Zen Phrase for January 福寿海無量

27 Jan Zen Phrase for January 福寿海無量

When I first started going to my sensei’s house for tea lessons (I miss you, Taeko sensei!), she always had a Jiku (scroll) and flowers in the Toko-no-ma (alcove). One afternoon, Sensei said, “Oh, it’s getting warm outside these days, so I should’ve changed the scroll!” I knew that those scrolls usually had some Zen phrases written on them, but I had no idea that she selected the phrase based on the season.

Since then, I’ve been studying popular Zen phrases that I see at tea rooms. Although the relationship between season or month and the phrase is not necessarily definitive, knowing typical seasonal phrases has often helped me to figure out what is written on the scroll – as you know, calligraphy writing can be really hard to decipher.

So, this year, I’ll write about one Zen phrase per month. January is about to end but, hopefully, this will help next year . . .

(I couldn’t find a picture of the scroll which are free for use, so I just put the picture celebrating the new year)

“Fuku Ju Kai Mu Ryo” (福寿海無量/福聚海無量)
The direct translation of the phrase is, ”Luck and happiness, limitless as the sea.” The original is said to be in the Avalokitesvara Sutra (観音経). Because Avalokiteshvara (Bodhisattva; 観世音菩薩) represents the compassion, the benevolence of Avalokiteshvara is limitless as a sea. Because of the Chinese character used in the phrase (福・寿: luck and happiness), this Zen phrase is often preferred in the month of January or at the New Year to celebrate a new beginning. This phrase also means that happiness and luck are in abundance. Yet, in our lives, we also encounter difficulties and hardships; the phrase implies that the hardship can be the benevolence of Avalokiteshvara. Seeing the hardship as benevolence may be the key to turning it into luck and happiness. 

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