People meditating on the fundamental carry out their ordinary tasks and activities in the midst of meditation and carry out meditation in the midst of ordinary tasks and activities. There is no disparity between meditation and activity.
It is for those as yet incapable of this, those weak in focusing their intent on the Way, that special meditation periods were set up. The practice of meditating four times a day in Zen communities began in this manner during the twelfth century.
In ancient times, Zen mendicants meditated twenty-four hours a day. In later times, however, there were those who became monks to avoid the trouble of making a living in the ordinary world. Their appetites distracted them from Buddhism, and when they participated in rituals their attention was taken away from the fundamental. Since these and other things inhibited them from work on the fundamental, they would have wasted their lives had not some other expedient been devised. This expedient was the rule of four periods of sitting meditation.
People who really have their minds on the Way, in contrast, do not forget work on the fundamental no matter what they are doing. Yet if they still distinguish this work from ordinary activities even as they do them together, they will naturally be concerned about being distracted by activities and forgetting the meditation work. This is because of viewing things as outside the mind.
An ancient master said, "The mountains, the rivers, the whole earth, the entire array of phenomena are all oneself." If you can absorb the essence of this message, there are no activities outside of meditation: you dress in meditationand eat in meditation; you walk, stand, sit, and lie down in meditation; you perceive and cognize in meditation; you experience joy, anger, sadness, and happiness in meditation.
Yet even this is still in the sphere of accomplishment and is not true merging with the source of Zen.
Muso (1275-1351), one of the most illustrious masters of his day, left the capital in the company of a disciple for a distant province. On reaching the Tenryu river they had to wait for an hour before boarding the ferry; just as it was about to leave the shore, a drunken samurai ran up and leapt into the packed boat nearly swamping it. He tottered wildly as the small craft made its way across the river and, fearing for the safety of the passengers, the ferryman begged him to stand quietly.
“We’re like sardines in here!” the samurai said gruffly. Then, pointing to Muso, “Why not toss out the bonze?”
“Please be patient,” Muso said. “We’ll reach the other side soon.”
“What!” bawled the samurai. “Me be patient? Listen here, if you don’t jump off this thing and start swimming, I swear I’ll drown you!”
The master’s continued calm so infuriated the samurai that he struck Muso’s head with his iron fan, drawing blood. Muso’s disciple had had enough by this time and, as he was a powerful man, wanted to challenge the samurai on the spot. “I can’t permit him to go on living after this,” he said to the master.
“Why get so worked up over a trifle?” Muso said with a smile. “It’s exactly in matters of this kind that the bonze’s training proves itself. Patience, you must remember, is more than just a word.” He then recited a waka:
The beater and the beaten:
Mere players of a game
Ephemeral as a dream.
When the boat reached the shore and Muso and his disciple got off, the samurai ran up and prostrated himself at the master’s feet. Then and there he became a disciple of the master.