The Lotus in the Mire

In times of famine, daughters of farmers allowed themselves to be sold to brothels in order to save the family.

They took it as a sacrifice and did not lose their self-respect. Prostitutes were known as ‘lotuses in the mire’.

Takuan was asked to write a poem on the picture of a prostitute. He wrote:

The Buddha sells the doctrine;

The patriarchs sell the Buddha;

The great priests sell the patriarchs;

She sells her body,—

That the passions of all beings may be quieted.

Form is Emptiness, the passions are the Bodhi.

On another picture, of Bodhidharma facing a prostitute, was written:

Against your sagehood what can I put except sincerity?

*           *          *

Zen master Mokudo when passing through the capital Edo was hailed by a prostitute from a second-storey window. He asked how she knew his name and she replied: ‘When you were a boy on the farm we were neighbours; after you became a monk there was a bad harvest, and so I am here.’ He went up and talked to her and she asked him to stay the night.

He paid her fee to the house, and gave some more to her. They talked of their families till late, and then the bedding was spread and she prepared to go to bed. He sat in meditation posture. She plucked his sleeve and said: ‘You have been so kind, and I should like to show my appreciation. No one know.’

He said to her: ‘Your business is sleeping, and my business is sitting. Now you get on with your sleeping, and I’ll get on with my sitting!’

And he remained unmoving the whole night.

*           *          *

A well-known doctor in the twentieth century was a good amateur potter, and sometimes had parties of his patients at which he showed them his work. Once he invited a Zen master whom he knew slightly. The master arrived as a small bowl was being passed round, and they waited for his opinion.

He looked round solemnly and said:

‘If any of you are ill in the future, I advise you not to call in this man. Because he must be a terrible doctor!’

There was a dead silence. Then one old man asked: ‘But why, master?’

‘His heart’s not in his medicine, that’s why. Look at this bowl. Oh, it’s well enough, no doubt, but not up to professional standards, so even as a bowl it doesn’t really stand.

And this man—he collects patients simply so that he can show them his pots!’

The doctor took it to heart and abandoned the artist’s vanity which had taken such a deep hold and was impairing his study of medicine.

*           *          *

At one point in a Zen funeral service, the priest has to give the traditional Katsu! shout. This expresses his realization, and affects the condition of the departed.

On one occasion a father had a disturbing dream after the funeral of his daughter, and went to see the priest.

‘Where is my daughter?’ he demanded. ‘What do you mean?’ said the priest. ‘You gave the Katsu!—now tell me, what is the condition of my daughter now?’ shouted the father.

The priest could not reply.

He gave up his temple and returned to the training monastery to find the secret of the shout.

*           *          *

The daughter of a rich merchant fell seriously ill, and she asked her father to request a famous Zen master to visit her. The master demanded a fee of fifty gold pieces. The merchant was furious but at last agreed.

The master came and told the girl: ‘With these gold pieces we are going to build a new meditation hall.

Among the monks are two or three baby Bodhisattvas, and in that hall they train and come to maturity.

Now you can die if you like; your life has had some meaning.’ And he abruptly left.

At once she began to recover.