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Chosha’s Scented Herbs, Falling Flowers

Prefatory notes

Chosha was a disciple of Nansen Fugan and died in 868.

Main subject by Setcho presented by Roshi

Attention!  One day Chosha went for a walk.  When he returned to the gate, the gatekeeper said:  “Sir, where have you been?”  Chosha said, “I have come from strolling about in the hills.”  The gatekeeper said, “Where did you go?”  Chosha said, “It transcends even the cold autumn dew falling on the lotus.”

Setcho, commenting on this said, “I am grateful for that answer.”

Commentary by Roshi

“Strolling about mountains and waters” means in Zen the stage where there are no Buddhas or Patriarchs to follow and no evil desires to stop.  Not only climbing up a mountain or wandering about waters, but all activities of Chosha are free from rational prejudices and emotional restrictions.  His mental activity is free from any trace of previous activity.  His thinking is always clear without the shadows of good and evil desires.

It is important to have a good memory and to be able to go into every detail of activities so that effective decisions can be made.  Yet one’s mind cannot respond to the coming of new objects into the consciousness if it is full of the traces of former thinking.  It is useless to remember everything.  There is not point in remembering things just so we can cry, be jealous, or be proud.  The mind should be spotless so that everything may be observed as it is.  If the mind is free from the traces of past thinking and is always clear, without tainted ideas or desired, then mind will always be calm and natural like the flowers that come out in springtime or the leaves that turn in autumn.  Your mind and your nature will have the same pace.

When you have reached this stage, your everyday life is called the life of “Yusan gansui” – the life of wandering about mountains and waters.  Chosha’s answer, “I walked through the scent of herbs and wandered about by falling flowers”, refers to his well trained everyday life which surpasses good and bad experiences and is always calm and clear.

The gatekeeper’s comment that this is “very much like a calm spring feeling”, suggests that Chosha is attached to calmness when his mind should always be like a mirror reflecting everything as it is, unattached to forms, colors, and the warm spring feeling and the cold autumn feeling when icy dew is on withered leaves and stems of the lotus.

Engo’s commentary1 says, “The first arrow is shallow, the second one is deep”.  Yet we must know the pain by the first arrow.  Because the gatekeeper did not appreciate fully Chosha’s second statement, Setcho in his commentary says, “I am grateful for that answer.”

Appreciatory word by Setcho

The Great Land2 transcends its small dusts.3  What man’s eyes are not opened?  At first he followed the scent of the herbs, then he wandered around by the fallen petals.4  The enfeebled stork flutters around the cold withered tree.  The mad monkey chatters on the balcony.5  Oh Chosha’s impossible way of putting things into words!  Totsu!6


1 Originally Engo also wrote commentaries for most of the stories as well as the Introductory Word.

2 Land can mean a well trained Zen mind.

3 Dusts are evil desires, anger, ignorance, stagnation, agitation, doubt, remorse, etc.

4 This remark of Chosha’s means that his mind is always one with falling flowers and the scent of herbs (outward objects).  There is no trace in his mind of former activity.

5 This is Setcho’s remark.  There is not sign of worldly feelings put into words in this statement.  Do not say whether Setcho’s or Chosha’s remark is better.

6 Totsu is a kind of exclamatory word or scolding voice.  Sometimes it is the same as “katsu”.  It is shouted out in order to cut off entanglements completely.  In this case, Setcho means emptiness.

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