The Mister and I are sitting in the garage having a “the babies are in bed” drink. We have Jethro Tull’s Thick As A Brick playing in the background. There are dishes left in the sink, and a large bit of laundry left to fold. I’m sure there are a few other things that need to be done, but it is just too hot to do anything but drink a cold beer and listen to music.
Other than what I’m writing now, all I can think about is what is left to be done in the house. You see…I did not “wash my bowls” before coming out here.
In Buddhism there is a phrase, “wash your bowls.” What this means for me is multi-fold (the laundry). It helps me keep clean (the dishes) my tools for everyday living. When I get in a place where I’m stuck (the things on the floor that need sweeping), I reach for this simple tool. Wash your bowls.
At the very basic level, this means accepting personal responsibility. When you peel back the layers of bowl washing, you can see deeper meanings. If you are accepting personal responsibility you have right thought, speech, vocation and so on. If you are focused on the task at hand, you are not letting your mind wander into the realms of not-so-right thought (which is the key to having the other “rights” in Buddhism).
But this post is not about Buddhism per se…but more about how the simple act of physically washing your bowls makes a path for accepting responsibility.
In the news lately I see a whole lot of finger pointing. There is quite a bit of “it isn’t ME, but all of Them that is making the world as it is today.” Instead of looking at our own stack of metaphorical dishes, we like to point out the larger, and more messy, stack of everyone else’s dishes.
I get pretty guilty of this myself. When I think I’m in need of validation, I’ll search around for someone who is clearly doing things all wrong…and if they would just listen to me…the world would run in the fashion of unicorns, rainbows and fluffy bunnies. And, if I may go on (online, to the local Editor, or to anyone who is willing to listen), what I am saying is according to every expert that I can find to further support my cause.
There is no easier way to not look into ourselves, than by looking into the “self” of another.
So…what if we all just stopped to wash our bowls? What if we spent hours and hours on inner peace, instead of worrying so much about how we would influence our will onto the world around us? Instead of fostering a new-age Pax Romana with our desire to fix the world’s ills, we (you, me and everyone we see…) can take a peaceful look into our own inner Roman.
But here comes the sticky wicket…just by writing this very post, I’m offering a suggestion for a way of life that I think is good for everyone.
When I get to places like this, I like to reference Suzuki’s Zen Mind, Beginners Mind. What I’m really looking for is a way to “control” my environment…make it better for me and those I love (and maybe those I would like to love). Suzuki says:
Ancient painter used to practice putting dots on a paper in artistic disorder. This is rather difficult. Even though you try to do it, usually what you do is arranged in some order. You think you can control it, but you cannot; it is almost impossible to arrange your dots out of order. It is the same with taking care of your everyday life. Even though you try to put people under some control it is impossible. You cannot do it. The best way to control people is to encourage them to be mischievous. Then they will be in control in a wider sense. To give your sheep or cow a large, spacious meadow is the way to control him. So it is with people: first let them do what they want, and watch them. This is the best policy. The second worst is trying to control them. The best one is to watch them, just to watch them, without trying to control them.
The same way works for you yourself as well. “If you want to obtain perfect calmness in your zazen, you should not be bothered by the various images you find in your mind. Let them come, and let them go. Then they will be under control. But this policy is not so easy. It sounds easy, but it requires some special effort. How to make this kind of effort is the secret of practice.
This means that it is okay to let people not wash their bowls. Let them find their own way. If you try to hard to control what others do, then you are not trying hard enough to look at what you do.
Isn’t this something we are all seeking? A way to keep order in the Universe without making everything bend to our will? Don’t we scream from the mountaintops, “Let my people go”? Don’t we wish mischief upon everyone we love, so that in this searching they will find their own way?
These are things I think about on a hot, sultry evening…while drinking cold beer in a warm garage. As I look over at The Mister, seeing his joy in hearing music from his past (even though I want to listen to my own music), I allow him the free will to engage in a little mischief - an evening free of washing his bowls.
And in that freedom is where we all find Nirvana. We allow all that we see a chance to find its own way, a chance to make its own mistakes.
Because, in the end, we only really need to be concerned about our own damn bowls anyway.