On The Way: The Daily Zen Journal

Jan 21 2001

Plum Blossoms - Honoring the Teachings of Spring

Dogen (1200-1253)

One day my late master Tendo addressed the monks:

"This is my first address of the winter season. Yet even now an old plum tree with many tangled branches is beginning to bloom - one, two, three, four, five, countless blossoms appear. These blossoms are not proud of their purity or fragrance. The petals fall and it feels like spring as the wind blows through the flowers, trees, and grasses.

You monks are no doubt surprised to hear this. Suddenly, however, a great change occurs. A violent storm arises with driving rain and pounds the earth; it then turns into a blizzard and snow covers the earth. The old plum tree endures various conditions, even freezing cold that seems to cut off its very life."

The old plum tree mentioned here withstands all conditions-sometimes it blooms, sometimes it bears fruit, sometimes it faces spring, sometimes winter; sometimes it faces strong winds, sometimes storms; sometimes it surprises monks; sometimes it is the enlightened vision of the ancient Buddhas; sometimes it appears with grasses and trees; sometimes it is pure fragrance. It faces all these changes, all those that occur imperceptibly.

Heaven and earth, the bright sun and pure moon - all aspects of the old plum tree - cannot be separated from one another.

When the old plum tree blooms the entire world blooms. When the world blooms spring comes. Then the five leaves bloom as one flower-three, four, five, one hundred, one thousand, countless flowers bloom. All these flowers growon one, two, countless branches of an old plum tree. An udumbara flower and a blue lotus flower also bloom on the same branch. All these blooming flowers constitute the beneficence of an old plum tree.

Such an old plum tree covers the worlds of human beings and celestials. These worlds appear within the old plum tree. Hundreds of thousands of flowers are the flowers of human beings and celestials. Millions of flowers are the flowers of the Buddhas and Patriarchs. When this kind of plum tree blooms, all the Buddhas emerge in this world and Bodhidharma comes into existence.

Once, my late former master said to the monks:

"When Shakyamuni lost his ordinary sight and attained enlightened vision, one branch of a plum tree bloomed in the snow."

Dogen (1200-1253)

excerpted from Volume Two of the Shobogenzo translated by Kosen Nishiyama and John Stevens (1977) out of print

Elana

Surely it is spring
For the fragrance of flowers
Circulated by the mountain breeze
Spreads throughout
The peaks and valleys

- Dogen

Spring is fully here and yet not quite here in the mountains. Those of us who live close to them learn this freshly every year. The spring snows continue to block our way to the peaks until well into July in some locations. Often in June we hope to get into our favorite high mountain meadow only to be turned back by deep snows still claiming their space.

There is a direct quality learning from Nature that is wordless, cleansing, uplifting, and requires no explanation to those willing to listen. In much of the poetry of Zen one can feel this, and in Dogen's writing above, the universality of the teaching of plum blossoms is recognized.

Feel the power of the present moment in the landscape below and imagine yourself there listening….

The stream was large enough that it was better crossed in the morning before the midday sun would wake and thaw the sleeping snowfields above. Then the melting snows of the warm afternoon would send forth torrents that coursed wildly down the mountainside, and the falls just below the ford would literally boom. The booming resounded in the mountain valley, echoing and filling it like water fills a vessel.

Everything within that refreshing vessel of dark green forest was immersed in that steady reverberation. Immersed in a divine roar whose endless layers echoed off transparent walls. It's not the sort of sound you hear solely with your ears. Even to bathe in it won't be enough because there will still be someone there to interfere, to interpret.

It has to be felt deeper, below the surface, at the very point where all the senses emerge like a fleck of foam falling into the stream. Just by listening with your eyes you can fold back on yourself and merge into that primal stream of awareness like a river is swallowed by the immensity of the ocean. Only then will you know what point to live from. Only then will you be sure.

Journeys on Mind Mountain
 

Outside my window, plum blossoms, just on the verge of unfurling, contain the spring. The clear moon is held in the cuplike petals of the beautiful flower I pick and twirl.


- Dogen (1200-1253)

Honoring the teachings of Spring,

Elana, Scribe for Daily Zen

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