If Not Now, When?

Dōgen’s fifth waka on The Lotus Sutra

Where have our rosy cheeks gone?

誰とても Dare totemo
日影の駒は hikage no koma wa Although no one can avoid
嫌はぬを kirawanu wo the horse of light and darkness
法の道得る nori no michi uru those who attain the Way
人ぞ少なき hito zo sukunaki are rare.

“The horse of light and darkness” is a translation of “hikage no koma.” Koma is a horse, which probably was the fastest runner in ancient times. “Hikage” can mean either sunlight and/or shadow. In this case, this expression refers to time that is the repetition of daytime with sunlight and night in the darkness. This expression refers to the swift changing of things in impermanence. In chapter 22 of Zhung Zi, (Knowledge Travels North), it is said, “Human life between heaven and earth is like the passage of a white horse seen through a crevice in the wall.”

We cannot avoid impermanence. In Shobogenzo Immo (Thusness), Dōgen Zenji said:

Even the body is not our personal possession; our life moves through the passage of time and we cannot stop it, even for an instant. Where have our rosy cheeks gone? Even if we wish to find them, there is no trace. When we carefully contemplate this, we understand that there are many things in the past that we can never see again. The sincere red heart does not stay either—bit by bit, it comes and goes. Although there is sincerity, it does not stagnate within the boundary of individual ego-centered self. Although it is thus, there are some who arouse Bodhi-mind without any particular reason. From the time that this mind is aroused, we throw away everything we have been toying with. We wish to listen to what we have never heard, and we wish to verify what we have never verified. All of these are not simply our personal activities.”

Seeing and experiencing impermanence can be the precious opportunity to arouse Bodhi-mind that allows us to study and practice the Buddha-way. As Dōgen wrote in the previous four waka on The Lotus Sutra, Buddha-dharma is always being expounded by all beings, and yet not many people attain the Way. In this waka, Dōgen expresses his sadness about this fact.

— • —

    This fifth of Dōgen’s five waka on The Lotus Sutra was preceded by:

  1. Twenty-four hours sounds like this
  2. Expounding
  3. Grasping
  4. Nothing other

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

> Other Waka by Dōgen

Copyright 2016 Sanshin Zen Community

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