Moon-Viewing

Dōgen’s Chinese Poem (19)

「秋月」

Autumn Moon

The fifteenth night [full moon] of the eighth month, facing the moon each person [in the assembly] composed a verse about the moon. This moon is not the moon of the heart, not the moon in the sky, not yesterday’s moon, not the night moon, not the round moon, and not the crescent moon. I suppose it is the autumn moon. How is it?

Although golden waves are not calm, [the moon] lodges in the river.
In refreshing air it shines on high, and all the ground is autumn.
Reed flowers on the Wei River, snow on Song Peak,
Who would resent the endlessness of the long night?[1]

八月十五夜、於月前各頌月。此月非心月、非天月、非昨月、非夜月、非円月、非尖月、想像是秋月也、如何。
(八月十五夜、月前において各おの月を頌す。此の月、心月に非ず、天月に非ず、昨月に非ず、夜月に非ず、円月に非ず、尖月に非ず、想像するに是れ秋月なり、如何。)
金波非泊雖河宿、 (金波泊まらず河に宿ると雖も、)
爽気高晴匝地秋、 (爽気高く晴れて匝地秋なり、)
渭水蘆華嵩嶽雪、 (渭水の蘆華嵩嶽の雪、)
誰怨長夜更悠悠。 (誰か怨みん長夜更らに悠悠たることを。)

 

This is verse 19 in Kuchugen and verse 74 of volume 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dogen’s Extensive Record). In Manzan’s version, there is a slight difference in the first line only of this poem:

金波非止亦非流 (金波止まるに非ず亦た流るるに非ず 
Golden waves neither stay nor flow

In Eihei Koroku, this poem has a long introduction as above. In east Asian countries such as China, Vietnam, Korea, and Japan, a celebration called the harvest moon is held on the full moon day of the eighth month. In Japan we call it o-tsuki-mi (お月見 moon-vewing). People offer moon-viewing dumplings (tsukimidango 月見団子) together with Japanese pampas grass (susukiススキ). On this occasion, Dogen Zenji holds a gathering, writing poems with his assembly of monks. Each one of the monks composes a poem on the full moon. Dogen loves the moon as the symbol of the Dharma of interconnectedness and penetration of each and myriad phenomenal things and the vast, infinite moonlight. The oldest portrait of Dogen Zenji stored at Hokyoji is called the moon-viewing portrait (月見の像).

In this introduction, Dogen says that the moon they are seeing today is not the moon of the heart (心月 shin-getsu, mind-moon), not the moon in the sky (天月 ten-getsu, heaven-moon), not yesterday’s moon (昨月 saku-getsu, yesterday-moon), not the night moon (夜月 ya-getsu, night-moon), not the round moon (円月 en-getsu, round- or complete-moon), and not the crescent moon (尖月 sen-getsu, sharp-pointed-moon), but the autumn moon (秋月 shu-getsu). I don’t quite understand what this introduction means. The autumn moon and the other names of the moon he mentions here do not negate each other. The autumn moon cannot be the spring, summer, or winter moon, but it can be the heart-moon, heaven-moon, etc. Actually, these are the expressions used by Dogen himself in Shobogenzo Tsuki (Moon) and in Genjokoan. Possibly Dogen is asking his monks not to express the moon in the way he has already in his writings, but rather to create something unique from their own hearts.

In his teisho on this poem, Sawaki Roshi mentions that “the autumn moon” is taken from a poem by Hanshan (寒山 Kanzan, Cold Mountain):

吾心似秋月  My mind is like the autumn moon
碧潭清皎潔  clear and bright in a pool of jade
無物堪比倫  nothing can compare
教我如何説  What more can I say.[2]

In this reading, the autumn moon is really a symbol of the pure and clear mind, which is what shin-getsu (mind-moon) means.

Although golden waves are not calm, [the moon] lodges in the river.
In refreshing air it shines on high, and all the ground is autumn.

