This past month, I was in Ontario, Oregon, at the Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple, where I grew up.
You might recall that a little over a year ago, there was a terrible fire in the basement. Although the basement was pretty much destroyed, the upstairs Hondo suffered smoke damage.
A Buddhist altar company, the Wakabayashi Co., is in Ontario cleaning the altar pieces on the Onaijin. The entire altar was removed from the Onaijin, and the major pieces are being washed and dusted.
The Wakabayashi Co. brought over a specialist who has developed a method of using air pressure and a light stream of water with some cleaning solution to rinse off the altar pieces. It is amazing what it does. The altar pieces are not only clean, their luster is restored and they look shiny and new.
I recalled a favorite passage of my Sensei in Japan, Shigaraki Sensei. To paraphrase the quotation, it was something like, “The Dharma is the water that cleanses our hearts and minds.” I think “cleanse” is a very appropriate and Shin Buddhist oriented term. Some religions seek to “purify” the mind and body. You have to purify your mind of bad thoughts, and purify your body from bad feelings and emotions. Even Shakyamuni Buddha tried this. When he practiced with the five ascetics, they felt that to take food into the body was to bring in impurities, so they hardly ate at all, to the point that Shakyamuni Buddha nearly starved himself to death.
However, in Shin Buddhism, the teachings, the Dharma, “cleanse” our heart, mind, and body. Just like when we dust our furniture, it is clean today, but tomorrow there will be dust again. The altar at the Idaho-Oregon temple will be nice and clean and shiny when the cleaning is finished, but in time, the dust will accumulate and the shine will fade.
That is the reality of life and the reality of our existence. We cannot totally purify our hearts and minds and expect them to remain pure. However, through the teachings, we “cleanse” our hearts and minds. That is why it is so refreshing to listen to a wonderful Dharma message or hear a talk that penetrates our hearts and minds. It is like receiving water to cleanse us of the accumulated dirt, dust, and grime. How refreshing it feels to take a nice shower or bath. How refreshing it feels to listen to the Dharma.
That is why we listen for our entire lives. We don’t take one shower and think that will last us till we die. We can’t expect the altars to not be cleaned for decades and decades. We have to clean the altar thoroughly like this once in a few decades. We have to take a shower or bath daily. We have to listen to the Dharma when we can, to cleanse our heart and mind.
By “cleansing,” I mean to be shown our ego self, to be shown our three poisons, to be shown our self-centered nature. The altar pieces have decades of accumulated dust that are being washed off. Sometimes, the dust on our ego self accumulates for decades. An unresolved issue in our past, a grudge that we hold and carry with us, a feeling of anger from something that someone said or did to us years and years ago, stays in us, and we carry that “dust and dirt” for decades. Just think about it deeply within your own life. Isn’t there something in your past that you are still angry or upset about? If you stop and think about it, you feel the same anger that you did decades ago.
If we have no way to cleanse, to wash away such thoughts, feelings, and emotions, they could eat away at us over the course of time. That is why we need the teachings, the Dharma, to at least bring a sense of cleansing, to wash away the dirt and dust from our hearts and minds. Then we can live refreshed and renewed until our next “cleansing” or our listening to the Dharma.