Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Soyen Shaku

                After completing his formal Zen training in Japan, Soyen Shaku spent three years in Ceylon studying Theravada Buddhism. When it was time to return home, his journey included going from Singapore to Thailand on a steamship. He had almost no money and could only afford to travel as a deck passenger. He was still unused to the tropical heat and the glare of the sun on the open deck of the ship was a misery. There was little water, and he had no food. To make his situation even worse, the ship had to anchor on the coast at the mouth of a river in order to wait for the turn of the tide. The deck passengers were immediately attacked by hordes of mosquitoes. As evening approached, dark clouds appeared in the distance which only made the humidity more oppressive, and he could get no rest because of the heat and the voracious pests. Finally, he found a small area on the deck which provided a little privacy. There he removed most of his clothing and formed it into a cushion. Sitting on it, he entered into meditation allowing the mosquitoes to feed as much as they liked on his bare skin.  For a while the drone of the feeding insects prevented him from achieving samadhi, but eventually he succeeded and his mind became fully concentrated. He was no longer aware of the mosquitoes, the heat, or his thirst. When a rainstorm roused him from his meditation, he heard in the distance a temple bell ringing, and he smiled in contentment. Looking about he saw that a number of bright red wild berries of some kind had fallen about him. Examining them more closely, he discovered they were not berries at all, but mosquitoes so engorged with his blood that they were unable to fly.

[Soyen Shaku – Zen Masters of Japan: 295-99]

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