Okumura Roshi is translating a selection of Dogen’s poems, one for each month of the year.
Dogen Zenji’s October Waka
In the year he passed away, in the evening of the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month, Dogen composed the following poem.
又見んと 思ひし時の 秋だにも 今夜の月に ねられやはする
mata min to / omishi toki no / aki da nimo / koyoi no tsuki ni / nerare yawasuru
I [was not sure] if I could expect to see the autumn again,
[Gratefully I can see] the full moon of this night,
How is it possible for me to sleep?
About ten days after arriving in Kyoto, on the night of 15th, he saw the beautiful full moon.
The 15th day of the 8th lunar month is called the mid-autumn, the center of the three months of autumn– that is, around the day of the autumnal equinox. In East Asian countries including China, Korea, Vietnam, and Japan, people celebrate the mid-autumn harvest moon festival.
At Eiheiji, Dogen gave formal dharma discourse on this day each year. He also had a gathering with his disciples for composing poems on this day. We can find one Chinese poem included in the Eiheikoroku:
The fifteenth night [full moon] of the eight month, facing the moon each person [in the assembly] composed a verse about the moon. This moon is not the moon of the heart, not the moon in the sky, not yesterday’s moon, not the night moon, not the round moon, and not the crescent moon. I suppose it is the autumn moon. How is it?
Although golden waves are not calm,
[the moon] lodges in the river.
In refreshing air it shines on high, and all the ground is autumn.
Reed flowers on the Wei River, snow on song Peak,
Who would resent the endlessness of the long night? ¹
In this year, he was not sure if he could live until the autumn. Because he could see the full moon in Kyoto where he was born and had grown up, he was very delighted and wanted to see the moon all night.
The moon was one of the important metaphors of the dharma he often used, such as moon in the dewdrop in Genjokoan. In one of his waka poems he wrote that this world is like a dewdrop splashed from a waterfowl’s beak staying in the air only for a few seconds and yet the boundless moonlight is reflected on it and it is shining like the moon itself.
Dogen passed away on 28th of that month in 1253.
¹Dogen’s Extensive Record, vol. 10, p. 629
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