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Buddhadharma : Winter 2011
In this depiction of three blind men, the shores are simply depicted on the right and left edges of the painting, mountains float in space above, and on the right a few strokes of ink suggest pine trees pointing toward the figures on the bridge. The blind men are suggested only by very simple short dashes and dots of the brush, yet they seem fully alive. The blind men start from the right and seem to be struggling harder and harder to cross the bridge. The first holds his sandals in his hands as he reaches out with his staff, the second puts his staff in his belt and reaches out with his fingers, and the third crawls forward with his sandals tethered at the end of his staff for balance. To make the situation more difficult, the bridge does not quite reach the other shore. Will they all make it across? The subject of blind men was not new to Buddhism, but previously had often been presented in a more negative way. For example, here is a “capping phrase” (which could be applied to a koan) from traditional Zen: One blind man tugs many blind men; Pulling each other into the fire-pit. In the Mumonkan collection, koan #46 has a verse by Wu-men (Jp: Mumon) that is more complex in its analogies. The eye in the forehead is darkened, The pointer on the scale misleads us; Throwing away body and spirit, The blind are leading the blind. Although the first two lines seem negative, is “throwing away body and spirit” a possible Zen activity? If so, the blind leading the blind may have some positive connotations. In this depiction of blind men on a bridge, Hakuin added his own doka (Buddhist waka) poem in the upper left, using the traditional Japanese five-line form of 5-7-5-7-7 syllables: yôjô mo ukiyo mo zatô no maruki bashi wataru kokoro wa yoki tebiki nari Both the health of our bodies and the fleeting world outside us are like the blind men’s round log bridge—a mind/heart that can cross over is the best guide The idea of a perilous bridge maintained its importance to Hakuin through the years. In his sermon “Awakening from Day-Dreaming,” he writes, “The bridge which takes us across our floating world is dangerous for the feet which walk over it.” Yet words alone cannot be as powerful as when combined with a painting; in Hakuin’s portrayals of blind men trying to cross a log bridge, he created images that can resonate with us all. 75 WINTER 2 01 1 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY