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#1198 - Sunday, September 15, 2002 - Editor: Gloria Lee
SOUND OF MOUNTAIN WATER - Princess
Shikishi (ca. 1150-1201)
As I grow used to
the moss mat
and rock pillow,
the sound of mountain water
cleanses my heart.
Illustration (top): Ritual hand-washing basin and dipper from a Kyoto
Garden, adapted from the CD-ROM, KYOTO GARDENS: A
VIRTUAL STROLL THROUGH ZEN LANDSCAPES, produced by
LUNAFLORA, 1996. See also:
Excerpts from Julia V. Nakamura's Art & Spirituality of the Japanese Garden.
The few selections given here are but a small sample of the wealth of this webring, with
all writings by or about women. This is a fabulous resource, more than one can read
in a day, still have not come to the end of it. Han Shan, Ikkyu and Dogen are men.
Women's Early Eastern Spirituality
Now arranged as a garland, these articles were originally part of a page
called Early Women Masters in Buddhism, Taoism, Shinto & Zen. (For
Western spirituality, see also Celebration of the Feminine Divine.)
Each article links to the next -- a link is provided also to return here to
All night I could not sleep
because of the moonlight on my bed.
I kept on hearing a voice calling:
Out of Nowhere, Nothing answered "yes."
Zi Ye (6th -3rd century B.C.E.) China
INTRODUCTION from "The Burning Heart: Women Poets of Japan" (edited
by Kenneth Rexroth and Ikuko Atsumi, Seabury Press, NY, 1977)
"The Man'yoshu (The Collection of 10,000 Leaves) was compiled in the later
half of the 8th century, Japan. A little more than one-third of the (named)
Man'yoshu poets can be recognized as women ... The script known as
Manyigama was probably employed largely as a mnemonic device and the
poems were transmitted orally, usually sung or chanted as they still are to this
day...with 4,516 poems in all....
"The remarkable thing about the Man'yoshu is its extraordinary democracy.
There are poems by emperors and empresses, princes and princesses, generals
and lonely common soldiers on the then narrow frontiers of Japan, beggars,
monks, and courtesans. A whole section was devoted to "Eastland Poems,"
probably in a different dialect from an area which was in those days the
Eastern border of Imperial Japan and is still relatively backward country...
("From the Country of Eight Islands," ed. Hiroaki Sato and Burton Watson, 1981)
TO OLD LADY SHII
"Enough!" I say,
but Shii will force
her stories on me.
Lately, though, not hearing them,
I miss them.
* * *
Princess Sotori (also called Sotoshi) (5th c.)
"Little bamboo crab" is a spider. Chinese as well as
Japanese folklore found happy omens in the activity
of spiders, which were thought especially to predict
the arrival of a guest.
Tonight is the night
My young love will come to me:
Little bamboo crab
Spider's antics make it clear.
Oh, very clear tonight.
* * *
Kuan Yin's earthly name is Miao Shan (Wondrously Kind One): the following
story of how it was that Miao Shan came to be the Bodhisattva of Compassion
is recounted in John Blofeld's "Bodhisattva of Compassion: The Mystical
Tradition of Kuan Yin" (Boston: Shambala Publications, 1977).
I hear they are rebuilding
Nagara Bridge in Naniwa.
What is left
For me now
To compare myself to?
Thread of Pearls
Hanging from the branches of a green
The spring rain
Thread of pearls.
Some of the most delightful poems written by early Japanese women center on
natural idiophonics, that is, natural sounds heard and appreciated as
aesthetically meaningful. In addition, poems were sometimes composed in the
context of a traditional sound which may not be mentioned directly. This website
has collected women's poems referring to natural sounds and grouped them by seasons.
WHAT THE BUTTERFLY WANTS TO SAY - Chiyo-ni (1703-1775)
What the butterfly
wants to say --
only this movement of its wings.
POUNDING CLOTH - Kaji (b. late 1600's)
In Kaji's day cloth was pounded to clean it and
make it shiny as though it were wet and washed.
As night is fading,
I stay awake with the sounds of
a humble woman
pounding and fulling her cloth --
sojourn at a grasslands inn.
SOUNDS MERGE - Chiyo-ni (1703-1775)
the rain quiets
the pounding of cloth.
