Water of the Pond

Eikan-dō Zenrin-ji Temple, Kyoto
Eikan-dō Zenrin-ji Temple, Kyoto

Water of the pond

A human mind

Very similar to each other

Whether it's muddy or clear,

Never settled but keep changing


By Honen Shonin (1133-1212)

池の水 人の心に 似たりけり にごりすむこと さだめなければ

(Translated by Kosen Ishikawa)



Short poem called Tanaka written by Honen Shonin are listed in “Honen Shonin Gyojou-ezu” (An Illustrated Biography of Honen Shonin).  There are 17 poems listed in the chapter 30 and two more poems are written in the different chapters.    So total of 19 short poems are said to be written by Honen Shonin, according to Jodo Shu Daijiten.


At the beginning of the chapter 30-6, Shunjo(1255-1335) who was the author/editor of “Honen Shonin Gyojo-ezu” made comments that Honen Shonin was not a Tanka poet however because of our culture which express our thoughts through Tanka with a fixed form, Honen Shonin naturally made short poems from time to time.  There must be poems which were transmitted to his disciples and some poems must have been known after Honen Shonin passed away.


This short verse is known as “Pond Water Poem.”   The color of water in the pond is sometimes clear, sometimes yellow, sometimes red and muddy.  It is always changing and uncontrollable because of the huge amount of water.  By looking at the pond, Honen Shonin thought this was very similar to our mind. 


Our mind is sometimes clear but not always so.  Sometimes we are impatient and sometimes we are upset about something.  No matter how good deeds we have done in the past but there is no guarantee our mind can be kept pure and good in the future.  Just like water in the pond become muddy so easily right after raining hard, our mind can be easily impure if we are involved in the misfortune. 


Honen Shonin was known as the most wise priest of the age and saint yet he saw himself as an ordinary man who was more or less the same with other people who are sinful.



This short poem excellently tells us how Honen Shonin understands our human being.  Just like water in the pond, our human nature cannot be fixed.  However because of this realization, Honen Shonin was able to encounter the original vow of Amida Buddha and realized our mind is not an issue in order to attain birth in the Ultimate land of Amida Buddha.