at this character. 😮 I guess it does reflect our “must always be busy!!! doing something!!!” society as well, that is, anyone who takes a break is “lazy” and “unproductive.” Maybe Juan is wiser than we think he is.

    1. Hi, Mel! Yes, you’ve got it! We’re always busy that we have really missed what it means to rest and take things slow. And that is not just about the working with our bodies, but also with our minds. Even at times of relaxing, we all tend to think of working. Juan reminds us to take time to rest and appreciate the moment that we are alive. =)

  3. Thank you Rem, for this article, for your love of all things Pinoy, and for your precious and unique gift that goes beyond word intuition. It reminds us to review our perspectives and suspend judgment. Juan is not tamad after all. Juan is a wise soul who understands the laws of nature, the balance of work and rest. Perhaps in fact, the fruit is not yet ripe. He knows that all things ripen in their own good time.

    1. Thank you so much Luwee. Amen to the insights that long to unfold through our voice and our words! We continue to rediscover our roots and bring new perspectives of being a Filipino.

  4. Somehow the Juan Tamad image reminds me of the Buddha sitting under the Bodhi tree. Who knows, perhaps the original image of Juan Tamad was simply sitting under the guava tree, looking up and contemplating what ‘being-ness’ is all about. Since the Filipino psyche lives in childlike humor, perhaps the image has evolved and that image of him opening his mouth and waiting for the fruit to fall just got added later on. But it’s true, we must learn how to look at different perspectives.

    1. Yes, Bem! Bayabas tree can be a nice spot to be enlightened, hahaha! And a thought just occurred to me right now: what if Juan felt a bit sleepy and yawned, which made him looked like waiting for the guava to fall. Juan is an image of many stories. I love it when we see him in a positive light. Thanks, Bem! Happy to see you here. =D

  5. thanks for this Rem…

    After reading this, I realized that I don’t need to feel guilty whenever I take time to sleep and rest… it’s like respecting my own timing…

    more blessings to you Rem! 🙂

  6. And of course, there are the ever present issues of “culture clash” and “management styles.”

    Some traditions focuse on hard work, while others place importance on stopping to smell the roses.

    Some managers believe in “working smarter, not harder” while others adopt a “jumping jack” style in which there main goal is to keep everyone busy, even if their busy activities have no point.

    It takes all kinds to make a world, and Juan Tamad certainly has his place.

    1. Indeed. I think the rise of our modern society has long been based on too much hard and often stressful work. Juan Tamad now teaches again to see work from his perspective. We’re now balancing things out. Thanks Tom for your insight.

    1. Hi Rica. Juan Tamad is a character in many of our old folk stories. You can try reading these stories in old Filipino textbooks, you might find one good story about him.

    1. Hi Thea. If we look at the image of Juan Tamad, and see him more as ‘Juan’, then that’s more archetypal – meaning, Juan becomes a central symbol of being Filipino: calm, relaxed, patient. Juan Tamad, on the other hand, is stereotypical, a sort of prejudice towards us as a people, and more so important, a shadow of our character, that our dark side is becoming too complacent, indifferent, irresponsible. The question now is: Which of the two do we choose to nurture?

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