As the end of the year approaches, Japanese people perform general housecleaning for the whole house. This is an annual tradition in Japan called “O-Soji” which means “O” major, “Soji” cleaning. This includes peoples' wishes that by cleaning the old year’s dirt, they wish to clean and purify the bad elements or karma from the old year in order to have a good new year. “So” of “Soji” means sweeping away, “Ji” means removing and extinguishing. Soji can be understood as the cleansing of bad or evil omens. After cleaning we feel fresh and lively, as if we have purified our body and spirit. Soji includes in it both meanings of physical and spiritual cleansing.
In fact, training to be an official minister starts with cleaning. Shami (novice ministers who receive training under the instruction of their master) have to work very hard every day. Day after day the cleaning continues, from early morning until late at night, especially the washroom. When training, I used to sometimes wake up in the night from a cleaning nightmare. Often I was tired and thought, “Why should I clean the washroom day after day? I would like to study the Buddha’s teachings more.” However, a Shami learns his primary foundation as a Minister naturally, without being conscious of it, through cleaning.
Generally, there are not many people who love to clean. Usually, people perform cleaning with feelings such as, “I don’t want to clean, but I know I have to” and needless to say it includes cleaning the washroom. No one wishes to clean the washroom. But to be a Minister, a Shami must do it, whether he likes it or not. There is neither learning nor development, if he complains, saying “I don’t like dirty jobs”. So, in the beginning, the Shamis clean the washroom; as they struggle between their vocation and their real intention. Soon they realize the reality of how hard it is to clean a washroom. They never imagined it would be such hard work when they used it themselves. Therefore, due to this long training, their behaviour naturally and unconsciouly becomes gentle and kind. Sometimes they face dirty situations with a washroom, and then they realize the foolishness of human beings, and feel woeful and emptiness. All is a drill for a Shami. Through the drills they learn perseverance, and the spirit of compassion and pleasure to serve people. From olden times, it has been said that cleaning a washroom makes people have a gentle character, because scrubbing toilet bowls pounds the immature ego, vanity and selfishness; and it polishes the character, to produce a smooth gentle mind. Cleaning seems an insignificant matter, but it is the most important training to be able to learn many things with the body and mind. Shami improve their own character in order to dedicate themselves to missionary work.
A long time ago, there was one disciple of Shakyamuni Buddha who attained enlightenment by cleaning. His name was Cudapanthaka. Generally there is an image that the Buddha’s disciples were intelligent and smart, but Cudapanthaka was not. He was foolish, and could not memorize even his own name. However, he eventually became a great enlightened figure in Buddhist history.
First, Cudapanthaka became a disciple of the Buddha on the recommendation of his brother, who had a very perceptive mind. Alhough he always did his best, disciplehood was very hard for him, because he could not memorize anything. He often struggled with whether to remain in disciplehood or not, and one day he finally decided to leave. When he was leaving, the Buddha called on him and He ordered his disciple: “Cudapanthaka, you stay here and facing to the east, chant repeatedly: “Sweep Dirt! Clean Grime!” while wiping your hands with this white cloth”. However, Cudapanthaka could not memorize even this phrase. He tried many ways, but it was not easy for him. He continued trying to memorize the phrase while he was washing his hands. As many days went past, his white cloth, which the Buddha had given him, became very dirty from the grime on his hands. He became upset at the dirty cloth so he tried to wash out the dirt many times, but he could not make it white like before. Afterwards, he was sad and worried. He went to the Buddha and apologized with tears. The Buddha said to Cudapanthaka, who was staring at the cloth, “Your white cloth did not become dirty because of the grime from your hands; it was caused by grime from your mind. If this is so, how are you going to take care?” Cudapanthaka answered, “I will do my best to clean my grime and other people's grime.” He began to clean everything, the garden, main hall, washrooms and others' shoes, bags, clothes, etc. while he was chanting “Sweep Dirt! Clean Grime!” Other disciples noticed and were surprised at Cudapanthaka’s different behaviour. No longer did they treat him as a fool. One day, some disciples tried to test Cudapanthaka, who had lately gained a good reputation, and asked him to make a speech before many people. In the speech, he spoke about himself honestly before the audience. He said, “I am truly a foolish person. Therefore, I don’t have any good teachings to preach to you, only what I remember and have practiced under the Buddha. I wish to share this, please listen to this gently.” As soon as he explained, he recited slowly with a beautiful and gentle voice. “Sweep Dirt, Clean Grime!” “Sweep Dirt, Clean Grime!” The disciples who had tried to test him were very impressed by the deep compassion in his voice, and they apologized to him. His short speech was concluded with applause.
