Shoukei Matsumoto is a Shin-Buddhist monk who operates the bilingual higan.net Buddhism website; his home temple is Komyoji Temple in Kamiyacho, Tokyo, Japan. In this gracefully written paperback, he presents the spiritual practices involved in cleaning a temple. He wants us to feel the beauty, orderliness, and calm of these sacred places so they become for us a kind of moving meditation:
"The time we spend carefully cleaning every nook and cranny of the temple grounds is extremely fulfilling. We live simply and take time to contemplate the self, mindfully living each moment. It's not just monks who need to live this way. Everyone in today's busy world needs to do it."
Zen Buddhism has been heralded for the cleaning practices of its monks. With clear prose, Masumoto enables us to understand the proper ways to do these chores:
"If you live carelessly, your mind will be 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."
Many people view cleaning their possessions and homes as boring and burdensome tasks; they can't wait to get them done. Some Buddhists believe that one of Buddha's disciples achieved enlightenment doing nothing but sweeping while chanting "Clean off dust. Remove grime." Cleaning in this way is an ascetic practice to cultivate the mind.
As is often true of Buddhist teachings, Masumoto identifies are layers of meaning in every act. For example, discussing things, he notes: "People who don't respect objects don't respect people. For them, anything no longer needed is just garbage. Children who grow up watching their parents act this way come to perceive not just things but friends in the same way as well."
Here are some of the suggestions for those who want to make the most out of cleaning and tidying up:
1. Do your cleaning in the morning or another time when silence surrounds you.
2. Cleaning and tidying up are daily tasks, and what matters most is consistency and perseverance.
3. Before cleaning, open the windows to allow fresh air to enter your home space; rejoice in this chance to connect with the natural world.
4. Avoid killing or harming insects or other living beings in your home while you are cleaning.
5. Use household chores as a means of deepening family bonds: change around cleaning duties.
6. Be mindful of the weather.
7. Don't put off or postpone chores for meaningless diversions or escapes from cleaning and polishing your soul and mind and body.
8. Take good care of the tools of cleaning such as brooms, dustpans, buckets, and baking soda.
9. Keep the sources of light in your home free of grime.
10. Mark the changing of the seasons with a change of clothes and care-taking for last season's outfits.
11. Use the energy from the sun to dry your clothes and laundry.
12. Use newspapers to clean windows.
13. Look up and take away cobwebs when no one is home.
14. Pay attention to your most prized possessions and they will tell you where they want to be kept.
15. Vary your special cleaning times: try a spring cleaning or an end of the year one.
By carefully cleaning and looking after your home, you are performing sacred chores and enriching both your outer and inner lives!