Some ask, "What is the meaning of life?" Some say that life is more than just survival. When asked to describe "just survival," the answer may come that it's "to have a roof overhead, some food on the table, clothes to wear, keeping the lights on." That may be setting the bar low, or it may be the most noble activity of all. We don't do these things by magic, or by ourselves, or only for ourselves. But often, even if we set it to do those things to provide for our families, we complicate it because of what's happening between the ears.
Instead of going to work, getting a day's pay for a day's efforts, we get caught. Caught in promotions, in raises, in productivity, even in stabbing our co-worker in the back to achieve all of them. The carrot is just out of reach, the stick too near. What ostensibly is just a means to provide the food and clothes and an address and running water, seduces us, distracts us, diverts us onto side roads of delusion. Our thoughts run to more, then to even more, then to different, then to same, then to better, then to worse, then to like and dislike. That's ok, it's what we do. The amount of time we spend in distraction and delusion can end as quickly as it starts, but that entails the ability to see that we're being distracted and delusional.
When asked why the Patriarch came from the West, we ask in return, "West of where? Here? Is that west of here? "What, Pennsylvania? Colorado?" Or maybe, being good, learned Zen students, we know the Patriarch is Bodhidharma, and that he came from India to China, so it must be "To spread the Dharma!" as if he were a missionary trying to bring civilization to the savages. Then the teachers says, "The cypress tree in the garden." Then the Great Student spends time thinking about what profound teaching, what symbolism lies behind that statement, missing the forest for the tree, the tree for the bark, the bark for the dog, the dog for Zhaozhou's dog, and meanwhile, acting more like Pavlov's dog. "Does Pavlov's dog have Buddha-Nature?" "Ding!" Lunch hour!
When working, just work, fully 100% work. When eating, 100% eat. When paying the electric bill, fully pay the electric bill. Pondering the dog and the tree, maybe ponder the dog and the tree, but not at the expense of working, eating, paying. Zen doesn't ask us to be mindless automatons, far from it. No Mind is not mindless. Its emptiness isn't non-existence, it’s full existence, infinite potential, open, clear, unobstructed mind. When the grey matter doesn't obstruct, when it doesn't get in the way, when it neither thinks that things are how they appear nor that they are otherwise, then all is open. The cypress tree is in the garden, the cypress tree is the garden, the tree is not the garden, nor not-the-garden, nor is it worth the time spent thinking about it, unless there's a cypress tree in the garden at the side of the road and we’re driving back from lunch. See the tree, let the tree be the tree, and go on attending to the Great Matter, which for a moment is seeing the tree, and making sure the car doesn't run into it, because we’re driving, fully 100% driving. When we've driven past the tree, do we think about the tree anymore? No reason to, there's a dog on the side of the road now, and it's not running into the road. No-mind? Maybe. Emptiness? Maybe. When you step outside the car, are you going to trip on the emptiness?
Finished driving back from lunch? Park car, go work.