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Friday, January 13, 2006

Zen and the Art of Washing Dishes 

A monk told Joshu: `I have just entered the monastery. Please teach me.'

Joshu asked: `Have you eaten your rice porridge?'

The monk replied: `I have eaten.'

Joshu said: `Then you had better wash your bowl.'

At that moment the monk was enlightened.
I receive an indescribable peace from washing dishes; it is the one household chore with which I have no discord. There is a nameless clarity that appears to me with each cleansed dish, returned to its original state of spotlessness. (Of course, what is a dish's truly original state? Was not every dish at one time a mess of clay, or glass, or china?)

At times the food on each plate becomes the detritus in my mind; with my green scrub pad and yellow sponge I can obliterate the barriers to my mental calm. The pile to my left becomes submerged in the flowing sink, and it becomes the mound in the drainer to my right. This steady process helps to ease out the demons of discontent.

Likewise, stubborn discolorations reflect the myriad creatures afloat in my consciousness. That stain which will not abate mocks the essence of some minor inner turmoil; a greasy setback for transcendence. Yet with patience and persistence will the most necessary of these become clear anew.

There is no shortcut to the cleansing. No magic fluid will cause an instant clarity, nor do attempts to clean multiple dishes at once bear fruit. Each much be approached as itself; that dish which is combined cannot be truly cleaned. And with each dish added to the pile, I am reminded again of the urgency in clearing them away. The longer I go without washing, the more weighing upon my mind. I aim for regular sessions of clarity, and when things get in the way, things get in the way.

It's been over a decade since I lived in a house with a mechanical dishwasher. I expect having one would rob me of this basic, essential ritual. My mind, the bowl -- to be clean, to be pure.


Check out some of the audiobooks at LibriVox. I've started working with them on Poe and Lao-Tse. (Just what I need -- another project!)

Today I'm listening to: My students taking their final exams!