Do fish have a word for water?

I am slowly reading Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. It’s a set of transcripts of short talks about Zen Buddhist practice. Much of it applies quite generally to living calmly and contentedly, but I’m going slowly because it does come from a philosophical background I’m not that familiar with, and it makes no attempt to be a complete introduction to it, so I’m finding I need time to digest. Last night I reached a passage, in the “Study Yourself” chapter, that made something click for me and felt worth sharing:

When I was at Eiheiji monastery in Japan, everyone was just doing what he should do. That is all. It is the same as waking up in the morning; we have to get up. At Eiheiji monastery, when we had to sit, we sat; when we had to bow to Buddha, we bowed to Buddha. That is all. And when we were practicing, we did not feel anything special. We did not even feel that we were leading a monastic life. For us, the monastic life was the usual life, and the people who came from the city were unusual people. When we saw them we felt, “Oh, some unusual people have come!”

But once I had left Eiheiji and been away for some time, coming back was different. I heard the various sounds of practice—the bells and the monks reciting the sutra—and I had a deep feeling. There were tears flowing out of my eyes, nose, and mouth! It is the people who are outside of the monastery who feel its atmosphere. Those who are practicing actually do not feel anything. I think this is true for everything. When we hear the sound of the pine trees on a windy day, perhaps the wind is just blowing, and the pine tree is just standing in the wind. That is all that they are doing. But the people who listen to the wind in the tree will write a poem, or will feel something unusual. That is, I think, the way everything is.

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