White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 123: Entering a Bath

Dharma Talk Presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, December 31st, 2011

I typed "Japanese bathing monkeys" into Google,
just before I came to the Hatto
because something I found incredibly pleasurable,
numerous times is to look at these guys and gals bathing in hot springs in Japan. 

And it is snowy out here today...

Unfortunately, we don't have monkeys

and we don't have a hot spring,

but in the summertime we do have
a pool, two pools, and

we have a waterfall, and

in the afternoons in particular,

you can see birds,
crows, pigeons, grackles, sparrows, chickadees,
all taking their turn to bathe in the water. 

At nighttime, oh anywhere between say nine and three,
you might see raccoons bathing in the pool. 

So bathing is something that not only human beings like to do,
but primates, orangutans in particular, love to bathe.

I saw one who even learned to use a washcloth,

wringing it out and patting away at her face. [students laugh] 

So today's verse is about guess what? Entering a bath. 

Entering a bath,

"May all beings

Enter the knowing which knows the nature of all knowns,
Throughout the three measures of time." 

Now, is that not just what you are doing right now? 

You're bathing in the Ocean of Reality,

you're uncovering the fact that you are the Knowing


from time to time,

knows the nature of all knowns,


over time,

with continuous practice,

you will know

"the nature of all knowns, throughout the three measures of time",
the past, the present, the future. 

"Entering a bath..."

Now very seldom, in my experience,
do we actually think about people say, 2600 years ago
having a bath, taking a bath,
which of course was quite different from the way we do it.
They didn't walk into, for example,
that often advertised bath for the elderly with the little door on it. [laughter]

You open the door, you step in, and you don't step,
of course, into the water
because there's no water, how could there be?
Because if there were water in the bath,
you would open the door and all the water would come out
and your wrinkled, boney sack would go rolling across the bathroom floor. [lots of laughter]
You have to enter, sit, and then endure as the bath fills,
but that's an aside, that's a sidebar. [more laughing] 

But, say, 2600 years ago,
what was up with this bath and this bathing? Did people bathe?

Well of course they did.

Of course! 

So the Buddha and his rag tag bunch hit the road eventually and

they were travelling and

there are little stories about the Buddha seeing one of the home-leavers

lying in a pool of his own puke, and

he had to say to the people around: "Like, help him! He's obviously sick!"

So out of that type of interaction came the Vinaya and other rules for monasticism such as:
"I vow to care for the ill." 

So a lot of the rules of deportment were for very practical reasons. 

At that time, bathing, as they were on the move,

they might bathe in rivers and so on,
so there were rules: don't bathe upstream from the elders, and don't pee in the stream upstream from the other people.
So very practical things. 

And then of course these became embroidered

as the rituals of bathing started to take over.

There were rules as to what people could rub themselves with to clean.

You weren't allowed to use certain sorts of sticks
that were carved and incised that must have felt quite nice.

They weren't allowed to rub up against trees,

they weren't allowed to rub up against each other!

[O-sensei and students laugh]

But they could use their hands to help others bathe the back and so forth,

with permission of the others.

So we can see how rules developed,
understandings developed and so on. 

Now, at that time, like 2000 years ago,
there were records in the Vinaya,
which are the rules of deportment,

there were records of things called "hot air baths",

quite sophisticated. 

They would be built over an elevated basement
faced with brick and there would be stone stairs from there up to wooden structures
and there would be a fireplace and

seats all around, 
so people could go in there and

have a good sweat,

then they would get shampooed down,
then there would be a bathing pool. 

Apparently the book that I was reading, the sourcebook,
was written in 1903, which again is like a long time ago, really, 1903...
but there were still some of these bathing facilities in fairly good order,
not for use but to have a look at. 

Another, something that's called the Dekanekaya,
was an open air bathing tank,
flights of stairs leading down to it,
which were carved and decorated.

So 2000 years ago bathing was something that apparently people enjoyed doing
and went to a great deal of trouble to arrange facilities for. 

Now, this was not just in India,

but before that in and around that time,

the Romans were busy building bath houses,
building aqueducts and so on, 

so human beings and their search for water,
which not only was for drinking
but for cleansing the body,

was pretty well universal. 

We just don't tend to think about it as we step into our showers. 

