Illuminate ourselves.

Okumura Roshi is translating a selection of Dogen’s poems, one for each month of the year.


Dogen Zenji’s Early Winter Waka

都には            紅葉しぬらん          奥山は     こよいも今朝も         霰ふりけり
miyako niha / momiji shinuran / okuyama ha / koyoi mo kesa mo / arare furikeri

The capital city Kyoto
must be still ablaze with tinted autumnal leaves.
In this deep mountain,
it hailed this morning.
Again, it is hailing this evening.

This waka poem probably would have been composed in the 10th lunar month(from the late October to the early December in solar calendar) in 1243, the beginning of the first winter after Dogen and his disciples moved from Koshoji in Kyoto to Echizen in the 7th month. They must have been surprised by the difference in the weather in Echizen from that of Kyoto.

In Japanese, hail smaller than 5mm is called arare, larger hailstones are called hyo. Graupel might be the more accurate English word for arare. Arare often falls in the early or late winter or early spring when the temperature is right around the freezing-point; that is, not yet too cold. For Dogen Zenji and his disciples, arare was a precursor of the long, dark, snowy winter in the Japan Sea coastal area. Particularly for Dogen, who had lived in Kyoto his entire life except while he practiced in China, this must have been a big change.

Sawaki Roshi interpreted the capital city and the deep mountains as the mundane world and the world of zazen. In the mundane world, myriad things are happening rapidly inside and outside of people and people are going this way or that without knowing the definite direction to go. In the world of zazen, in which we turn the light inward and illuminate ourselves, everything is equally one single color “white” and time goes slowly, as if one moment is eternity.

Dogen Zenji’s Winter Waka

我が庵は    越の白山                      冬籠り         氷も雪も         雲かかりけり
Waga io wa / Koshi no Shirayama / fuyu gomori / koori mo yuki mo / kumo kakari keri

My grass hermitage is
In the white mountains in Echizen.
During winter retreat,
Ice and snow in the mountains are
covered with thick gray clouds.

Koshi is another way to refer to Echizen, in today’s Fukui Prefecture, where Eiheiji is located. This is Dogen Zenji’s description of the middle of the first winter after he moved from Kyoto, a little after the previous poem was composed. The cold wind from Siberia crosses the Japan Sea, hits the mountains, goes up and becomes cold and falls down as snow. Regions facing the Japan Sea have heavy snow every winter. Sometimes they have more than ten feet of snow and entire towns may be buried in snow. The mountains, covered with ice and snow, are often shrouded in thick gray clouds. It must have been gloomy scenery for Dogen and his disciples who just moved from Kyoto.

Yoshiminedera, the small old temple on the top of a mountain, did not have a kitchen. It is said that Tettsu Gikai, who later became the third abbot of Eiheiji, was tenzo at the time. He had to carry up food cooked in a house under the hill, walking the steep hill even in the snow. In such difficult conditions, Dogen Zenji wrote more than thirty fascicles of Shobogenzo, either in Yoshiminedera or another small temple, Yamashibu, before the construction of Daibutsuji (later called Eiheiji) was completed. They moved there in the fall of 1244.

Copyright 2013 Sanshin Zen Community

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