Flowers in Springtime, Moon in Autumn, Cool Wind in Summer, Snow in Winter. If you don’t make anything in your mind, for you it is a good season.”
I often use this poem to teach both new and more experienced Zen students. Quite often, when I ask a student during a private Zen interview to read the poem, I see a spontaneous smile or “Aha” reaction emerge, and a kindling of the student’s “faith mind” or original confidence. It’s as if he or she were saying, “Yeah, the True Way is like that.”
The central point of this poem is essentially a restatement of the third and fourth of the Four Noble Truths, i.e., that there is an end to suffering and that there is a way or path of practice which actualizes the end of suffering. “If you don’t make anything in your mind, for you it is a good season.”
The poem comes from Case Nineteen of the Mu Mun Kwan and is titled “Everyday Mind is the Path.” The case is an interchange or dialogue between Zen Master Nam Cheon and his student JoJu, who later became a great Zen Master in his own right. At the time of this Dharma combat JoJu is still an inexperienced student. He asks Master Nam Cheon, “What is the true way?’ Nam Cheon responds that “Everyday mind is the true way.”
Then, there follows a series of questions by JoJu and answers by Nam Cheon which, one by one, undo JoJu’s conceptual orientation. For example, JoJu asks, “Then should I try to keep it or not?” Nam Cheon responds, “If you try to keep it, already you are mistaken.” Finally, Nam Cheon exclaims, “If you completely attain the true way of not thinking, it is like space, clear and void. So why do you make right and wrong?” At this, JoJu got enlightenment.
In the case, there is only talk of the Mind of no thinking, clear and void like space. The poem emphasizes how one with such a mind functions in contact with time, part of the phenomenal world, which is indicated by the four seasons. In a few words, it demonstrates a non-clinging way of being/becoming, a way of encountering the events of life. In this sense, it is in accord with Zen Master Seung Sahn’s teaching of “Don’t make anything, don’t hold anything, don’t attach to anything. Then you will realize that you have everything.”
And a similar point is made in Zen Master Yun Men’s case in the Blue Cliff Record, “Every Day is a Good Day” (Case Number Six):
Yun Men, instructing, said, “Don’t ask me before the fifteenth day of the month (Borom). After Borom, you must bring me one word.” He answered himself, “Every day is a good day.”
Our teaching in the Kwan Um School of Zen proceeds from “every day is a good day” to “every moment is a good moment.” So a number of important questions for practice appear from the four seasons poem and Yun Men’s case.
1. How can you demonstrate the meaning of, “if you don’t make anything in your mind, for you it’s a good season?”
2. What is the true meaning of “Every day is a good day?”
3. How can you demonstrate your understanding of “every moment is a good moment?”
And finally: A good season, a good day, and a good moment, how are all of these different? Which one is the best?