As a lover of ancient wisdom, I’ve been slowly savoring the now classic Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings — an extraordinary portal into the minds of the greatest sages of the East, oscillating between the transcendent and the mundane in the most thought-shattering way possible. From short stories that recount actual experiences of Chinese and Japanese Zen teachers to famous thirteenth-century collection of Zen koans to four-thousand-year-old teachings from India, the slim volume is a true cultural treasure.
Among its many highlights is a set of principles governing skillful action and livelihood by Zengetsu, a Chinese master of T’ang dynasty, titled “No Attachment to Dust:”
Living in the world yet not forming attachments to the dust of the world is the way of a true Zen student.
When witnessing the good action of another encourage yourself to follow his example. Hearing of the mistaken action of another, advise yourself not to emulate it.
Even though alone in a dark room, be as if you were facing a noble guest. Express your feelings, but become no more expressive than your true nature.
Poverty is your treasure. Never exchange it for an easy life.
A person may appear a fool and yet not be one. He may only be guarding his wisdom carefully.
Virtues are the fruit of self-discipline and do not drop from heaven of themselves as does rain or snow.
Modesty is the foundation of all virtues. Let your neighbors discover you before you make yourself known to them.
A noble heart never forces itself forward. Its words are as rare gems, seldom displayed and of great value.
To a sincere student, every day is a fortunate day. Time passes but he never lags behind. Neither glory nor shame can move him.
Censure yourself, never another. Do not discuss right and wrong.
Some things, though right, were considered wrong for generations. Since the value of righteousness may be recognized after centuries, there is no need to crave an immediate appreciation.
Live with cause and leave results to the great law of the universe. Pass each day in peaceful contemplation.
Published in 1957, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones became an instant sensation with a generation of spiritual seekers who were just starting to experiment with Zen. But even today it’s as popular as ever before and continues to inspire Zen teachers and students from around the world. Complement with a Zen story on how to love openly.