Intimate Hearing

Poem on “Encountering Sound Without Separation”

© Can Stock Photo / 4774344sean

© Can Stock Photo / 4774344sean

声づから Koe zukara At the very time
耳の聞ゆる Mimi no kikoyuru when my ears hear
時されば Toki sareba the voice as it is,
吾が友ならん Waga tomo naran everyone I talk with
かたらひぞなき Katarai zo naki is my friend.

Koe” is “voice” or “sound,” “zukara” means “as it is.” “Mimi” is “ear”; “kikoyuru” is to hear. “Sareba” is the conjunction “because”. “Waga tomo naran” means, “that which is not my friend,” and “Katarai zo naki,” means “there is no one I talk with.” This is a double negative. The literal translation is, “there is no one I talk with who is not my friend.”

In Shobogenzo Genjokoan, Dogen says:

“To study the buddha way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be verified by all things. To be verified by all things is to let the body and mind of the self, and body and mind of others, drop off. There is a trace of realization that cannot be grasped. We endlessly keep expressing the ungraspable trace of realization.”

The time of dropping off body and mind of the self and others is when we hear the voice or sound as it is without our fictitious interpretation and self-centered judgement. This is the time we are released from clinging to our own five aggregates (material element, sensation, perception, formation, and consciousness), that is body and mind. Colors and shapes are seen as they are, sound or voice is heard as it is.

When we are not released from clinging to the five aggregates, contact with the objects of our sense organs causes pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral sensation.

According to Buddhist teachings, from the sensation, perception is formed. From the perception, we think we like or dislike something, and then we take action to chase after things we like, or even escape from things we don’t like. This is the way we take wholesome or unwholesome actions that will make good or bad karma, then eventually our life will become samsara. We always run after things we want and escaping from things we don’t want. Our life becomes ups and downs depending upon whether we are successful or not, or whether our desires are satisfied or not. We lose the stable foundation of our life.

When we see emptiness of ourselves and the objects of our sense organs, we are released from this transmigration. We discover a stable way of life. Through eyes, we see the appearance of the Buddha’s dharma body, through our ears, we hear the voice of the Buddha. We discover that everything we encounter is the Dharma that shows us the reality instead of the object of our desires or hatred. That is what Dogen says in the very beginning of Genjokoan: “When myriad things are Buddha-dharma…”

“Hearing the sound as it is” is not some kind of mystical way of hearing things, but we let go of our thinking, feeling, emotion, etc, caused by the contact with the objects, moment by moment. We refrain from making concepts about the objects and taking actions based on them. In autumn, we hear the chorus of insects during early morning and evening zazen. In Japanese poetry, we call the sounds “mushi-shigure“. “Mushi” means insects in general and “shigure” means the intermittent drizzling rain particularly in autumn or early winter. Insects’ chorus is like the sound of rainfall.

I remember a short phrase of a Japanese traditional song I heard in a radio program many years ago when I was a student. I only remember one phrase, that says, “ware mo mushi naru mushi shigure,” that means “Within the chorus of insects’ sounds, I am also an insect.” The person hearing the sounds of insects’ singing feels like she/he is also an insect. When we simply hear the sounds, we don’t see the separation between subject and the object. There is no trace of “I” “hear” “the sound”. This is intimate “hearing” before separation between the hearer and the sound heard. We are simply sitting and insects are just chirping without having any interaction. We are only being together as intimate friends within the network of interdependent origination.

Not only in zazen, but when we meet people, if we hear their voices as they are, without prejudice, that is, a ready-made, fixed concept or judgements about them, whether they are good or bad people, friends or enemy, etc. We can see the possibility of being friends with them on the ground of interdependent origination, even when we have different opinions and need to have discussion with them.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

> Other Waka by Dōgen


Copyright 2016 Sanshin Zen Community

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