Wednesday, May 9, 2012

落葉両三片 (two or three fallen leaves).

A friend from Tea class asked for help reading a set of shikishi she bought a while ago, written by a notable Zen monk, and 習字の先生 was kind enough to help me figure them out. Some of them are pretty standard stuff, like 寿 (kotobuki, longevity / good fortune / auspiciosity of various kinds), or 福 (fuku, good fortune), but a few have really stuck with me.

One that I've been thinking of today is 落葉両三片 (rakuyou ryou-san hen), "two or three fallen leaves", an appealingly haunting image that on the shikishi is backed with sumi-e of leaves and pine needles. I've been nosing around online, and it seems this is from a longer phrase that's often written in a Zen context:

seifuu ichijin (kitaru, kitarite),
rakuyou (ochiba) ryou-san hen

(depending on how you read 来)
a gust of the west wind comes;
two or three fallen leaves
two or three fallen leaves(,)
come on the west wind

Online sources relate this to both Zen and 茶の湯 (Tea). One says it was written by 千利休, Rikyuu, the great(est) Tea master, to commemorate his son—questions about both Rikyuu's death and his succession are well worth exploring—but I haven't found anything else to corroborate. A published translation of anecdotes about four Chinese Zen masters who lived in "turbulent times" gives a totally different view, attributing it to Gujin (13th century), in a moment of either humor or anger:
Gulin said, "In the scriptural teachings it says that if a single person generates true intent and returns to the origin, then all of space in the ten directions crumbles away. The ancestral teachers of Zen said that if there is a single person who generates true intent and returns to the origin, then he bumps into [the ultimate] at every turn.

"Here at Kaiyuan Temple I have a living road that I will walk along with all of you."

Then Gulin slapped the meditation bench and said, "One gust of the west wind, two or three pounds of fallen leaves."

(The teacher presents the teaching in a public forum[;] a handful of people in the audience are reached.)


(片=pounds, rather than individual leaves?)

Other mentions see in it profound loss, associating the west wind with both death and impending rain—apparently it's considered a September thought (禅語)—and, in a Zen context, an opportunity to (re)consider one's character and life choices and make changes. I prefer the more melancholy interpretations (as I am a generally melancholic guy). Reminds me of a four-kanji set I practiced in 習字 a while ago, 秋物感人—autumn makes people contemplative.

Seems this one is sometimes written just as the first half (西風一陣来), rather than, as in the shikishi, the second; but below is an example of the second half:


Interesting that 両 is written with just one horizontal and the vertical cutting through, rather than (what I think of as) the usual 行書 style of 冂.

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