Serious Moonlight

Poem on the True Dharma Eye Treasury
Drifting boat in moonlight
詠正法眼蔵
Shobogenzo wo yomu

波も引き            Nami mo hiki
風もつながぬ    kaze mo tsunaganu
捨小舟              sute obune
月こそ夜半の    tsuki koso yowa no
さかひなりけり   sakai narikeri

Waves settle
and the wind calms.
A tiny discarded boat drifts,
unmoored.
In the middle of night,
It is completely the world of the moon.

Shobogenzo (True Dharma Eye Treasury) is the name of the Dharma that has been transmitted from Shakyamuni throughout the succession of ancestors. Dogen used this expression as the title of the collection of his essays that is his masterpiece.

In this poem he describes the scenery of the ocean in the middle of a beautiful night. Waves settle and the wind calms so that it is really quiet and peaceful. One tiny discarded boat, without being tied, moves freely. The moon is shining and illuminates the entire world including the ocean, waves, wind, and the boat. Everything becomes the part of the moon.

This waka reminds me of the verse composed by Xuedou and quoted by Dogen in Tenzo Kyokun (Instructions to the Cook):

One character, three characters, five, and seven characters.
Having thoroughly investigated the ten thousand things,
None have any foundation.
At midnight the white moon sets into the dark ocean.
Searching for the black dragon’s pearls,
You will find they are numerous.

And Dogen quotes Panshan Baoji’s saying in Shobogenzo Tsuki (Moon):

“The mind-moon is alone and completely round. Its light swallows the myriad phenomenal things. The light does not illuminate objects. Nor do any objects exist. Light and objects simultaneously vanish. Then what is this?”

Is this the world of the moon or the world of the discarded boat? When we read Xuedou’s verse and Panshan’s saying, I don’t think we need further explanation to appreciate this waka poem. One important point in Dogen’s waka is the discarded and untied small boat. I think this is the five aggregates (body and mind) that is dropped off and being released from self-clinging. To me, this waka is also the scenery of our zazen.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shohaku Okumura Roshi

> Other Waka by Dōgen


Copyright 2016 Sanshin Zen Community

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