Friday, April 24, 2015

Zen Sayings or Zengo


What a shame!

You usually see a hanging scroll displayed in a tea room. From the scroll, you are supposed to read the host’s mind or the theme of the ceremony that you are attending. In a tea ceremony, bokuseki or calligraphy, especially of a Zen monk is often preferred rather than drawings. The calligraphies are zengo, Zen Sayings. I often have hard time to understand what it means. Moreover, I’m ashamed to admit that I can’t even read it sometimes. I need to learn about zengo or at least just the basics.

This might not be zengo, but bokuseki looks something like this.

Incomprehensible Zen

It is said that Zen cannot be explained by words. Someone also says that while you are seeking what Zen is, it is not Zen. Um…. When I read books about Zen, I often have difficulty to understand them. Zen might not be a thing to comprehend intellectually and it may be a thing to realize from your experience. However, books are still the easiest way for me to know about it. This time, I got five casual books that have easy descriptions on various zengo (Zen sayings). By reading the five books, I realized two things. First, the descriptions among the five books are sometimes different even for the same saying. How it is construed might vary with the individual. The other thing is that there are some lessons that show up repeatedly in these books. These lessons can be a clue to understand Zen.

"Now", "Let it go" and "Don’t distinguish"

The three most memorable keywords and phrases I found in the books are “Now”, “Let it go” and “Don’t distinguish”. They are something like the following;
Do the best for now. You don’t need to be bothered with the past nor worry about the feature. Live for now. 
“Let it go”
Just follow as things go. “Be as you are.” “You already have everything.” “Discard things.” These are also the lessons that I found frequently in the books which are similar to this lesson in nature.
“Don’t distinguish”
It is not good to view things in two aspects; beautiful or ugly, in or out, or bright or dark. People tend to be obsessed too much about distinguishing things. Embrace things as they are. This lesson might lead to the lesson of unity or oneness.
There might be one truth in Zen. Words can only describe a certain aspect of it. These keywords are saying different things, but actually they might be describing the same truth from different angles. That’s what I feel.

行雲流水or kounryusui

Here, let me introduce one of my favorite zengo related to the lesson of “Let it go”.
行雲流水or kounryusui
It literally means “Clouds move and water flows”. This lesson means “Live without fixating and go with the times.” Clouds and water don’t stay at on place. They travel even if there are obstacles. They change into any shape and flow with the grain of nature.

Influence of Zen

Even though I can’t still understand what Zen is, I can sense that Zen has a lot of influence on chanoyu and today’s Japanese culture. It kind of make sense. For example, a host tries to have a bud that just started blooming for the tea flower. Usually, the blooming is quite short and with the host preparing the young bloom just for the very moment makes it even more special‏. This preference might come from the lesson of “Now”.
For an example of the lesson of “don’t distinguish things”, Japanese are not good at giving definite yes or no for an answer. We might feel comfortable by making things a bit ambiguous.
A lot of people don’t know much about Zen even in Japan. However, there are many traditions and attitude of ours that comes from Zen idea, and we benefit from it spontaneously. Knowing zengo might help us to realize the underlying principle behind chanoyu and Japanese culture.


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