A monk told Joshu: ‘I have just entered the monastery. Please teach me.’
Joshu asked: ‘Have you eaten your rice porridge?’
The monk replied: ‘I have eaten.’
Joshu said: ‘Then you had better wash your bowl.’
At that moment the monk was enlightened.
You may have seen this quote before. It’s from a koan, which is a story, dialogue, question, or statement, which is used in Zen-practices to provoke the “great doubt”, and test a student’s progress in Zen practice. This one is from the Gateless Gate, which is a series of koans compiled in the early 13th century by the Chinese Zen master Wumen Hui-k’ai. I’ve seen it here and there around the Internet and Leo Baubata also posted about this topic on mnmlist.com.
This koan applies quite well to minimalism. It may mean different things to different people, but to me, right now, it applies nicely to the idea of taking care of things right away rather than letting them sit until later.
In the literal sense I’ve been making an effort to wash my bowl right after eating. The benefits of this practice make a big impact on my daily life. First, the bowl is always ready next time I need to use it. Second, it’s easier to clean when the food remnants are fresh. Third, I don’t play the search for my bowl game every time I need it. It’s either on the counter drying or it’s in the cabinet where it belongs. If I were really good at this it would be dried too, and then it would always be in the cabinet. (I still have some work to do.)
This can be applied in a more general sense of complete what you start. Everything must come full circle. The circle of a bowl is
- Retrieve bowl from cabinet
- Fill bowl with food
- Eat food from bowl
- Wash bowl
- Dry bowl
- Return bowl to cabinet
Breaking (or pausing) in this circle leads to things going undone. Things undone are clutter. In the case of the bowl it is visual clutter. It is also mind clutter, as it is something that sits in the back of your mind as a task that needs to be completed.
I often think of “Wash your bowl” when I am working on things throughout the day. Am I completing what I started? It helps a little with my procrastination problem. When I feel the urge to put something off, I think “wash your bowl” and then I have that little boost of motivation to get it done.
I tried it for washing the cookware after cooking also. It is so much easier to process if you clean as you go. It works for mail. I go to the mail box, retrieve the mail, pay the bills, and toss the junk. It works for laundry. Load items in the washer, as soon as it’s done load them in the dryer, and as soon as it’s done fold them, hang them, and put them away.
“Wash your bowl” is my mantra for completing what I start and keeping the clutter away.