One horse, one sky, and the autumn

Copyright©2020 Misaki C. Kido

Dōgen’s Chinese Poems (25)

When Master Tiantong Rujing dwelled at Qingliang temple, in mid-autumn he spoke to the assembly and said, “Clouds disperse in the autumn sky. This very mind watches the moon.” He raised his whisk and said, “Look!” The teacher Dōgen together with his brother monks, divided the three parts [of this Dharma hall discourse from Rujing], and gave appreciation for them over three nights.



This is the introduction for verses 25, 26, and 27 in Kuchugen. Last month, I introduced Tiantong Rujing’s jodo (Dharma Hall discourse) on the occasion of the mid-autumn day. The mid-autumn day is the 15th day of the eighth month, the harvest moon day. It seems Dōgen Zenji had poem-making gatherings on the 15th, which is the night of full moon, and on the next two days. Dōgen divided Rujing’s discourse into nine parts. Kuchugen 25 is Dōgen’s poem on the first part:


The night of the Fifteenth;
Verse on “Clouds disperse in the autumn sky.”

Morning clouds reach the peaks and finally night ends.
All mountains and the whole ocean are within the round moon.
Do not let direct pointing [at the moon] symbolize heaven and earth.
A horse in the single sky of autumn is empty.[1]

至嶠朝雲終不夜、 (嶠に至りし朝雲終に夜ならず、)
透山尽海月円中、 (山を透り海を尽して月円かに中れり、)
莫教直指喩天地、 (直に指して天地に喩えしむることなかれ、)
一馬一空秋也空。 (一馬一空秋も也た空なり。)

This also appears as verse 81 of volume 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dōgen’s Extensive Record). It is the first of the six poems about “harvest moon” in Kuchugen. In Menzan’s version, there are slight differences in lines 1 and 2.

Morning clouds on the Mt. Wu finally [disappear] before the night
Penetrating mountains and exhausting the whole ocean, the moon illuminates [the entire world],


Morning clouds reach the peaks and finally night ends.
All mountains and the whole ocean are within the round moon.

In Manzan’s version, “the peak” refers to the peak of the particular mountain named Mt. Wu (巫). There is a legend about this mountain peak. The goddess of the mountain fell in love with the emperor. To meet with her lover, the goddess appeared every morning as clouds and every evening as drizzling rain on the peak. The mountain peak was often covered with clouds or rain. But on this day, there were clouds in the morning, and it became clear by the evening. According to Kodo Sawaki Roshi, this means that discriminative and dualistic thoughts and the human emotions influenced by them dispersed, and the sky cleared up in emptiness.

I think the original translation we made in Dōgen’s Extensive Record, “finally night ends” does not make sense, because Rujing and Dōgen are both writing about the night of the full moon. The phrase 終不夜 is difficult to understand. 終 means “end” or “finally.” 不夜 means “not night.” I suppose this means that the goddess did not appear that night, so that by the time the moon crossed the meridian, it was illuminating the entire mountains and oceans with its transparent light. This is the scenery of zazen expressed in Zen master Panshan Baoji’s saying, which Dōgen quoted in Shobogenzo Tsuki (Moon):

Zen Master Panshan Baoji said, “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?[2]


Do not let direct pointing [at the moon] symbolize heaven and earth.
A horse in the single sky of autumn is empty

These two lines have to do with something which is mentioned in Chapter 2, All Things Being Equal of Chuang Tzu:

Heaven-and-earth is one finger. All ten thousand things are one horse.[3]

“Direct pointing” is a translation of 直指 (jikishi). Jiki is directly, shi is “a finger” or “point to.” Chuang Tzu said that the great Heaven-and-earth and one tiny finger are the same, and all ten thousand phenomenal things and one single horse are the same. In Laotsu, it is said that Dao (nothingness) gives birth to oneness (being), oneness gives birth to duality (Yin and Yang), duality gives birth to three-ness (heaven-and-earth, yin and yan), and the three-ness gives birth to multiplicity (all myriad things). Chang Tzu’s saying means that all things are in oneness beyond duality.

In the Dharma Hall discourse on the first day of the tenth month in the same year, Tiantong Rujing quoted this saying from Chuang Tzu and added a saying from Xinxinming (Shinjinmei, 信心銘):

The two exist because of the One;
But hold not even to this One;[4]

I think Dōgen is saying the same thing. In Shobogenzo Shohojisso (The True Reality of All Beings), Dōgen says:

Nevertheless, these days thoughtless people in Song China do not know where we should settle down, do not see where the treasure is, and consider the expression “true reality” as if it were a vain fabrication; and furthermore, they study the words and phrases of Laotzu and Chuangtzu. They say that these are the equals of the great way of the buddha-ancestors. They also claim that the three teachings (Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism) are identical. Or they maintain that these three teachings are like the three legs of a tripod kettle, and that if one of them is missing, the kettle will topple over. This is outrageous and incomparable foolishness.

These days, I would translate the last two lines of Dōgen’s poem in this way:

Do not let direct pointing [at the moon] symbolize heaven and earth.
One horse, one sky, and the autumn [of the entire heaven-and-earth] are all empty.

— • —

[1] (Dōgen’s Extensive Record 10-81, p.632) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc.,
[2] Okumura’s unpublished translation
[3] Translation by Sam Hamill & J.P. Seaton, The Essential Chuang Tsu (Shambhala, 1998) p.12
[4] In Chinese, this is: 二由一有一亦莫守. Translation by D.T. Suzuki; Manual of Zen Buddhism, p.78

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

— • —

For further study:

> More of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese Poems

Copyright 2020 Sanshin Zen Community

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