Fukushima Sunflowers


Actually, perhaps I could rename this article to „The Zen Intentions“.  The begginners on the Path enjoy the zen stories and laugh at them but they haven’t got true understanding of them. One of these koans talks about a couple of monks arguing over a cat, with Nansen eventually slicing the cat in half because none of them could say the right zen word. None of the zen novices truly understood the zen intention of the master. By committing this unimaginable act and breaking the one fundamental buddhist rule „not to kill“, he has enabled and eased the right solution focused atmosphere that will have helped all future generations of zen students and adepts of enlightenment.

Right after the events at Fukushima, I have written to my Japanese friend and asked him if he could stop by at any buddhist/zen temple in the affected area and enquire about their thoughts or actions with relations to the nuclear disaster. But he had different things to do.

And so I waited and then eventually received „the answer“ – somebody sent me a web link which I had been hoping and waiting for for months (interested readers would google Fukushima  Sunflowers). A local buddhist monk was making regular visits to the polluted and evacuated areas and planting sunflowers into the soil. His dedication eventually caught on, and the authorities and experts are now in favour of the idea that sunflowers will help decontamining the polluted soil, and not in the space of tens of years but in a year or two (a similar experiment was also used in Chernobyl after the nuclear catastrophe). Once saturated, the plants will get composted using special bacteria. And so, when the people kept telling the monk that he was risking his own life and health and could die prematurely, he only replied with a zen-like smile.

Another example of one of the first Chinese patriarchs; he used to sit in front of the cave (where Bodhidharma meditated for long years – this twenty-eighth Indian master patriarch, last in his line, left his home country and went abroad because the level of spirituality amongst his people was declining) and pleaded to be taken in as a student. But he was only taken in after he cut off his own arm to prove his dedication. He then went on with his studies, achieved enlightenment and established a whole line of zen masters in China. His intentions were true and perfectly zen-like (or buddhist-like): to help others. One cutt off arm was nothing compared to achieving his own enlightenment and the generations of students who are being taught and lead on the Path by his brave and selfless example.

In that respect, the question of the potential health hazzard of the above mentioned zen buddhist monk is a bit naive: a potentially shortened life and loss of health of just one individual (similarly in the cat from the koan story above) is nothing compared to the chance of quick decontamination of the radiation polluted soil as thousands of people are depending on it (or paraphrased, also decontamination from illusions) for all future potentially ill thought through technologies.

To achieve the enlightenment is not like winning a lotery or reaching some ultimate goal after which one would end his efforts. The really (100%) efficient way of life and work is just beginning, always here and now. And a novice judging his master’s actions is always in the wrong; and just the same if he’d try comparing the pros and cons of (sacrifices versus advantages) of any (zen) action itself.  From the novice’s point of view, the actions of the zen masters are often difficult to understand and they may be regarded as utter mysteries, but an enlightened person sees them as purely logical and genius, (most of the time) surprisingly simple and always aimed at helping others getting rid of their suffering (in other words, helping them to awaken from the illusionary programming of their mind).

Just like the sunflowers always turn their heads towards the sun, so the zen master can always figure out the true underlying cause and be able to take the only adequate action in that situation (and always regarding the fundamental buddhist principle of helping others). And the others will eventually join in (just like they did in the Fukushima Sunflowers story).