Take it from me, a Buddhist monk: cleaning is good for you

Source: The Guardian

By 

Mental health counsellors often recommend that clients clean their home environments every day. Dirt and squalor can be symptoms of unhappiness or illness. But cleanliness is not only about mental health. It is the most basic practice that all forms of Japanese Buddhism have in common. In Japanese Buddhism, it is said that what you must do in the pursuit of your spirituality is clean, clean, clean. This is because the practice of cleaning is powerful.

Of course, as a monk who is dedicated to spiritual life, I recommend Buddhist concepts and practices. But you don’t have to convert to a new religion to learn from it. Many people’s associations with the word “religion” may include a set of rules to regulate people’s values and actions; the creation of an irrational transcendent entity; or the idea of a crutch for people who cannot think for themselves. In my view, though, a respectable religion does not exist to bind one’s values or actions. It is there to free people from the systems and standards that order society. In Japanese characters, the word “freedom” is written as “caused by oneself”.

Cleaning practice, by which I mean the routines whereby we sweep, wipe, polish, wash and tidy, is one step on this path towards inner peace. In Japanese Buddhism, we don’t separate a self from its environment, and cleaning expresses our respect for and sense of wholeness with the world that surrounds us.

You can see the presence of nature in the Japanese traditions of sado (tea ceremonies) or kado (flower arranging), which were both originally born from Buddhism. But the idea of “nature” in Japan has been strongly influenced by western culture. Pronounced “shizen”, the characters reflect a human-centred version of the world in which humans stand at the top of a hierarchy as the agent or messenger of the creator.

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