A Zen master saw five of his students return from the market, riding their bicycles. When they had dismounted, he began to question them:
“Why are you riding your bicycles?”
The first student replied, “I have loaded this sack of potatoes on my bicycle. Thankfully, I don’t have to carry it on my back!”
The master said approvingly, “You are a clever boy. When you grow old, you will not walk hunched over, as I do.”
The second student replied, “I love to watch the scenery pass by as I cycle down the road.”
The master commended him, “Your eyes are open and you will see the world.”
The third student replied, “When I ride my bicycle, I am content to chant my prayers.”
The master praised him warmly, “Your mind will roll with the ease of a newly wrought wheel.”
The fourth student answered, “Riding my bicycle, I live in harmony with all beings.”
The master was pleased and replied, “You are riding on the golden path of non-harming.”
The fifth student replied, “I ride my bicycle to ride my bicycle.”
The master went and sat at this disciple’s feet, saying, “I am now your disciple.”
So when Zen masters teach something like riding a bicycle ‘to ride a bicycle’ or washing the dishes ‘to wash the dishes’, they are really giving a lesson in practicing mindfulness.
Why put so much stress on such a simple, humble act? Therein lies the secret of really living, and to be at peace with life.
If while washing dishes, the disciple’s mind is on the cup of sweet, hot tea awaiting him, the act of washing becomes a nuisance. If while drinking the tea he thinks of the warm bed ready for him, the flavor of the tea is lost on him.
Whenever he is doing something, his mind is always on some other thing. He is sucked away into the future, never actually maging to live one moment of his life. For it is the present time only over which he has any real control.
For the Zen master riding his bicycle or washing the dishes, what he is doing at the moment is what matters — a wonderful reality. He is following his breath, conscious of his thoughts and actions, conscious of himself...
That way he is never short of time; there is no way he will feel tossed around mindlessly. Ever holding on to his consciousness, he at all times is aware of the miracle of life.