Gateless Gate (Mumonkan, Wumenguan) #7
Book of Serenity (Shoyoroku, Congrong Lu) #39
Zhaozhou's "Wash Your Bowls"
Gateless Gate (Mumonkan, Wumenguan) #7
Book of Serenity (Shoyoroku, Congrong Lu) #39
Zhaozhou's "Wash Your Bowls"
- Zhaozhou Congshen (Joshu Jushin, 778-897, 10th gen). Go to ZHAOZHOU
- an unnamed monk
When rice comes, you open your mouth;Case (Sato)
When sleep comes, you close your eyes.
When you wash your face, you touch your nose;
When you take up your straw sandals, you feel your feet.
At those times, if you lose the koan, take a burning light and make a special search in the deep night.
How can you find the right correspondence [with your real self]?
A monk asked Zhaozhou [GG: in all earnestness], "I have just entered this monastery. I beg you, Master, please give me instructions."Wansong's Notes
Zhaozhou asked, "Have you eaten your rice gruel yet?" 
The monk answered, "Yes, I have." 
Zhaozhou said, "Then wash your bowls." 
[GG: The monk attained some realization.]
 The monastery isn't bad for you.Wumen's Comment
 Unrefined gold, a jewel in the rough.
 A long-experienced monk is not as good as this monk.
 Don't cast doubt.
Zhaozhou, opening his mouth, showed his gall bladder and revealed his heart and liver. If the monk, hearing it, did not really grasp the fact, he would mistake a bell for a pot.Wumen's Verse (Yamada trans, with Senzaki trans in italics)
Just because it is so clear,Hongzhi's Verse (Wick trans, with Cleary trans in italics)
It is too clear, and so is hard to see.
It takes us longer to realize it.
A fool once searched for fire with a lighted lantern;
If you quickly acknowledge that the candlelight is fire,
Had he known what fire was,
You will find that the rice has long been cooked.
His rice would have been cooked much sooner.
When the gruel's finished, have him wash the bowl.Wansong's Comment
Breakfast over, the direction is to wash the bowl;
Suddenly the mind-ground naturally meets itself.
Opened up, the mind ground meets of itself.
Right then the monastery's guest is replete.
And now, a guest of the monastery, having studied to the full --
Tell me: Is any enlightenment in there or not?
But was there enlightenment in there or not?
Catching a dragon with a straight hook is already being dull; three inches apart from the hook is already being taken over by the boatman and Jiashan. I do not say people of these times have no share, but generally they swallow the hook out of greed for the bait. See how that Zhaozhou doesn't break the fishing pole, and doesn't kick over the boatman either: as he sits at leisure on the stone bridge, passing the time by the log crossing, naturally there are those who climb up the bank and fall into his hands. The original record has it that this monk hereby attained enlightenment. One might say, "you may sport with the line on the pole -- without distrubing the clear waves the meaning is naturally distinct."Nantang's Verse (Cleary)
Zhaozhou points out "Wash your bowl" --Huguo's Verse (Cleary)
Zen seekers who scramble and race waste effort madly:
They don't even know where to look for everyday affairs;
They are clearly told, but are as blind and deaf.
Finding out the principles of things makes up the livelihood of the house;Background: A Zhaozhou Verse from near the end of his life (Wick)
When you're able to meet the opportunity of the time, then you know the heart.
Let us give thanks to the impartiality of the spring wind;
The peaches and plums of the poor houses also create shade.
The cock crows in the early morning.The Immediately Prior Bit (Senzaki)
Sadly, I see as I rise, how worn out I am.
I haven't a skirt or a shirt, just this semblance of a robe.
My loincloth has no seat. My pants, no opening.
On my head are three or five pecks of grey ashes.
Originally, I intended to practice to help save others.
Who would have suspected that instead, I would become an idiot?
A monk came to Zhaozhou. "Where did you come from?" the teacher asked.Related Cases
"From the South," the monk replied.
"All Buddhism is in the South; there is nothing here for you," said Zhaozhou.
The monk said, "But Buddhism does not belong to any particular place."
Zhaozhou said, "Even if you were to meet the best teacher in China, you would attain nothing, for you have tightly shut the door of your inner shrine. You will not let yourself see the Buddha."
