Where chrysanthemums bloom

enrei-ka           Copyright©2019 Misaki C. Kido

Dōgen’s Chinese Poem (20)

「重陽與兄弟言志」(重陽に兄弟と志を言う)

Speaking of Aspiration with Brother Monks on the Ninth Day of the Ninth Month

Last year on the ninth month, leaving this place.
This year on the ninth month, coming from this place.
Stop dwelling on passing days, months, and years.
Look with delight in the undergrowth where chrysanthemums bloom.
[1]

去年九月此中去 (去年九月此の中より去り、)
九月今年自此來 (九月今年此れ自り來る)
休憶去來年月日 (去來の年月日を憶うこと休みね、)
懽看叢裡菊花開 (懽び看る叢裡菊花開けたり。)

This is verse 20 in Kuchugen and verse 75 of volume 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dogen’s Extensive Record). There are differences in the title, the third, and the fourth lines of this poem in Manzan’s version.

「重陽與兄弟再會」(重陽に兄弟と再會す
Meeting again with Brother Monks on the Ninth Day of the Ninth Month

去年九月此中去 (去年九月此の中より去り)
[You] left here in the ninth month of last year.
九月今年自此來  (九月今年自ら此に來る)
[You] come here in the ninth month of this year.
拈卻古來年月日 (來の年月日を拈卻し)
Taking up the days, months, and years that have gone,
凭欄一笑菊花開  (欄に凭って一笑すれば菊花開く)
Leaning on the handrail and laughing with each other, chrysanthemums bloom.

 

Last year on the ninth month, leaving this place.
This year on the ninth month, coming from this place.

“The ninth day of the ninth month” is called choyo (重陽, Ch. chongyan), one of the five seasonal festivals called sekku (節句): the seventh day of the first month (人日, jinjitu), the third day of the third month (上巳, joshi / jomi), the fifth day of the fifth month (端午, tango), the seventh day of the seventh month (七夕, tanabata), and the ninth day of the ninth month (重陽, choyo). These were considered days marking changes in the seasons. The dates and names came from China, but Japanese people had developed these festivals for praying for the well-being of people during each season. On each occasion people offered certain seasonal flowers and foods. March 3rd (Girls’ Festival / Dolls’ Festival), May 5th(Boys’ Festival / Iris Festival), and July 7th (Star Festival) are still observed today.

Choyo (重陽) literally means “double yan” because 9 is the largest odd number that is considered yan (陽). Even numbers are considered as yin (陰). This day is called the Double Ninth Festival or the Chrysanthemum Festival. In the ancient Japanese imperial court, they held a party for viewing chrysanthemum flowers on this day. It seems Dogen Zenji has some kind of gathering with his assembly monks on this occasion for viewing chrysanthemum flowers and asks them to compose a poem on their aspirations.

Dogen is saying that the last year’s ninth day of ninth month left this place, and this year’s ninth day of the ninth month came from this place. The subject of these two lines is the time, the ninth day of the ninth month. “This place” does not refer to some particular place on the earth, but to the entirety of the network of interdependent origination. Time is coming and going within this network the same as each and every being, including ourselves.

 

Stop dwelling on passing days, months, and years.
Look with delight in the undergrowth where chrysanthemums bloom.

In the third line, Dogen says that we should stop dwelling on or thinking about time (days, months, and years) that is flowing within the linear stream from the past to the future through the present. Commonly we think of time in this way. Dogen does not negate this way of viewing time, but he says that is not only way to think about time. His insight about time is very unique, as many people have discussed.

Studying Dogen’s writings, I think he considered time in three ways. The first is the common way: time flows from the past to the future through the present. The second is the time that is the absolute present. The past has gone; therefore, it does not exist anymore. The future has not yet come; therefore, it does not exist yet. The only actual time is the present. In Genjokoan, he says:

Firewood becomes ash. Ash cannot become firewood again. However, we should not view ash as after and firewood as before. We should know that firewood dwells in the dharma position of firewood and has its own before and after. Although before and after exist, past and future are cut off. Ash stays at the position of ash, with its own before and after.[2]

At this present moment, firewood is completely dwelling in the dharma position of firewood. In the past it was a live tree, but the time of a live tree has already gone. There is no live tree anymore. In the future, after the firewood is burned, the firewood will be completely gone and only ash will be there. And yet, ash is not here and now at all. The past is not reality anymore and the future is not reality yet. Only this present moment is actual. That is what “past and future are cut off” means.

Uchiyama Roshi said that this present has no length. If there is the slightest length, we can still cut it into half and one part is in the past and another part is in the future. For example, consider 10:00 a.m. 9:59 a.m. is not yet 10:00 a.m.; 10:01 a.m. is already not 10:00 a.m. When we take a closer look at this, no matter how many 9’s after 9:59 we add (9:59999…), it will never become 10:00a.m. No matter how many zeros we add, if we had a 1, (10:0000…1), it is already not 10:00 a.m. The present of 10:00 a.m. has no length. That means all there is is the past that has already gone, and the future that has not yet come. The present is only a boundary between the not-existing past and the not-existing future. The present is 0. Time disappears when we look at in this way.

The third way of considering is time that does not flow. In Bendowa Dogen says:

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.[3]

In our zazen, we sit at this absolute present, then, we are one with all the time and all beings. This is the time that does not flow. From the moment of big bang until the present, time does not flow, there is only one whole moment without any segments. Segments such as a second, an hour, a day, a month, a year, a century, and so on are only the production of human thinking. Beyond observation and measurement by human beings, time is one whole moment without any segments.

In the third line, Dogen says we should stop thinking of times grasped in the conventional way, in which we make a story of our karmic life. In zazen, we settle in the absolute present of here and now, then the time that does not flow appears. I call it eternity.

When we are completely being here and now, it is delightful to see the chrysanthemums. In his teisho on this poem, Sawaki Roshi mentioned that the chrysanthemum is called enrei-ka (延齢花), which means present “the flower which prolongs one’s longevity.” When we sit in zazen, and when we do things dwelling right here and now, being free from a self-made karmic story, the buddha’s eternal life is revealed right there. This is what Sawaki Roshi meant when he said, “It’s pointless for human beings merely to live a life that lasts seventy or eighty years.”[4]

In Manzan’s version, this is not a philosophical poem about time but a very straightforward expression of Dogen’s joy at meeting his brother monks again. The title is, “Meeting again with Brother Monks on the Ninth Day of the Ninth Month.” The subject of the first two lines is his brother monks. “This place” refers to Eiheiji. His brother monks left Eiheiji on the ninth day of the ninth month the previous year, and they returned on the same day of the current year. Dogen express his joy at meeting them again. They talk about what happened to them during the year in which they did not see each other. When they laugh with each other leaning on the handrail, they find beautiful chrysanthemums blooming.

— • —

[1] (Dogen’s Extensive Record 10-75, p.629) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., www.wisdompubs.org.

[2] Realizing Genjokoan: The key to Dogen’s Shobogenzo (Shohaku Okumura, Wisdom Publications, 2010) p.2.

[3] The Wholehearted Way: A Translation of Eihei Dogen’s Bendowa with Commentary by Kosho Uchiyama roshi (translated by Shohaku Okumura and Taigen Daniel Leighton, Tuttle Publishing, 1997) p.23.

[4] The Zen Teaching of Homeless Kodo (Wisdom) p.205.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

— • —

For further study:

> More of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese Poems


Copyright 2019 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 )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google 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 )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.