A Tear Dropped in the Ocean


I met Mr Kanasaki while walking through the Hoganji gardens in Kyoto on the way to work. Although early the air was warm and scented without being heavy, and my feelings were buoyant and hopeful.

Mr Kanasaki is a man of quiet manners and smiles. Yet on this morning he could barely manage to lift his eyes to greet me. This aroused enough concern for me to stop and say to him, “Good morning Mr Kanasaki. Are you well?”

He looked at me with quick movements of his eyes, and I noticed the newspaper he held in his left hand contract. His hand clenched hard on the paper, making small wrenching movements.

Then suddenly he looked at me and said quietly, “My son has been killed in a car accident.” A tightly repressed moan broke through his closed mouth, and he turned his face to the ground and then to the sky, struggling with himself.

In that moment I could not speak. My mouth would not open. My heart could find no solace to offer Mr Kanasaki. I too struggled inside and a tear rolled down my face as Mr Kanasaki stared at me and watched it fall to the ground. He then bowed slightly and walked on.

I worked that day, but could not forget the meeting, and felt deeply disturbed that I could offer nothing of comfort to my friend in his distress. Even when I had finished work I could not be free of the question of what could you offer a man who has lost his only son.

Being unable to find quietness I went into the temple near the Hoganji gardens, and sat before the image of the Buddha. I must have sat for some time and fallen asleep, because my head jerked me awake, and in looking up at the Buddha’s face the smile was very beautiful. It seemed as if he was looking directly at me, and his smile was telling me something that took away my distress. Afterwards it seemed as if it the Buddha had spoken to me saying, “The tear you shed was a small act of kindness. It was a tear dropped in the ocean.”

That was all he said. Yet understanding washed over me with great emotion as I realised that a small act of kindness was like the tear dropped in the ocean. It made not even a tiny difference to the ocean. Yet the act was recognition that we all stand as helpless before life as each other, as ineffective in pain, and yet we are not cowed.

I experienced the realisation that kneeling before a mountain in recognition of its immensity, its brooding power, made no difference to the mountain or to oneself. A flower placed on a grave never brought back the dead. A hand extended to a friend who had lost a son, could not take away the pain. Yet the act of kneeling, the dropped flower, the extended hand, express more than human fear and weakness. They give more than ones own littleness and bring something of the ocean that is nothing and everything into life. However small this drop of the ocean is we give to another person, it is a splendour bursting through into the transcendent moment that is existence.

Then I knew that I was interwoven with Mr Kanasaki’s pain in loss, and intertwined with his life in the shining moment of emptiness.

Copyright © 1999-2010 Tony Crisp | All rights reserved