The Story of the Sleeping Zen Meditator

Man Napping on Chairs at a Teaching
December 18, 2019

In the zendo, a student sits sleeping on their meditation cushion. Find out what happens when other students complain to the Zen Master. A podcast from Satsang with Shambhavi

Podcast First Words

So I wanted to start this afternoon with a story that I’ve told before. I want to elaborate on it and play a little game with it. This is a story from the Zen tradition.

Everyone’s sitting in the zendo doing open eyed meditation, shikantaza. If you’ve ever been in a zendo, you know that they’re very organized. They have these little platforms facing each other, with black zabutans and black cushions. Everything’s very perfectly arranged. Like they literally measure the distance between the cushions and everything. It’s very nice in there actually.

Then at the far end, facing everybody, is the teacher. If it’s a traditional zendo, at some point as people are just sitting, the master might get up and walk around. The master might hit people with a stick to keep them from falling off, falling out of presence.

So in this story the master is walking around with a stick. He’s whacking the people who need to get whacked. And there’s this one guy who’s snoring. He’s slouched on his cushion like this. The teacher comes up, and stands in front of him. The guy looks up. And he says, “Oh, it’s you.” Then he slouches and starts snoring again.

After the meditation session, some of the other students excitedly gather around the master, very officiously and self-importantly. They say, “He was so rude to you! He was sleeping!”

And the master says, “He’s the only one who gets it.”

So why was he the only one that gets it?


Satsang with Shambhavi is a weekly podcast about spirituality, love, death, devotion and waking up while living in a messy world.