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Buddhist Quote of the Day: Thich Nhat Hanh Says Do Your Dishes Before You Change The World


posted by Ethan Nichtern

This is one of my all-time favorites quotes, and we discussed it in the Meditation in Everyday Life course last week, part of the awesome Way of Shambhala curriculum. It always brings me back to Earth from grandiose visions, and reminds me that it’s how we perform the simple tasks that actually changes the world.


“To my mind, the idea that doing dishes is unpleasant can occur only when you aren’t doing them. Once you are standing in front of the sink with your sleeves rolled up and your hands in the warm water, it is really quite pleasant. I enjoy taking my time with each dish, being fully aware of the dish, the water, and each movement of my hands. I know that if I hurry in order to eat dessert sooner, the time of washing dishes will be unpleasant and not worth living. That would be a pity,for each minute, each second of life is a miracle. The dishes themselves and that fact that I am here washing them are miracles!”

Thich Nhat Hanh

Nobel Peace Prize Nominee

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posted November 30, 2009 at 12:30 pm

After enlightenment, the laundry. I appreciate folding laundry and matching socks the way he appreciates dishes.

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Jon Rubinstein

posted November 30, 2009 at 1:08 pm

Such a great quote – I think he first talked about “washing the dishes to wash the dishes” in The Miracle of Mindfulness, and it’s such an amazing concepts. Age quod agis – do what you are doing. And further, get what an amazing miracle it is that you’re alive, able to wash the dishes, that there are dishes in the first place, that you had something to eat on them, and on and on. It applies to everything. Drive while you are driving, read while you are reading, kiss while you are kissing, run while you are running… Thanks Ethan!

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posted November 30, 2009 at 2:01 pm

I have a similar experience when I rinse off my paper plates and plastic “sporks”…

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Laura Mae Noble

posted November 30, 2009 at 2:02 pm

This is beautiful, and very pertinent for me today.

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Anan E. Maus

posted November 30, 2009 at 4:31 pm

I am a great fan of Thich Nhat Hanh.
I think these words have to be understood in the proper context. They are about feeling grounded in spirituality.
It is not some kind of statement to not help other people, to not join the Peace Corp or do whatever else.
It is that when we do our overt acts of charity, we must also do them with a personal feeling of caring and giving. The same way that we do when we see some elderly person struggling with a heavy door and go over to help.
Each act of charity, whether mundane and in daily life…or, say, helping save some refugees from famine…must be done in this spirit. If not, we lose the real spirituality. And, of course, sometimes, we are not going to have that spirituality when we perform those actions, but must do so anyway.
However, the intent of these words is to have us engage in our charitable actions without losing that grounded spirit of heart, hearth and helping.

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michael j contos

posted November 30, 2009 at 6:43 pm

“Living” meditation is the term I think of when I hear this man speak. He embodies what meditation and a true path is all about.
The simple things, often seen as mundane, can be the greatest gifts one can give their Self.
If we only slow down and be in the moment with that portion of life. It will never come around again, that moment. So why not live it to its fullest? Or at least to your fullest appreciation.
michael j

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Elizabeth Cooper

posted December 2, 2009 at 11:51 am

I’m confused – why do you have a link to Heifer for “change the world” if right before that you’re writing about how we can do so through the way we perform simple actions?

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