Wash your bowl

tree1From a journal entry regarding a New Year holiday spent at a Korean Buddhist temple.

~A new year approaching…evening in a temple surrounded by slums.  Today i saw a family…young children whose winter coats were caked black and shiny, open sores across their faces.  In the temple live four boys.  I met John as i came around the giant bell i had just run for the sake of all sentient beings…he introduced himself with a peaceful smile.  These boys live here, they wash all the dishes each morning; they clean the table after meals; they do their own laundry; and they perform monkish activities.  They came here by choice and stay here for the same reason.  I saw them chanting and bowing…it was not forced.  I watched them kicking a soccer ball around the yard…they are just happy, healthy boys without sickness or layers of grime that have become permanent.

~There is a story from Zen wherein a young monk approaches the master at the end of a morning meal and says to the master, “I’ve finished my breakfast…now what?”  The master replies, “Wash your bowl.”  At that moment the young monk was enlightened.  I do not pretend to understand the how’s and why’s of enlightenment.  I know the reason from a book: the young monk understood the actual simplicity of life…eat, wash, breathe, shit.

Today i learned how to wash my bowl.  Dinner was both simple and luxurious.  Rice, kim, white kimchi, mushrooms, radish, tofu, and soup.  The rule is that ou must finish all that you take.  At the end of the meal i poured water onto my plate and scraped it clean with my spoon.  Then i poured the water ino my bowl and cleaned that.  And then i drank the water.

“Wash your bowl” is not putting it in the sink or the dishwasher.  No hot, soapy water.  No scrubbing.  Washing your bowl is an act of contemplation in and of itself…it finishes the meal rather than cleaning it up.  A simple meal ended with an qually simple act.  I did not reach enlightenment but i did gain some understanding.  And i saved the boys a lot of work scrubbing stuck on rice tomorrow morning.

It was an interesting way to spend New Year’s Eve, which mostly consisted of getting up early…real frickin’ early, like 4:00 am…on New Year’s Day to perform the 450 full bows in socks on the wooden floor of an unheated room.  A full bow starts standing; bow; drop to your knees; and then bow further until your hands spread out on the floor and your forehead touches the tops of your hands.  Reverse the procedure to count “one”.

Photo credit: me


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~ by Lex on December 21, 2008.

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