Tosui's Abandonment

- through Sophie Solere

Published on

Portrait of a wise man who swapped his abbot's robes for beggars' clothes.

It had been several moons now – so many and so long that it was hard to count them – that the old Tosui had slipped away under cover of the night, leaving his room and his bed empty, without any trace like the thoughts when they unravel in the mind or the flight of birds in the vast sky. The old master had matured this project for a very long time, wishing to mingle his body with the floating world and let it drift according to passing things and the beneficial or bad winds. Swapping his beautiful priest's robes for beggars' clothes, he had made someone happy that day; it was without a name, without a title, without anything or anyone that he had gone through the valley, following the impetuous river in the direction of the capital. Chinshu, his most faithful disciple, could not recover from this departure, and finally made the decision to travel in search of the master to find him and serve him wherever he was.

This is how his steps led him to Kyoto, where by dint of questioning passers-by and merchants, he learned of the presence of a lousy and shaggy old bearded man who was frequently seen sitting on the banks of the Kamogawa, the beautiful and wide duck river. And it was not far from Kyomisu Temple that the disciple recognized the master among a slew of beggars who had taken up residence under a bridge. Behind the grimy, shaggy beard and hair, the bright eyes and expressive, kind face radiated beyond doubt. The master was dressed in a simple patched robe, an old darned bag and carried a bowl of chipped wood. He chatted and laughed with his companions in misfortune. When he saw him approaching, the master told him to go on his way and that he had nothing to do here. It didn't matter to him what he became, the one and the other were no longer to find each other in this life. Chinshu decided to stay however, stubbornly, because he took this refusal as a lesson, and for several days, he suffered the rebuffs of the old madman who asked him to take care of his own business and leave. He set off, took the path of the mountains and the acolyte followed him step by step, as the shadow follows the form. From village to village, they reached Otsu, where in the middle of a bamboo forest and in front of a small stele, he heard the master murmur this gatha to himself:

This is my life as it is
A wide and free life
A worn dress, a broken bowl
What peace and quiet!
When hunger takes me, I eat
And if it's thirst, I drink
That's all I know
The true and the false so dear to the world
No longer concern me

To abandon the monastery is not to flee its charge

This story tells more than the filial and deep piety expressed by the acolyte in front of the master. It says first of all the sovereign detachment that could be ours. To abandon the monastery is not to flee from its charge, but to strip oneself of what is no longer essential. Do not let the roles encumber our life, lighten us of this weight which is none other than that of attachment. Invite the fluidity of water, the lightness of the cloud and mingle our steps with a world devoid of why. Appreciate the simplicity of who we are. It's not about giving up work, leaving your family, but living your daily life with simplicity and joy, without the pontificating seriousness of sadness or concern. Finally live carefree, the absence of any worries. And this song that Tosui sings and offers is the most radical illustration of this: it is a question of stripping oneself of the superfluous and above all, the highest stripping there is, the abandonment of views and judgments. The true and the false represent, here, this tedious and futile accounting to which we indulge all the time, putting each and everyone in boxes and boxes, classifying and cutting into the real, deciding between what we believe to be the wheat from the chaff. Thus, everyone and everything goes through it: hardly do we meet someone or live an experience that we evaluate it. We quantify and qualify everything around us, including ourselves! We are the first to sabotage our joy. It is enough for us however to reconcile us with our life such as it, to live finally.

The way of abandonment of views

To really hear it, however, we must listen to what this story is really about; we must go beyond its exoteric meaning to find its esoteric meaning. Religious texts often suffer from being misread. They are taken and understood at face value, which has the effect of feeding intolerance and fanaticism. If we really want to decipher this story, beyond the pretty story of a sage of the past, we can understand that it paints the very landscape of the mind: the acolyte represents this tendency, this permanent and feverish agitation, who seeks, wants to seize and obtain. Tosui, happy and satisfied with his fate, is in the carelessness of wise men and children, he is this fluid, free and joyful part of ourselves. He is content to do what is important to do, without calculation or ulterior motives. Without looking back, he can easily pass from one moment to another, without taking anything with him, without ruminating, in the immense lightness of being.

Tosui is in the carelessness of wise men and children, he is this fluid, free and joyful part of ourselves. He is content to do what is important to do, without calculation or ulterior motives. Without looking back, he can easily pass from one moment to another, without taking anything with him, without ruminating, in the immense lightness of being.

The immense Nagarjuna, the Indian sage, formulates the thing in these terms in a verse which has remained famous and which alone sums up the essence of all Buddhist practice:

I surrender to Gautama
Whose compassion taught the great way
Which leads to the abandonment of all views

Views prevent us from experiencing reality. They come between us and the world in the form of projections, ideas, fears or desires. We are captive to a thick gangue of conceptions and mental formations that the practice proposes to break. Buddhism is not in this perspective a seam of dogmas, opinions and opinions on everything and anything, of cookie-cutter judgments, a new creed or a body of superstitions that should be adopt, a set of exotic rites that will only further complicate the landscape. No, quite simply, the release of one's own thoughts and prejudices that have been transmitted to us or that we have forged and nurtured. This way of abandoning views is common to all Buddhism. It is alive through meditation. This is the practice of the historical Buddha under the Tree of Enlightenment.

photo of author

Sophie Solere

Sophie Solère is an economic and social journalist who has been interested for years in the environment and interdependence. She works for Buddhist News, a media platform dedicated to Buddhist spirituality and wisdom. By practicing yoga and meditative dance, Sophie discovered the power of spiritual journeys, which offer so many paths to (re)find yourself. She is dedicated to sharing inspiring stories and valuable advice on spiritual practice and the environment with Buddhist News readers.

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