During the T'ang Dynasty in China, there was a great Zen poet, Pai Yueh T'ien who also officiated as governor. In a particular district under his jurisdiction, there was a Zen master known as "Bird's Nest" because of his habit of practicing meditation up in the branches of a tree.
The governor-poet once visited the Zen Master and said," What a dangerous seat you have up in the tree!"
"Yours is worse than mine," replied the master.
"I am the governor of this district, and I don't see what danger is in it."
"Then you don't know yourself! When your passions burn and your mind is unsteady, what is more dangerous than that?"
The governor heard the truth in the Zen Master's words and then asked him another question, looking for another great teaching, "tell me what is the essential teaching of the Dharma?"
The master said:
Not to commit evils,
To practice only good,
And to keep the mind pure:
That is the teaching of all the Buddhas.
Pai, somewhat disappointed by the simplicity of the master's teaching protested, "Any child of three years knows that."
"Any child of three years may know it, but even an old man of 80 years finds it difficult to practice."
What this story highlights is that Zen practice is not complete if it is not realized through actions.
Zen is not a theoretical philosophy that one simply sits and ponders or discusses, it is to be practiced and realized moment-to-moment, in our daily lives.
Sitting and other forms of contemplative meditation is a necessary component to Zen but it is not the whole of the practice. Through meditation, we come to understand our own minds and develop wisdom, but wisdom is not complete if it is not put into action.
The most obvious way to begin doing this is to perform daily activities as a form of meditation. When we get dressed, meditate, when we brush our teeth, meditate, when we at are at work--meditate, driving the car--meditate, going grocery shopping--meditate, doing the dishes--meditate, working in the garden--meditate, etc.
Zen teaches that we always begin with ourselves, practicing small skillful acts: performing meditation while we go about our daily tasks. Acting skillfully means performing good actions when we are alone and not just when we are around others. If we are out walking alone we pick up that piece of glass on the sidewalk, so someone else doesn't hurt themselves.
If we begin with small, personal acts of skillful action, we begin to create a path of wildflowers blooming where ever we walk.
We must always work toward letting go of unwholesome desires and attachment to cravings and cultivate skillful thoughts and actions. When we do, we have succeeded in conquering ourselves, in, as Zen Master Bird's Nest suggested, to Know yourself.
The practice Zen is to practice Skillful Action. To benefit yourself and all others.
It is to practice Skillful action every day, whether alone, or with others, at home or at work or at school. Big or small. If we begin practicing now, a little at a time, with consistence effort, we will soon find we are surrounded by a wide assortment of beautiful wildflowers.
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A blog by the Lotus Heart Zen Meditation and Study Group members