a monk’s guide to a clean house and mind

Why monks are so fastidious and disciplined when it comes to doing chores. Because this mindset turns mundane routine tasks into daily invitations to be mindful and grateful.

Shoukei Matsumoto

Big Idea

Shoukei offers a novel way to look at the act of cleaning. He describes the cleaning as a chance to communicate with nature. When you think about it, our homes are necessary as protection from nature. He loosely defines nature as practically any externality; ranging from harsh dangers like predators and thunderstorms, to mild annoyances like dust and the midday sun.

Leave a house for a hundred years, and nature will reclaim the space. And that’s the subtle and dilapidating force of nature that our act of cleaning pushes against.

When framed in this light, I contextualise it to mean that the act of cleaning (in comparison to sedentary behaviour) is a continual habit of doing the necessary work for us to live. Cleaning also reminds me of the realities of life; to accept sweating in Singapore’s heat, wiping dust that accumulates or

Other Ideas

Interrelatedness of things. Our relationship to things and people in your life make you who you are.

Gratitude towards the final products. Our things are the end-product of the effort of many people.

We sweep dust to remove our worldly desires. We scrub dirt to free ourselves of attachments.

On quality: When you acquire such items you begin to truly understand why they must be treasured. This is because the blood, sweat and tears of the person or people who created them have become part of them. Conversely, when you are surrounded only by poor quality things that you don’t care about, it is impossible to understand what it is to truly value something.

Life is a daily training ground, and we are each composed of the very actions we take in life. If you live carelessly, your mind will be soiled, but if you try to live conscientiously, it will slowly become pure again. If your heart is pure, the world looks brighter. If your world is bright, you can be kinder to others.

Cleaning cultivates the mind.

Rubbish and Things

Rubbish are things that are dirty, worn out, unusable, no longer needed, and so on. And yet nothing starts out as rubbish. Things become rubbish when they are treated as rubbish.

Zen Buddhism believes that nothing has a physical form (tai). That is, there is no substance in anything in and of itself. But if something has no substance, how does it exist? Things exist because all things relate with each other to support each other’s existence. Humans are the same. The people and things in your life are what makes you who you are. This is why it’s not for you to judge whether something is useful, or to designate things you can’t use as rubbish.

Rennyo: “Even this scrap of paper is given to us by the Buddha and must not be wasted.”

The Japanese idea of not being wasteful is not just about avoiding waste - it also embodies a spirit of gratitude towards objects.

A person who doesn’t respect objects don’t respect people. Within any object can be found the tremendous time and effort put into it - the ‘heart’ of the person who made it. It is important to remember to feel grateful for this when cleaning or tidying and not handle things carelessly.

Act of Cleaning

Cleaning should be done in the morning. Do it as your very first activity of the day. Exposing your body to the cold in the predawn air naturally makes you feel charged, filling you with the energy for the tasks ahead.. And cleaning quietly while the silence envelops you - before other people and plants awaken, refreshes and clears your mind. Cleaning in the morning creates the breathing space for your mind so that you can have a pleasant day.

At the end of the day, make sure that you tidy your surroundings before going to bed.

Cleaning and tidying are daily tasks, and what matters most is consistency.

Air things out. Open the windows to allow fresh air in. The cool air of dawn that flows in wakes you up as it comes in contact with your skin and you feel clean and refreshed. If the air around you is stale your mind will also feel this way.

The act of cleaning is a chance to communicate with nature. We use adjustments to make spaces habitable, with shelter from the elements. In a hundred years, the structures made by men would fall apart and return to nature. By cleaning and looking after your home, maintaining a balance with the raw forces of nature, you can preserve it in a state that allows comfortable habitation.

Cleaning is a way to converse with nature. If we keep this idea in mind, then it is clear that aspects of modern life such as air conditioning, which creates the same environment throughout summer and winter amounts to a refusal to communicate with nature. Becoming used to this will surely lead to the weakening of the body and the mind. When it is hot, it should be hot. When it’s cold, it should be cold. I think that sweating as you clean while experiencing nature is the secret to a healthy body and mind.

Open a window and interact with nature. Become aware that you are too weak to live in the same environment as living things in the wild. Experience the gentleness and severity of nature against your skin and feel grateful for the preciousness of the life force.

Zengosaidan. Put all our efforts into each day so that we have no regrets and that we must not grieve for the past or worry about the future. This means to do what you need to do without delay. Eliminate the seeds that distract your mind with unnecessary thoughts about things you will be dealing with tomorrow or things that went wrong yesterday. The longer you neglect the impurities of the heart the harder it is to remove them. Never put off what you need to do until tomorrow. And enjoy each and every day.


After taking something out, you must close what you have opened. This not only helps to prevent dust from coming in contact with tableware, but also keeps your heart tidy and clean.


If you enter a damp bathroom, your heart also becomes damp. If mould grows in a bathroom, then mould also grows in your heart. If the body is washed sloppily, then impurities of the heart cannot be removed.


As you do this, avoid any unnecessary thoughts, instead allowing your body to focus only on the task at hand. When doing this alone, you should be looking inward. When being with others, allow yourself to notice those around you, being conscious of your role in the team effort.


We regard the root of human suffering as mumyo. Literally translating as no light, mumyo refers to the condition of being figuratively lost in the dark. Since you are unable to see the true nature of what is around you, your mind succumbs to worry and anxiety.


If you use an object for as long as you can carefully, repairing it when necessary,you will find that not only your relationship with objects begin to change, but so will the way you relate to people. This will help return your heart to a pure state.

People who endlessly chase after new things have lost their freedom to earthly desires.


The basic principle behind deodorisation is the exchange of old air for new. Place dried green tea, coffee or charcoal at the entrance or toilet.


The growth of mould in a room coincides with the growth of mould in the heart. A room with nothing in it is a place where mould will not grow. However, a room filled to the brim with so many things that they can no longer be organized, where the sunlight is blocked the airflow is restricted and moisture builds up, is the kind of environment that is perfect for mould.


Your garden is where you can get in touch with nature,Humans cannot survive for long out in the wilderness, but also cannot survive without it. The garden is where we can observe and learn about the delicate balance that allows us and our plants to exist.

What a person sees in a garden is a reflection of what is in their heart.


You should wash your face first thing in the morning. There is a zen teaching that says that if you haven’t washed your face, everything that you do throughout the day will be impolite and hasty.

Be really meticulous and mindful when washing


The mind and body are one: meals manners and gratitude.

Shokuzen: Before meals: “Many lives and much hard work have gone into the blessing that is this meal. I will show my appreciation by enjoying this food with a deep sense of gratitude”

Shokugo: After meals: “I thank you for the wonderful meal with deep gratitude, respect and reverence.”


Sleeping longer than what your body actually needs is nothing short of lazy. Succumbing to sleep gluttony is giving in to your worldly desires. Idly sleeping your days away is no way to live.

Buying Things

Think of whether you really need it and whether you can live comfortably with it. Having fewer possessions in your home will make cleaning it much easier.

When there is nothing, there is everything.


Everything has its place. Keep cleaning everyday and the object will tell you where it wants to be kept if you learn to see its true essence.


By not being anchored down by worldly possessions, his mind was able to achieve true freedom.

That you only keep things of good quality They are the final products of many people’s diligent work. They are the kinds of things that you can continue to use again and again for many years.

When you acquire such items you begin to truly understand why they must be treasured. This is because the blood, sweat and tears of the person or people who created them have become part of them. Conversely, when you are surrounded only by poor quality things that you don’t care about, it is impossible to understand what it is to truly value something.