Chiyono and her bucket of water

It is not a certain sequence of causes that brings enlightenment. Your search, your intense longing, your readiness to do anything--altogether perhaps they create a certain aroma around you in which that great accident becomes possible.

The nun Chiyono studied for years, but was unable to find enlightenment. One night, she was carrying an old pail filled with water. As she was walking along, she was watching the full moon reflected in the pail of water. Suddenly, the bamboo strips that held the pail together broke, and the pail fell apart. The water rushed out; the moon's reflection disappeared--and Chiyono became enlightened. She wrote this verse:

This way and that way I tried to keep the pail together,
hoping the weak bamboo would never break.
Suddenly the bottom fell out.
No more water; no more moon in the water--
emptiness in my hand.

Enlightenment is always like an accident because it is unpredictable--because you cannot manage it, you cannot cause it to happen. But don't misunderstand me, because when I say enlightenment is just like an accident, I am not saying don't do anything to attain it. The accident happens only to those who have been doing much for it--but it never happens because of their doing. The doing is just a cause which creates the situation in them so they become accident-prone, that's all. That is the meaning of this beautiful happening.

I must tell you something about Chiyono. She was a very beautiful woman--when she was young, even the emperor and the princes were after her. She refused because she wanted to be a lover only to the divine. She went from one monastery to another to become a nun; but even great masters refused--there were so many monks, and she was so beautiful that they would forget God and everything. So everywhere the door was closed.

So what did Chiyono do? Finding no other way, she burned her face, scarred her whole face. And then she went to a master; he couldn't even recognize whether she was a woman or a man. Then she was accepted as a nun. She studied, meditated for thirty, forty years continuously.

Then suddenly, one night... she was looking at the moon reflected in the pail. Suddenly the pail fell down, the water rushed out, and the moon disappeared--and that became the trigger-point.

There is always a trigger-point from where the old disappears and the new starts, from where you are reborn. That became the trigger-point. Suddenly, the water rushed out and there was no moon. So she must have looked up--and the real moon was there. Suddenly she became awakened to this fact, that everything was a reflection, an illusion, because it was seen through the mind. As the pail broke, the mind inside also broke. It was ready. All that could be done had been done. All that could be possible, she had done it. Nothing was left, she was ready, she had earned it. This ordinary incident became a trigger-point.

Suddenly the bottom fell out--it was an accident. No more water; no more moon in the water--emptiness in my hand.

And this is enlightenment: when emptiness is in your hand, when everything is empty, when there is nobody, not even you. You have attained to the original face of Zen.

Marianne (empty bucket)

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Comment by Alexa on November 14, 2009 at 10:28am
wow, wow, wow, wow. I love this. I will have to read it many times. What an incredible story and teaching. Thank you beautiful Marianne.
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