First Snow, Great Buddha

First snow and
there stands the great Buddha
a pillar of strength

初雪や
いつ大仏
の柱立

Hatsu yuki to
Itsu daibutsu
No hashiradate

snow-cabin

The Great Plains in March

It snowed last night in early March. Not an entirely unusual occurrence on the Great Plains, but unwanted to those who long for spring. The morning was gray and bitter cold. Even the dog would not go out willingly or for long. My calico cat stood at the door, looking about, then turned and ran away.

Todai-ji Temple

When Master Basho visited the Todai-ji Temple in Nara, he found the monastery in disrepair. There in an uncovered courtyard, he found the statue of the Great Buddha exposed to the wind and the snow, standing upright.

The meaning of Basho’s haiku is, seemingly elusive. It snows and there silent and stoic stands the Great Buddha in the midst of the snow and cold.

Why not go inside?

Matsuo Basho describes Buddha as “Pillar-like” (の 柱立, standing like a pillar, 柱). Society is supported by principles in the same way that a building is supported by upright pillars and columns.

buddha-snow

We can not fathom the Way, just as we can not fathom the mysteries of Nature. The master of the Way fights neither his own body, nor Nature. The forces of Nature are greater than one person. We must adapt to survive.

Master Basho instructs us by example. The Great Buddha does not complain when it snows, nor should we. The virtuous are upstanding.

 

Tōdai-ji (東大寺, Eastern Great Temple), located in the city of Nara, contains the Great Buddha Hall which houses the world’s largest bronze statue of the Buddha. At the time of Basho’s visit (1689-1670), the Buddha was still without its head and cover.

Lessons from the Dao

― Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, Chapter 37

 

The Tao never does anything,

yet through it all things are done.

 

If powerful men and women

could center themselves in it,

the whole world would transform

into its natural rhythms.

People would be content

with their simple, everyday lives,

in harmony, and free of desire.

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