Temple Cleaning

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The first work leader I had when I moved into Zen Center was an energetic young priest, originally from South Africa. He was a good person to have as a boss – I was there as a practice period student, so I reported to him every day, and we often worked in the kitchen together in the afternoons.

One day we were eating together and he told me he had an idea for a soji assignment (these are the short temple cleaning jobs that are done between the end of morning service and breakfast): he would tell someone to clean their mind. After all, each monk’s mind was a part of the temple, wasn’t it?

I must have chuckled; it seemed like a fun thing to think about. And then, a day or two later, when I got to the front of the line for assignments, bowing and bending my head forward so he could tell me what to do without raising his voice, I heard him tell me to clean my mind.

Well then I had to figure out what that might entail. Fairly quickly I thought the best thing to do was to sit down in the courtyard and contemplate the fountain, which was as relaxing a way as I could think of to spend the next fifteen minutes. I don’t remember if anyone wondered what I was doing, and why I hadn’t picked up a broom – soji is still part of the great silence that ends at breakfast – or if I was approved for my choice. It did give me an early flavour of the quirkiness that zen encourages.

Fountain with daffodilsThe fountain in question, at the heart of Zen Center’s peaceful courtyard.



Without desire everything is sufficient.
With seeking myriad things are impoverished.
Plain vegetables can soothe hunger.
A patched robe is enough to cover this bent old body.
Alone I hike with a deer.
Cheerfully I sing with village children.
The stream beneath the cliff cleanses my ears.
The pine on the mountain top fits my heart.


‘Truly, the point of the singular transmission between buddha ancestors, the essential meaning of the direct understanding beyond words, does not adhere to the situations of the koans of the previous wise ones, or the entryways to enlightenment of the ancient worthies. It does not exist in the commentaries and assessments with words and phrases, in the exchanges of questions and answers, in the understandings with intellectual views, in the mental calculations of thought, in conversations about mysteries and wonders, or in explanations of mind and nature. Only when one releases these handles, without retaining what has been glimpsed, is it perfectly complete right here, and can fill the eyes. Behind the head, the path of genuine intimacy opens wide; in front of the face, not knowing is a good friend.’ (Extensive Record, vol 8, 11)

Leaving Home, Attaining the Way

‘Good disciple of Buddha, the source of mind is still; the ocean of Dharma is profound. Those who realize this are liberated immediately. Traveling the path of Buddha, one must be in the state of renunciation. This is not for renunciation itself, but for the sake of realizing the Way. This form is common to all Buddhist orders, a criterion for attaining freedom. To make body and mind one with the Way, nothing is better than renunciation.’ (from the Shukke Tokudo Priest Ordination ceremony)

Sharon Salzberg

‘Love and concern for all are not things some of us are born with and others are not. Rather, they are results of what we do with our minds. We can choose to transform our minds so that they embody love, or we can allow them to develop habits and false conceptions of separation.’  (Lovingkindness)

What comes up for me when reading this is also allowing ourselves to do this imperfectly as we try this transformation. I am often brought face-to-face with the limits of my compassion and empathy, but I try to stay with the place of wanting to do better. I will never forget how constantly Blanche worked on this in the final years of her long life.

Koun Yamada

‘By awakening to our self-nature, by awakening to both emptiness and form, we come to peace. This is true Buddhist salvation. However, we must wipe away all traces of enlightenment as well, and then forget that we have wiped them away. And that practice continues endlessly. This is the Buddha Way.’ (Zen: The Authentic Gate)