Okumura Roshi is translating a selection of Dogen’s poems, one for each month of the year.
Dogen’s Waka Poem on Spring Changing to Summer
草の庵 夏の初めの 衣がへ 涼しき簾 かかるばかりぞ
kusa no io / natsu no hajime no / koromogae / suzushiki sudare kakaru bakari zo
At the beginning of summer,
[the time for] changing clothes,
Only a cool bamboo-blind is hanging.
Io (or iori) is a small hermitage. A temple or a monastery is usually not called iori. There is a waka poem in which Dogen calls his abode in Echizen a iori: Waga io wa / Koshi no shirayama / Fuyugomori / Kori mo yuki mo / Kumo kakarikeru. (The white mountain of Echizen / My winter retreat: / A blanket of clouds / Covering the frosted peaks / And snowy slopes).¹
This poem must have been written in the first winter Dogen moved to Echizen while he stayed at a small temple Yoshimine-dera or Yamashibu in 1243. This poem about early summer might have been written in the next year in 1244. Otherwise, this poem might be written while Dogen lived at a hermitage in Fukakusa before Koshoji was established in 1233.
During the Heian era in Japan (794 -1185), people at the Emperor’s court changed their winter clothing to summer clothing in the beginning of the fourth lunar month. In Kamakura era when Dogen lived, this custom became more common. Even today, at Japanese schools, companies, government offices, and Buddhist temples, people change to summer clothing on June 1st, around the same time of the 4th lunar month. Today, at Soto Zen monasteries, during the winter, at the entrance of sodo (monks’ hall), thick curtain is hung in order to keep the warm air in the hall. But from June, the curtain is changed to bamboo blinds which allow cool wind into where monks sit and sleep. There are many other things monks need to change to live comfortably during the hot and humid summer.
When Dogen composed this poem, probably because he did not live in a monastery, he only needed to put a cool bamboo-blind outside the window or shoji (paper) door, so that cool wind could come in. “Only a cool bamboo-blind is hanging” possibly means that there is no separation between inside and outside of the house.
¹ Translation by Steven Heine
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