Golden waves (金波) refers to the moonlight reflected on the surface of river water. A commentary suggests that this river is the Milky Way, which in Japanese is called the river in the heavens (天の河 amanogawa). But I think that in this case, a river on the earth is a better interpretation. This is the same scenery Dogen writes about in Genjokoan, “Although the moon is a vast and great light, it is reflected in a drop of water.” The water is constantly moving, and the moonlight looks as if it is moving too, and yet it also looks as if it is not moving. This is the same as is stated in Manzan’s version: “Golden waves neither stay nor flow.”

The moon is shining in the boundless sky within the clear, brisk autumn air. In Shobogenzo Tsuki (Moon), Dogen quotes the saying by Zen Master Panshan Baoji:

The mind-moon is alone and completely round. Its light swallows the myriad phenomenal things. The light does not illuminate objects. Nor do any objects exist. Light and objects simultaneously vanish. Then what is this?

In his commentary on this, Dogen says,

The myriad phenomenal things are moonlight, not myriad phenomenal things. This is why the light swallows the myriad phenomenal things. Because the myriad phenomenal things naturally swallow moonlight completely, the light swallowing light itself is referred to as light swallowing the myriad phenomenal things.[3]

He interprets this scenery as the complete interpenetration of all phenomenal things and the entirety of Indra’s net. Later, he also says that the moon vomits phenomenal things, that is, moonlight is moonlight and phenomenal things are phenomenal things. He is expressing the reality in which oneness and multiplicity both vanish and yet are completely there. This is what is meant by the second line, “In refreshing air it shines on high, and all the ground is autumn.” Each and every thing and the moonlight express the beauty of universal autumn.

Reed flowers on the Wei River, snow on song Peak,
Who would resent the endlessness of the long night?

Dazu Huike, the second ancestor of Chinese Zen, lived by the Wei River. Song Peak was where Bodhidharma sat for nine years at Shaolin temple. These two places are not far away from each other. When Huike first visited Bodhidharma, the mountain was covered with snow. In Dogen’s poem, the white moonlight is illuminating reed flowers and snow which are both white. This is the scenery of a cool and peaceful world, free from the heat of the burning house of samsara.

Reed flower (蘆, roka) is used in case 13 of The Blue Cliff Record:

雪蘆花を覆えば、朕迹を分け難し。
When snow covers the white flowers, it’s hard to distinguish the outlines.
白馬、蘆花に入る。
A white horse enters the white flowers.[4]

“The white flowers” in the original Chinese is “蘆花 reed flowers.” In The Blue Cliff Record, these expressions are used with the same meaning as in a line from Treasure Mirror Samadhi (宝鏡三昧, Hokyozanmai) composed by Dongshan (洞山 Tozan), the founder of Chinese Caodong (Soto) school:

Filling a silver bowl with snow,
Hiding a heron in the moonlight[5]

All phenomenal things are illuminated by white moonlight. It is quiet, peaceful, cool, and undefiled scenery in which both difference and unity are completely integrated. This is also the scenery of our zazen.

Dogen says it is difficult to stop viewing the moon and go to bed because the moon is not only beautiful but also expresses the Dharma, in which we are the part of the moon. Shortly before his passing away in 1253, he saw the full moon on the fifteenth day of the eighth month in Kyoto, and he composed his last waka poem:

また見んと 思ひし時の 秋だにも 今夜の月に ねられやはする
Mata min to / omoishi toki no /  aki da nimo / koyoi no tsuki ni  / nerare yawasuru

I wasn’t sure if I could expect to see autumn again
gratefully I see the full moon of this night
How is it possible for me to sleep?

— • —

[1] (Dogen’s Extensive Record 10-71, p.629) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., www.wisdompubs.org.
[2] Translation by Red Pine, The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain, Copper Canyon Press, 2000. P.39
[3] Unpublished translation copyright 2019 Shohaku Okumura.
[4] Translation by Thomas Cleary (The Blue Cliff Record, Shambhala, 2005) p. 88
[5] Translation by Thomas Cleary (Timeless Spring: A Soto Zen Anthology, Weatherhill, 1980) p.39.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

> More of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese Poems


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