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Lions Roar : March 2010
52 SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2010 were made by hand. The seven pounds of hemp was woven into cloth and cut and sewn into a shirt. When Joshu put on his hempen shirt, he experienced a sensation that was the di- rect recognition of the shirt for what it was.” The shirt, you see, is just a shirt. Feel the fabric, the weave, and the weight of seven pounds in your hands. The laundry is just the laundry. pull it out of the hamper, sort by color and fabric, read the care instructions, and get on it with it. Tran- scending obstacles and overcoming preferences, we have an intimate encounter with our lives every time we do the wash. It’s nothing out of the ordinary, but no one turns their nose up at a clean pair of socks. With only a change in perspective, the most ordinary things take on inexpressible beauty. When we don’t know, we don’t judge. and when we don’t judge, we see things in a dif- ferent light. That is the light of our awareness, unfiltered by intellectual understanding, rumination, or evaluation. When we cultivate nondistracted awareness as a formal practice, we call it meditation. When we cultivate it in our home life, we call it the laundry, the kitchen, or the yard—all the places and the ways to live mindfully by attending without distraction to whatever appears before us. but it’s hard for us to believe that attention is all there is to it, and so we compli- cate things with our judgment—debasing the ordinary as insignificant and idealizing the spiritual as unattainable—never seeing that the two are one. A monk said to Joshu, “I have just entered the monastery. Please teach me.” “Have you eaten your rice porridge?” asked Joshu. “Yes, I have,” replied the monk. “Then you had better wash your bowl,” said Joshu. This famous koan is easy to view as a metaphor. empty your mind and get rid of your notions of spiritual attainment. but suppose you don’t view the bowl as a metaphor? That might change the way you look at the dishes in your kitchen sink and instruct you just as thoroughly. The kitchen is not only the heart of a home, it can also be the heart of a mindfulness practice. In cooking and cleaning, we move beyond our- selves and into compassionate care of everything and everyone around us. with no visible end, no redeeming value, and no apparent ur- gency? yes. It’s the wisdom of the ancient homemakers. after buddhism came to China, the Chan school replaced the tradition of itinerant alms-begging with communal living. It was practical, for one thing. and it was practice. Monastic training came to encompass all the work essential to everyday life—cleaning, cooking, and gardening—as well as meditation. For that reason we could well view the great Chinese masters as our progenitors in mindful homemaking, since many of their teachings point directly to the everyday chores we might rather high-mindedly neglect. A monk asked Joshu, “All dharmas are reduced to oneness, but what is oneness reduced to?” Joshu said, “When I was in Seishu I made a hempen shirt. It weighed seven pounds.” More than a thousand years have passed since Joshu gave that response, originating one of the many classic koans that recount his provocative teachings. To this day seekers are still struggling to find a way out of the shirt. What does it mean? What is he getting at? I don’t understand! We don’t just struggle with a shirt in a Zen koan. We strug- gle with the shirts in our hampers. With the pants, the blouses, the sheets, and the underwear. Laundry presents a mountain- ous practice opportunity because it provokes a never-ending pile of egocentric resistance. It’s not important to me. It’s tedious. I don’t like to do it! The monk in this story is like the rest of us, seeking wisdom through intellectual inquiry. If we’re not careful, this is how we approach mindfulness: as an idea, one we rather like, to elevate our lives with special contemplative consideration, a method for making smarter choices and thereby assuring better out- comes. The problem is that the life before us is the only life we have. The search for mean- ing robs our life of meaning, sending us back into our discursive minds while right in front of us the laundry piles up. In his commentary on this koan, the late teacher and translator Katsuki sekida rinsed Joshu’s shirt clear of obfuscation. “Joshu’s words remind us of the keen sensibilities of people who lived in the days when things When we cultivate nondistracted awareness as a formal practice, we call it meditation. When we cultivate it in our home life, we call it the laundry, the kitchen, the yard. Karen Maezen Miller is the author of Momma Zen. Her next book, Hand Wash Cold: Care Instructions for an Ordinary Life, will be pub- lished this spring. She is is a priest at the Hazy Moon zen Center in los angeles. phOTObydenICeLyneTTeandrade