The Meaning of Not Spending 12 Hours in Vain


人しれず Hito shirezu Without telling others,
めでし心は medeshi kokoro wa I have been appreciating in my mind,
世の中の yononaka no nothing other than the mountains
and rivers,
ただ山川の tada yama kawa no in the autumn twilight
秋の夕暮れ aki no yugure in the world.

This is the third waka of the 13 addendum waka in the Shunjusha text. Dogen’s father, Minamoto Michitomo (1171 – 1227) was a well-known waka poet of the time and he was on the editorial board of compilation of the Shinkokin Waka-shu directed by Emperor Gotoba. The collection was once completed in 1020, but the selection was continued by the Emperor. Until Dogen was ten years old, his father was working on the selection of the almost two thousand poems. Another famous poet working on the Board was Michitomo’s friend Fujiwara Sadaie (Teika, 1162 – 1241).

In the Shinkokin Waka-shu, three famous waka about the beauty of the subtle profundity of autumn twilight (aki no yugure) are included. One of them was composed by Sadaie:

見わたせは / 花も紅葉も / なかりけり / 浦のとまやの / 秋のゆふくれ
miwataseba / hana mo momiji mo / nakarikeri / ura no tomaya no / aki no yugure

Looking over,
There are neither flowers nor tinted leaves,
[the only thing seen is] the rush-thatched cottage in the inlet
in the autumn twilight

It is said that appreciation of such serene beauty of the scenery in the late autumn, without any colorful decoration such as spring flowers or the tinted leaves of mid-autumn, was not found in Japanese poetry before the Shinkokin Waka-shu. This waka by Fujiwara Sadaie in particular has been widely appreciated as a typical expression of subtle profundity (幽玄yugen), or wabi(侘び) sabi(寂び)in later Japanese arts such as Noh theater, tea ceremony, renga (linked poem), and haikai (haiku).

In the season of spring, when there are flowers such as the cherry blossom, or in the mid-autumn with the spectacular mountains with autumn tints, many people go to see the luxurious beauty and enjoy the season. Often, they have parties to enjoy a day in nature and many poems are composed. After all such colorful and exciting beauty has gone, in the late autumn when people expect cold snowy winter to begin at any time, no one goes to see and enjoy such scenery. But in such serene, quiet, or rather lonely surroundings in the late autumn twilight, people found much more profound beauty. This beauty is not something we talk about it a loud excited voice in order to share it with other people. We quietly appreciate it within ourselves.

If this waka was composed by Dogen, what he wanted to express is not simply the appreciation of such sense of serene beauty. I think this waka expresses eko-hensho (回向返照). This expression is used in Fukanzazengi (Universal Recommendation of Zazen) and translated as “turning the light inward and illuminate the self.”

Although the meaning is fine in the context of Fukanzazengi, this is not a literal translation. A more literal translation is “turning the light and returning the illumination;” that is the description of the beauty of the sky after the sunset.

The sun has already set underneath the horizon, but the sunlight returns and illuminates the entire sky and makes it bright and beautiful. This is the time of transition between the daytime when people think and engage in various activities and the nighttime when people rest and sleep in the dark.

Zazen is like the evening twilight; the time of thinking is already gone but it is not complete darkness of non-thinking. Evening twilight in the late autumn expresses the beauty of zazen. Being settled down at such a serene time and illuminating the self is the way in which we don’t spend time wastefully.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura-roshi

> Other Waka by Dōgen

Copyright 2017 Sanshin Zen Community

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