Chiyono’s awakening

The story goes that Chiyono was incredibly beautiful. And for this reason, as much as she tried, she was refused entry into zen monasteries. The masters claimed that she would drive the monks mad. One day she burned her face to the point where she was not recognisable as man or woman; and she was permitted to study in the monastery.

Despite this amazing and perhaps courageous act, enlightenment didn’t come quickly to Chiyono. However, she was a deteremined student. At last, one moonlit night, she filled her old water bucket from a well (a well that centuries later would still bear her name). As she walked away, she saw the full moon reflected on the surface of the water. As she continued along the path, the circular bamboo strip gave way that had held together the staves of her bucket. Instantly, the bottom broke through, the moon’s reflection vanished, the bucket disintegrated, and all its water drained into the soil beneath. At this moment, Chiyono experienced a sudden, penetrating flash of insight-wisdom.

She later explained it this way: ‘‘I had hoped the weak bamboo binding would hold the water bucket together. But suddenly the bottom fell out of the bucket: no more water. No more moon in the water. Emptiness in my hand!’’

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