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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.
The fountain in question, at the heart of Zen Center’s peaceful courtyard.