Among the rising waves


Sokushinzebutsu wo yomu
Poem on “Mind Itself is Buddha”

鴛とりか   鴎とも又   見へわかぬ   立浪あひの   うきしづみかな
Oshidori ka / kamome tomo mata / miewakanu / tatsu namiai no / uki sizumi kana

Are they Mandarin ducks
Or seagulls?
It is not possible to tell them apart.
They float up and sink down
among the rising waves.

“Mind itself is Buddha,” is a famous saying of Mazu (Baso). Dogen Zenji quotes this expression in the story of Damei Fachang (Daibai Hojo) several places in Shobogenzo and Eiheikoroku. In Shobogenzo Sokushinzebutsu (Mind Itself is Buddha), Dogen cautions us not to interpret this “mind” as our psychological mind before we arouse bodhi-mind, or the Mind as the original nature which is something permanent within us. He wrote:

“The mind that has been authentically transmitted is ‘one mind is all dharmas; all dharmas are one mind.’….. We clearly understand that the mind refers to the mountains, rivers, and the great earth; the sun, the moon and the stars. …. Therefore, ‘mind itself is buddha’ refers to all the buddhas who carry out arousing bodhi-mind, practice, awakening, and nirvana. Those who have not yet been carrying out arousing bodhi-mind, practice, awakening and nirvana are not ‘mind itself is buddha.'”

In Dharma Discourse 319 in Eiheikoroku, Dogen quotes the story of Damei’s sitting in the mountains for thirty years after hearing Mazu’s teaching, “mind itself is Buddha,” and said, “We should know that zazen is the decorous activity of practice after realization. Realization is simply just sitting. At this monastery we have the first monk’s hall, so in this country of Japan this is the first we have heard of this, the first time we have seen it, the first time we have entered it, and first time of sitting in monks’ hall. This is fortunate for people studying the Buddha way.” Then after a pause Dogen said, “This mind itself is Buddha is very difficult to understand. Mind is fences, walls, tiles and pebbles, and Buddha is a glob of mud or a clump of soil, Kingsi [Mazu] expressed trailing mud and dripping water; Damei realized lurking in the grass and sticking to trees. Where can we find this mind itself is Buddha?” (Dogen’s Extensive Record p. 292-293)

Dogen is saying that this ‘mind’ is not within the dichotomy of mind and body, or mind (subject) and objects. This mind includes body and mind, self and others, subject and objects, self and myriad dharmas. This mind is entirety of the network of interconnected origination. These dichotomies are there but it’s impossible to make clear distinctions.

In this waka, Dogen expresses the meaning of “mind itself is Buddha” using the scenery of a lake or a seashore. A Mandarin duck is a common bird in East Asia. The male Mandarin duck is very colorful and the seagull is white. Since they are different in appearance it is not difficult to distinguish them unless they are far away. Possibly this scene is set at dawn or at twilight when the birds are silhouetted, or in the mist. I suppose that is why it is difficult to identify them when they move up and down in the waves. According to Wikipedia, the Mandarin duck prefers freshwater, but it may also be seen wintering in coastal lagoons and estuaries. I think what Dogen depicts in this waka is also the scenery of our zazen.

Copyright 2015 Sanshin Zen Community

Image by Malcolm Carlaw [CC-BY-2.0], via Flickr

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