A Bodhisattva Among Shinto

Poem on a Shinto Celebration

Shinto water purification

The ancient gods,
昔のしゆうや Tanomi koshi whom [Shinto priests] wearing a cotton sash,
ゆうだすき Mukashi no shu ya have been worshiping and relying on,
哀れをかけよ Yudasuki please bestow mercy
あさのそでにも Aware wo kakeyo to this [Buddhist monk] too,
鳴るいかづちも Asa no sode ni mo. wearing the robe with hemp sleeves

Last May, we published a waka that shows the connection between Dōgen (and Eiheiji) and the god of the sacred mountain, Hakusan. This week, Roshi would like to introduce two waka in which Dōgen mentions Shinto gods.

In his book, Dōgen no Waka (Dōgen’s Waka), Akio Matsumoto assumes this waka is about the end of summer celebration of Shintoism: on the 30th day of the sixth month this occasion is celebrated at Kamo Shrines in Kyoto. Matsumoto suggests that Dōgen composed this waka while he was in Kyoto, and attended this Shinto festival. Although he became a Buddhist monk, wearing a monk’s hemp robe, he asked for mercy from the Shinto gods.

Dōgen had nothing against Shintoism. But it seems that for him and many Japanese people, Shinto was not another religion but simply a Japanese way of life.
—Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

Buddhism was officially introduced to Japan in the 6th century. In the beginning, there were some conflicts between the people who supported Buddhism, and people who thought they should not worship a foreign god (Buddha). But soon after, Buddhism and Shintoism became synchronized. By the time of Dōgen in the 13th century, the synergy between Buddhism and Shinto was a part of Japanese culture.

Just as in the other Asian Buddhist countries, Buddhism did not fight against the country’s folk belief (in this case Shintoism). Some people thought Shinto gods were living beings still transmigrating in samsara, and they wanted to take refuge in Buddhism to be released from samsara. Other people thought that Shinto gods were manifestations of buddhas, bodhisattvas or Buddhist guardian gods. Many Shinto shrines had Buddhist temples, and many Buddhist temples had Shinto shrines. This blending of traditions continued until the second half of 19th century.

As this poem shows, Dōgen had nothing against Shintoism. But it seems that for him, and many Japanese people, Shinto was not another religion but simply a Japanese way of life.

Dōgen mentions Shinto practice in another waka:

早苗とる Sanae toru
春の始の Haru no hajime no In the beginning of spring,
祈りには Inori ni wa before transplanting rice seedlings,
広瀬龍田の Hirose Tatsuta no [farmers] have festivals to pray for [good harvest],
政をぞする Matsuri wo zo suru. to the gods of Hirose and Tatsuta shrines.

Hirose Shrine and Taysuta Shrine are both located near the oldest temple of Japan, Horyuji in Nara. Suijin (the god of water) is enshrined in Hirose and Fujin (the god of wind) is enshrined in Tatsuta. In early spring, festivals are thrown here to pray for a good rice harvest. As a part of the festival, they perform a play called ta-asobi (playing in the rice field) regarding the process of growing rice.

After Menzan Zuiho wrote the commentary on Sansho-doei Monge (a collection of Dōgen’s waka) the commentators of the Sōtō Zen tradition have interpreted this waka as a bodhisattvas’ prayer to the gods and buddhas. This prayer asks for protection until the completion of ultimate awakening (good harvest) at the time of arousing bodhi-mind (planting seedlings).

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

> Other Waka by Dōgen


Copyright 2016 Sanshin Zen Community

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