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Gary Snyder main page

On Sitting zazen and sweeping the temple.

See 2-06-09 update on this discussion

5/15/04 - First, I put this on because of another political article I'd put on the site: 

Site justification 
(why are you putting this on here when I came here to learn about Zen?)

It's another mere digression, but it's just sweeping the temple in terms of the great old Chinese master [no - it was Gary Snyder] who said that there are only two jobs for the monk: sitting zazen and sweeping the temple. (Now who was that? Sorry. Someone will tell me soon and then these letters within these parentheses marks will all disappear. No, I left them.) Sitting zazen means all that we do which awakens us to reality, truth, what we really are, that which is beyond conceptualizing. Sweeping the temple means dealing with the phenomenal world. It's sort of like he said there are only two things you (anyone) can do - be absolute and be relative. Now, since we know that the absolute and relative are the same, we can relax. - DC

6/09/04 - From DC. 

I've several times quoted what I thought must have come from some old Chinese Zen master - that the only two jobs for a monk are sitting zazen and sweeping the temple - and then gone on to make some point about sweeping the temple meaning to take care of phenomenon, to be socially engaged, not to deny the relative for the absolute, not to confuse them. 

Thanks to alert reader Jackson Lanzarote in the Canary Islands I've learned that the source of that quote is Gary Snyder, the sole source as far as he knows for now. The quote's at the bottom of this page. 

Jackson found this in Taigen Dan Leighton's DOGENíS COSMOLOGY OF SPACE AND THE PRACTICE OF SELF-FULFILLMENT found on the Mountain Source Sangha site <> which was Taigen's group's site [now it's Ancient Dragon Zen Gate - Soto Zen in Chicago]. Check it out. In that article Taigen writes:

"Gary Snyder says that Zen comes down to meditation and sweeping the temple, and it is up to you to decide where the boundaries of the temple are."

Here's what Jackson submitted in an email of 6/07/04.Subsequent emails nailed it down. 

Subj: sitting sweeping

only place i have come across reference to:
the two jobs for a monk
ie sitting zazen / sweeping temple
is in gary snyder
have never come across it in my reading of the chinese masters of chan
but that of course means nothing
for it could be that one of the masters mentions that

spring comes
and i sit
and watch
the monks sweep

jackson lanzarote, canary islands

loved your book
i am now here
but i was there

6/11/04 - Andrew Main wrote

Actually, I believe the quote about zazen and sweeping was from Gary Snyder's teacher in Japan, Oda Sesso Roshi (?), and it was sweeping the garden as I recall. Gary quotes him somewhere in one of his books; at the moment my library's in chaos and I haven't the energy to track it down.

I found one version: from the "4 Changes" broadside (1969), reprinted in Turtle Island, page 91:

My Teacher once said to me,
- become one with the knot itself,
til it dissolves away.
- sweep the garden.
- any size.

I think I remember seeing another version somewhere too (more discursive, along the lines of "our practice consists of zazen and sweeping the garden; it doesn't matter how big the garden is" - but also attributed to his teacher), possibly in Earth House Hold? (Which I can't locate at the moment.)

BTW, re "sweeping the temple meaning to take care of phenomenae": it's "phenomena," plural of "phenomenon," a word from Greek, wherein the -on noun ending is similar to the Latin -um in having a plural with -a. (You're thinking of the Latin first-declension feminine nouns which are singular -a, plural -ae).

What I've always wondered is, why are the oldest languages (at least in the Indo-European family), presumably spoken by the most "primitive" people, the most complex in construction, with elaborate declensions and conjugations that have been dropped in their modern descendants? When our Palaeolithic ancestors first began talking, did they use nouns declined with 150 cases? Strange.

DC  - I responded to Andrew that I remember from an anthropology class that languages tend to simplify in time, primitive ones being more complex.

6/14/04 - Dr. Rick Levine adds that he remembers a lecture given by Richard Baker at the SFZC wherein he said that Gary Snyder had gone to his teacher, Oda Sesso, and said that he was involved with work like environmentalism and what did Sesso think of that and that Sesso replied that there are two jobs for a monk - sitting zazen and sweeping the temple - as mentioned earlier. Rick said I should email Gary but I left that to Jackson Lanzarote because I can't get to everything. - DC

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