Soko Morinaga Roshi - From Novice to Master
Type of Spiritual Experience
Sōkō Morinaga (盛永 宗興, Morinaga Sōkō, 1925–1995) was a Rinzai Zen roshi. He was head of Hanazono University and abbot of Daishu-in in Kyoto, one of the sub-temples of the Ryoan-ji temple complex.
His autobiography, Novice to Master: An Ongoing Lesson in the Extent of My Own Stupidity was first published in English in 2002.
A description of the experience
From Novice to Master by Soko Morinaga Roshi
"Follow me," directed the roshi, and he assigned me my first task: to clean the garden.
Together with this seventy-year-old master, I went out to the garden and started sweeping with a bamboo broom. Zen temple gardens are carefully designed with trees planted to ensure that leaves will fall throughout the entire year; not only the maples in autumn but also the oaks and the camphors in spring regularly shed their foliage.
When I first arrived, in April, the garden was full of fallen leaves.
The human being (or, my own mind, I should say) is really quite mean. Here I was, inside my heart denouncing this "old fool" and balking at the very idea of trusting so easily; yet, at the same time, I wanted this old man to notice me, and so I took up that broom and swept with a vengeance. Quite soon I had amassed a mountain of dead leaves. Eager to show off my diligence, I asked, "Roshi, where should I throw this trash?"
The words were barely out of my mouth when he thundered back at me, "There is no trash!"
"No trash, but...look here," I tried to indicate the pile of leaves.
"So you don't believe me! Is that it?"
"It's only that, well, where should I throw out these leaves? " That was all that was left for me to say.
"You don't throw them out!" he roared again.
"What should I do then?" I asked.
"Go out to the shed and bring back an empty charcoal sack," was his instruction.
When I returned, I found Roshi bent to the task of combing through the mountain of leaves, sifting so that the lighter leaves came out on top while the heavier sand and stones fell to the bottom. He then proceeded to stuff the leaves into the sack I had brought from the shed, tamping them down with his feet. After he had jammed the last leaves tightly into the sack, he said,
"Take these to the shed. We'll use them to make a fire under the bath."
As I went off to the shed, I silently admitted that this sack of leaves over my shoulder was perhaps not trash, but I also told myself that what was left of that pile out there in the garden was clearly trash, and nothing but trash. I got back, though, only to find Roshi squatting over the remains of the leaf pile, picking out the stones. After he had carefully picked out the last stone, he ordered,
"Take these out and arrange them under the rain gutters."
When I had set out the stones, together with the gravel that was already there, and filled in the spaces pummelled out by the raindrops, I found that not only were the holes filled but that my work looked rather elegant. I had to allow that these stones, too, failed to fall into the category of trash.
There was still more, though: the clods of earth and scraps of moss, the last dregs. Just what could anyone possibly do with that stuff, I wondered.
I saw Roshi going about his business, gathering up these scraps and placing them, piece by piece, in the palm of his hand. He scanned the ground for dents and sinks; he filled them in with the clods of earth, which he then tamped down with his feet. Not a single particle remained of the mountain of leaves.
‘Well?' he queried, "Do you understand a little bit better now? From the first, in people and in things, there is no such thing as trash."
This was the first sermon I ever heard from Zuigan Roshi. ….all living beings are buddhas, endowed with wisdom and virtue. ….all beings are, from the first, absolutely perfect, but because people are attached to deluded notions, they cannot perceive this innate buddha-nature.
In the classical Chinese sutras it is written that Shakyamuni said, "I attained buddhahood together with all the grasses, the trees, and the great earth….. in people and in things, there is no such thing as trash"