Living as Clouds

Poem on “Activating the Mind Without Dwelling”
詠応無所住而生其心   Omushoju nisho go-shin wo yomu

bird leaves no trace of its path through the skies

水鳥の Mizudori no Water birds
行くも帰るも yuku mo kaeru mo go and come back
跡たえて ato taete without leaving any trace behind.
されども路は Saredomo michi wa Even so, they do not forget
わすれざりけり wasure zari keri the path.

This expression, “activating the mind without dwelling” appears in the Chinese translation of the Diamond Sutra by Kumarajiva. The meaning is that we should keep our mind functioning without attachment toward any object; a sight, a sound, a smell, a taste, a touch or an object of mind. A bodhisattva is free from attachment to objects and yet, his/her mind does not become lifeless. Bodhisattva practice is not to bring our mind to halt.

This expression has been important in Zen tradition since it was used in the Sixth Ancestor, Huineng’s, enlightenment story. One version says that Huineng became awakened when he heard someone chanting the Sutra in the town when he was selling firewood. Another version says that he was awakened when the Fifth Ancestor taught about this expression in the Sutra on the occasion of Huineng’s dharma transmission in the middle of the night.

In this poem, Dōgen Zenji expresses the bodhisattva practice using the analogy of migratory birds. Migrating birds fly amazingly long distance each year without leaving any trace, but do not forget the destination and the path that leads them to the exact place. They transmit the path, generation to generation, without a trace.

In Shōbōgenzō Yuibutsu-yobutsu (Only Buddha together with Buddha) Dōgen wrote:

Also, about birds’ flying in the sky, there is no way for animals walking [on the earth] to know the [birds’] tracks. They cannot follow the birds’ path by seeing the trace even in their dream. Because they don’t know that there is such [a path of birds], they cannot even imagine it. And yet a bird can see the traces of hundreds or thousands of small birds having passed in flocks, or the tracks of so many lines of large birds having flown to the South or migrated to the North.

Dongshan Liangjie’s koan “the path of birds,” and Hongzhi Zhengjue’s “The sky is infinitely vast, a bird is flying far away” in his verse Zazenshin, are the source of Dōgen’s inspiration to compose this Waka.

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Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

> Other Waka by Dōgen

Copyright 2016 Sanshin Zen Community

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