Far from seeing the exotic or the marvellous as the Way, Zen says that even something as mundane as washing the dishes is the Way. Washing dishes, everyday mind is the direction to go in practice, the way to practice, and even the goal of practice itself. A monk came to Joshus temple and asked,
I” am new here, could you please tell me what the essence of your teaching might be?” “Have you eaten?” asked Joshu. “Yes”, replied the monk. “Then go and wash your dishes”.
Why does Zen repudiate the magical and extol the mun-dane everyday life? A clue to the answer to this question lies in another saying, this time by a famous Zen layman, P’ang, who lived more or less at the same time as Joshu. He said,
“My miraculous power and magical ability: drawing water and chopping wood.”
In other words, the mundane world is already miraculous and magical. The wonder is not that people walk on water, it is that they walk at all.
I’m not a big fan of the popular use of the word Zen, because it gets to be the assumption that anything laid-back or harmonious is Zen. There’s more to it than that; in fact it’s an altogether different concept. But in its essence, it’s important to note that it’s not necessary to sit and meditate for years on end to get to the realization. It gets to be more religious in that case. And Zen is not about religion.