Shodo Harada Roshi on Joshu’s “Wash Your Bowls”

This is a public talk by Shodo Harada Roshi. Given on Feb., 27, 2008. The talk was given in support of Enso House a hospice on Whidbey Island, founded by Harada Roshi. Roshi teaches in Japanese with translation into English by DaiChi Storandt.

Roshi begins with a story from Zen Master Joshu, known as ‘wash your bowls’ [Mumonkan #7], and applies this teaching to each persons situation in the world today.

Here are comments by Shodo Harada Roshi on Joshu’s ‘Wash your bowls” from his newsletter (Jan, 93) which introduce his teaching:

One day a monk came to Joshu’s place. “I am a new monk who has just arrived at this dojo. Please tell me what is important to be done in training–how should one go about one’s life? I don’t have the slightest idea what to do; haven’t you some words I could rely on to guide me?”

This monk was looking for some words he could be thankful for–something he could rely and depend upon. Joshu responded in just the opposite way, “Did you eat the gruel this morning?”–“Yes. I ate it.” This monk was probably very surprised by the answer. He’d asked about what were the important points to maintain in training and what was he answered? “Did you eat your gruel this morning?” What a ridiculous question! Wasn’t it obvious?

But Joshu wasn’t just asking about the gruel he’d had for breakfast–he was asking about an important part of training. He was asking him to be ever more attentive at what he was doing. This probably left the monk with a real feeling of dissatisfaction. At this the monk said, “I received your answer,” to which Joshu responded without hesitation, “After you’ve eaten your gruel be sure that you wash your bowls well!” And when he put it that way the monk must have suddenly understood what he’d been saying.

This is the whole story. We say “zazen, zazen,” talk about “training, training.” We speak about “the Dharma, the Dharma” and “the truth, the truth”–we say all these things, and it makes it seem as if there’s something special and unusual. Talking like this is proof that the inventive and creative efforts are not really alive–not living. We may understand the reasoning and logic but we haven’t yet understood that very place where we’re standing. We may know about the sun and moon and stars that are in the heavens but we don’t yet understand our own mind.