The monk asked, "What is Buddha?"
Zhaozhou replied, "You can find him in the shrine."
Zen is like soap. First you wash with it, and then you wash off the soap.R.H. Blyth's Comment (Aitken)
If Zhaozhou had asked the monk if he had washed his bowl, and said 'Then put some rice in it,' there is no difference.Aitken's Comment
Young Buddha meets Old Buddha -- the pattern of all teaching. We reenact Zhaozhou's engagement with his monks in each of our encounters. "Please teach me." Couched in humble language, this is nonetheless a challenge. It was a seasoned presentatation -- an offer to enter into a conspiracy with Zhaozhou to establish something only the two of them could create. Zhaozhou's answer politely asks if the monk has been fed. Fundamentally, however, he is offering a challenge in response to a challenge -- an essential question: "Have you tasted the plain but delicious food of our ancestors?" The monk's response set up Zhaozhou's final riposte: "Wash your bowl!" That's the blow that killed Buddha! It has no beginning, no end, no cause, and no purpose. Yet it is instructive in our everyday world. Blyth's remark is correct as far as it goes. But "Wipe it away!" is very differnt from "Fill 'er up!"Cleary's Comment
This story can be read as a symbolic demonstration pointing to direct experience of immediate reality without conceptual adornment, the initiatory experience of Zen. When "breakfast" is understood as this very experience itself, the story also points to the next step, of transcending the subjective register of initial realization so a s to "clean the vessel" for yet further enlightenment.Low's Comment
It is true that if one is living in a community, some rules relating to orderliness and neatness are imperative for the general good. Furthermore, after the first awakening, the student does have a long and difficult time ahead in which all the defilements of long years must be cleansed. But neither of these points requires a koan.Sekida's Comment
Buried in the monk's request for teaching is barb: is there a teaching of Zen? Buddha, in the Diamond Sutra, says he has no doctrine to teach. However, suppose that Zhaozhou had said, "Me, I don't have any teaching!" No doubt the monk would have turned on his heel and walked away, possibly saying over his shoulder, "Then what are you doing as head of a monastery?" What is your teaching? With this question we go to the very heart of the difficulty of Zen practice. To say it is this or that or something else simply leads the beginner astray and leaves the one who knows, laughing. Knowledge is an addition, something extra. We say should when we understand the truth but cannot live it. Indeed, in Zhaozhou's response is the very elimination of the gap between understanding and action. That is the profundity of Zhaozhou's reply, which calls on us not simply to know the truth, but to live it.
Implicit in Zhaozhou's question is the meaning, "Have you eaten your rice porridge in samadhi?" Perceiving the inner meaning of Zhaozhou's question, the monk affirms that he was able to maintain his samadhi while eating breakfast. "Then you had better wash your bowl." These words of Zhaozhou are a Zen proverb. In samadhi every moment is independent, cut off before and behind. The monk is no longer at breakfast; he should pay attention to the present. What is past is past: wash it away, good or evil.Senzaki's Comment
Zhaozhou has shown the pupil how one may act gracefully without hesitation, without entanglement in the slightest delusion. It is the direct action of the essence of mind. It is the actual work of buddha-nature itself. When one eats too much, one's stomach suffers. When one thinks too much, one's mind becomes stuck. Zen's economy is like that used in arithmetic. It always expresses its fraction in the lowest possible terms. Zhaozhou showed the monk the fraction of Zen reduced to its lowers common denominator.Tendo Shogaku's Verse (Shibayama)
Breakfast was over and the monk was asked to wash the bowls.Shido Bunan's Verse (Shibayama)
Immediately he had an insight.
Tell me, accomplished monks at monasteries today,
Have you satori or not?
Do not let the word "Dao" delude you;Hakuin's Comment (Shibayama)
Realize it is nothing else
Than what you do morning and night.
If you want to get the real significance of "Then wash your bowls," first ask yourself how you can recite the Nebutsu without opening you mouth.Shibayama's Comment
"Then wash your bowls." What an excellent instruction this is! I should like to clap my hands and cry out, "There it is!" Sharp, dynamic spirituality gushes out of his words. Certainly "His lips give off light." For Zhaozhou, to live Zen was not to lead a Zen-like life; but to live an ordinary life, just as it is, was Zen."Old Zen Master" Verse (Shibayama)
Do not thinkYamada's Comment (Gateless Gate)
The moon appears when the clouds are gone.
