Work Practice

One of the practice opportunities available at Shao Shan Temple is Work Practice. Like sitting meditation, walking meditation and chanting practice, work practice is an opportunity to be in the present moment – actually experiencing “what is the reality of this moment?” In Zen, we are encouraged to enter into each moment and each activity fully and wholeheartedly. To be fully present with our activity is a moving meditation. In Zen monasteries, carrying objects with both hands assists us to bring our whole mind together – the opposite of multitasking! Sometimes there can be the idea that to work mindfully means to work slowly, but this need not always be the case. Sometimes the situation calls for working slowly and sometimes it calls for working with alacrity.

We may notice internal dialog while working – especially if it is a job we do not like! This is an opportunity to repeatedly return our attention to the task at hand – for example, the physical sensations of scrubbing the pot, the shine of the portion already completed, the warmth of the hot soapy water.

One of the surprising aspects of life in a Zen monastery is that the way in which everything is done is considered important. Every activity is an opportunity to express our Buddha Nature – to express our innate awake nature of caring and goodness. Whereas we would usually think that cleaning the altar is much more important than cleaning the outhouse, we are encouraged to see each activity as valuable. Dogen (the Soto Zen founder in Japan) taught extensively about work – both the details of how tasks were to be done and the kind of mind to be maintained while doing them. One of his best known teachings on work is the Tenzokyokun - Instructions for the Cook. In this he emphasized the importance of careful attention to detail and how the preparation of food can be an expression of the teachings. Dogen points out that respect and nondiscrimination are vital even in the smallest details:

Do not be careless with poor ingredients and do not depend on fine ingredients to do your work for you, but work with everything with the same sincerity. If you do not do so then it is like changing your behavior according to the status of the person you meet; this is not how a student of the Way is.

Also in the Tenzokyokun, Dogen writes:

When we train in any of the offices of the monastery [any work practice] we should do so with a joyful heart, a grandmotherly heart, and a vast heart.

Work practice at Shao Shan Temple is also an opportunity to interact with other sangha members – an opportunity to be with one another with a joyful heart, a grandmotherly heart and a vast heart. We suggest keeping the conversation only to the task at hand rather than talking about history or hopes and dreams. Talking about such things are the usual ways of getting to know one another, however it can be surprising how much we can get to know about a person by the way they hand a piece of firewood or the way they carry the other side of the tarp.

Shao Shan Temple is alive through your presence, your being and your actions – through your work the cushions are clean, the grounds are free of fallen sticks, the garden produce is processed and dishes are cleaned.

You are welcome to come join us for work practice – to drop off the usual identity of self – to be the life and breath of Shao Shan Temple.