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If you asked me when I feel best in my daily routines, I would unhesitatingly answer that it’s right after shaving my head and bathing. Instinctively I feel clear and clean both inside and out, and that’s when I feel most lighthearted. It feels like just having been born.
The significance of shaving the head is the severing of secular attachments. Monastic regulations call for shaving the head and bathing twice a month, on the days before the new and full moons, respectively. But depending on the season and one’s own considerations, it doesn’t matter if monks do it more often. There are some Zen monks who do it everyday as part of their routine. The attempt to be totally spotless results in a very splendid, lighthearted feeling of innocence, and you feel like you’re about to take off and soar like a bird. It’s totally exhilarating.
About ten years ago I was staying at the Zen center of a large monastery. There was a large bathing facility on the first floor. On one of the walls in the bath, someone had written in candle wax, "What more could you want?" He had written it as a kind ofhumor after shaving his head and bathing; but it makes you wonder how exhilarated he must have felt if he had made the effort to write that on the wall. We’re supposed to be greedless, but could there be anything greedier than this, than wanting the statewhere there’s nothing left to be desired?
There’s an old adage that "a monk can’t shave his own head." In a broader sense, it means that there are some things in his own field that even a professional can’t do. For example, a writer finds it hard to proofread his own work so others have to do it for him. But concerning a monk not being able to shave his own head, nothing could be more further from the truth. In the temples monks shave one another’s heads so everyone knows how to do it, even if they had never been a barber. Just about everyone can shave his own head. But how could you ever convey the feeling of satisfaction the first time you do it yourself?
A few years ago, the monk who had usually shaved my head for many years was hospitalized. I thought of asking another monk to do it for me, but I didn’t want to impose so I decided to give it a try myself. To tell the truth, I had felt bad all those years bothering this or that monk to shave my head for me. And sometimes it occurred to me that I would have to do it if I ever were to go and live alone in an isolated hermitage.
I sat down and shaved very carefully, and contrary to expectations I did quite a fine job. I felt as good as if I were having my head shaved for the first time upon entering the temple. And really, there was nothing more that I could have wanted. Out of gratitude, I put on my robes and went up and paid homage to the Buddha.
I was so delighted the first time that I shaved my own head that, to commemorate the event, I went out the next day and bought a mirror and wrote on the back of it, "Shaved my own head on such-and-such a date".
Ever since then, whenever I feel like it, I shave my own head in front of that mirror. It doesn’t matter what kind of a mood I’m in. Each time I do it, it’s like being reborn. And sometimes if something’s really bothering me, I’ll shave my head again just to scrape and wash those cares away. (1975)