At the entrance to the zendo at the Gendronniere there is a caligraphie of master Taisen Deshimaru reading :
THE HUMAN BEING IS MORTAL
REFLECTION OF IMPERMANENCE
TODAY HE LOVES, TOMORROW HE HATES.
THE DARKNESS OF THE PINE SHADOW
DEPENDS UPON THE CLARITY OF THE MOONLIGHT.
The darkness of the pine shadow depends upon the clarity of the moonlight . . . . . what does that mean ?
If we read this phrase its meaning seems trivial. But if we penetrate into it, if we investigate it, in the same way as we are investigating our whole being during the practice of zazen, other insights might show up. Maybe just that a simple phrase has a lot to say if studied from different viewpoints.
Why does this stanza speaks of moonlight instead of the sunlight, what is much brighter ? What is there to discover at the light of the moon ? What does clarity mean ? Full moon ? The moon is the planet of romanticists, of dreamers. What has that to do with Zen ? Do shadows have different degrees of darkness ? Does a light shadow exist ? What about the common parlance : clear light – deep shadow . . . ?
Great illusion – great enlightment . That is the direction Zen points to. Whoever wants to understand, has to loose his head.
In Zen- teaching the moon is the symbol for the awakened mind. The moonlight is cool. Neither does it overexpose nor does it colour the things. The moon does not flatter nor does it show things up. Moonlight is reflective, selfless. If our mind calmes down during zazen we percieve the meaning of “ knowing without looking to know ” . To fathom out means here to go to the bottom, to give up (. . . the ego not the practice ). Master Deshimaru used to say: to practice zazen means to step into ones coffin .
The pine branch is the symbol of the Soto-Zen- school : zazen , shikantaza, just sitting. When we are sitting in silence lots of images emerge out of our unconsciousness: emotions and thoughts. The state of mind, in what we observe those images is not transformed by their contents or moovements. It is kept unmooving, silent, cool. That is the practice.
If our awareness, our mind is not involved, neither refusing, nor supporting, the inner moovments are calming down. We become silent, empty. We start to percieve that cool and clear moonlight, what evenly illuminates everything. If we use this light to examine our inner moovements and trie to analyse them, it looses its clarity. It is this clear mind, what reflects directly all life without getting cought up in any particularities or pro and contras, the stanza speaks about. Our emotions and thoughts are like clouds mooving in front of the moon darkening its light. We are all that what shows up during zazen, sometiomes neatly to recognize in the bright moonlight, sometimes so thick that the moon becomes unperceptible. But still it is the moonlight through what the clouds are recognized. Without it there would be completely darkness.
What is the shadow of the pinetree ? What signifies its intensive darkness. The stillness, our own deep silence, becomes even more silent, when illuminated by the unmooving clear mind. Intensive light – intensive darkness. Unfathomable. Endless.