Sunday, July 8, 2012

Meditation in action

While writing my book, Brand Name Zen, I stumbled upon a pretty cool idea that I thought I would share. According to Thich Thien-An in Zen Philosophy, Zen Practice, one of the great Chinese contributions to Buddhism is meditation in action. He uses Bodhidharma’s life as an example. 

After arriving in China, the great Indian Ch’an master is famous for wall-gazing for nine years in deep meditative samadhi. It would appear from this example that seated meditation is the hallmark of Zen, after all, Bodhidharma, the monk who introduced Ch’an to China did it for nine years. Thien-An, however, explains that seated meditation is a traditional form of Indian practice, while meditation-in-action is a distinctly Chinese development. 

As Chinese monasteries replaced the wandering Indian monk paradigm in East Asia, emphasis shifted from entirely seated meditation to manual labor as Zen meditative practice. For if the monks were no longer begging for sustenance, as they did in India, someone had to grow, harvest, and prepare the food. They might as well integrate that into spiritual practice, says Thien-An. Hence, Baizhang’s  maxim, “No work, no food.”

I had never considered this possibility. This demonstrates the truly adaptive nature of Buddhism, and how it can evolve to grow in any soil.


  1. That is an extremely nifty story. And, yes, every step and every thought is a meditation possibility. Hard to do, but when I manage here. : ) Thanks!