All the time it has been there in the sky
So perfectly clear.
From the first point of view: Zen masters do not like abstract words or concepts such as Buddha nature, enlightenment, nirvana, and so forth. These terms are instruments of explanation but do not touch the fact. Thus Zhaozhou is concrete ("have you eaten your rice gruel yet?") rather than conceptual ("Have you tasted kensho yet?"). The monk's reply, "Yes, I have," means "Yes, I am already enlightened." Drawing attention to one's accomplishments is usually nauseating. It is therefore very important to wash away all the glamor of enlightenment. Through Zen, one should become an ordinary person, a real person, not freakish, eccentric, or esoteric.Yamada's Comment (Book of Serenity)
From the other point of view: You and the whole universe are one. When you stand up, you simply stand up, there is only standing up in the whole universe, and the substance of standing up is emptiness. Your life is the the continuity of standing up, sitting down, laughing, sleeping, waking up, drinking, eating, and, of course, being born and dying. That is the continuity of the whole universe. You eat, you wash your bowls. Our life is nothing but the continuity of these actions, and they are nothing but the continuity of the whole universe.
Someone might think that if you have eaten your rice, you wash your bowl -- and that is all there is to Buddhism. Is this buji zen? Yasutani, in the interest of steering us away from buji zen, emphasized the work and effort of "wash your bowls" -- the task of wiping away all trace of satori. But if we go deeper, there is really just: Have you eaten your rice? Yes, I have. Then wash your bowls. That’s it, just as it is! That is actually deeper. You could say it is the state of consciousness after every trace of satori has been wiped away. When you eat your rice, you swallow the universe and completely exhaust it. When you wash your bowls, you completely exhaust the universe in that action. That’s why I make a point in dokusan of asking students to truly realize both ways ofWick's Comment
viewing the koan.
On one level this koan is about taking care of the details of your life. Those of you who cook for your family know that the meal is over only after the kitchen is clean -- not after the last bite is eaten. We leave a lot of things half-done.Non-Abiding Riding Wave's Verse
Another way of hearing Zhaozhou's question ("Have you finished your rice gruel?") is as, "Have you accomplished anything at all?" The monk answers yes and Zhaozhou responds, "Well, wash it away."
Obstacles to our practice include greed, hatred, and ignorance. Another impediment is sloth. Sometimes we just really don't feel that we have the determination, the impetus, and the energy to do what needs to be done. It's important to realize that what we experience as low energy is not a lack of energy but rather blocked energy that is not flowing. Sloth arises when there are feelings we haven't fully experienced. In this practice, we begin to face things we haven't faced yet. We can't heal wounds by "trying to put them behind us" or be "just moving on" or "letting go" -- we have to go right into it. We can all use pain to liberate ourselves rather than to bind ourselves into our suffering by trying to avoid it. If we don't face our blockages and barriers, they will persist. Somehow, we have to deal with everything that obstructs our living a liberated life. We have to drop our resistance to getting in touch with ourselves at the most intimate level.
To "wash your bowls" is to lead an ordinary life, just as it is, ordinary -- and that is truly extraordinary. But we must not confuse a Zen life with a "Zen-like" life, a life that conforms to our ideas of what we think Zen should be, and a life in which we try to act like a "Zen student" or, worse still, a "Zen master." Zhaozhou is telling us just to let our life express itself and naturally come out in all our activities.
Zhaozhou's "Wash Your Bowl"Hotetsu's Verse
feeling the ground
on the feet.
eating the wind
feel the chime.
look do not hesitate
be full be empty.
moon faced sun breath
consciousness created chatter
never the same tone.
breakfast is life
the bowl is now.
“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.” ― Norman Maclean
Somewhere in that breakfast eating and washing
The extra stopped adding itself.
"Rice" and "bowl"
And "me" and "thee"
And "that" and "this"
Quotation marks, which, embarrassed,
Norman said it would eventually happen.
The river wasn't long, though,
Running through, floating me back,
In time for lunch.
Illustration by Mark T. Morse