Master Dogen, addressing the assembly, said:
My late master, old Buddha (T'ien-t'ung Ju-ching), said, "The original face has no birth and no death, Spring is in the plum blossoms and enters into a painting." When you paint Spring, do not paint willows, plums, peaches, or apricots, but just paint Spring. To paint willows, plums, peaches, or apricots is to paint willows, plums, peaches, or apricots - it is not yet painting Spring. It is not that Spring cannot be painted, but aside from my late master, old Buddha, there is no one in India or China who has painted Spring. He alone was the sharp, pointed brush who painted Spring. This Spring is Spring in the painting because it enters into a painting. He does not use any other power, but lets plum blossoms activate Spring. He lets Spring enter into a painting and into a tree - this is his skillful means. Because my late master, old Buddha, clarified the Treasury of the True Dharma Eye, he correctly transmitted it to the Buddhas and ancestors who assembled in the ten directions of past, future, and present. In this way, he thoroughly mastered the eyeball and opened up the plum blossoms.
This was written on the sixth day, eleventh month, first year of Kongen, 1243, at Yoshimi Monastery, Yoshita County, Echizen Province. Deep snow, three feet, all over the earth.
Master Dogen is one of the spiritual giants of history and one of the greatest religious teachers of Japan. He was an incredible poet, mystic, and philosopher, compiling many of his major works while in his thirties. This translation of "Plum Blossoms" is another of the sections of his master work, Shobogenzo: Treasury of the True Dharma Eye...
"When you paint Spring do not paint willows, plums, peaches, or apricots, but just paint Spring." What is Dogen talking about when he says, "just paint Spring?" What is Spring? He says that "Spring is in the plum branch covered with snow." In that withered-looking single branch sticking out from under the snow at thirty-below-zero, there is Spring. Why can't we see it? Why can't it be seen? "Even though the attainment of realization is immediately manifest, its intimate nature is not necessarily realized. Some may realize it and some may not." Just paint Spring....
At that time, Zen literature and koans were written in classical Chinese, which very few Japanese could speak or read. Also, the study of these koans required a profound understanding of Chinese poetry. So, Kamakura masters redid the koans to make them more Japanese, more understandable.
One of these koans is called "Painting the Nature." It deals with Ichu, a famous painter and Zen teacher, the seventh master of Jifuku-ji. One day Nambutzu, a great warrior, came to see him and asked whether he could paint the fragrance described in a famous line of poetry: "After walking through the flowers, the horse's hoof is fragrant." Ichu drew a horse's hoof with a butterfly fluttering around it. Then Nambutzu quoted the line, "Spring breeze over the river bank," and asked for a picture of the breeze. Ichu drew a branch of waving willow. Nambutzu cited the famous Zen phrase, "A finger directly pointing to the human mind; see the nature to be Buddha," and asked for a picture of the mind. Ichu picked up the brush and flicked a spot of ink onto Nambutzu's face. The warrior was surprised and annoyed; Ichu rapidly sketched the angry face. Nambutzu then asked for a picture of "the nature." Ichu broke the brush. Nambutzu didn't understand, and Ichu remarked, "If you haven't got the seeing eye, you can't see it." Nambutzu asked him to take another brush and paint a picture of the nature. Ichu replied, "Show me your nature and I'll paint it." Nambutzu had no words. There are test questions for this koan, including: How do you show the Nature? Come, see your nature and bring proof of it! Say something on behalf of Nambutzu!
In this koan, needless to say, the questions and the way the master responded to them are at a very different level of understanding than what Dogen refers to when he speaks of his teacher, T'ien-t'ung Ju-ching. "It is not that Spring cannot be painted, but aside from our late master, Old Buddha, there is no one in India or China who has painted Spring. He alone was the sharp, pointed brush who painted Spring." Painter, brush, canvas, image, subject - they are not many. The painter is the brush, the image is the painter, the subject is the object, the canvas is the paint. Those things only separate themselves when we separate them by the way we use our mind. Whether you are speaking of a painting, Mu, a tree, a Buddha, or a plum branch - how you see it, how you relate to it has to do with how you live your life, with the question of life and death itself. "To paint willows, plums, peaches, or apricots is to paint willows, plums, peaches, or apricots; it is not yet painting Spring." How do you paint Spring? "This Spring is the Spring in the painting because it enters into a painting. He does not use any other power, but lets plum blossoms activate Spring. He lets Spring enter into a painting and into a tree, this is the skillful means." How do you manifest the sharp, pointed brush that paints Spring?
The Chinese and Japanese masters took certain arts and "zenified" them, and so we have (as Japanese names) shodou (calligraphy as Zen practice), chadou (the tea ceremony), kyudou (archery as Zen practice), kendou (sword practice) etc.
In all of these practices, the aim is to become skillful and perfect what is done in the practice. There is something in good Zen calligraphy that fosters harmony and peace in the viewer. Likewise, if you have not been served tea by a chadou master, I suspect you have never really been served in a way that is pure service. Nothing else I've experienced comes close. If I ran nursing schools, chado would be a required course of study.
The Mountains and Rivers Order, the Soto Zen folks from whom the above quote comes the idea that some of these Zen arts can be adapted to the West and new ways of expression; so, for example John Daido Loori uses his photographic skills.
So I think Zen blogging might need be a good thing to try out.. Like shodou, the actual writing takes preparation. Despite the final form of the picture looking like it was hastily drawn, the setting up of the brushes, the preparation of the ink, etc. can take hours. There are understood modes to blogging (which I normally violate- the length thing. I have a problem with Blogger getting the switches to work.) But I do strive for the method.
Moreover, as Joe Carter suggested, blogs should be about "micro niches." While there are many political blogs, there's pretty much no political American Buddhist blogs except for this one. Likewise, while there's blogs such as Brad de Long's that make me feel like I'm reading an economist's words, and James Wolcott, who makes me think I'm reading some New York media guy, and Carter makes me think I'm reading an Evangelical who tries to think, there is no blog that is meant to induce harmony in the way shodou does.
Atrios has his salty take on the nasty politics of the day. Much of the right wing blogosphere is, for better or worse, talk radio in print. Kos has created an army of lefty voices. But nowhere is there a blog that can induce the harmony and equanimity of the tea ceremony, or the simple one perfect killing cut of kendou, or the bulls' eye of kyudou.
It might be a good experiment.