No Work, No Food


Hyakujo, the Chinese Zen master, used to labor with his pupils even at the age of eighty, trimming the gardens, cleaning the grounds, and pruning the trees.

The pupils felt sorry to see the old teacher working so hard, but they knew he would not listen to their advice to stop, so they hid away his tools.

That day the master did not eat. The next day he did not eat, nor the next. “He may be angry because we have hidden his tools,” the pupils surmised. “We had better put them back.”

The day they did, the teacher worked and ate the same as before. In the evening he instructed them: “No work, no food.”

Hotei, the Happy Chinaman

Hotei by Kano Masanobu

In Chinatowns across the world, one cannot fail to notice statues of a cheerful rotund figure carrying a hemp sack.  The Chinese call him The Happy Chinaman or The Laughing Buddha.

That happy fellow, Pu-tai Ho-shang or Hemp-bag monk, was an eccentric Zen beggar priest who lived during the Tang Dynasty. In Japan, he is called Hotei (which literally means cloth bag) and is one of the seven lucky gods.  He is supposedly the only member of Japan’s Seven Lucky Gods based on an actual person.  He is sometimes mistaken for the historical Buddha Shakyamuni.  It is believed that rubbing his pot-belly will bring about wealth, good luck and prosperity.  He is considered by many as the patron saint of restaurateurs and bartenders.

Although he was a Zen master, he did not wish to be called one nor did he want any disciples. Instead, he would walk the streets with his linen sack full of candies, fruits, doughnuts and other goodies.  He would give those to the poor and needy and to the children who gather around him to play.  The streets were his kindergartens.

Whenever he met a Zen devotee he would extend his hand and say: “Give me one penny.”

Once as he was about to play-work another Zen master happened along and inquired: “What is the significance of Zen?”

Hotei immediately plopped his sack down on the ground in silent answer.

“Then,” asked the other, “what is the actualization of Zen?”

At once the Happy Chinaman swung the sack over his shoulder and continued on his way., Zen Koans 12, Happy Chinaman

I cannot understand myself.


The student, Doko, came to a Zen master, and said, “I am seeking the truth. In what state of mind should I train myself, so as to find it?”

The master said, “There is no mind, so you cannot put it in any state. There is no truth, so you cannot train yourself for it.”

Doko responded, “If there is no mind to train, and no truth to find, why do you have these monks gather before you every day to study Zen and train themselves for this study?”

“But I haven’t an inch of room here,” said the master, “so how could the monks gather? I have no tongue, so how could I call them together or teach them?”

“Oh, how can you lie like this?” asked Doko.

“But if I have no tongue to talk to others, how can I lie to you?” asked the master.

Then Doko said sadly, “I cannot follow you. I cannot understand you.”

“I cannot understand myself,” said the master.