Wash your bowl

A monk said to Chao Chou, “I’m new to this monastery. Please teach me.”
Chao Chou said, “Have you eaten your rice porridge?”
The monk said, “Yes, I have.”
Chao Chou said, “Then you better wash your bowl.”
At that moment, the monk was enlightened

I know what you’re thinking — “that seemed like an ordinary conversation between a master and a pupil?” In a way, yes. In fact, I’ve had that conversation with my dad, my mom, my brother, my wife and now, my children. In a much literal sense though.

And, I don’t wish to enlighten anyone with this post.

Here’s how Lin Jensen explains this dialog between the monk and Chao Chou:

Washing a bowl is not something you understand, it’s just something you do. The problem for me with the claim that the monk understood is that it leads to speculation about what the monk understood, and this in turn has encouraged interpretations that attribute meaning to the dialogue. A simple line like “Have you eaten your rice gruel?” is turned into “What is the state of your enlightenment?” And from this it follows that the monk’s “Yes, I have,” becomes something like “Yes, I’m enlightened,” instead of simply, “Yes, I’ve had breakfast.” And worst of all—and the place where I depart from all such interpretation—is when Chao Chou’s “Wash your bowl” is taken as an instruction in purification, urging the monk to rid himself of the pride of enlightenment.

The pursuit (and the pride that follows) of enlightenment can be a dangerous thing. Particularly at an age where instant results, instant gratification, instant success, Instagram and insta-whatever is all the rage! Our priorities have taken a U-turn — from enjoying the journey to reaching the destination in the shortest possible time.

While I’m far enlightened to explain why we do what we do, I do appreciate the value of simply pausing for a moment and reflecting on what’s going on. Instead of rushing to that next BIG thing in your list, it just might be worth its while to observe your thoughts, experiences and even your pain.

Do you even feel accomplished after checking off that big thing off your list? You just may have a problem if you did not feel that way.

Here’s the painful fact — we’re all riddled by one goal or the other. It just never ends. And I can tell you that from experience. For years, I’ve practiced and mastered the art of “radical ruthlessness” (I made that word up!) for all my accomplishments.

It works this way — the moment I conquer a goal, I got to have on already waiting for me to pursue. I simply cannot wait. It’s a waste of time. I must keep pushing the envelope. Which I did pretty well.

Over the years I’ve developed a strong sense of self-awareness that has lead me to this question: when will all this end?

You and I both know the answer to that.

Finding ways to pause and reflect on the tempo of this insanely obsessive life is our responsibility bar none. Sure, we can’t ever be the austere monk seeking enlightenment, but we too can, perhaps can wash our bowl and meditate on the experience.

Rejoice the journey, count the steps if that slows you down but remember that your life isn’t about the destination but the journey. Always.

If you’ve read this far. Close your browser and just savour the moment. You won’t regret it.

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