When we read about Chinese or Japanese Buddhism we come across passages that say such things as that the master “eats when hungry, drinks when thirsty, sleeps when tired.” and the like. We might then think, “what is so different about that?” or we might think that something very profound is being conveyed in a rather mysterious way.
However, it is also worth reflecting that not many people do live in such a way. It is not much of an exaggeration to say that the world has always been divided into two groups, one of which is always hungry and the other never so. It is the same today. In some parts of the world, there is rarely enough to eat and hunger is an everyday experience never fully satisfied, but in the so-called developed world people hardly ever actually experience hunger. They eat long before arriving at that point, following social convention, and, usually, eating far more than they actually need.
The description of the Buddhist master, therefore, is not just an ideal for the individual, it is also a model for harmony in world society. A former president of the USA used quite often to assert that Americans had a “right” to their way of life. In fact, the idea of “rights” is a legal concept that does not really have relevance to this type of pronouncement, but, in any case, we know that if everybody on the planet adopted the American way of life as it currently is we would need four planets the size of the Earth to provide the necessary provisions. The “ecological footprint” of many other rich countries is not so very different.
On the other hand, it does not appear that the Master is necessarily a passionate social activist either. Really he is just living in a natural way. He might sometimes support a worthy social cause - many sages have done so - but his main modus is simply to live an authentic life. There is here a faith that anybody who lives in a more simple and natural way automatically makes an important contribution to the spiritual wellbeing of us all, without making a special point of it. Buddhism minimises self-consciousness.
A lot of “spiritual training” consists substantially in getting people to live in rather overly constrained ways. The trainee tries to get his mind under control in the way one might tame a wild horse. This has some benefits. However, it is worth noticing that while the trainee is trying ferociously to stop his mind going this way and that way, the master has a mind that goes and comes as it likes. How can this be?
When there is sunshine, he enjoys it. When there is rain, too. When the earth is green and when it is brown, crossing the sea or crossing the dessert, everything is full of light. Emotions come and go too, like clouds in the sky. He is not trying to put on a special appearance. To the casual observer, he is nothing special, occasionally a little odd, perhaps, and yet… there is something rare there, a precious jewel that has no name and is not consciously displayed.
When hungry eat. When tired, sleep. And while you sleep so, the Buddhas will sew that jewel secretly into the hem of your robe.