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The right hand part of the above Chinese character, "Zen", is a picture of a shovel making sounds (3 marks at top) as it hits the soil.  The Zen school values manual labour.

What is Zen?

Zen is the name of a school of Buddhism that emphasised nonverbal communication of the dharma.  Meditation, physical work and development of wisdom are also emphasised.

The word 'Zen' comes from the Chinese word Ch'an, pictured above.  This in turn comes from the Sanskrit word Dhyana, which means meditation. So, Zen is a kind of mental process that sometimes goes on amongst practitioners.   The Zen School's word for meditation it made of two characters, 'seated' and 'Zen'. The implication is that Zen is possible in other positions.  Practitioners are encouraged to learn from their physical work and interaction with the community. 

The teachings are important to Zen Buddhists, but they are the 'finger pointing to the moon'.  We should rather look at the moon itself.  This true Zen story illustrates the Zen attitude to the texts:

For several years, a monk was collecting donations to make a copy of the sutras when a flood destroyed many homes and crops.  He spent the sutra money he had collected on food and clothes to help the survivors.  Later, he started collecting money again.  He had almost enough when another flood hit.  Again he spent the money on aid for the needy.  Finally, years later he collected enough to transcribe the sutras.  The calligraphy was excellent, but learner observers often commented the first two 'sutras' were even more beautiful.

About work:  A Zen Master was quite old and the monks felt sorry for him as they watched him hoeing the garden.  He would not stop physical work in spite of their many requests so they hid his tools.  The next day, he was unable to work.  Later, he refused to eat at mealtime.  The monks asked why and he replied:  "A day without work is a day without food"  This became a famous Zen maxim.

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