Work practice is one of the four essential components of the Zen way, along with zazen,dharma talks/study and daisan (meeting with a teacher one-to-one).
It was introduced by the Chinese masters during Zen’s Golden Age because they came to see that work was a necessity of practice in a monastery. (Previous to this, monks and nuns did not do any labor so that they could devote themselves to study and meditation.) Insight is not enough, they taught, it must be connected to one’s life. As the late Roshi Robert Aitken put it, “Work practice is the extension of meditation to its function.”
This is why work practice remains an essential ingredient in Zen to this day, even as it leaves its monastic roots to take hold in the lay world. It is why formal work practice must be an essential part of any Zen community for its disciplines can then follow through into the fullness of our daily living, both in our work situations and in our homes.
“Work” and “practice” are not two separate entities. They are one. If we can see them as one, our daily work will not be simply a “task”, a “job, a “paycheck”, a burden of housekeeping” but, rather, a deep and fulfilling practice of awakening to the delight of “just this.”
Here are the Work Practice Guidelines we use at the zendo:
- Have a goal for your work. It is the catalyst for all action.
- Have a goal but have no achievement in sight. Let the action be the achievement.
- Be present – mindful. Pay Attention. Return to the task at hand when your mind wanders.
- Work with a still mind- stilling unnecessary chatter.
- Do only one thing at a time.
- Finish what you begin now – not later.
- Don’t judge your work or the work of others.
- Pay attention.
To print out a pdf of these Guidelines please click here