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Thread: About samu

  1. #1

    Lightbulb About samu

    My Angobuddy asked me what I meant by samu. She said that she just could not pick up more reading right now to find out. I also noticed some questions around this in the sign up thread for Ango, so I thought I'd put together this thread.

    It's pretty simple - samu is work practice.
    We do it on retreats (see below), it is done in monasteries, and in Ango we try to approach our daily work (paid and unpaid) with the same spirit.

    Here is the Wikipedia definition of samu:

    Samu (作務 ) refers to physical work that is done with mindfulness as a simple, practical and spiritual practice. Samu might include activities such as cleaning, cooking, gardening, or chopping wood. Samu is a way to bring mindfulness into everyday life as well as to get things done. Samu is popular in Zen monasteries, particularly as a means of maintaining the monastery and as practicing mindfulness.
    Here are Jundo's instructions how and what to do for samu during our annual retreat. You can adapt these for Ango, especially points 4 and 5.

    There will be work periods. This ‘Mindful Work’ is to be done as if it is the only action to be done, or which can be done, in the world at that moment. The mind is to drop all resistance, likes or dislikes about the work. It is to be done ‘mindfully’, meaning that we think only about the work we are doing at that moment when doing the work at that moment. Because many of us are sitting at home, the following four options are suggested for the Samu work period (you may choose):

    1- Clean your bathroom tile, include the toilet inside and outside, with an old toothbrush. Do not think ‘pleasant’ ‘unpleasant’ ‘clean’ ‘dirty’. (This is a highly recommended Practice. Folks with military experience will already know it well).

    2- Gather several dozen coins and scrub them with an old toothbrush. Do it with care and no complaint. Do not think the action ‘a waste of time’, and treat each coin as if it the most important object in life. After completing all coins, begin again for the remainder of the period.

    3- If you have a garden, garden work is fine. Work requiring care and attention, such as hand-cutting bushes, is recommended. Rake leaves or shovel snow.

    4- Wash some windows in your house, outside and inside. While cleaning dirt, do not think ‘clean’ or ‘dirty’. Work hard, and carefully, while knowing that the job can never be perfectly done.

    5- For parents, this is an excellent opportunity for child care. However, more than usual, attempt to maintain silence, inner stillness and a sense of non-achievement.

    As our Retreat will be in whole or part recorded, one may move (or even add) ‘Samu’ periods on the schedule as needed for home duties. It is all ‘Zazen’ if approached as such.
    Samu can happen right in our workplace as well. See below for what Risho says about it - wonderful. (I work in software development as well, but still far away from his attitude.)

    The important thing is to drop expectations and goals. Do the work for the work's sake.


  2. #2
    The other reason I wanted to post this thread is to repost this wonderful contribution by Risho, which is buried in one of the weekly zazenkai threads:

    Quote Originally Posted by Risho View Post
    Happy Ango!!!

    Today’s talk and q&a just really lit my ango flame. I’m very passionate about work practice. I have a very thinking-oriented career. I’m a senior software engineer, on an information security team, in a global corporation. I don’t state that to be a braggart. I have little sympathy for title dropping. In fact I am a proponent of completely flat organizations where everyone are peers. Also, I find the term “software engineer” to be a little confusing. I don’t work on engines and I don’t have an engineering license. I guess “engineer” just means a job focused on building and, I guess, that is something I certainly do. I build/write enterprise level application software. In any case, I state this because I think work is one of the core practices which allows me to integrate Zen into daily life.

    The more I practice and study, the more I realize that these teachings, although written many years ago, must be internalized. I take it to the point where I read it as if Dogen, for example, is talking directly to me. In that way, Tenzo Kyokun is no other than the Buddha Way of software engineering. And I mean that sincerely.

    When working for a corporation, it can be easy to float by, come in to work, stick with what’s been done and just basically collect a paycheck. I can’t live my life like that. It is not the Bodhisattva Way, nor is it the way of the Tenzo. We have a short time here.. Use your gifts, share them freely and that is freedom. Wake up and go to work excited! There is nothing better to me, than to have the privilege of work where I can think for a living. But that’s me; each one of us has to find his or her own path. And it’s very, very important that we do; we each have unique talents and if we realize them we can serve others to our utmost potential. And that’s what work is all about… service.

    How do you take a line of code and transform it into the 10,000 foot golden body of the Buddha? I’ll tell you perspectives, but this question is one of discovery and constantly peeling away layers of an onion. If you think you’ve got this and rest on your laurels, you’ve lost the way.

    You focus. You work diligently to code elegant, efficient solutions that best serve others, i.e your customers.

    If you cannot explain your solution in “layman’s” terms, you do not have a mastery of the concepts that you are going to utilize to solve a problem. You also likely do not have a complete understanding of the problem space. You are not on a higher level than anyone else; you have a unique and important perspective, but you must work as hard as you can to realize and share that. If someone is not as “technical” as you are, you have a responsibility to teach them in terms they understand. Non-technical users are a great ally in the field because they will help you realize problems in your code (and there is yet to be bug-free software on this planet) that you would never have realized yourself, since you have a limited perspective, i.e. you come from a framework of a developer.

    If you aren’t doing something you love as work, then you are doing a disservice to yourself and those you serve; if your heart isn’t in it, you are going to do much worse than if you didn’t do the job at all.

