An Ancient Zen Story About Work and Rest


This is an ancient Zen story based on master Lao Tzu’s teachings.

It is said that an old follower of Lao Tzu, who was 90 years old, was pulling water from the well with his young son. Master Confucius happened to pass by. He saw them working and went up to the old man and said: “Don’t you know, foolish fellow!! Now we harness horses or oxen to do this kind of job? Why are you unnecessarily tiring yourself and this young boy?” The old man said, “Shh! Please, do not talk like this in front of my son. You can come after some time when my boy goes for lunch.”

When the son left, he asked the old man, “Why would you not let your son hear what I said?” He replied, “I am 90 years old, and still, I have the strength to work side by side with a youth of 30. If I use horses to pull the water, my son will not have the same strength at 90 that I have now. So do not talk of this in front of my son. It is a question of his health. I know that in cities, the horses pull water from the well. I also know that there are machines that do this job as well. But then, what will my son do? What will happen to his health, his vitality?”

What we do, on the one hand, has an immediate effect on the other.

According to Lao Tzu’s teachings, “Work and rest are both united. If you wish to relax, toil hard.” Strive so hard that relaxation falls on you. The rest has to be earned through labor. Or else, you shall have to pass a restless night.

An ant on the move does more than a dozing ox.

Love and Sunshine.