The Flower of the Heart


Friends, these are a few rags I’ve collected. Once they belonged to beautiful garments and embroidered cloths, but they’ve been ripped away from their context and then they’ve gone through the grubby hands and perhaps the mind of a translator and then the grubby lips of a speaker, but some of them are so beautiful and so strong that perhaps something will remain.

The first thing, the first one is a poem, written by one of Japan’s great poetic geniuses, one in the galaxy of women poetesses in Japan. They are not in the star rank by courtesy, they showed themselves there [in Japan]. Her name was Komachi. She was very beautiful, and, according to the traditional “Noh” play about her, she used her beauty cruelly. She wrote this poem, which has been, of course – translators being a catty lot -been criticised in translation, but I think it’s good one:

Alas, it is the flower of the heart that fades
with no outer sign of change.

Outwardly I’m all right, but something fades in the flower of the heart. Chekov said in one of his plays: ‘We were so full of life, and enthusiastic. Now we have become so bored and boring’.

What’s happened to us? The flower of the heart is faded. The outside is all right. We feel something has gone wrong, but we don’t know what it is, so we try to build up external things. Perhaps if I get a new car, that inner radiance will return? No. Well, a colour television set in every room perhaps? No. Perhaps it’s physical, if I got healthy and strong? No. But then I begin to go in for things like learning.

The flower of the heart has faded; it becomes dry and it becomes empty and we’re not sure what to do and then we think, well, I’ll borrow some flowers, so I start collecting flowers and, if I’m interested in Buddhism, well, then I collect Buddhist flowers and I snap them off and I put them in vases round my room.

And for a time, momentarily, they do seem to brighten up and I do feel a sort of radiance but they fade because there is no root to them at all. So I have to keep on collecting new ones to keep the fresh effect of the flowers in the room.

Joshu was asked whether there was Buddha nature in the dog and he said ’No’ and sometimes he said ‘Yes’, but Myokyo-ni said, ‘Oh, it might have been on the same occasion, five minutes later’. ‘Oh, I didn’t know that but I’ll put another flower in the vase marked Joshu. And then the riddle of the dog… Is there Buddha nature in the dog? Is there? Aru? or not?

Then the roshi explains, ‘Joshu,’, (Yes, I know about Joshu!) ‘he said that he didn’t start teaching until he was nearly 80’. I didn’t know that – I’ll put another flower in there. He went into the mountains and he met a hermit and he said, ‘Is there? Aru? Is there?’ And the hermit lifted a fist. I know lots of them lift a fist.

Hakuin used to lift a fist and, as a matter fact, that Pure Lander that Hakuin once met lifted a fist too, and in some of the Budo schools they lift a fist – not quite in the same way! Anyway, put another flower in. that’s another one for Joshu.

And then Joshu says something about a boat on a mountain. Oh, I don’t know what that means, very subtle somehow. Anyway, then he goes on and there’s another hermitage and there’s another hermit and we think great God, another of them! And he says ‘Aru? Aru?’ Is there? Is there? and the hermit [the] same thing – well, we know that from before.

But this time Joshu made an entirely different answer and you begin to feel, well, they are all very happy in their own way. But it doesn’t revive the flower in my heart! It makes pretty flowers to go round my room, but in the end there is nothing living in me!

And then I think about these things and we told they are fingers pointing at the moon. Fingers pointing at the moon.. I think oh, yes, yes… fingers pointing at the moon . You know in India there’s a thing – it’s not just the moon, it’s the star Arundhati . oh, you don’t want to hear about that. Oh, well, alright.

But anyway, the fingers pointing to the moon yes, another thing – fingers pointing here and another finger pointing there and then the fingers pointing at the hermit and pointing at the fist and so on and you think where, where, where, where, what, what, what, what .?

And then if I’m really attending, perhaps during teisho, I’m watching the finger. pointing. changes again.. boat on the mountain.fist.other fist… different answer and then during the teisho the finger turns round. Begins to stab into me. That’s a surprise! I was looking for the moon out there. Finger stabs. Then I might feel, there is a trembling in the flower of the heart; something has begun to live.

1.    Rinzai Zen Buddhist nun, Venerable Myokyo-ni, was head of the London Zen Centre. She died in 2007.

2.    Joshu Jushin, great Zen Master in ancient China, 778 – 897

3.    Rinzai Zen Master, Dokuon, teacher at Shokokuji, Kyoto. The meeting was in 1869.

© Trevor Leggett

Titles in this series are:

Part 1: The Flower of the Heart

Part 2: Pointing directly to the human heart

Part 3: The concealment of realisation

Part 4: Reaction from the universe

Part 5: You cannot live on sweets

Part 6: Some essential thing is missing

Part 7: Naming a thing is not knowing it

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