The monk’s cold shower


It’s a brisk morning in the UK, I’m a monk and I’m waiting for a bus load of school children to be disgorged and descend on the Dharma Centre I live in. I was a bit nervous about this, but I had the day all planned out and the kids would have as enlightening a time as you could reasonably hope for.

And then someone stuck their head through the door and told me the water offering bowls in the Meditation Hall hadn’t been filled that morning. Who ever was on the roster had slept in or forgotten. So it was ME who was going to have to hurry down, fill the bowls, and then be back to greet our guests looking all serene and Buddhist.

I was too wrapped up in my own dramas to see the absurdity of all this. The whole point of making offerings on shrines was to generate sufficient good karma to have a peaceful mind. But I wasn’t thinking of inner peace that morning as I steamed out of the office. I was thinking of the miscreant who had failed in his duty and imagining all the things I would dearly love to tell him. With a motivation of compassion, of course!

I was jolted into the moment by the surprise of my hand pushing a door out of my way. I had practically punched it, and the force of the impact made me realise just how angry I was. And in that briefest of windows there was some sense of perspective on all this, a wry observation that the anger I was holding was going to make doing my job impossible.

I was so upset and so focused on ‘getting the job done’ that there was no way I would get the offering bowls up and be back to greet the guest. This anger was going to make my day unbelievably awful. And in the moment – between hitting the door to open it and stepping through it – that mindful awareness washed over me like a cold shower and I physically felt the anger draining out of my body.

And what a weight was shed! I actually laughed at the absurdity of it all and almost skipped down to the Meditation Hall. Someone would eventually greet our guests if I wasn’t there.

And so I did proper prostrations, filled the huge bowls, cleaned up the sink and ambled back to the office – just as the bus was gliding in, filled to the brim with hyper-active English school children. They were late too.

All the nervousness was gone. Life felt simple and whimsical. I had a great day.

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