by Roshi Joan Halifax: An excerpt from Roshi Joan’s upcoming book, At the Edge…


A student recently said to me: “Roshi, you seemed to have done so much in your life. How did you manage that?”

I paused, smiled, and then replied: “On a good day, I rest a lot.”

I didn’t mean that I take naps every day, though at my age, this is happening every so often. I am also not talking about the kind of rest that a good vacation provides you. Nor the kind of rest that is escapist. Rather, it is the kind of rest found in the experience of being relatively at ease in the midst of things, even quite difficult situations; ease that is about having a lack of resistance to what is before me, and being fully present and steady. This mix of no-resistance and steadiness is something we cultivate in Buddhist meditation. In my own meditation practice, I learned that giving full attention to an object (such as the breath) engenders steadiness and ease, as well as power and rest. When we strengthen these qualities, we can usually meet life with what Brother David’s “wholeheartedness.”

In Buddhism, being occupied and pre-occupied is not a source of merit; you cannot become enlightened by being busy. In fact, busyness distracts us away from what is happening in the present moment, which we need stillness to perceive. This perspective is reflected in a wonderful exchange between two brothers during China’s Tang Dynasty, Yunyan and Daowu.

Yunyan is sweeping the ground. His elder brother Daowu says, “Too busy!”

Yunyan replies, “You should know there’s one who’s not busy.”

“Oh, you mean there are two moons?”

Yunyan then holds up the broom and says, “Which moon is this?”

This story first appears in a 13th-century compilation of koans. The younger brother Yunyan is sweeping the ground. Maybe there is a taste of busyness in how he is sweeping.

When his brother calls him out for being too busy, Yunyan probably stops sweeping. But he then gives Daowu a clichéd Zen answer: “There is one who is not busy.” This is the kind of answer a new Zen student might give—right out of a bad Zen book.

Daowu sees that this answer is a Zen dodge, and he doesn’t let his brother off the hook. Yunyan, the sweeper, has split the world into two. “You mean there are two moons?” challenges Daowu. There is the doer and the non-doer? There is the busy person and the still person?

Yunyan sees his mistake. He lifts the broom off the floor, stopping his busyness, and holds it in front of Daowu: “Which moon is this?” he asks.

At that moment, Yunyan has sliced through differences, duality, and self/other. He understands that reality is not divided into doer and non-doer, doing and non-doing. Reality is just this moment, with no broom on the ground, no doer, no deed, no one being busy, nothing to be busy about. And he awakens.

I found Zen relatively early in life. I was also raised Protestant. So I’ve long been immersed in the notion of work as virtue. It has been important to me to see work as a spiritual practice—a place where doer, doing, and deed are not separate; a place where I am not busy; a place where I can wake up.

The late Zen teacher Katagiri Roshi writes in Each Moment Is the Universe: “We tend to see practice in terms of time—as if we were climbing a ladder step-by-step. This is not the Buddhist idea of practice. When you climb a ladder, you do so with your eye on the future. With this approach to practice, there is no peace, no spiritual security—only a hope for the future. . . . Refined action is not like this. From the start, it lies in peace and harmony. To express this, Dogen used a peculiar term—gyoji. Gyo means “action,” and ji means “to maintain,” “to keep,” “to sustain,” or “to preserve.” The character ji has two parts: one is “hand”; the other is “sanctuary.” Sanctuary here means the universe. Wherever you may be, your life is sustained and supported by the whole universe. The main purpose of human life is to maintain this sanctuary. It is not to climb a ladder to develop your own personal life .”

Katagiri Roshi is describing the unity of heart, mind, body, and the world as a sanctuary, a place of refuge, an experience where we both flow and stop, a place of no resistance. It is that moment when Yunyan holds up the broom in front of Daowu. This very moment is that place. Not seeking, not fleeing. But resting in the midst . . . This is why we practice, so we can actualize awakening in our everyday life.

Awaken Buddhism

Awaken Enlightenment

Awaken Spirit

Source: AWAKEN