Chiyono was a simple soul, a pretty young lady from the countryside who had found food and refuge in a convent of nuns in order to serve there. However, her heart longed to practice the path of meditation and she wanted more than anything to turn entirely to the teachings of the Buddha. This is why she decided to inquire with an experienced nun in these words: “I am of very modest birth and can neither read nor trace ideograms; I am not good at studying and have to do so many household chores all day. Can I, under these conditions, understand and practice the way of the Buddhas? The old woman, amused and intrigued by such a request, replied not without a delicious and benevolent malice: “What a marvel, my dear! You see, Buddhism makes no such distinction between beings. Each is as it is, what it should be. You are, without a doubt, as you are, absolutely perfect. You lack nothing. And nothing is too much with you. You just need to cultivate that noble desire to awaken and that heart of compassion that characterizes you. No other talent is required here. If you don't get lost in illusory thoughts, any idea of Buddha or ordinary being will fade away to one and indivisible nature. If you wish to know this true nature, you only need to find the source of all illusory thoughts, this is the very essence of zazen, seated Zen”.
At these words, Chiyono was very happy, because it was enough for her to continue living as she already did, without changing one iota of her laborious existence. After a few months of this daily practice, where the Sodo, the place of practice for the nuns, was her daily work to which she surrendered herself with all her heart, an incredible event occurred. When she had gone out to fetch water on a night bathed in the happy light of the full moon, she arrived near the old well to lower her used bucket into it, the patched bottom of which was held together by a few woven bamboos. As she slowly brought it up to the surface gazing at the reflection of the moon dancing on its surface reflected by the choppy black water, the bottom suddenly gave way and the water and the moon instantly disappeared. She then realized what she had already understood from beginningless time and composed a simple poem:
Of odds and ends, I tried to patch up the old bucket
And then the bottom gave way.
Where water cannot be collected
Even the moon cannot remain
Dip the bucket into the troubled waters of the mind
This teaching is such an inspiration for all of us who spend our days and nights lamenting these weaknesses, these shortcomings, these failures, regretting what we have said or have not been able to say. We who judge ourselves much more harshly than anyone else and who readily imagine how perfect, fulfilled, generous and beautiful our life could be if we could ever live differently, practice better or simply show more virtue and wisdom in this confusion if embarrassing. Chiyono contemplates her mind. She goes to the well as we go to sit on our cushion. She contemplates the black and turbulent water of her mind. Anyone who experiences meditation will be a spectator of this chaos, of this unbearable confusion which, until then, escaped him. And this is the true courage of the bodhisattvas, the beings who mingle with the world and its dust, that of plunging the bucket into the troubled waters of the mind to contemplate there all the dancing shadows, but also the incredible splendor of Awakening, the round moon of Awakening in the heart of this bad luck and this darkness.
Chiyono contemplates her mind. She goes to the well as we go to sit on our cushion.
Better still: it is because we contemplate this inner confusion, because we illuminate it that the moon manifests. Who contemplates the illusions if it is not the moon itself which deposits its reflection there? Without our knowledge, of course. Because there is no question of being proud of it. It is without consciousness that this Buddhahood is realized; seeing through one's own illusions is already living and realizing the Awakening of which one is never the spectator, but the actor without an audience. There is no one there to applaud us.
But there is the second lesson of this story, the one that goes beyond the simple action of collecting water in a bucket. When the bottom gives way, what disappears? What appears? This tinkered and patched up bucket suddenly yields an immense freedom, that of a place that neither retains nor seizes nor brings back anything. Not even the moon. In Chiyono's surprise, there is the sudden realization of an incredible freedom that does not depend on the black choppy water or the light floating in it. When everything is suddenly dropped, all our attempts to keep up appearances, to pretend, to pretend that everything is fine, all this jumble and this comedy collapses. When you agree to lose your footing and completely smash, who is left? One of the most famous patriarchs of Zen, Keizan, talks about this state in which Chiyono finds himself when he evokes the enlightenment of the young Dogen, who abandons body and mind, and whose master says: "Here, now you let go of everything, you let go until you let go”. “Reach this space and be like a basket with a broken bottom, or a bowl with a hole in the center. What flows from it is endless, what is deposited there never fills anything. Having reached this state, you are like a bottomless basket.