    My job is life and death. I approach it with the utmost respect. I am humbled that the tools and concepts I use came from the sacrifices of all the ancestors before me. I truly stand on the shoulder of giants.

    Bugs in code should be treated as gifts; they give you a chance to learn. You must polish you code like removing grains of sand from rice and distinguishing between bad and good ingredients (meaning inedible ingrediants). Every piece of code must be useful in your program, and you must have justifiable reasons for everything you write. If you are using opensource components, you better understand those too, and you better know that although they are used widely they can have some serious security vulnerabilities.

    As a head chef, you must be able to compensate for those, using your best judgement.

    Anyone can learn to write Java. I can teach someone how to write a program in 5 minutes, but not everyone can develop. Development comes after years of being in the trenches, taking new approaches, not cowardly backing down when you don’t understand something.

    True computer science is more like an art. When you’ve reached this point, when you have technical mastery, and the path you take is literally your choice. You make the best decision you can with the ingredients you have.

    There is no end in learning, and the more you learn, the more you realize how much of a beginner you are.

    Multitasking is a marketing buzzword that has no room in my kitchen. I’ve created a formula that states the quality of the end result of a task is based on the single task divided by the number of items that are being focused on. When you are preparing a salad, prepare the salad.

    80% of development is testing, testing and testing. You find issues, you improve. You constantly strive to better your recipes.

    Regardless of the ingredients… maybe the project or the API’s you are using just aren’t as exciting or sexy as that new REST service you are working on or the Inversion of Control approach you are taking, or whatever polymorphic madness you are working on. lol You can’t distinguish. If you do, your end product will reflect your lack of enthusiasm. Treat all your projects with respect and care.

    You take care of others and yourself. You know that nothing satisfying comes from an easy path. You are meticulous and expect the highest standards from yourself and others. In this way, other people trust you because you give them the space to trust themselves. This is also extremely compassionate because you don’t micromanage but allow others to grow and also contribute, which is an amazing feeling.

    You have the 3 minds: to steal from Shohaku Okumura. You are joyous, magnanimous and parental. You never take yourself too seriously, and you truly find joy in solving things and offering those to help people. You make a joke to lighten the morale of the team. You smile at someone having a bad day. You stop what you are doing and fully give your attention to someone who needs your help. You open your mind and encourage others to help you and contribute. You jump off the 100-foot pole (latest fun project) to solve a critical error, even though the new code is way, way, WAY more intellectually stimulating. You mentor and take care of your co-workers, and you never ever cut them down.

    Work practice is Zen. This is the way of the precepts; this is the ultimate way to have your dream job. The thing is, I feel that you contribute to society whether you like it or not, just by virtue of being a human in this world. You don’t need to be a nurse, or something that is stereotypically thought to be healing, although if you are nurse, God bless you; that is a hard hard job. My point is that I feel, you can be a healer and a giver in whatever you do; the only rub is that you must really really care about what you do.

    This is what gets me excited every day when I go to work. How to make things better for others, whether or in software or just to ease tension.

    These are the things that I find in work practice… and I need a lot of practice. lol

    Oh most importantly, like in Shikantaza when you feel your practice is stale or not in the honeymoon phase anymore… the most important thing to me is “just show up”.

    Gassho and Happy Ango,


  3. #3

    Thank you for the lesson.

    "Recognize suffering, remove suffering." - Shakyamuni Buddha when asked, "Uhm . . .what?"

  4. #4
    Thanks Nindo.

    Very helpful thread.


  5. #5
    Treeleaf Unsui Shugen's Avatar
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    Nov 2007
    Redding California USA
    Thank You Nindo.



    Meido Shugen
    明道 修眼

  6. #6
    Wonderful Nindo, thank you. =)


  7. #7

  8. #8
    Thanks Nindo.

    Gassho, Shawn

  9. #9
    Thanks Nindo, now I understand.

    , nandi

  10. #10
    Dear Nindo,thank you very much. Many thanks to Risho, too. I approach my work in a similar way, but my bathroom tiles and windows need cleaning... Gassho, Danny

  11. #11
    Wonderful reminder Nindo, thank you! Also, wonderful post Risho!


  12. #12
    Thanks for bringing this one up, Nindo; highlighting Jundo's instructions has saved me trawling through the threads! And thanks to Risho for sharing!



  13. #13
    I've printed Risho's words and keep them in my desk to read them everyday before starting work.
    I'm not a developer, but work in a software developing company as DevOps, so my work is closely related to development.

    Rissho, very wise of yours, thank you.


  14. #14
    Thank you -- Jundo's Ango talk always charges me up. lol



  15. #15
    Thank you, Nindo.


    Hondō Kyōnin
    奔道 協忍

  16. #16
    Thank you for sharing this, Nindo. During Ango, I plan to practice cultivating greater mindfulness in my work habits. Gassho, Matt J

  17. #17
    Thank you for posting this Nindo, it's really important. And thanx Risho for your inspiring words too. I always try to remind myself that as a psychiatrist the most important tool is to keep improving my ability to be fully present with my clients- the more so the better I can be of service and the more meaningful my work is to me as well. That seems to be exactly what samu is about.

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