THE WORLD OF YABUUCHI SatoshiEsculptor
The better rooms in a Japanese house have a decorative alcove built into one of the walls, called the Tokonoma, that adds formality and grace to an otherwise unadorned interior. The floor is generally raised above that of the rest of the room and it usually has a decorative natural-wood column on one side. One to three pictures or calligraphic scrolls are displayed on the rear wall, these changing according to the season or particular events, a flower arrangement is placed on the floor together with an incense burner or some antique item. It imbues the house with a special spirituality and serves as the centerpiece of daily life. For ordinary people, with a tendency towards sloth, it provides an accent in their lives and its importance cannot be overstated. It should not simply become a place to put the television, a doll in a glass case or a stuffed animal as is so common in cheap hotels, the whole raison d'etre of the tokonoma is to display a scroll.
Upon entering a teahouse for the tea ceremony, the first thing the guest does is to look at the scroll displayed in the alcove. Even for a person like me, unversed in the classics, one of the enjoyments of the tea ceremony is to try and work out the meaning of the Chinese saying that is written on the scroll. The scrolls used in the tea ceremony generally consist of a short quote from one of the sutras or Chinese poem written in a dynamic style by a Zen priest. In addition to expressing a deep love of the nature through the flower arrangement, the master of the tea ceremony will go to great lengths to provide a refined environment to entertain his guests as it is considered that every meeting is unique and something that can never be repeated. It is said that the hanging scroll in the alcove is like a mirror with the power to reflect the heart of the person who views it.
Among the various Zen sayings that I have encountered in this way, two in particular stand out in my mind. One is, "Passing Clouds, Running Water" which means that you should live your life quietly like a cloud, without attachment to form like water. You should live freely, ready to respond instantly to situations with which you are faced. This is a very easy concept to express, but an extremely difficult one to carry out.
Another saying with which one is often confronted is "Chisoku" which means "to know sufficiency" or in other words to be satisfied with what one has and this is said to have been one of the "eight virtues" preached by Shakyamuni Buddha to his disciples as he lay on his death bed. "The person who knows sufficiency will have peace in his heart even during times of poverty. The person who does not know sufficiency will be filled with desire even though he is rich and will experience only unease." Buddhism teaches that we should try and release ourselves from attachments, claiming that all pain springs from attachment and that attachment is born of desire. Desire flourishes in the heart that does not know sufficiency.
In order to gain a deeper understanding of the expression "to know sufficiency" it is also necessary to realize the evil of clinging to the "satisfaction" achieved from a knowledge of sufficiency. Satisfaction should not become a form of conceit. An old priest once remarked to me, "Enlightenment is a transitory thing. As soon as you realize you have achieved it, you cast it aside, repeating this endlessly until you are left with nothing."
The words "I know only sufficiency" can be arranged in such a way as to resemble the writing around the square hole in an old coin and this design was used to create a beautiful stone basin that stands to this day in the garden of Ryoan-ji Temple in Kyoto. The same design can be seen at temples and teahouses throughout the country and although nobody knows who first created it, it was obviously somebody of great wit and learning.
I recently created a bronze figure entitled, "Kai-un Shusen doji" (Lucky Money-saving Child) that features this design. Together with "Kobosuna sama" (Mr. Clean), he embodies the spirit of Zen, reminding us that to live is to be given life by others and he speaks to all the members of contemporary society of the virtue of knowing when they have enough.
The Legend of Lucky Money-saving Child
A lucky boy of fortune born
Holds a coin of curious form
The writing around the central square
Reminds us all of greed to beware
In his wisdom, Buddha did say
"Avoid attachment to desire today"
The little boy asks, eyes open wide,
"How much more 'till you're satisfied?"
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