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Labor Day

September 3, 2012

by Stephen Damon

Today is Labor Day, the American holiday that celebrates the economic and social contributions of American workers and I was reminded of a well-known Zen story about the importance of work: 

Hyakujo, who was a famous Chinese Zen teacher would work alongside his students even when he reached the ripe old age of 80. His work included tending the gardens and keeping the monastery grounds clean and tidy.

His students felt he should stop work and rest his aged body but he just would not listen to their advice. So to make him stop they hid away his tools where he couldn’t find them.

The very next day Hyakujo refused to eat and he repeated this the day after. The students reflected on their actions and decided to put his tools back in the place where he had taken them.

That night the Zen master worked and ate as was his normal routine. When he had eaten he told his students “No work, no food.”

If his students asked him what he meant, he might have given a long talk about the importance of working with the body while keeping the mind set on practicing the Dharma as a way of harmonizing the body and mind.  Or he might have said, that the monastery needed to be kept clean and tidy to create a strong impression of order.  Or he might have just said, “no practice, no enlightenment.”  



From → Zen Buddhism

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