As for me, I delight in the everyday Way,
Among mist-wrapped vines and rocky caves.
Here in the wilderness I am completely free,
With my friends, the white clouds, idling forever.
There are roads, but they do not reach the world;
Since I am mindless, who can rouse my thoughts?
On a bed of stone I sit, alone in the night,
While the round moon climbs up Cold Mountain.
Han Shan translated by Stephen Mitchell.
Coming, here, gone:
Flowers in the Sky.
In the blink of one false eye,
In the blink of One True Eye,
Flowers in the empty sky;
Shimmering, scented ... gone,
Gone, gone, gone far beyond
Their seeds of arising.
But, staying, Here-Now,
A Great Marvel of Manifestation.
Bodhisvattas - for the bees.
Soil, sun, rain, sky ...
Four Elements embracing,
Intertwined in mind.
Scaffolds on scaffolds
Grounded in Otherness.
Below seeds, flowers, leaves,
stems, roots ...
Below wet cells embraced,
Below atoms dancing on Energy ...
Deeper and deeper below into
What? A Plenitude, sacredness.
Emptiness in full bloom.
Above seeds, flowers, leaves,
stems, roots ...
Above water, soil, air, sunlight ...
Above sensing, feeling, working, thinking ...
Higher and higher out towards
What? "Vast emptiness, nothing holy."
Flowers in the sky.
~ Dogen by Michael Garofalo
It is nice to get a glimpse of a lady bathing --
You scrubbed your flower face and cleansed your lovely body
While this old monk sat in the hot water,
Feeling more blessed than even the emperor of China!
The Woman Crookback & the Way of the Sage
"The Woman Crookback and the Way of the Sage" is an old story, or
parable, from an ancient Chinese text called the CHUANG TZU. The
Chuang Tzu was compiled in the Tan Dynasty (202 B.C.E. - 220 A.D),
and is considered to be the second most important Taoist classic after
the TAO TE CHING. Many of the stories in this collection focus on the
adventures of Master Chuang, or "Chuang Tzu," however a number of
other Taoists teachers are mentioned, and one of them is mysteriously
named "the Woman Crookback." The illustration here (from ASIAN
ARTS) of an old rabbit turning around to view the moon represents the
"return," or "realization," of one's original nature. In Taoism this is
called "return to the primal self."
THE WOMAN CROOKBACK & THE WAY OF THE SAGE
arranged from the translation by Burton Watson, "Chuang Tzu/Basic
Writings" (NY: Columbia University Press, 1964).
Nan-po zu K'uei said to the Woman Crookback,
"You are old in years and yet your complexion
is that of a child. Why is this?"
"I have heard of the Way!"
"Can the Way be learned?" asked Nan-po Tzu K'uei.
"Goodness, how could that be?
Anyway, you aren't the man to do it.
Now there's Pu-liang Yi --
he has the talent of the Way but not the Way of a sage,
whereas I have the Way but not the talent of a sage.
I thought that I would try to teach him
and see if I could really get anywhere near to making him a sage.
It's easier to explain the Way of a sage
to someone who has the talent of a sage, you know.
"So I began explaining
and kept at him for three days, and after that
he was able to put the world outside himself.
When he had put the world outside himself,
I kept at him for seven days more, and after that
he was able to put things outside himself.
When he had put things outside himself,
I kept at him for nine days more, and after that
he was able to put life outside himself.
"After he had put life outside himself,
he was able to achieve the brightness of dawn,
he could see his own aloneness,
he could do away with past and present,
he was able to enter where there is no life and death.
"That which kills life does not die,
that which gives life to life does not live.
This is the kind of thing it is:
there's nothing it doesn't send off,
nothing it doesn't complete.
Its name is Peace-in-Strife.
After the strife, it attains completion."
Nan-po Tzu Kuei asked,
"Where did you happen to hear this?"
"I heard it from the son of Aided-by-Ink,
and Aided-by Ink heard it
from the grandson of Repeated-Recitation,
and the grandson of Repeated-Recitation heard it
and Seeing-Brightly heard it
and Whispered-Agreement heard it
and Waiting-for-Use heard it
and Exclaimed-Wonder heard it
and Dark-Obscurity heard it
and Participation-in-Mystery heard it
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