Review: A Monk's Guide to Clean a House and Mind by Shoukei Matsumoto
This book, by a Japanese Shin monk, carefully describes how to transform 'meaningless' chores into revelations of spiritual worth in this delightful new penguin publication.
In many ways this is the perfect companion volume to Meido Moore’s THE RINZAI ZEN WAY. A Shin-Buddhist monk at the Komyoji temple in Kamiyacho, Tokyo, the author is from a different Buddhist tradition to Rinzai Zen. Nonetheless his prescriptions for a clear mind and a tranquil heart are remarkably similar.
In his introduction he tells us that a monk’s day begins with cleaning: “We sweep the temple grounds and gardens and polish the main temple hall. We don’t do this because it’s dirty or messy. We do it to eliminate the gloom in our hearts.”
What a poetic way to put it!
He continues in the same vein: “We sweep dust to remove our worldly desires. We scrub dirt to free ourselves of attachments.” And he concludes: “Life is a daily training ground, and we are each composed of the very actions we take in life. If you live carelessly your mind is soiled, but if you try to live conscientiously it will slowly become pure again. If your heart is pure, the world looks brighter. If your world is bright, you can be kinder to others.”
This is a marvellous description of daily life practice, which in Zen is regularly emphasized as the necessary complement and extension to meditation.
There are sections on different parts of the house, particularly the kitchen, bathroom and toilet, and detailed instructions for cleaning each of them wholeheartedly. There is a whole chapter on personal items: how a monk does his laundry, how he selects and stores his clothes, how to iron properly. Much of the detail may not seem immediately relevant to a lay reader in the West but the careful and reverent attitude to all things used shines through in each description and thereby offers a clear picture of what a spiritual practice looks like.
One final gem under a heading called Rubbish: “… nothing starts out as rubbish. Things become rubbish when they are treated as rubbish. People who don’t respect objects don’t respect people. For them, anything no longer needed is just rubbish. Within any object can be found the tremendous time and effort put into it – the “heart” of the person who made it. It’s important to remember to feel grateful for this when cleaning or tidying, and not handle things carelessly.”
This is the true Zen attitude.
A MONK’S GUIDE TO A CLEAN HOUSE AND MIND by Shoukei Matsumoto (Penguin Books 2018)
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