On the Lotus Sutra

谷に響き   峯に鳴く猿    妙妙に    ただこの経を    説くとこそ聞け
tani ni hibiki / mine ni naku saru / taedae ni / tada kono kyo wo / toku to koso kike

In the valley, vibrating sounds,
On the peak, monkeys’ intermittent chattering,
I hear them as they are wholeheartedly and exquisitely expounding this Sutra.

In the valley, there is continuous sound from the stream and, on the peak, monkeys are gibbering intermittently. “Taedae ni” is a paronomasia that can mean both “intermittently” and “wondrously” or “exquisitely.” This Chinese character (妙, tae or myo) is a part of the name of the Lotus Sutra “Myo-ho Renge-kyo.” Myo-ho is a Chinese translation of the Sanskrit word, sad-dharma, usually translated as “wondrous dharma” or “wonderful dharma.” Another Chinese translation of the same Sanskrit word is sho-bo (true-dharma) as in Shobogenzo.

Dogen hears the sounds of the valley stream and chattering of monkeys as expounding the wondrous-dharma or true-dharma. Two Japanese authors who wrote commentaries on Dogen’s waka poems guess this poem was composed while Dogen was a novice monk at the Tendai monastery on Mt. Hiei and studying the Lotus Sutra, the fundamental scripture of the Tendai School. Dogen was still a teenager. Many times, when I lived in Kyoto, I walked up Mt. Hiei and sometimes saw a flock of monkeys. Since ancient times, monkeys at Mt. Hiei have been considered the messengers of the guardian god of the mountain. Since we don’t know the date of this poem, I think, it is a reasonable guess.

However, when I read the five poems on the Lotus Sutra, I hear the echo of what Dogen wrote in Shobogenzo Sansuikyo (Mountains and Waters Sutra) and Keiseisanshoku (Sounds of Valley Stream, Colors of Mountains). Even though the title is the Lotus Sutra, it does not necessarily refer to the written Buddhist text. In Shobogenzo Bukkyo (Buddhas’ Sutra), he wrote:

The Sutra I am talking about is nothing other than the entire ten-direction world. There is no time and place that is not the Sutra. The Sutra is written using the characters of the ultimate truth or the conventional truth; the characters of the heavenly realm, the human realm, the animal realm, or the fighting-spirit realm; the characters of hundreds grasses or ten thousands trees. For this reason, all things that are long, short, square, or round; that are blue, yellow, red, or white, which are stately arrayed throughout the entire ten-direction world, without exception, are the characters of the Sutra, and they are the surface of the Sutra. We consider them the furnishings of the great Way and regard them as the sutra of Buddha’s family.

When we consider this waka poem as Dogen’s expression of such an insight, it is also possible to assume this poem was written much later at Koshoji or Eiheiji.

For the past year, Shohaku Okumura has translated and commented on Dogen’s waka poems about the four seasons. Starting this month, he is introducing Dogen’s waka poems on other themes. The above is the second of the five waka poems on the Lotus Sutra; Rev. Okumura translated the first poem last year.

Copyright 2014 Sanshin Zen Community

1 thought on “Expounding.

  1. Pingback: If Not Now, When? | The Dōgen Institute

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