No Other Shore Than This

Poem on an Endless Vow
No such boundary

おろかなる   吾れは仏に   ならずとも   衆生を渡す   僧の身ならん
Oroka naru / ware wa hotoke ni / narazu tomo / shujo o watasu / so no mi naran

Even though I am dull-witted,
I will not become a buddha,
I wish only to be a monk,
helping all living beings
crossing over.

This waka is about the first of the four bodhisattva vows, “Shujo muhen seigan do. (Beings are numberless, I vow to free them).”

“To free” or “to save” is a translation of “do” which means to “cross over.” According to Buddhist teachings, between this shore of samsara and the other shore of nirvana, there is a big river. A bodhisattva is like a ferryman who helps people cross over the river. This vow actually means “I will not cross over and enter nirvana until I finish helping all living beings cross over.” This is an endless vow without any goal we can reach.

In Shobogenzo Hotsubodaishin (Arousing Bodhi-mind), Dogen Zenji said, “To arouse the bodhi-mind means to take a vow that, “Before I myself cross over, [I will] help all living beings cross over [the river between this shore of samsara and the other shore of nirvana]” and strive to [fulfill this vow]. Even if their outside appearance is humble, those who have aroused this mind are already the guiding teachers of all living beings.” [1]

Actually, there is no such boundary like a river between samsara and nirvana.
—Shohaku Okumura

In Shobogenzo Zuimonki, Dogen said, “All the buddhas and ancestors were originally ordinary people. While they were ordinary people, they certainly did bad deeds and had evil minds. Some of them might have been dull-witted or even idiots. However, since they transformed themselves, followed their teachers, and relied on [the Buddha’s] teaching and practice, they all became buddhas and ancestors.

People of today should do the same. We should not disparage ourselves, thinking we are foolish or dull-witted. If we do not arouse bodhi-mind in this present lifetime, when can we expect [to be able to practice the Way]? If we care for [the Way], we will surely attain it.” (Choenji version of Zuimonki, 1-13) [2]

Even though we have aroused bodhi-citta, received bodhisattva Precepts, and taken bodhisattva vows, we cannot be like great bodhisattvas such as Avalokiteshvara, Manjushri, Samanthabadra, Ksitigarbha, etc. We are still ordinary deluded beings. We may make many mistakes but need to help ourselves and others to find nirvana within samsara.

Actually, there is no such boundary like a river between samsara and nirvana. Each time we do even small things to help others, being free from self-centeredness, we experience nirvana here and now.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shohaku Okumura Roshi
[1] Unpublished translation
[2] Unpublished translation

> Other Waka by Dōgen

Copyright 2016 Sanshin Zen Community

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