Where Bodhisattvas Tread

Poem on samsara and nirvana as one

life and death

おろかなる Oroka naru
心一つの kokoro hitotsu no As the destinies pulled only by
行く末を yukusue wo their ignorant minds,
六つの道とや mutsu no michi toya people seem to walk
人のふむらん hito no fumu ran the path of the six realms

Transmigration within the six realms (the realms of heavenly beings, human beings, fighting spirits, animals, hungry ghosts, and hell dwellers) of samsara (the cycle of rebirth) caused by the three poisonous minds (greed, anger/hatred, and ignorance) is one of the most well-known teachings of Buddhism. The Buddha taught the way of liberation from this cycle through the practice of the eightfold correct path.

This waka seems to depict the deluded people’s life of suffering. However, the last word of the last line “ran” shows conjecture. In this waka, Dōgen says that people “seem to walk” instead of concluding that they are actually walking the path of the six realms. Probably he means that, at least some of those people are intentionally walking the path of samsara as their Bodhisattva practice based on their vows.

One of the important points of Mahayana Buddhism is that samsara and nirvana are one. In section 25, Examination of Nirvana of Mulamadhyamakakarika, Nagarjuna says:

(19)Samsara (i.e., the empirical life-death cycle) is nothing essentially different from nirvana. Nirvana is nothing essentially different from samsara.
(20) The limits (i.e., realm) of nirvana are the limits of samsara. Between the two, also, there is not the slightest difference whatsoever.

Just understand that life-and-death is itself nirvana and neither dislike life-and-death nor seek after nirvana.
—Dōgen Zenji

In Bendowa (Wholehearted Practice of the Way), Dōgen says, “You should completely awaken to life and death as exactly nirvana. You can never speak of nirvana as outside life and death.” Life and death (Shoji, 生死), as a Buddhist term, refers to samsara. On this point Nagarjuna and Dōgen completely agree with each other.

Furthermore, in Shobogenzo Shoji (Life-and-death), Dōgen states:

Seeking after Buddha outside life-and-death is like trying to go to Yue (Etsu) [in the south] with the trills of our cart heading to the north or like trying to see the northern stars (the Big Dipper) while we are facing the south. [If we seek Buddha outside life-and-death] we would accumulate the causes of life-and-death more and more and lose the path of liberation.

Just understand that life-and-death is itself nirvana and neither dislike life-and-death nor seek after nirvana. Only at that time, will it be possible for us to be released from life-and-death.

In Shobogenzo Keiseisanshoku (Sounds of Valley Streams, Colors of Mountains), Dōgen says, “After having aroused bodhi-mind, even if they transmigrate within the six realms through the four kinds of birth, the causes and conditions of transmigration will become practices and vows for awakening.”

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shohaku Okumura Roshi

> Other Waka by Dōgen

Copyright 2016 Sanshin Zen Community

2 thoughts on “Where Bodhisattvas Tread

  1. Karen Morris

    I would be interested to know who is the artist of this very powerful artwork. It is a perfect window for entering the teaching in Life-and-Death…


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