In the gallery there is a calligraphy piece by Takeda Mokurai that reads, “Heaven is high, all the elements are in order.” In other words, the cosmos is perfectly ordered so the best course of action for human beings is to let nature be. The Zen ideal is to interfere as little as possible with the environment, and in daily life, to use as many objects as possible that are made from natural materials. Traditional Japanese buildings were constructed mainly out of wood, straw, and paper. Such buildings weather naturally, gradually developing a deep, rich patina over the years. A well-constructed Japanese building made of wood can withstand an earthquake that topples edifices made of stone. (Of course, the weak point for wooden buildings is fire.)
In a monastery—built of wood and constructed simply—Zen practitioners are admonished not to waste even a drop of water or a precious grain of rice. Dress is austere, and one’s robe should be mended until it is completely worn out. Anything that can recycled—leftover food, scrap wood, threadbare mats, pieces of paper, and so on—is. The one “decoration” that is allowed in a Zen room is a hanging scroll or framed calligraphy. In the abbot’s room there is always a Zenga on display in the alcove. The brushwork is sometimes the roshi’s own but more typically that of a previous master. Throughout monasteries or traditional homes, a scroll is hung wherever an alcove is found, and there is almost always a framed calligraphy above a doorway in rooms lacking an alcove. The calligraphy is there to instruct and inspire the occupants. A Zenga is one thing that is indispensible.