The Book of Serenity - "Dizang’s Planting the Fields"

Two Planting Rice

Dizang asked Xiushan, “Where do you come from?” Xiushan said, “From the South.” Dizang said, “How is Buddhism in the South these days?” Xiushan said, “There is extensive discussion”” Dizang said, “How can that compare to me here planting the fields and making rice to eat?” Xiushan said, “What can you do about the world?” Dizang said, “What do you call the world?”


Time and again during question and answer sessions after a Zen lecture, someone will ask: ‘What is the use of just sitting in silent meditation when there is so much suffering in the world?’ This question is usually meant as a challenge to what seems a kind of passiveness. It is true that the world is full of suffering beings; humans, animals, plants, even the planet itself is deeply suffering. Shouldn’t we be having extensive discussions, protesting, implementing solutions? This koan does for me what I think is the intention of all koans – it stops my mind in mid stride. It brings my awareness to the importance of asking questions before acting. Questions like: What is the nature of suffering and what is its ultimate cause? How can I help a world that I see as separate from myself? Wouldn’t it be more beneficial for me to deeply understand how the world is not something ‘out there’ that needs saving? If I consider the way we are all constantly, every moment, making the world then each simple, ordinary action I am able to take right here is ‘doing something about the world.’ And when it is time for other kinds of action, less simple or potentially more widely impactful, it is my intention that these actions will be grounded in not knowing what the world is, or what helping is.

—Rev. Zesho Susan O’Connell (Zen priest, President of the San Francisco Zen Center)
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