Shitou came upon Yaoshan meditating and asked him, “What are you doing?”
Yaoshan said, “I am not doing anything.”
Shitou asked, “Why are you sitting here wasting time?”
Yaoshan replied, “If I was wasting time, that would be doing something.”
Shitou asked, “What is this ‘doing nothing’ that you are talking about?”
Yaoshan replied, “Not even the ten thousand sages know.”
I often feel like I’m a sloth. They move slowly traveling an average of forty yards a day and snooze about fifteen hours a day. They spend a majority of time in the canopy of trees, coming down only once a week to relieve themselves … that sounds good, no waking up multiple times a night. They spend most of their lives hanging upside-down— eating, sleeping, and even giving birth. Their curved claws allow them to hang from branches effortlessly. Sometimes they continue hanging from a branch even after they have died. I was surprised and happy to find that sloths are excellent swimmers, which is another way I feel connected to them.
We have an online retreat beginning this week. There are all kinds of activities that go on during a retreat. Meditating, eating, sleeping, having conversations about practice, going for walks, and deepening connections with friends. And yet, it feels very much like what Yaoshan was talking about when he said he was doing nothing.
That effortless way sloths hang from branches is like the effortless way my meditation practice keeps me company, especially when I’m doing not-doing anything. Just hanging around with a koan.
David Weinstein Roshi,
Director of the Rockridge Meditation Community