Nothing But the True Way

No Hindrance En Route to Samsara

たちよりて Tachiyorite I won’t stop by
かげもうつさじ kage mo utsusaji at [the bank] of Kamo river,
かも川に kamogawa ni so that my appearance is not reflected on it
みやこにいづる miyako ni izuru because I think
水とおもへば mizu to omoeba the water will flow into the capital.

Shōhaku Okumura has been translating Dōgen Zenji’s waka based on the text Dōgen Zenji Wakashu (A Collection of Dōgen Zenji’s Waka) included in Volume 17 of Dōgen Zenji Zenshu (The Complete works of Dōgen Zenji), Shunjusha, Tokyo, 2010). There are fifty-three waka poems in the main part of the text that were taken from Kenzeiki, a biography of Dōgen Zenji written by Kenzei (1415 – 1474). He was the fourteenth abbot of Eiheiji.

Among these poems, two composed close to his death are in the main text of Dōgen’s biography and other fifty-one waka are placed after the biography as an appendix. According to the postscript of the waka collection, these poems were collected and copied by the monk Kishun, the eighth abbot of Hokyoji, and presented to Kenzei’s master Kenko, the thirteenth abbot of Eiheiji, in 1420. When Kenko asked Kenzei to write Dōgen Zenji’s biography, probably he instructed Kenzei to include Dōgen’s waka.

In the Dōgen Zenji Zenshu, another thirteen waka are included as addendum. These thirteen waka were added by later people who made their own versions of the collection of Dōgen’s waka in the Tokugawa period (1603-1868). Even Kenzeiki was written about two hundred years after Dōgen’s death. We cannot find any information about Dōgen’s waka earlier than the Kenzeiki except that Keizan quoted one waka in his Dharma Words.

Modern scholars question whether these waka were truly composed by Dōgen. For example, Yoko Funazu, a scholar of Japanese literature, wrote, “There are no waka at all that we can prove were truly composed by Dōgen himself.”1 However, neither is there information available from which we can decide these waka were not truly written by Dōgen.

Okumura-roshi’s translations and comments on these waka attributed to Dōgen have assumed they were, indeed, Dōgen’s work. But since Roshi isn’t a specialist, he sometimes can’t determine which are truly Dōgen’s and which are not. Should evidence surface indicating that any of these are not Dōgen’s, then removing them from the collection won’t be an issue.

Beyond matters of authenticity, difficulty can also arise as to why Dōgen may have written a particular poem. Hojo-san says this waka is thorny in that way.

This one is the first of the thirteen additional waka in the Shunjusha text. It’s one of the two waka added in the Ryugenji version of the collection of Dōgen’s waka. We don’t know who made the collection and from where this waka was taken.

In this waka, Dōgen says that he does not want to even reflect his face in the river water because it will go into, or it came from, the capital city, Kyoto.

Bunji Takahashi, a scholar of Japanese literature who made the rendering to modern Japanese in the Shunjusha text, interprets “miyako ni izuru” as “came out of the capital.”2 In this case, Takahashi thought this poem was written while Dōgen was living at Koshoji in Fukakusa, which is south of Kyoto. However, Okumura does not think that’s the case.

If this waka was written by Dōgen, we suppose he composed it shortly after his ordination. He would have been 13-years old and living on Mt. Hiei. The mountain is located northeast of Kyoto. If this assumption is correct, the translation should be “will flow into the capital.”

The Kamo River flows from the northwest of Kyoto, merges with Takano River coming from northeast, and flows near the foot of Mt. Hiei, at the location of Shimogamo Shrine in the city of Kyoto. Then it goes to the south through the city of Kyoto and eventually merges with the Katsura River and Uji River and finally becomes Yodo River that flows to Osaka Bay.

If Dōgen lived north of the city as Mt. Hiei is, the water would go into the capital. And if he lived at Koshoji in Fukakusa, the water would come out of the capital.

While at Koshoji, would Dōgen have had such negative feelings about Kyoto that he’d think people there defiled the Kamo River — so much that he wouldn’t even reflect his face on its water? Roshi doesn’t think so. In Volume 8 of Eiheikoroku, there’s a section in which he wrote:

“However, I do not yearn for mountains and forests, and do not depart from the neighborhoods of people. Lotus flowers blossom within the red furnace; above the blue sky there is a white elm… Don’t you see that the morning marketplace and battlefield are the original place of awakening for complete penetration of freedom? Why aren’t taverns and houses of prostitution the classrooms of naturally real tathagatas? This is exactly the significance of the ancient wise one [Sakyamuni] departing from Bodhgaya, and previous worthies traveling to Chang’an.”3

This is probably what Dōgen thought when he established his first monastery, Koshoji, in the southern suburbs of Kyoto. He did not have such a negative feeling about the capital and the people who lived there. Rather, he wanted to practice right there with people who lived in samsara. Probably, he had some hope that if he offered genuine Dharma and its practice to the people in Kyoto, he would be accepted and supported. Unfortunately, later he was disillusioned and had to move to Echizen.

If this poem was really written by Dōgen, he probably expressed his determination to renounce his aristocratic family and the mundane world and devote himself to studying and practicing Buddha Dharma as a young monk on Mt. Hiei.

Okumura-roshi can see how Dōgen might have had such a rather childish, but extremely pure, resolution right after leaving home. But he doesn’t believe Dōgen continued such a discriminating and negative feeling against people living in Kyoto after returning from China and working to transmit the Dharma to Japan.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura-roshi

1 Sanshodoei no meisho, seiritsu, seikaku (Yoko Funazu, Dogen Shiso taikei vol. 6, Dohosha Shuppan, Kyoto, 1995), p.279
2 Volume 17 of Dogen Zenji Zenshu, Shunjusha, 2010), p.52
3 Dogen’s Extensive Record (Wisdom Publications), p. 498

> Other Waka by Dōgen


Copyright 2017 Sanshin Zen Community

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s