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Mujaku, whose lay name was Chiyono, came to Bukko, Teacher of the Nation, and said, ‘What is Zen?’ The…
March 27th, 2012
Mujaku, whose lay name was Chiyono, came to Bukko, Teacher of the Nation, and said, 'What is Zen?' The teacher said, 'The heart of the one who asks is Zen; it is not to be got from the words of someone else.' The nun said: 'Then what is the teacher doing, that he gives sermons and they are recorded?' The teacher said: 'To a deaf man, you show the moon by pointing; to a blind man, you show the gate by knocking on it with a tile.'
At that moment one of the deer near the Hakugando stream gave a cry. The teacher said, 'Where is that deer?' The nun listened. The teacher gave a Katzu! shout and said: 'Who is this listening?' At these words the nun had a flash of illumination, and went out. At the water-pipe from the Hakugando she took up a lacquered wooden bucket for flowers. As she was holding it full of water, she saw the moon's reflection in it, and made a poem, which was presented to the teacher:

The flower bucket took the stream water and held it,
And the reflection of the moon through pines lodged there in purity

Bukko could not understand the poem in Japanese, so priest Gio translated it into Chinese and showed it to him. Bukko glanced at it and said: 'Nun, take the Heart Sūtra and go.' After that, she had interviews with the master, coming and being sent away, till in the end the lacquer bucket broke, and she presented another poem, of this realization:

The bottom fell out of Chiyono's bucket;
Now it holds no water, nor does the moon lodge there.

After Chiyono's death, the nun Nyozen of Tokeiji used to meditate on this poem as her basic theme. Nyozen's lay name was Takihime, and she had been of the household of Oi Toshiharu, a retainer of the Uesugi family. She trained under Geno, the founder of Kaizoji temple, and in 1313 she grasped the essence of Zen, presenting this poem to her teacher:

The bottom fell out of the bucket of that woman of humble birth;
The pale moon of dawn is caught in the rain-puddles.

(1) What does the poem about the water from the water-pipe caught in the bucket really mean?
(2) What really is the bucket without a bottom?
(3) What is the real meaning of the poem of the nun Nyozen?

[excerpt from "Samurai Zen - the warrior koans" by Trevor Leggett]