Zen Art

Sit Still, Work Hard

The Rule of Saint Benedict states that ora et labora, “pray and work,” is the basis of Christian monasticism. Contemplation of the mysteries of faith must be combined with physical labor—for example, farming, brewing beer, making cheese, spinning wool. Prayer and work must be in balance.

In Zen Buddhism, the guiding principle is “Sit still, work hard.” Indeed, with the exception of intensive meditation periods such as sesshin, Zen monastics spend much of their time keeping the temple and grounds spotlessly clean from top to bottom, ensuring that everything is in good repair, working in the garden, preparing food, and performing many other chores. In other words, the Zen ethic is, “A day of no work is a day of no food.”

In the gallery we have two Zenga that illustrate the dual aspect of “Sit still, work hard.” Seki Seisetsu’s Zazen Daruma is meditating intensely, almost ferociously, not in any kind of mystical stupor. In fact, in some Zenga, Daruma is depicted as a rock, sitting perfectly still and deeply centered. On the other hand, there is the dynamic calligraphy of Nantembo. Kin, the large character on the top, means, “work hard,” “act decisively,” and “function completely.” The character itself seems to be hard at work, not at all static.

Seki Seisetsu's Daruma

Seki Seisetsu’s Daruma (#231)


Nantembo’s Work

One thought on “Sit Still, Work Hard

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