A foreigner applied to enter a Zen temple. He had made no preparations, and could neither sit in the formal posture without pain, nor understand what was said. The teacher told him, through the interpreter, that it would be a very hard time. He persisted and finally was allowed to come in.
As usual in such cases, he felt that he must make a special contribution to the life of the temple, and all he could do was the physical work. He made it a rule to get up very early and undertake the daily chores, beginning with sweeping the garden.
He discovered that the head monk did not always rouse the monks at the fixed time; sometimes he let them sleep on, when they had had a difficult day. The foreigner, however, was always up. Slowly he came to resent the fact that others were not following the rule as he was. He wrote a short account of the experience afterwards, in which he said that he was beginning frankly to hate the monks as he worked and they slept. When he came to near the sleeping quarters, sometimes his broom would accidentally knock the verandah.
When his anger reached boiling point he spoke to the teacher, who said, ‘Why are you doing this?’
He said, T am following the rule as part of my spiritual training/
‘If it is simply a question of your own spiritual training, it does not matter to you what the others do or do not do. There must be something else/
‘Well, I suppose in a way I am setting an example – an example which I am afraid is entirely wasted/
‘The example you are setting is sweeping and cleaning in a spirit of pride and resentment. That is not a good example, and it is right that it is not followed/
‘How should one set an example, then?’
‘When the Buddha gets up, and picks up the Buddha broom, and sweeps the Buddha dust from the face of the Buddha earth, and no one knows about it – there is the example which will have an effect.’