This is a famous Zen koan
. The quote comes from the famous story about the mushroom
Master Dogen had gone to China to find true wisdom, to understand Zen. He studied many things but he did not really understand. In those days the religion of Buddhism, of Zen, was very widespread in China and he went from one temple to another. Nevertheless, he was not satisfied with the teaching he received so he decided to go home to Japan. Then one day he came to another temple. It was summer, and very hot. There was a very old monk there working, drying mushrooms. Old and frail as he was, he was spreading the mushrooms out in the sun.
Master Dogen saw him and asked him "Why are you working? You are an old monk and a superior of the temple. You should get younger people to do this work. It is not necessary for you to work. Besides, it is extremely hot today. Do that another day." Master Dogen was young then.
The old monk's answer was most interesting and has become famous in the history of Soto Zen.
It was a satori for Master Dogen.
The monk said to him, "You have come from Japan, young man, and you are intelligent and you understand Buddhism, but you do not understand the essence of Zen. If I do not do this, if I do not work here and now, who could understand? I am not you, I am not others. Others are not me. So others cannot have the experience. If I don't work, if I do not have this experience here and now, I cannot understand. If a young monk helped me to do the work, if I were to stand by and watch him, then I could not have the experience of drying these mushrooms. If I said, 'Do this, do that. Put them here or there,' I could not have the experience. I could not understand the act that is here and now.
"I am not others and others are not me." Master Dogen was startled, and he suddenly understood. True, he was highly intelligent. He said to himself, "I had better spend a little more time here in China." He had studied in books, he had looked with his brain and he spent all his time thinking, but just then he understood, "If I do not have the experience I cannot understand true Zen. Zen cannot be comprehended by the brain."
From the teachings of Taisen Deshimaru
, "Questions to a Zen Master