Daibutsu, Kamakura

Daibutsu, Kamakura
Daibutsu in Kamakura, June 2010. There were thousands of school kids visiting that day. It was still great fun.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

An ongoing lesson in the extent of my own stupidy

No, this is not a post about how I came to realize my own stupidity, this is a post about the book of that title.

I recently read this book on the recommendation from i, cjw ~.::.~ hiking and climbing in japan, and I really enjoyed it.

The book is written by Zen Master Soko Morinaga and details his training as a novice monk. Morinaga humorously explains how naive he was when he was training to become a Zen Buddhist monk. Some of his stories had me laughing out loud on the bus home from work.

Here is a funny excerpt from his book which both shows his sense of humor and indicates how much he had to learn when he was young. Morinaga's Roshi (Zen teacher) has directed Morinaga to sweep up the leaves in the temple garden :

Here I was, inside my heart denouncing this "old fool" and balking at the very idea of trusting so easily; yet, at the same time, I wanted this old man to notice me, and so I took up that broom and swept with a vengeance. Quite soon I had amassed a mountain of dead leaves. Eager to show off my diligence, I asked, "Roshi, where should I throw this trash?"

The words were barely out of my mouth when he thundered back at me, "There is no trash!"

No trash, but...look here," I tried to indicate the pile of leaves.

"So you don't believe me! Is that it?"

"It's only that, well, where should I throw out these leaves?" That was all that was left for me to say.

"You don't throw them out!" he roared again.

"What should I do then?" I asked.

"Go out to the shed and bring back an empty charcoal sack," was his instruction.

When I returned, I found Roshi bent to the task of combing through the mountain of leaves, sifting so that the lighter leaves came out on top while the heavier sand and stones fell to the bottom. He then proceeded to stuff the leaves into the sack I had brought from the shed, tamping them down with his feet. After he had jammed the last leaves tightly into the sack, he said, "Take these to the shed. We'll use them to make a fire under the bath."

As I went off to the shed, I silently admitted that this sack of leaves was perhaps not trash; I also told myself that what was left of that pile out there in the garden was clearly trash, and nothing but trash. I got back, though, only to find Roshi squatting over the remains of the leaf pile, picking out the stones. After he had carefully picked out the last stone, he ordered, "Take these out and arrange them under the rain gutters."

When I had set out the stones, together with the gravel that was already there, and filled in the spaces pummeled out by the raindrops, I found that not only were the holes filled but that these stones, too, failed to fall into the category of trash. There was still more, though: the clods of earth and scraps of moss, the last dregs. Just what could anyone possibly do with that stuff I wondered.

I saw Roshi going about his business, gathering up these scraps and placing them, piece by piece, in the palm of his hand. He scanned the ground for dents and sinks: he filled them in with the clods of earth, which he then tamped down with his feet. Not a single particle remained of the mountain of leaves.

"Well?" he queried, "Do you understand a little better now? From the first, in people and in things, there is no such thing as trash."

This was the first sermon I ever heard from Roshi. Although it did make an impression on me, unfortunately, I was not keen enough to attain satori (enlightenment) as a result of simply hearing these words.

From the first, in people and in things, there is no such thing as trash. These words point to the fundamental truth of Buddhism, a truth I could not yet conceive in those days.

This statement certainly has meaning in todays world.

I definitely recommend this book, whether you are interested in Buddhism or not, it is an entertaining and "enlightening" book to read.


  1. Really glad you enjoyed it, Tornadoes. It's a book I keep going back to.

  2. Yes, thank you. I plan to read it again soon.

  3. That sounds really interesting. I think I'm going to have to get that one.

  4. I highly recommended it.

  5. "trash" is such a key word. I hope I can find that book.

  6. I found mine at the local library. In Japan, you would probably have to order an English version from Amazon or somewhere.