This chapter talks about the habits of good hygiene, such as washing our face, brushing our teeth, rinsing our mouth, and washing our hands. It also discusses the principles of good grooming: how we should wear our clothes, wear hats, tie our shoelaces, and put on socks. These are details we have to pay attention in our daily lives. We shouldn’t take them lightly. If a person can always do these things every day, no matter what kind of difficult situation he might find himself in, he is really practicing the Tao.
The Ven. Master Hua, founder of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, not only did all these things himself, but also urged everyone else, saying: “You want to attain the Way? Where can you practice the Way? From the moment you get up in the morning till you retire at night, if you do everything properly without violating the rules, you are practicing the Way. But if you ignore the daily routine things and try to search for the Way elsewhere, you will never encounter it in your whole life.”
He was teaching us that we shouldn’t aim high without doing the fundamental work. It is said, “The Way is not far away from people.” We don’t have to spend the whole day seeking the Way outside somewhere, or put on an act. We should know that the Way is right in our daily activities; simplicity is the Way.
If a person who is famous, important, well-educated, or wealthy looks graceful and dignified, but has messy habits, he might be able to conceal his bad habits from outsiders, but he can’t hide them from people close to him. He might get away from others’ eyes, he can’t escape the power of his own karmic offenses.
Our every thought is a cause of good or bad karma, and our daily activities are the sprouts of these causes. Developing habits of good hygiene not only makes us healthy, but also protects others’ health. Wearing proper clothes not only helps us to have an upright character, but also trains us to have patience and perseverance. On the contrary, if we develop the habits of being sloppy and messy, our resulting bad reputation is a minor thing, but the karmic offenses we commit can be very serious. Committing personal karmic offenses is a small matter, but bringing harm to the public is a big offense. How can we take this lightly?
Zilu was a tough, brash fellow with a sense of justice. He looked down upon scholars because he thought they were unproductive bums who cheated the society for fame. The first time he went to see Confucius, he purposely wore a hunter's outfit, his hat decorated with the long feather of a pheasant he had killed. He swaggered as if he were a big shot. The long sword at his hip was covered with the skin of a bear he had trapped. He thought he was very brave. But when he met Confucius, he was naturally subdued by Confucius’ awesome demeanor and quietly removed the feather from his hat.
Later on, he changed into scholar’s clothes, bowed to Confucius as his teacher, and followed Confucius constantly in order to study the Book of Odes and the Book of Rites. Confucius adjusted Zilu's clothes and taught him the way to be a scholar. After years of practicing Confucius’ instructions, Zilu, originally a rough man without learning, finally outshone the others.
A few years later, Zilu was attacked from all sides during the civil war in the state of Wei. He fought hard till he was killed. When he was dying, his hat was crooked due to broken straps, but he still remembered his teacher’s instruction and struggled to adjust his hat properly, for a scholar should always be properly dressed.
Nowadays, there are many young and old hippies who intentionally neglect to comb their hair, wash their faces, button up their shirts, and wear shoes, because they think that's the way to be carefree. Actually they are merely being sloppy and won’t accomplish much of anything in their lives. How can they say they are carefree? Being carefree means being free from desires, love and hatred; not being attached to any person or object. It doesn't mean goofing off all day long.
We should know that without the right training in propriety, we cannot truly be carefree. We shouldn't neglect to maintain our practice of good habits in daily life; that is the only way we can develop a virtuous person's integrity and resoluteness. Only when we have a virtuous person's integrity and resoluteness is it possible to be carefree.