Nothing other.


峯の色    谷の響も    皆ながら    吾が釈迦牟尼の    声と姿と
Mine no iro    tani no hibiki mo    mina nagara    waga Shakamuni no    koe to sugata to

Colors of the mountain peak
and echoes of the valley stream
all of them as they are
are nothing other than
Shakyamuni’s voice and appearance

This is the fourth of Dogen’s waka on the Lotus Sutra. I don’t think any explanation is necessary for this waka.

During the final examinations at my high school, my seat was by the window in the classroom. There was a tennis court outside and the window was covered by wire netting. I felt like I was imprisoned. Beyond the tennis court, there was another building. On the roof, several birds were enjoying their lives in the morning sun, they looked completely free. I erased all of the answers I had written on the examination paper. I wanted to quit school.

After the exam, I walked to the mountainside. This was the end of the rainy season. There was a valley stream flowing rapidly by. Like many teenagers, I thought I was a poet, so I wanted to hear exactly what the sound of the stream was. Not the meaning of the sound, but the sound itself. We have many onomatopoeias in Japanese for the sounds of flowing water, such as sara-sara, choro-choro, zaa-zaa, gougou etc. I wanted to hear what it really sounded like. I sat down on a rock and listened carefully to the sound of the stream for about one hour. I found that there was no way to copy the sound with letters.

This was my first meditative experience, which happened when I was fifteen years old and knew nothing about Buddhism or Zen. I found that my emotions calmed down, and I was no longer upset. However, after that, my way of viewing things in the world changed. I thought whatever I and other people thought using words and concepts were simply incomplete copies of the sound of nature like the onomatopoeias of running water. Since then, when I have some problem to think through and particularly when I fall into negative thinking, I try to walk in nature and listen to the sound of a stream, or ocean waves, or wind, or birds singing, whatever is available.

Dogen Zenji wrote in Shobogenzo Keisei Sanshoku (Sounds of Valley Steam and Colors of Mountains):

When we truly practice, sounds and colors of the valley, colors and sounds of the mountains, never begrudge the eighty-four thousand verses. When we do not cling to our fame, profit, body, and mind, the valleys and mountains are generous in expounding the Dharma.


This is the fourth of five waka poems on The Lotus Sutra by Dogen, translated by Rev. Okumura.

Copyright 2014 Sanshin Zen Community

2 thoughts on “Nothing other.

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

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