The first principle

- through Sophie Solere

Published on

You will find not far from the Uji Valley, at the foot of Mount Obaku, a singular temple of the Zen school which was founded by the Chinese monk Ingen Ryuki four centuries ago.

Its completely original architecture modeled in the form of a dragon contrasts with the purity and sobriety that made the reputation of the temples of the former capital, the purple of its hues, its gold and sculpted wood, its unique gardens and his famous gyoban wooden fish, holding in its mouth the pearl of Awakening and the unity of all things so coveted by those who sit in the half-light and silence of the stage. Even his colorful cuisine, fucha Ryori, served on trays and in bowls of red lacquer amazes the taste buds and senses of visitors, who did not expect that a vegetarian material could deliver such a complexity of flavors and colors.

A master calligrapher and his mischievous sidekick

However, Kosen was the famous master and abbot of this temple reputed to have forged the best artists calligraphers from all over Japan, his vivid expression of ink was admired by all, that unique stroke of the brush which makes the brush express with disconcerting freedom the reality of the energy of things and beings expressed. He was often asked to hastily calligraph such and such a sentence or sentence, and he did so, flattered to receive without firing a shot the compliments supported and polite. This master had a particularly mischievous and very honest disciple. He was not fooled by the master's reputation and although he owed him obedience and service, he never kept his tongue in his pocket. The animal was irritating, but a beautiful complicity united the two accomplices, the master often having fun with the antics and remarks of the outspoken acolyte.

Twenty times on the loom, hand over your work

A day came when it was necessary to calligraph the wood which overhung the entrance to the temple. It was customary to prepare such an enterprise on paper which was later transferred to wood. The acolyte set about the arduous and tedious task of preparing the ink obtained by rubbing the water on a stone with a stick of dried soot. The sentence was simple and direct: “The first principle”. The collected master dipped his brush in the ocean of ink, the stone in the hollow of which bathed the duly prepared ink. After a long silence and while he held the brush slightly tilted towards the ceiling so as not to lose a single drop of the precious liquid, he struck the sheet of rice and quickly traced the ideograms.

Slightly withdrawing the body he was beginning to admire this first draft devoid, at least he believed, of thought and expectation when he heard the voice of the acolyte: “No, definitely no, it's bad. You can certainly do better”. Pulled from his satisfied contemplation, the master grumbled to finally decide to crumple the sheet and start again. What he did. “And this one, what do you think? "Even worse than the first," he heard himself reply relentlessly.

A famous adage from our tradition says: "Make tea and leave", it is to say how little concern we have for the impression made on others or even for the effect of our action. Real action is devoid of intention and without origin, one can become totally consumed by it and disappear in it.

84 times in a row, his eyes bathed in sweat and his hand tired, he repeated the tracing of the same ideograms, and 84 times received the same critical and disenchanted reception. Crumpled leaves piled up on the tatami mat. The afternoon was coming to an end. A beautiful liquid amber sprang from the interstices of the mat and the windows. The acolyte continued to observe him relentlessly, leaving no respite to his master when, in a hurry to satisfy a very natural need, he finally asked permission to slip away. The master then said to himself that this was his chance to finally draw the sentence freely without being spied on and judged by this devil of a disciple. What he hastened to do. As soon as the disciple's back was turned, alone with the space in front of him and the dawning beauty of this twilight, he traced the first principle as if for the first time. With an alert hand and the eye and the thought freed from all concern, he let the brush slip by itself without the shadow of hesitation and calculation. On his return, the acolyte, lifting the straw mat and seeing the calligraphy, began to cry and could only stammer these words while prostrating himself: “A masterpiece, master. A real masterpiece”.

Free yourself from the gaze of others

This is more than an anecdote. We are so often prisoners of the gaze of others, we exist since and in the eyes that rest on us, judge us and gauge us. We do not know how to free ourselves from this expectation that we lend to them, captives of these imaginary considerations or of the power that we grant to them. Creation is possible only in freedom from what pleases or evaluates us. We can find our way and our own expression without no longer living in representation in the face of other with selfies, good words, brilliant shots, neat toilets, interventions on social networks or other quite useless parades. Like the master of calligraphy, the true form can only arise without our knowledge, unconcerned by the gaze of others. This is why in our tradition of zazen, we apply ourselves to erasing the traces, traces of the Awakening or of the self, nothing deserves that we congratulate ourselves or that we please or flatter. We do things for themselves and we don't look back. A famous adage from our tradition says: "Make tea and leave", it is to say how little concern we have for the impression made on others or even for the effect of our action. Real action is devoid of intention and without origin, one can become totally consumed by it and disappear in it. In this, small children are remarkable masters, animals too. The dancing jubilation of the little one who is absolutely absorbed in his games can inspire us another way. In fact, we don't have to change, don't even have to become someone else, an improved image of ourselves is enough, and this simplicity is the most difficult and demanding thing, to stop all calculation and totally consent to life as it is. Free from any kind of judgment, including and above all his own, old Kosen lets the true form spring from him.

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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