Let’s Dust! Let’s Wash Off the Dirt!

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We will have our annual Temple Clean-up on December 18. I am so excited that we are able to resume the year-end “big cleaning” of the Temple tradition for the first time in three years. Speaking of cleaning, what is your attitude towards it? Probably a lot of you think cleaning is bothersome, smelly, dirty, tiresome, and so on.

Cleaning Culture

One of my big surprises when I came to the U.S. is that students don’t clean their classrooms or the school restroom that they use daily. I know that there must be exceptions, but most schools here hire cleaning staff to take care of this job.

In Japan, most schools set aside time each day for both students and teacher to clean the spaces they use. Growing up in Japan, I used to participate in cleaning with my classmates from elementary school through high school. In Japanese tradition, it is an important part of our education to sweep and clean our school building that we use each day with gratitude. The act of working together to clean and bring to order things that we or others used and dirtied, I believe helped to shape our minds and character. This cleaning culture makes Japanese kids’ minds and spirits grow, and is very influential in the course of their development. That is why in Japan we say things like, “Cleaning cleans our minds, too,” and “When your room is messy, it shows that you have a messy mind. ”

The cleaning culture came from the Buddhist idea that, when we get rid of the dirt and stains around us, we also wash away all troubling thoughts and keep our minds pure. I am sure that, after you’ve swept a room clean, you have felt happy and refreshed.

For people seeking the Buddhist way, cleaning is one of the most important everyday practices to cultivate the heart and mind. There is a very famous story on this topic from the time of Sakyamuni Buddha that I would like to share with you.

Remove the “Three Poisons”

There were two brothers who were disciples of Sakyamuni Buddha. The older brother, Maha-pantaka, was very intelligent, and the younger one, Cūda-pantaka, was a fool who couldn’t even memorize a short phrase spoken by the Buddha.

One day, when staying at the Jetavana Monastery, Sakyamuni Buddha heard Cūda’s wailing cry from outside the front gate. Buddha felt sorry for him, so he went out and asked him, “Cūda, why are you crying so hard?”

Cūda answered with tears in his eyes, “Oh, Buddha, I was born a fool. I immediately forget even a short passage of your words. Because of this, my older brother abandoned me, saying, ‘ You are hopeless. You should give up being a monk and go back to our hometown because you have caused the other disciples so much trouble.’ When I think that I am a fool who cannot become a Buddha, I am overwhelmed with grief!”

Buddha told him gently, “Cūda, don’t cry. A person who knows his own foolishness is not foolish. You are much wiser than the person who believes that he is wise, but doesn’t realize his own foolishness.”

Then, Buddha held a broom out to Cūda and encouraged him to use it every day to clean up the monastery grounds while repeating, “Let’s dust! Let’s wash off the dirt!”

Cūda, who had great difficulty remembering even a few words for a short time, tried to clean every corner of the monastery thoroughly with the broom as he chanted, “Let’s dust! Let’s wash off the dirt!” in a loud voice. He did this without neglecting cleaning for even one day though he was ridiculed by other disciples.

After several years had passed and due to his own great efforts, Cūda actually came to realize what the Buddha was trying to teach him by making him concentrate on cleaning. That is, he saw that Buddha’ s teaching is to brush off the dust around himself and to wash off the dirt in his mind. The dust around oneself is the temptation that confuses one’s mind. And the dirt in one’s mind refers to the “Three Poisons,” such as greed, anger, and ignorance. The greed is the dirt that wants to possess everything; the anger is the dirt that causes loss of control when one cannot get his own way; and the ignorance is the dirt that cannot understand that it is the greed and anger which bring one unhappiness.

Cūda then became fully aware that in order to become a Buddha, one has to remove the “Three Poisons”—the dirt of greed, anger, and ignorance—from one’s mind completely. As a result of his untiring efforts at cleaning, he was finally able to clear his mind and become an excellent disciple who was revered by all.

Buddha was really pleased to see Cūda’s growth over time and told all his followers that Cūda had attained the Sagehood of Arhat‡. He told them, “My disciples, if you learned the many teachings of the Dharma only by memorizing them, they still won’t make sense to you. If you thoroughly practice even one phrase of the teachings, you will be able to attain the way of the truth. Look at Cūda. I am really proud of him. Follow his good example!”

Cleanup After Sunday Service

This explains why cleaning is a very important daily Buddhist practice. This is because the mind is naturally purified when one cleans. Of course, it is very important to perform this practice in your home, but we should also constantly keep our Temple clean because it is our spiritual home. After the Sunday Service, we should return the service book we used back to its place. If we make trash, we shouldn’t leave it in the pew, but discard it in a trash can. After a meeting, we should put the chairs in order, wipe the table clean, wash the coffee maker and coffee cups. We should make sure to clean the room we used carefully in gratitude so that next person can use it comfortably. It is important for us Buddhists to always have such a mental attitude.

Join Us at O-soji

Well, I really look forward to seeing many of you participating in our annual Temple Clean-up on Sunday, December 18. Why don’t you sweep every corner of the Temple ground by chanting, “Let’s dust! Let’s wash off the dirt!” as we empty our minds, just as Cūda did. Maybe pushing the heavy vacuum cleaner will lead you to the Sagehood of Arhat.

In Gassho,
Rev. Yushi Mukojima

‡ Arhat. Monk who has gained insight into the true nature of existence.