Clear Valley

by Muso Soseki

English version by W. S. Merwin
Original Language Japanese

The water that can't be muddied
     with any stick
          is deeper than depth
The sky and the water
     are a single
          deepening blue
If you really want to find
     the source of the Sixth Patriarch's
          fountain
don't look for it
     on the one bank or the other
          or in the middle of the stream

-- from Sun at Midnight: Muso Soseki - Poems and Sermons, Translated by W. S. Merwin / Translated by Soiku Shigematsu

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/ Photo by net_efekt /


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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

I won't try to offer much commentary here, just a little set up. Muso Soseki has confronted us a good koan-like image to work with. Best to sit with riddle until the mind gives up... that's when the answer comes.

The water here is pure mind, Buddha mind. It is by its nature empty -- or, perhaps a better way to say that, is that it is spacious, all-permeating. No 'thingness' obstructs it... it can't be "muddied" no matter what apparently passes through it.

The Sixth Patriarch is Hui-neng (Eno in Japanese), usually considered the last patriarch of early Chinese Ch'an (Zen) Buddhism. His insights and teachings were particularly powerful in the development of Zen practice in Japan.

So we have the water. And we are seeking the Sixth Patriarch's fountain or source of the water. But Muso Soseki teasingly tells us we won't find it "on the one bank or the other / or in the middle of the stream." Where then is the source found?

(As I was contemplating this poem, it started raining heavily outside... water everywhere...)



Recommended Books: Muso Soseki

Sun at Midnight: Muso Soseki - Poems and Sermons East Window: Poems from Asia Roaring Stream: A New Zen Reader





Clear Valley