Nov 20, 2021
Jenny Hall

Verses from The Dhammapada 285

Coming face to face with impermanence can leave us with feelings of sadness and dis-ease. If however, we can open ourselves up to these feelings, we give space for the buddha nature to reveal itself.

A single leaf left in winter


Edna Winti, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

‘Destroy the love of self as the Autumn flower is plucked and enter the Path of Peace taught by The Blessed One.’

The Zen tradition encourages the appreciation of nature. In Autumn we enjoy its radiant colours. However when the leaves begin to fall a feeling of sadness may arise. They remind us of the transitory nature of all things including ourselves. It is not only the Autumn that points to sorrow. We only have to switch on the news to be aware of death, sickness, war and famine. We may attempt to distance ourselves from such realities. We do so through a variety of distractions. These are also subject to change. Inevitably they fail to satisfy for long. The following story reveals this.

There was once a little tree who was very discontented. It cried out in Summer; ‘Look at all my green leaves. In the Autumn they’ll all turn brown and will drop off. By Winter I’ll be completely naked.’ The little tree began to weep. It said ‘I wish my leaves were gold’ Suddenly at that moment, a fairy appeared, heard the wish and granted it. However as soon as the little tree’s leaves turned to gold people came and picked them off the branches. The little tree began to cry again. When the fairy reappeared the little tree wished for silver leaves. The wish was granted. Once more people stole all the leaves. The fairy heard the little tree’s anguish and gave it a third wish. It asked for glass leaves that tinkled in the breeze. That night a violent storm blew up. All the glass leaves were smashed to pieces. The little tree began to wail. By this time the fairy was becoming impatient. She announced that the tree was allowed just one more wish. The little tree humbly begged to have the green leaves back. 

The Buddha said: ‘Life is suffering’. He taught that it is only by meeting suffering that there is an ending of it.. This doesn’t mean mulling over the pictures we make of suffering as the little tree did. It is necessary to wholeheartedly give myself into the feeling of sorrow and live it fully as it arises. When we dive into it, ‘I’ drops off and ‘choiceless awareness’ opens. Sorrow is transformed into compassion. Free from self consciousness the cries and needs of everyone and everything around us are met with warmth and understanding. 

When we watch the Autumn leaves gently falling, we are also reminded of the importance of bowing in the Zen tradition. When faced with circumstances which seem to overwhelm us, Ven. Myokyo-ni would advise us to retire to a room by ourselves and to bow several times. As we lay ourselves down, we are taking refuge in the Buddha nature, freedom from ‘me’. 

Sesso Roshi (Myokyo-ni’s first teacher), once described to Myokyo-ni how people approach a Shinto shrine with deep reverence. There is a box, a rope and a bell at the shrine. A coin is thrown into the box. The rope is pulled to ring the bell. The devotee claps her hands three times. In this way she lets the deity know she is there. She believes the deity will reveal itself. Sesso Roshi said ‘It is not important whether or not it is there as the deity is invisible anyway. What is important is what happens in the heart of the sincere believer in that bow. What she feels in the presence. That is the blessing, and cannot be put into words.’

After bowing, this feeling of reverence continues as we wholeheartedly give ourselves into everything. We incline towards each new thing as it arises. In this way ‘love of self’ is gradually ‘destroyed’. 

As we give ourselves wholeheartedly into sweeping the Autumn leaves, ‘choiceless awareness’ opens. There is awareness of the rustling leaves moving with the broom. There are the shapes and colours of the leaves. There is soil. There are little insects. There may be a discarded sweet wrapper. When ‘I’ and all ‘my’ intentions drop off there is just at-one-ment with the movement of the broom, the sights and sounds. As we get older perhaps there is an awareness of an ache in our arms or back. As the discomfort is met, there is no one to complain. There is an openness to all. A spider is carefully removed to safety. The sweet paper is transferred to the re-cycling bin. The leaves are placed on the compost heap. They are helped on their way to creating nutriment for enriching the soil. Gratitude arises for their role in nurturing healthy plants. We wholeheartedly clean the broom’s bristles and place it against the garden shed wall. 

When the wind blows and more leaves are scattered, rather than becoming frustrated we smile. The aim is not to create the perfect path completely free of leaves. Always there is a leaf showing us an aspect of continual change. It offers more opportunities to ‘enter the Path of Peace’ taught by The Blessed One’. 

Fallen leaves


Yet not raking.

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