Rough and Tumbling Stream

Rough and Tumbling Stream March 20, 2018

True Dharma seekers who live in the world use their daily activity as a polishing tool. Outwardly they may appear to be very busy, like flint striking steel, making sparks everywhere. But inwardly they silently grow. For although they may be working very hard, they are working for the sake of the work and not for the profits it will bring them. Unattached to the results of their labor, they transcend the frenetic to reach the Way’s essential tranquillity. Doesn’t a rough and tumbling stream also sparkle like striking flints – while it polishes into smoothness every stone in its path?

Han Shan Deqing

There’s an old zen saying that goes like this:

“Before Enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.

After Enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.”

That means that although we are on this profound spiritual path, we are also in the world. And our practice isn’t limited to our time in a temple or on the cushion. The point of this practice is that we are supposed to take it out into the world. If our meditation practice just helps us be calm on the cushion and doesn’t help us be calm in day-to-day life, then it’s really not helping them that much.

Working for the sake of work makes me think of that famous quote by Harry Truman, which has often been imitated and paraphrased by others: “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.”

Just do your work.

The very last of the Lojong slogans says: “Don’t expect applause.” I think that line is really relevant here. Don’t do things to get rewards, don’t do things to make people like you, don’t even do things to make yourself feel good. Just be in the world doing good works. Whatever rewards you might want probably won’t come in the way you expect them to anyway, because life often doesn’t match our expectations.

And life is hard. It’s a rough and tumbling stream. We’re all broken and beaten down by life. It is always that way and always has been. We’re all a little broken, but the broken part of ourselves is also the part that gives us the most opportunity to open our hearts and minds.

At the risk of putting too many quotes here, Ernest Hemingway said, “We’re all broken. That’s how the light gets in.”

I agree with that. It’s the struggles of our lives that polish us.


 Daniel Scharpenburg is a meditation instructor and dharma teacher in Kansas City. He regularly gives teachings through the Open Heart Project, the largest virtual mindfulness community in the world.
Find out more about Daniel on his website and connect with him on Facebook.

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