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Washing up

A monk said to the Zen master Joshu, "I have just entered the monastery. Please teach me." Joshu replied, "Have you eaten breakfast?" "Yes," replied the monk. "Then," said Joshu, "wash your bowl."

In the West, we listen to this famous story and wait expectantly for it to end. Presumably the monk washed up his bowl, and then returned to Joshu for his teaching .... Except that the story has already ended. In the collection of Buddhist stories of which this is a part, there is only one additional sentence: "The monk understood."

Understood what? What is there to understand? You eat your meal, you wash your bowl -- and then you go to work, don't you? Or else you meditate, or sit at the feet of your teacher. What is it that the monk "understood"?

Well, perhaps the monk understood the Twelfth Step. We who have long-term recovery tend to think that Step 12 is about carrying the message to others. But one-third of the Step is devoted to practicing these principles in all our affairs. In fact, if we practice these principles in all our affairs, we can't help but carry the message to others. To wash up mindfully is to achieve all that we might achieve meditating on the breath or helping others.

Sheldon Kopp told of the Buddhist master who was visited by people from many miles around. They came to watch him put on his boots, because he did it with such complete and total devotion.

"The spiritual life is never one of achievement:
it is always one of letting go."

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