On one occasion Hyakujo said, “If we are attached to a viewpoint that we are naturally the buddhas and that we are in Zen Buddhism because we are originally pure and enlightened, we are among non-Buddhists who deny causality.”
At another time a Vinaya master named Yuan once came to Hyakujo and asked, “Do you make efforts in your practice of the Tao, master?”
Hyakujo replied, “Yes, I do. When hungry, I eat; when tired, I sleep.”
Yuan asked, “And does everybody make the same efforts as you do, master?”
Hyakujo answered, “Not in the same way. When they are eating, they think of a hundred kinds of necessities, and when they are going to sleep they ponder over affairs of a thousand different kinds. That is how they differ from me.”
At this, the Vinaya master was silenced.
On another occasion, the venerable Tao Kuang asked Hyakujo, “Master, what mental processes do you employ in pursuing the Tao?”
Hyakujo answered, “I have no mental processes that would be of use, and no Tao to follow.”
Tao Kuang asked, “If both those statements are true, why is it that every day you convene gatherings during which you urge others to learn how to follow the Tao by means of Zen?”
Hyakujo said, “This old monk does not possess even a dot of ground in which to stick an awl.”
“Why, master, you are lying to my face!” exclaimed Tao Kuang.
Hyakujo replied, “How can this old monk, being without tongue to urge people, tell a lie?”
“I do not understand the way the venerable Zen master talks,” said Tao Kuang.
Whereupon Hyakujo said, “Nor does this old monk understand himself.”
Maneesha, this series of talks is entitled The Great Pearl, Hyakujo, With The Haikus Of Basho. Hyakujo is immensely expressive and knows what he is doing and how to bring people to the unknowable.
Basho never wrote prose. Basho is one of the greatest poets in the world. His greatness is not in his poetry – there are far greater poets as far as the composition of poetry is concerned. His greatness is that his poetry is not just verbiage, is not just putting words together according to a certain pattern, his poetry is an experience.
I have put them together because Hyakujo never wrote any poetry. His approach is very prose and direct, and the haikus supplement what is missing in the prose. Basho expressed himself very graphically. His experiences are more paintings than poetry. And his understanding is – and I agree with him – that where prose fails, poetry may succeed. Poetry has a more feminine way, more subtle, more graceful, entering into the heart.
Prose directly enters into the head and immediately becomes a concern of logic and reason. Poetry has a different root, a different path. You don’t bring in rationalization as far as poetry is concerned. Something else becomes stirred in you, something deeper than the mind. Poetry cannot be a logical statement. It is an existential statement – what Basho himself has seen he has tried to put into words. Hence I have put together two great masters.
The name, The Great Pearl is Hyakujo’s old name in Chinese. His childhood name was Chu, and Chu means pearl. Both are Himalayan peaks, and together they are going to create a tremendous harmony. What prose can say in a very straightforward way, poetry cannot say in that straightforward manner. But there is much that is left out. Poetry can pick up that which is left out because it has no obligation to any logic, no obligation to any grammar, no obligation to any formulation. It has a certain freedom which prose has not, so it can say things that prose will become embarrassed to say. The Great Pearl applies to both. They both are the most beautiful Zen masters.
Before I discuss Hyakujo’s and Basho’s sutras…Yesterday I introduced you with a biographical note on Hyakujo. Today I want to introduce you with the biography of Basho.
The Japanese haiku poet, Basho, was born in 1644, the son of a samurai in the service of the lord of Ueno castle. As a young boy, Basho became the page and study companion of the nobleman’s eldest son, and together they learned, among other skills, the art of making verse.