Cudapanthaka held the teaching of cleaning throughout his whole life, and he maintained his cleaning practice for others both physically and mentally. He dedicated his life to cleaning his mind. Although he was a foolish person who could not memorize even his name, finally he achieved the sublime path of the obedient mind. Even today after 2500 years, this true story encourages us very much.
Cleaning is mere cleaning, but cleaning will bring us many teachings. My Master always lectured me about cleaning: “Cleaning cleans the Temple but will also cleanse your mind as well. When you wipe dirt off the floor, you should think that you wiped the dirt off your mind as well.” “A broom sweeps and cleans anywhere; floors, stairs, the garden, but the broom cannot clean itself. A broom needs others to clean it. In the same manner, we, human beings, cannot clean our own mind by ourselves. We need company to help scrub our mind as we help to scrub others minds.”
“A floor cloth cleans the floor and absorbs a spill on the carpet. While the cloth is cleaning, gradually it is becoming dirty and old, but the cloth never complains. This shows us the ideal faith of the Lotus Sūtra: though a person helps and supports many people to make them happy, he doesn’t boast, isn’t proud, isn’t arrogant, and does not want anything in return, he always smiles. This is the way of the Bodhisattva.”
Regarding cleaning the mind, Nichiren Shōnin said in one of his writings, “A troubled mind is like a non-cleaned mirror. However, if you clean it well, the mirror can be a gem-mirror to reflect the truth. Have firm faith and clean in the morning and evening without negligence. How should you clean your mirror? Just chant “Namu Myoho Renge Kyo.” Chanting Odaimoku cleans your mind. A misted mirror can be cleaned, but we cannot notice a misty mind by ourselves, and also we don’t know how to clean it. Everyday, our mind can be hurt and clouded easily. We should therefore clean it. We can clean and purify our mind simply by chanting Odaimoku.
As we get used to cleaning, we tend to get lazy or cut corners. However, if you clean your house with the teaching of cleaning the mind, you cannot help but clean it thoroughly. With the rhythm of Namu Myoho Renge Kyo, you can clean not only your house, but also your mind. Through cleaning physically and mentally, you will realize a light and lively feeling. Please engage in cleaning physically and mentally every day with Odaimoku. Gasshō.
How to chant Odaimoku
First of all, let us chant Odaimoku “Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō” correctly. Some people chant “Nam Myoho”, but Nichiren Shū pronounces “Namu Myōhō” traditionally. In some regions of Japan, it sounds like “Nam Myōhō” because of a countryside accent. However Nichiren Shū Buddhists should always pronounce it as “Namu Myōhō”.
Please make your mouth wide for proper pronunciation and chant as loud as the circumstance allows you. Basically, to chant Odaimoku it should be done slowly and comfortably. You can chant quickly by yourself but then the sound of Odaimoku may seem unclear and incorrect. Therefore, you should slow down until you are able to pronounce exactly and precisely. Please be careful to prevent chanting Odaimoku nervously and quickly.
In our daily services, we usually chant according to the following order: Invocation, Verses for Opening The Sutra, Hoben-pon, Jigage, Nichiren Shōnin’s writings, Hotoge, Odaimoku, Prayer and the Four great vows. If you want to mainly chant Odaimoku, you may chant: Invocation, Odaimoku, Nichiren Shonin’s writings, Prayer and Four great vows. This is Nichiren Shōnin’s teaching.
“Regarding the daily practice, the Daimoku of the Lotus Sūtra should be chanted, “Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō.” If possible, a verse or phrase of the Lotus Sūtra should respectfully be read. As an auxiliary practice one may say a prayer to Śākyamuni Buddha, the Buddha of Many Treasures, the numerous Buddhas throughout the universe, various bodhisattvas, Two Vehicles, Heavenly Kings, dragon gods, the eight kinds of gods and demi-gods who protect Buddhism as one wishes. Since we have many ignorant people today, the “3000 existences in one thought” doctrine may be difficult to contemplate from the beginning. Nevertheless, those who wish to study it are encouraged to do so from the start.” (Shō Hokke Daimoku-Shō)
You may chant Odaimoku anytime and anywhere: happily, joyfully, sadly, painfully, in the house, office, school or on the streets, silently or loudly according to the situation. Chanting Odaimoku is the main practice to uphold the Lotus Sūtra. The Buddha’s supreme teaching, the Lotus Sūtra is the source of energy for life for all Buddhas, all bodhisattvas and various gods and deities. We may receive the Buddha’s merit by upholding the Lotus Sūtra.
In order to accomplish a project, we increase our efforts, but it is not always easy to accomplish the project, it because sometimes it cannot be achieved by our efforts alone; we have to integrate three things: a given condition, human wisdom and energy. We may uphold the Faith of the Lotus Sūtra by chanting Odaimoku and we will receive the Buddha’s wisdom and energy as guidance.
First let us start to chant Odaimoku every day.