CASE #37: Myōe’s Letter to Japan
The monk Myōe wrote a letter to the Island of Japan:
Why do we need to seek anything other than your physical form as an island since it is the body of the radiant Buddha? Even as I speak to you in this way, tears fill my eyes…I am filled with a great longing for you in my heart, and take no delight in passing time without having the time to see you. And then there is the large cherry tree that I remember so fondly. There are times when I so want to send a letter to the tree to ask how it is doing, but I am afraid that people will say that I am crazy to send a letter to a tree that cannot speak. Though I think of doing it, I refrain in deference to the custom of this irrational world.
Myōe A monk of the Japanese Shingon school, Myōe (1173-1232) borrowed freely from other traditions, including Kegon and Zen. Most of his life was spent in seclusion, following strict observance of the precepts at a monastery in the mountains outside Kyoto, located far from the shorelines he loved to play on as a boy.
Letter to the Island Myōe’s letter, which can be read in its entirety in Dharma Rain: Sources of Buddhist Environmentalism (Shambhala, 2000), is a short masterpiece of Buddhist environmental writing. Near the end, Myōe concludes that his “Island,” compared with any actual living person, however wonderful, is “truly an interesting and enjoyable friend.” He then writes:
Having observed the ways of the world for some time now, I think it suitable that there were those in the past who followed the custom of digging a hole in the ground and speaking into it. These are ancient matters. These days no one does anything like this, but when we speak of it there is a certain yearning that we have for it.
When asked by the messenger he had summoned who he ought to deliver the letter to, Myōe replied: “Simply stand in the middle of Karma Island; shout in a loud voice, ‘This is a letter from Myōe of Tonganoo!’ Leave the letter, and return.”
Who digs a hole and talks into it? Who writes a letter to an island? Who talks to the Earth as if they were speaking to a buddha or to God?
You’d be surprised. There are more Myōe’s every day. What the world calls crazy is really sane; what it calls sanity has no future, no beauty, and no home.
Wanna talk to Earth?
It couldn’t be simpler!
Just stand on your head
Like this, and wiggle your toes!
Let others laugh if they will.
Thank you for subscribing to Tricycle! As a nonprofit, we depend on readers like you to keep Buddhist teachings and practices widely available.