A monk in zazen

Dogen’s Chinese Poems (8)

「同(山居)」

Mountain Dwelling (6)

Towers in front and pavilions behind stand splendid.
On the peak is a stupa of five or six levels.
Under the moon in cool autumn wind, a crane sleeps standing.
The robe is transmitted at midnight to a monk in zazen.[1]

前楼後閣玲瓏起 (前楼後閣玲瓏として起つ、)
峰頭塔婆五六層 (峰頭の塔婆五六層、)
月冷風秋立睡鶴 (月冷じく風秋にして睡鶴を立たしむ、)
衣伝半夜坐禅僧 (衣は伝う半夜の坐禅僧)

This is verse 8 in Kuchugen and verse 109 of volume 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dogen’s Extensive Record). This is one of the poems about mountain dwelling. In Manzan’s version of this poem, there is slight difference in the third line:

月冷風高箇時節: the moon light is cool, the wind is high at this time of the year

Traditional commentaries interpret the first three lines as a description of Eiheiji while the assembly of monks is sitting in the monks’ hall. In the short-range view, someone sees large temple buildings, and in the distant view, the stupa (a five storied-pagoda) on the mountain. Then he describes the moon in the sky and a crane sleeping calmly. This is not simply the scenery of a mountain temple, but the world of zazen in serenity.

The modern scholar Prof. Teppu Otani questions if there were so many large buildings and a five-storied pagoda on the peak of the mountain at Eiheiji during the time of Dogen Zenji. He suggests that this poem might be about Dogen’s memory of Tiantong monastery in China. The first line of the poem is actually taken from Tiantong Rujing’s own dharma words, presented at the mountain gate on the occasion of his mountain seat ceremony, when he became the abbot of Tiantong monastery. In this interpretation, this monk sitting until midnight refers to Dogen himself: the Dharma and the robe were transmitted to Dogen from Rujing.

Kodo Sawaki Roshi says that this is the scenery at Eiheiji, but in this poem I think Dogen Zenji is saying that in the world of zazen, in the beautiful scenery of a crane sleeping-standing peacefully underneath the cool moonlight in the autumn wind, Eiheiji and the Fifth Ancestor’s monastery are interpenetrating. Dogen wrote in Bendowa,

“Therefore, even if only one person sits for a short time, because this zazen is one with all existence and completely permeates all times, it performs everlasting buddha guidance within the inexhaustible dharma world in the past, present, and future. [Zazen] is equally the same practice and the same enlightenment for both the person sitting and for all dharmas.”

In his zazen, there is no separation between the night at Eiheiji and the night at the monastery when Huineng received the robe. The practice at Eiheiji and the Sixth Ancestor’s dharma transmission are taking place at the same time. In this case, the “monk in zazen” who received the robe refers to Huineng. However, this interpretation does not make as much sense to me because when he received the Dhamrma transmission, Huineng was not yet an ordained monk, but a lay worker.

I suppose that as Dogen writes this poem, the scenery at Eiheiji and at Tiangong monastery overlap. Dogen’s zazen and his assembled monks’ zazen is not separate from the zazen Dogen practiced with Rujing many years before in China.

During sesshin, I sometimes feel that my zazen at Sanshinji and my zazen at Antaiji in Kyoto, or at Valley Zendo in Massachusetts, and at many other places, are the same zazen. I still feel I am sitting together with my teacher, Uchiyama Roshi. When we sit facing the wall, we are simply facing the wall, facing the buddha, and facing the self. Sometimes, I feel like all of time and all of space are within this single period of zazen here and now.

Dogen might be remembering the vow he made when he saw Chinese monks reciting the robe-chant every day after morning zazen. Now at Eiheiji, all the monks are sitting wearing okesa together with him. I think the “monk in zazen” in this poem refers to each and every monk at Eiheiji who is sitting wearing the authentic okesa Dogen transmitted from China.

— • —

[1] (Dogen’s Extensive Record 10-109, p.641) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., http://www.wisdompubs.org.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.


Copyright 2018 Sanshin Zen Community

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