No Water – No Moon

‘When the nun Chiyono studied Zen under Bukko she struggled with meditation for a long time.

After twenty years of this, one moonlit night she was carrying water in an old bucket bound with bamboo. The bamboo broke and the bottom fell out, and in that moment Chiyono attained.

In commemoration, she wrote a poem:

In this way and that I tried to save the old bucket
The bamboo strap was weakening and about to break
At last the bottom fell out.

No water – no moon’

This is one of the most beautiful Zen stories.

Chiyono, also known as Mugai Nyodai, was a 13th Century Japanese Buddhist nun.

Her story is full of symbolism and there are several significant points.

Meditation is a long path without any reliable short-cuts. The mind will try to find an easier way but there isn’t one. There needs to be an intense period of learning and meditating until the experience of meditation is almost second nature, and then a long period, spanning decades, of maintaining regular practice until the experience of transcendence occurs.

Then, as in the case of Chiyono, the experience is triggered by a random event, accidentally. There is no guarantee that this accident will happen.

Chiyono couldn’t organise that final trigger, but she was prepared for it, and available when it eventually happened. The bottom falling out of the bucket, just at a moment when she was gazing at the moon’s reflection in the water, startled her. It was so unexpected and such a perfect metaphor for the mind, illusion, reflection, sudden nothingness, it threw her into a magical silence.

She let go of her ideas, thoughts, all mentation, in a flash, and the emptiness that was left was now something familiar, real, something she could breathe into with deep satisfaction. Meditation had prepared the ground for her, and her master had taken steps so that she would be ready.

The rest was luck.

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Lunar eclipse

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