Case 38 never ends, yet now comes ...
Case 39: Joshu's Bowl Washing
Do you know that washing the dishes is a sacred act? So is cleaning the toilet, putting stamps on an envelope and picking up the kids from school.
We sit Zazen as a sacred act, the only place to be and only action needed in that moment. But so is dish washing, toilet cleaning, envelope stuffing and all the rest when realized as such. Just doing what is to be done.
In fact, each and all are so even when NOT realized as such ... like the sun is always present even when hidden by the clouds (our resistance, frustrations, desires for something else, divisive thoughts and the like are the clouds). Nonetheless, it is lovely when the sun peaks out and we realize such now and then.
QUESTION: Can you change a light bulb or cook dinner like a sacred act? Does that mean you need to put on fancy robes, light incense and bow before changing a lightbulb? Or, can one realize lightbulb changing as a sacred ritual in another way?
There are actually times when we might recite a little Gatha or the like to remind us of the sacred nature of the ordinary ... as this Gatha a friend wrote for making coffee ...
Grinding fresh afternoon coffee
I vow with all beings
to inhale each moment
dropping likes and dislikes.
In monasteries, monks will bow and recite a short chant before entering the toilet or the bath. But "sacred" can be a matter of the heart at any time, even without formalities.
I think the last two paragraphs of Shishin Wick's essay offer us good direction on this:
It is just not necessary to realize every single act in every moment as so (I don't. Usually I just change the bulb without thinking it is a "Buddha Bulb" or something). Still, it is sacred nonetheless."Then wash you bowls," Joshu tells us. It is to lead an ordinary life, just as it is, ordinary—and that is truly extraordinary. But we must not confuse a Zen life with a "Zen-like" life, a life that conforms to our ideas of what we think Zen should be, and a life in which we try to act like a "Zen Student" or, worse still, a "Zen master". In this koan, Joshu is telling us just to let our life express itself and naturally come out in all our activities.
Do not let the word Zen delude you. Intimately realize that Zen is nothing other than what you do, and what you are, morning, noon and night. As long as you think it is something else, somewhere else, then you are trapped in a tomb with no way out.
ASSIGNMENT: AT LEAST ONCE OR TWICE A DAY THIS WEEK, IN THE MIDST OF SOME MOST ORDINARY OR TEDIOUS TASK OF LIFE, PLEASE EXPERIENCE SUCH MOMENTARILY AS A KIND OF SACRED RITUAL AND RECALL HOW EXTRA-ORDINARY IT IS SIMPLY TO BE ALIVE TO BE PERFORMING THE 'ORDINARY' TASK AT ALL. IF YOU WISH, YOU CAN REPORT TO US HOW DOING SO CHANGED YOUR EXPERIENCE OF THE TASK.
PS - If you are interested in more Gathas for our "ordinary" tasks, here is a recent thread ...