The verse, again, is a reminder that when one is entering a bath,
(and these verses were written 1600 years ago,
so the bath being entered at that time most likely was a public bath),
the thought was raised: 

"May all beings

Enter the knowing which knows the nature of all knowns,
Throughout the three measures of time." 

So it's a call for practising mindfulness and when you are entering the bath,

can raise it as well. 

Now, trends and understandings and so forth travel,
they do now and they did then.
They did 2000 years ago, 1600 years ago...

The practice, the bathing practice,

the importance of bathing and so on 
seems to have travelled from India into China, and

Buddhists were responsible for taking many of the understandings
of the bath, cleansing, and its importance into China. 

There is another text written about Chinese Buddhism
(and as people are prone to like to have numbers of things, and to like to have facts)

in this text it said that the Buddha said there are seven things that should be provided in a bath house.
In Chinese monasteries,
there was an office of Bath Master responsible for the bath house. 

The seven things it is said the Buddha said should be provided were:

.pure water

.bean pod soap 
.ointment for massage

.ashes for body powder
.willow twigs for toothbrushes and


After bathing,
it was said the monks were able to cure themselves of seven kinds of sickness,
and the donors of bathhouse supplies would accrue seven kinds of meritorious karma. 

In China, the monks and the monasteries opened their bathhouses to the general public,
taking upon themselves the promotion of public health as one of their duties.

That approach seems to have travelled to Japan where in the 1200s,

along major roads, 
one might have found public baths

which were built by monks in association with monasteries
and which anyone could use,






anyone living in the area, and

as these bath houses were along major roads,

any itinerant travellers who were providing snake oil and mats and


entertainment for the townspeople. 

So, the travelling of understandings reaches down to us today
and there is a Verse of the Bath,
written by Joshu Dainen zenji and Anzan Hoshin roshi, to replace more awkward traditional verses: 

As we bathe this body in the midst of all beings,
May we purify bodymind within and without. 

So when one does take vows as a monk,

there is something called the "Saijo-shingi; The Deportment of Radiance",

which is a description of the rules of deportment for monastics,

and we won't go into the details of it right now,

we'll save it as a surprise for those who may take that route... [laughter]

no, I'm just kidding but
things are recommended

like full bathing once a day,

except during sesshin when the number of people makes it impossible,

and as we know,

in Japan in the public bath houses,

you do not go directly into the bath because that would be bathing in dirty water.

You have a shower first,

often with a hand held shower device,

you sit on a little stool,

you soap yourself up,

you rinse yourself off and

then you step into the hot soaking tub and
think of the monkeys. 

During a soaking bath,
there are descriptions of how best to carry this out
and it's based in being mindful of what you are doing,
which is always a good thing.
People are always encouraged to have their shower first,
and then when a tub is available to them to fill it up
because soaking is a nice thing to do,
and following tradition,
especially on days with a four and a nine in them
because those four and nine days in old times in the monasteries
was when the monks would get all cleaned up and do their shaving and so forth. 

So, a four or a nine comes up,
you can perhaps think of that,
take a nice bath,
fill up that bathtub, shower first.
As you step into it and sit in seiza,
you can feel the difference in temperature,
you can feel the relaxation that the hot water provides.
Then, after a few moments in seiza,
you can stretch out,
being careful not to splash water around outside of the tub.
When it's time to get up,
you go back into seiza,
let the water start to drain out,
towel yourself down when the water's all gone,
towel your feet, drying them thoroughly,
and leave the bathroom in good order,
all the while thinking about...

all beings

Enter the knowing which knows the nature of all knowns,
throughout the three measures of time." 

Now bathing can be just about washing dirt off,
or it can and has been regarded as a ritual purification with water.
These things are both perfectly acceptable. 

Bathing cleanses the body,

relaxes the body, refreshes,

and before receiving empowerments and taking vows,

the washing of the bodymind,

the washing of the feet

can help to remind students of what it is that they are doing,
they are washing their understanding,

they are washing the bodymind,

they are being given
and accepting vows

which will enable them to practise

the Practice of Purification

more thoroughly,

the Practice of Realization

more thoroughly,

the cleansing of contractions

that can poison the experience of this moment. 

So, please, have fun next time you come in contact with water,
be it a shower or a bath,
use it to refresh your mindfulness,
even though there's no zafu present...
and, look up the monkeys. 

Thank you for listening.