The Sermon Of The Inanimate

The Scripture of Zen is written with facts simple and familiar, so

simple and familiar with everyday life that they escape observation

on that very account. The sun rises in the east. The moon sets in

the west. High is the mountain. Deep is the sea. Spring comes with

flowers; summer with the cool breeze; autumn with the bright moon;

winter with the fakes of snow. These things, perhaps too simple and

too familiar for ordinary observers to pay attention to, have had

profound significance for Zen. Li Ngao (Ri-ko) one day asked Yoh

Shan (Yaku-san): What is the way to truth? Yoh Shan, pointing to

the sky and then to the pitcher beside him, said: You see? No,

sir, replied Li Ngao. The cloud is in the sky, said Yoh Shan,

and the water in the pitcher. Huen Sha (Gen-sha) one day went upon

the platform and was ready to deliver a sermon when he heard a

swallow singing. Listen, said he, that small bird preaches the

essential doctrine and proclaims the eternal truth. Then he went

back to his room, giving no sermon.[FN#135]

[FN#135] Den-to-roku and E-gen.

The letters of the alphabet, a, b, c, etc., have no meaning whatever.

They are but artificial signs, but when spelt they can express any

great idea that great thinkers may form. Trees, grass, mountains,

rivers, stars, moons, suns. These are the alphabets with which the

Zen Scripture is written. Even a, b, c, etc., when spelt, can

express any great idea. Why not, then, these trees, grass, etc., the

alphabets of Nature when they compose the Volume of the Universe?

Even the meanest clod of earth proclaims the sacred law.

Hwui Chung[FN#136] (E-chu) is said first to have given an expression

to the Sermon of the Inanimate. Do the inanimate preach the

Doctrine? asked a monk of Hwui Chung on one occasion. Yes, they

preach eloquently and incessantly. There is no pause in their

orations, was the reply. Why, then, do I not hear them? asked the

other again. Even if you do not, there are many others who can hear

them. Who can hear them? All the sages hear and understand

them, said Hwui Chung. Thus the Sermon of the Inanimate had been a

favourite topic of discussion 900 years before Shakespeare who

expressed the similar idea, saying:

And this our life, exempt from public haunt,

Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,

Sermons in stones, and good in everything.

[FN#136] A direct disciple of the Sixth Patriarch.

How wonderful is the Sermon of the Inanimate, says Tung Shan

(To-zan). You cannot hear it through your ears, but you can hear it

through your eyes. You should hear it through your mind's eyes,

through your heart's eyes, through your inmost soul's eyes, not

through your intellect, not through your perception, not through your

knowledge, not through your logic, not through your metaphysics. To

understand it you have to divine, not to define; you have to observe,

not to calculate; you have to sympathize, not to analyze; you have to

see through, not to criticize; you have not to explain, but to feel;

you have not to abstract, but to grasp; you have to see all in each,

but not to know all in all; you have to get directly at the soul of

things, penetrating their hard crust of matter by your rays of the

innermost consciousness. The falling leaves as well as the blooming

flowers reveal to us the holy law of Buddha, says a Japanese Zenist.

Ye who seek for purity and peace, go to Nature. She will give you

more than ye ask. Ye who long for strength and perseverance, go to

Nature. She will train and strengthen you. Ye who aspire after an

ideal, go to Nature. She will help you in its realization. Ye who

yearn after Enlightenment, go to Nature. She will never fail to

grant your request.

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