Apr 26 2019

Muso Soseki – Temple of Eternal Light

Published by at 9:50 am under Poetry

Temple of Eternal Light
by Muso Soseki

English version by W. S. Merwin

The mountain range
      the stones in the water
            all are strange and rare
The beautiful landscape
      as we know
            belongs to those who are like it
The upper worlds
      the lower worlds
            originally are one thing
There is not a bit of dust
      there is only this still and full
            perfect enlightenment

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


/ Image by sagefille20 /

It has been a couple of years since I last featured something by Muso Soseki.

The mountain range
      the stones in the water
            all are strange and rare

Considering Soseki’s role as father of Zen gardening practice, whenever he says anything about the natural world, we should pause and pay special attention.

When he describes the mountain range and river stones as “strange and rare,” he is not shrugging his shoulders at something unusual or interesting. He sees something unique, utterly specific, a now-ness only truly recognized when we ourselves are present and genuinely seeing.

The beautiful landscape
      as we know
            belongs to those who are like it

We only ever perceive what we already are. We may all look and see the same lines and colors of a mountain range, but to actually see it and, on a deep level, recognize what it is, something within ourselves must recognize a shared being with the mountain range.

True seeing is about relationship. It is about inter-being.

This is how we lead into his next statement:

The upper worlds
      the lower worlds
            originally are one thing

When we settle into the original state, we perceive as part of an inherent oneness. We may still see a mountain range or individual stones in a river, but they are not truly separate from us or from each other. There really are not separate objects in the world, there is, in truth, just one thing with a variety of surfaces and vantage points.

From this perspective, there are no objects, nothing that can be separated out as its own self-existing thing, not even something as small as a mote of dust–

There is not a bit of dust
      there is only this still and full
            perfect enlightenment

–just this beautiful moment of living awareness we all are.

Have a beautiful day!

PS- I was devastated to hear about the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka. Always more reason to cultivate awareness, understanding, and healing within our hearts and within our societies.


Recommended Books: Muso Soseki

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


Muso Soseki, Muso Soseki poetry, Buddhist poetry Muso Soseki

Japan (1275 – 1351) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

Muso Soseki first practiced Zen under the guidance of a Chinese teacher but he “failed miserably.” He later studied with the Japanese Zen master Koho Kennichi and soon began to unfold into profound awakening, receiving certification of enlightenment in 1339.

Muso Soseki went on to teach large numbers of students and, like many Zen practitioners, write poetry. He also became an advisor to the Shogun and helped to re-establish trade and communications between Japan and China.

Soseki is perhaps most famous, however, for his profound influence in the art of Zen gardening as spaces to cultivate awareness.

More poetry by Muso Soseki

5 responses so far

5 Responses to “Muso Soseki – Temple of Eternal Light”

  1. Pat Johnson 26 Apr 2019 at 11:14 am

    This poem by Muso Soseki is ‘ONEderFullllll’……….and with your excellent commentary
    a very special couplet to keep close to heart always!
    Thank you so very much! — pj

  2. peggyon 26 Apr 2019 at 1:43 pm

    Thank you the poem and commentary. Your insights further elucidate the deep meanings!

  3. BA Khanon 26 Apr 2019 at 11:12 pm

    Dear Ivan..
    Hope you are feeling better these days.
    Yes this is an excellent poem.
    What you describe is true..
    For a sage there is no difference between within and without.
    And then we see beauty only when our mind is beautiful..when we know what actually the beauty is and then all is like that beautiful landscape Muso describes.
    And when one is pure there is no dust..
    Thanks
    Stay blessed.. and I have a great respect and regard for you and the work that you are doing..
    Again thanks for the book.

    Bashir

  4. Elaon 27 Apr 2019 at 2:29 pm

    How human body
    and the wonderful nature
    gets created out of
    the five elements
    air earth fire sky and water

    How human minds
    perceive and act in all
    variety forms

    How different thoughts
    feelings and emotions arise
    in the intellects

    all these things are strange
    and strangest is the current
    running in the human body

    How would a house look
    whose lamp gets extinguished.

  5. Peteon 28 Apr 2019 at 12:10 am

    Dear Ivan

    Simple complexity, inter-penetrating, one-seeing this, each syllable a drop of breath. A wonderful poem. Thank you. And thanks too for your incisive and cogent commentary. I treasure this.

    Go well, as always,

    Pete.

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