losing turtle hairs and rabbit horn


The earth, its rivers and hills, are castles in the air;
Heaven and hell are bogey bazaars atop the ocean waves.
The “pure” land and “unpure” world are brushes of turtle hair,
Nirvana and samsara, riding whips carved from rabbit horn.

from Zen Words for the Heart:
Hakuin’s commentary on the Heart Sutra

transl. by Norman Waddell

Turtle hair and rabbit horn don’t exist.  Hen’s teeth and cod tongues.  Cows with legs shorter on one side so they can stand on hill slopes and fog machines.  They are the delusions and illusions that make our world colourful.  Sometimes, like fairy tales, they give flesh to mystery and may even give voice to the painful transitions of life and death, parent and child, losing and letting go.

Inevitably, like Hakuin, we have to see the false hope in setting up form to explain emptiness, the mystery of relationship: striking aside waves to look for water.

Thank you for practising,


Image:  detail of Etude – the kanji variations of the characters for Form and Emptiness

2 thoughts on “losing turtle hairs and rabbit horn

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