Posted inArt and Poems

Japanese Scroll: At the bottom of a ladle, one drop of water

July 19, 2016

IMG_9986[3]Rosa Bellino from the UK has given us the beautiful scroll that now hangs in our zendo.  Many bows and thanks to Rosa for her generosity and kindness.

The words on the scroll are:

杓底一残水
SYAKUTEI ICHI ZANSUI
At the bottom of a ladle one drop of water left

汲流千億人
NAGARE wo KUMU SENOKU no HITO
Billions of people scoop water from the river.

This is part of a 4 line poem, “Gogon Zekku,” ( four lines, each of five Chinese characters)  written by Kumazawa Taizen (1874-1968), the 73rd chief abbot of Eihei-ji temple. It refers to  a story regarding Dogen,  the founder of Soto sect, who it is said, returned water left at the bottom of a ladle to a stream, which resulted in benefiting billions of people at the lower reaches.

The entire poem reads:

正門当宇宙
Seimon Uchu Ni Ataru
Main gate meets Universe
古道絶紅塵
Kodo Kojin Wo Zessu
An ancient road has disappeared in red dust
杓底一残水
Shakutei Ichizansui
At the bottom of a ladle one drop of water left

汲流千億人
Nagare wo Kumu Senoku no Hito
Billions of people scoop water from the river.

This poem describes the core of Dogen’s wishes and his determination to spread his Zen teachings in Japan. The era indicated by “An ancient road covered in red dust” may well be Dogen’s own time; he certainly witnessed corruption and self-indulgence among monks in Japan and China, and was bitterly disappointed, and almost abandoned his training;  then he met the true Zen master Tendo Nyojo Zenji.

There is a historical story related to the poem: when Dogen was in the mountains he scooped a ladle of water from a stream and drank half of it then returned what was left to the stream, without any waste of water.

The last two lines were carved on stones and hoisted by the main gate of Eiheiji temple in 1964.

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