Dogen’s Chinese Poems (6)
Mountain Dwelling (4)
For a long while I’ve abandoned human realms,
Writing with brush and inkstone already discarded.
Seeing flowers and hearing birdsong brings little attraction.
Though dwelling in mountains, I’m still ashamed
at my lack of talent.
This is verse 6 in Kuchugen and verse 105 of Volume 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dogen’s Extensive Record, p.639). This is one of the poems about mountain dwelling. In Manzan’s version, the first line is:
Although I’ve been abiding in the human world for a long time, I am without attachments.
And the fourth line is:
I completely leave to it the people of this time if they laugh at my lack of talent.
In Shobogenzo Zuimonki, Dogen said:
Zen monks these days are fond of studying literature as grounding to compose verses or write dharma-words. This is wrong. Even if you cannot compose verses, just write what you think in your mind. Even if your style [of either rhyme or prose] is not sophisticated, write down the dharma-gates. People without bodhi-mind will not read it if your writing style is not well polished. Even if the style were embellished and there were excellent phrases in it, [however,] such people would only play with the words without grasping the principle [behind them]. I have been fond of studying [literature] since my childhood, and even now I have a tendency to contemplate the beauty in the words of non-Buddhist texts. Sometimes I even refer to Wenxuan (Monzen) or other classic texts. Still, I think it is meaningless, and should be completely discontinued.
This poem is in accord with what Dōgen said while he was staying at Koshoji in Fukakusa. According to his biography, Kenzeiki, Dogen read a collection of Chinese poems when he was four years old. From that point, he received the best possible education available at that time. His father, Minamoto Michitomo and his grandfather, Minamoto Michichika were both well-known waka poets. Aristocrats were not only politicians or government officers, but also had to be scholars and poets. And yet, after becoming a Buddhist monk, Dogen gave up studying and writing poetry and thinking of literary techniques and styles in his writing. Even so, he wrote some Japanese waka poems and more than 400 Chinese poems.
In the Monkaku version, even though he has abandoned the desire to write with sophisticated literary techniques, he is still ashamed his poems are not good enough in comparison with his idea what poetry should be like. It seems he is also ashamed of having such a feeling, because it shows that he is not completely free from his karmic consciousness as a well-educated, aristocratic person. But in Manzan’s version, he did not express such complicated feeling of shamefulness. To me, the Monkaku version expresses his sentiment honestly.
Steven Heine’s translation of this poem is as follows:
Another mountain retreat verse:
For so long here without worldly attachments,
I have renounced literature and writing;
I may be a monk in a mountain temple,
Yet still I am moved in seeing gorgeous blossoms
Scattered by the spring breeze,
And hearing the warbler’s lovely song –
Let others judge my meager efforts.
This is a translation of Manzan’s version. But the third to the sixth lines in this translation are not literal. The beginning of the third line of original poem (見花聞鳥) only says “seeing flowers,” and “hearing birds.” Dogen does not mention anything about “gorgeous blossoms scattered by the spring breeze,” and “the warbler’s lovely song.” At the end of the third line of the original poem (風情少) fuzei, (literally, wind sentiment 風情) is something like “feeling a sense or a taste of elegance” that makes a person to write a poem. Sukunashi (少) means “little.” All of the commentaries I have at hand interpret this line as, “I have little taste for elegance that urges me to write a poem of beauty about the flowers and birds.” I think that this is not, “Yet still I am moved,” as in Heine’s translation but rather, “I am hardly moved.”
Dogen Zenji also wrote these waka in the same vein:
By the spring wind / My words are blown and scattered / People may see them / The song of flowers
Although seeing the moon of the mind, / in the great sky, / being deluded in the darkness, / I praise it for its shape and color.
Seeing flowers in spring, / crimson leaves in autumn, / and white snow in winter,
I am regretful for / that I have appreciated them as the objects / [that entertain my feeling].
Sawaki Roshi said, “Unfortunately, I read Zuimonki first where Dogen Zenji said it is fine not writing beautiful prose or poetry. I felt that’s it! It was easier to speak what I thought than writing poems. … This is also a quality of ‘mountain dwelling.’ If worldly people laugh at me, that is fine.” I also read Zuimonki first and quit writing poems when I began to practice zazen. I feel I was lucky.
 (Dogen’s Extensive Record 10-105, p.639) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., http://www.wisdompubs.org.
 Choenji version Zuimonki 3-6. This is Okumura’s unpublished translation. Wenxuan (文選、Monzen) is a collection of about 700 well-known poetry and prose writings by about 130 important writers compiled in China in 6th century. In Japan this collection was studied as a text of Chinese literature.
 The Zen Poetry of Dogen: Verses from the Mountian of Eternal Peace (Steven Heine, Dharma Communications,1997) p.148
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