Is the Temple Shaking? It’s All in the Mind

Translation by Alyssa Sands     Illustration by Dream David


At the foot of a mountain a temple was nestled in a verdant valley, receiving rainwater that would flow down toward the back of the building.

In an effort to better manage the rain they received, the abbot of the temple had the ground in the front yard leveled and built high walls around it. Several days of drought followed the completion of this project, and when rain once again began to fall, the abbot happily closed the new doors around the front yard,  ready to witness the fruits of his hard work: The rainwater flowed into the well inside the yard. At first, it was as he wished it, but the rain fell in torrents and soon the well overflowed and flooded the front yard. Eventually, the water level was almost as high as the wall.

Many monks clambered to the rooftop, but were distressed to find that the temple was shaking. “Why is the roof shaking?” a monk asked the abbot.

Another monk who had studied the Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch said, “According to the Sixth Patriarch, it’s not the temple that’s shaking, it’s all in the mind.”


Upon hearing those words, all believed they had become “enlightened,” and thought that their inner calm would transcend all circumstances.

However, instead of sitting there trying to use his mind to avoid circumstances, a sensible monk jumped down and kicked the doors wide open. An avalanche of water instantly gushed out and the temple stopped shaking. He then asked, “Are all your minds still shaking?”

“No more shaking!” applauded those on the rooftop. “Our cohesive concentration power caused the water to gush out!” The abbot shook his head and smiled a knowing smile. He realized that those monks were still lost in their illusion of enlightenment. They had indulged in Zen sayings that amounted to “It’s all in the mind,” and as a result, they didn’t face the reality that the flood was causing the roof to shake. If not for the monk who faced reality and kicked the doors open, the temple would have collapsed and people would have drowned.  Everything would have been lost.

In the cultivation of “faith, aspiration and practice,” we must accept reality in all situations. Act on aspirations, speak less and practice more. Indulge less in those Zen sayings which may lead you to believe that you’re enlightened, when in fact you’re lost in the illusion of enlightenment.