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Buddhadharma : Spring 2014
SPRING 2014 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 61 Chiyono’s No Water, No Moon Japan, thirteenth century Chiyono was a servant in a Zen convent who wanted to practice zazen. One day she approached an elderly nun and said, “I’m of humble birth. I can’t read or write and must work all the time. Is there any possibil- ity that I could attain the way of Buddha even though I have no skills?” The nun answered her, “This is wonderful, my dear! In Buddhism there are no distinctions between people. There is only this: each person must hold fast to the desire to awaken and cul- tivate a heart of great compassion. People are complete as they are. If you don’t fall into delu- sive thoughts, there is no Buddha and no sen- tient being; there is only one complete nature. If you want to know your true nature, you need to turn toward the source of your delusive thoughts. This is called zazen.” Chiyono said, with happiness, “With this practice as my companion, I have only to go about my daily life, practicing day and night.” After months of wholehearted practice, she went out on a full-moon night to draw some water from the well. The bottom of her old bucket, held together by bamboo strips, sud- denly gave way, and the reflection of the moon vanished with the water. When she saw this she attained great realization. Her enlightenment poem was this: With this and that I tried to keep the bucket together, and then the bottom fell out. Where water does not collect, the moon does not dwell. Merle Kodo Boyd’s Reflection For several years now, I have kept a picture of Chiyono and her bucket on the bulletin board above my desk. It is a delicate nineteenth-century woodblock print of a young Chiyono standing in pale moonlight, a bottomless bucket at her feet, a puddle of water spreading across her path. The artist is Yoshitoshi. I was drawn to Chiyono’s verse the first time I heard it. I was seized by the words, “With this and that I tried to keep the bucket together...” But I did not know that she is also thought to be Mugai Nyodai, whose name we chant in our morning dedication to our women ancestors. She was the first Japanese woman to receive dharma transmission and founder of the first Zen Bud- dhist convent in Japan. When I first heard Chiyono’s verse, I had been practicing for ten or twelve years. I was keenly aware of the constant tension of “keep- ing the bucket together.” I understood that the intent of practice was to relax my grip on the old bucket, but conditioning runs deep and the sense of personal identity is strong. Hearing the words “with this and that” I felt the exhaustion of years of vigilance, all aimed at protecting my idea of myself. I felt the exhaustion of being my own obstacle. Our Zen practice is medicine to this condition- ing. All the practices within Zen challenge the illusion of the perfect bucket—zazen, the teacher- student relationship, ritual, sangha relationships. As much as I may wish to appear competent at all times, I cannot immerse myself in Zen prac- tice without a willingness to come apart. Some- times it’s appropriate to stop patching things back together. What, then, allows us to leave the bits and pieces scattered on the ground, like the splin- ters of the bucket around Chiyono’s feet? We are conditioned to keep the bucket from falling to pieces. Unique personal circumstances JAMESSALZANOCONORKEENAN As much as I may wish to appear competent at all times, I cannot immerse myself in Zen practice without a willingness to come apart. —Merle Kodo Boyd MERLE KODO BOYD leads the Lincroft Zen Sangha in New Jersey.