Ch'an Master Ting-chou was walking in the courtyard with a novice monk. Suddenly, a gust of wind blew many leaves off a tree. The Master bent over to pick them up andut them in his pockets.

The novice said to him, "Master! You don't have to do that. We'll sweep the courtyard tomorrow morning."


The Master objected to his suggestion, "You shouldn't say that. Will sweeping definitely make the yard cleaner? If I pick up one leaf, there will be one less on the ground. It will be cleaner than if I don't do it."

"But, Master!" protested the novice, "There are so many leaves that are falling. The moment you pick one up, another may fall on the same spot. How will you be able to finish the task?"

Ting-chou replied as he continued picking up leaves, "Leaves don't just fall on the ground, but they also fall in our minds. I am picking up those that are in my mind. Eventually, I'll clean up all of them. "

Upon hearing this, the novice began to understand the purpose of the life of Ch'an practitioners.


When the Buddha was alive, he had a disciple who was not very bright. This disciple was so dull that every time he memorized a new verse during chanting, he would forget the one he had previously learned. The Buddha had no alternative but to find another method, so he asked him what he was good at doing. The disciple replied that he knew how to sweep the floor. The Buddha told him to chant "whisk off the dust and clean up the trash" while he was working. After some time, the disciple began to think: "If one uses a broom to sweep away rubbish, what should one do to wipe off the dust in one's mind?" Consequently, he became wise and eventually attained enlightenment.

By picking up leaves, Ting-chou was actually eradicating erroneous thoughts and worries from his own mind. It does not matter how many fallen leaves there are on Earth. As for those in our minds, it decreases the sum total by one, when we pick one up. As Buddhists, when we have attained peace of mind, we possess all phenomena. Confucian scholars hold that in order to achieve anything, individuals should start with their own self-cultivation. Ch'an practitioners believe that a pure mind will automatically bring forth the Pure Land, and we should continue to pick up our fallen leaves.

(Source: Hsing Yun's Ch'an Talk, Book 3)