The Spirit of Zen

An autumn eve
She comes and asks
Shall I light the lamp?

The verse is full of deep spiritual meaning. The poet sits looking out at the fast-dying day, the last of all days, that so quickly, yet so slowly is passing. The autumn evening darkens and the poet’s wife comes to ask him if she shall bring a light. She does not carry the light with her, but only comes to ask. As she looks at him, he thinks of the lamp, with its feeble light in prospect. He thinks of the faith, the everyday kindness and tenderness of his wife, and then he thinks of the irrevocability of the fall of day. He sees it in the flame of a lamp that is not yet present, but it must come. The inner light lightens his mind, and the poet perceives as one and the same thing the inevitability of nature and the loving kindness of humanity.

Another Japanese master says: ‘The living truth is wordless, inexpressible, but unmistakable. To enter into truth is like entering into loneliness, through the loneliness of the evening and the loneliness of autumn.’

Tokusan, a great Japanese monk, was sitting outside doing the practice of meditation, Za-Zen. Ryutan, another monk, asked him why he did not come inside. Tokusa answered: “Because it is dark.” Ryutan lit a candle and handed it to his friend. Tokusan was about to take the candle when Ryutan blew it out. Tokusan’s heart was enlightened and he prostrated himself.

The outer loneliness is a prelude to the inner solitude. Solitude becomes a great spiritual asset if it is suffused with the energy of love, a religious and poetic life of mystic vision and unity.

The greatest of the Japanese poets, Basho, says:

Along this road
Goes no-one
This autumn eve.

Let us try to understand the meaning of this poem in our silence, to create which we need complete detachment from joys and woes and yet to be living the life of one who laughs with those who joke, cries with those who are in woe, and who is the witness indifferent eternally silent in his own spirit.

Hari Prasad Shastri

This article is from the Spring 2021 issue of Self-Knowledge Journal.