Appreciating Chrysanthemums

Appreciating Chrysanthemums

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Finding a Diamond on a Muddy Road

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Once there was a famed teacher named Gudo who tutored the Japanese Emperor. From time to time Gudo would travel the country alone as a wandering mendicant.

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It was near dusk on his way back to Edo, the cultural and political center of the Shogunate, when he approached a little village named Takenaka. A heavy rain had been falling without let up and Gudo, soaked to the skin, cast his eyes on his tattered straw sandals. He then looked about and saw a farmhouse just outside the village. To his delight he noticed that there were four or five pairs of newly made sandals arrayed on the windowsill and decided at once to buy himself a new pair.

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The woman who made the sandals, seeing how wet he was, invited him in to remain for the night in her home. Gudo accepted graciously and thanking her.

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He entered and recited a sutra before the family shrine. He was then introduced to the women’s mother, and to her children. Observing that the entire family was forlorn, Gudo asked what was wrong.

“My husband is a gambler and a drunkard,” the housewife told him. “When he happens to win he drinks and becomes abusive. When he loses he borrows money from others. Sometimes when he becomes thoroughly drunk he does not come home at all. What can I do?”

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“I will help him,” said Gudo. “Here is some money. Get me a gallon of fine wine and something good to eat. Then you may retire. I will meditate before the shrine.”

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When the man of the house returned quite drunk about midnight, quite drunk, he bellowed: “Hey, wife, I am home. Have you something for me to eat?”

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“I have something for you,” said Gudo. “I happened to be caught in the rain and your wife kindly asked me to remain here for the night. In return I have bought some wine and fish, so you might as well have them.”

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The man was delighted. He wolfed down the fish and drank all the wine then lay down on the sleeping mat. Gudo sat in meditation beside him.

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In the morning when the husband awoke he had forgotten about the previous night. “Who are you? Where do you come from?” he asked Gudo, who was still meditating.

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“I am Gudo of Kyoto and I am going on to Edo,” replied the Zen master.

The man was utterly ashamed. He apologized profusely to the teacher of his emperor.

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Gudo smiled. “Everything in this life is impermanent,” he explained. “Life is very brief. If you keep on gambling and drinking, you will have no time left to accomplish anything else, and you will cause your family to suffer too.”

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Gudo’s words brought the husband to his senses as if awakened from a dream. “You are right,” he declared. “How can I ever repay you for this wonderful teaching? Let me see you off and carry your things a little way.”

“If you wish,” assented Gudo.

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The two started out. After they had gone three miles Gudo told him to return. “Just another five miles,” he begged Gudo. They continued on.

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“You may return now,” suggested Gudo.

“After another ten miles,” the man replied.

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“Return now,” said Gudo, when the ten miles had been passed.

“I am going to follow you all the rest of my life,” declared the man.

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Modern Zen teachings in Japan spring from the lineage of a famous master who was the successor of Gudo. His name was Mu-nan, the man who never turned back.

Here’s some information about Chrysanthemums:

As early as 15th Century B.C., chrysanthemums have been cultivated in China; though at the start they were only used as a flowering herb.  The plant is renowned as one of the “Four Gentlemen” in Chinese and East Asian art, the others being the plum blossom, the orchid, and bamboo. 

The chrysanthemum, also a symbol of nobility, is believed to have been favoured by the famous Chinese poet Tao Qian. Chrysanthemums are especially significant during the “Double Ninth Festival”. 

Sometime in the 8th Century, it is believed that the flower may have been brought to Japan and the ruling Emperor of that time, taking a liking to it, adopted the flower as his official seal.  The Chrysanthemum Throne was the name attached to the position of Emperor of Japan.

 The Chrysanthemum Crest is the usual term for a mon of chrysanthemum blossom design, with 150 or more different patterns. The notable pattern of the Imperial Seal of Japan is used by the members of the Japanese Imperial family.   Several state-owned shrines in Japan, most notably Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, have also adopted the Chrysanthemum Crest. 

The Supreme “Order of the Chrysanthemum” is a Japanese honour awarded by the Emperor.  In Imperial Japan, small arms were required to be stamped with the Imperial Chrysanthemum as they were deemed the personal property of the Emperor. 

Meanwhile to the delight of citizens and visitors alike, on every autumn, within the city of Nihonmatsu, in the historical ruins of Nihonmatsu Castle, Japan has been hosting the famed “Nihonmatsu Chrysanthemum Dolls Exhibition”.  In the well known “Festival of Happiness” Japan continues to celebrate this flower.  Imagine; so many honours being heaped on a particular genus of flower.

As much as Chrysanthemums are admired, the white chrysanthemum is also considered to be the representation of lamentation and or grief in China, Japan and Korea.

In 17th Century chrysanthemum was introduced to Europe.  In some countries chrysanthemums represents honesty but, sadly, the chrysanthemum in Europe (as in Spain, Italy, France, Poland, Hungary and Croatia) is mostly considered to be the symbol of death and so is only used for funerals or on graves. 

In Australia and the United States (with the exception of New Orleans which adopted the French traditions) chrysanthemum is generally regarded as a cheerful, positive thing.  For a while now in Australia chrysanthemums have enjoyed the privilege of being the choice of flower given to mothers on “Mother’s day”, perhaps because it is in bloom during their autumn season.

The End.

 

Fini

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