A ZEN teacher was asked to visit a hippie community, and when he arrived they were lined up to meet him.

He said afterwards, “All the men had one leg of their frayed trousers shorter than the other; the women’s clothes were ill-fitting and not too clean. Both sexes had their hair in a tangle.” In a Zen monastery, however poor the clothes may be, they are always clean, and carefully adjusted.

After the talk and meditation session, one of the community said in a puzzled tone, “Why do Zen followers lay such stress on tidiness? Surely it’s an obsessive concern with trivialities. What do such things matter? They don’t have anything to do with the big things of life. To be always fussing about them is just a burden on the mind.”

The teacher saw the community cat passing, and snapped his fingers. The cat came up and the teacher gave it a little milk. The cat purred, sat down, and began to clean itself vigorously.

“He likes doing that,” remarked the teacher. “Cleanliness and desire for beauty are among the deepest instincts.”

“But for men,” argued the other, “surely we should be concerned with what’s really important, not with such artificialities. Surely it’s not right to spend much time and energy on artificial tidying?”

“One can be artificially untidy too,” replied the teacher. “It’s a sort of defiance, and has nothing to do with what’s really important.”


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