This famous Zen Koan Joshu Washes the Bowl is from the book The Gateless Gate 無門関 and has long been a favorite of mine. In many ways it is the essence of Zen. It’s completxity lies in the fact that it is so simple that it eludes us. We are just looking for so much more complexity then there really is. It is the realization of the simplicity that caused the monk to be enlightened in that moment.
A monk asked Zhaozhou to teach him.
Zhaozhou asked, “Have you eaten your meal?”
The monk replied, “Yes, I have.”
“Then go wash your bowl”, said Zhaozhou.
At that moment, the monk was enlightened.
We live incredibly complex and digitally connected lives. There is a never ending stream of external stimuli that tells us what is important and what we should be thinking of in each moment. Emails constantly stream in and notifications chime to tell us that someone else has a priority for us. A long time ago, I disabled almost every notification on all of my devices. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Email, and a hundred other apps. I do this because I was distracted from washing the bowl. I would start to wash the bowl, But then an email would arrive, And I would deal with the email, then another email would arrive and it continues. I never got around to washing the bowl.
I’m sure you’ve realized what washing the bowl is about. It is a metaphor about doing what is next and being fully present in each moment. When we are through eating what is next is to wash the bowl. Not to wash the bowl thinking about what we’re going to do afterwards and not rushing through washing the bowl. But to wash the bowl carefully with gratitude and mindfulness. Then do what is next.
Set your intention for the day the moment you get up. Take the time, right now, to disable every non-essential notification on your devices. Tomorrow morning when you wake up, stand up slowly and stretch, then take a deep breath and say with gratitude, “make the bed.”