This very mind watches the moon

Copyright©2020 Misaki C. Kido

Dōgen’s Chinese Poems (27)

十六夜、「即心見月」に頌す
The Night of the Sixteenth;
Verse on “This very mind watches the moon.”

We hold up this kōan on the sixteenth night.
Wishing for fullness of the moon’s body, you miss moon of mind.
Seeing the moon somewhat clearly, just then moon is born.
How can we grasp the moon in mid-autumn?[1]

拈来十六夜公案、 (拈来す十六夜の公案、)
身月欲円心月欠、 (身月円かならんと欲すれば心月欠けぬ、)
見月纔明即月生、 (見月纔かに明らかなれば即ち月生ず、)
如何捉得中秋月。 (如何が捉得せん中秋の月。)

This is verse 26 in Kuchugen and verse 82 of volume 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dōgen’s Extensive Record). This is the second of the six poems about “harvest moon” in Kuchugen based on Juching (Jp. Rujing)’s dharma hall discourse. In Menzan’s version, this poem has some differences in lines 1 and 3:

拈來公案難休歇 (公案を拈じ來って休歇し難し、)
Having been holding this kōan, it is difficult to rest.
非暗非明即月生 (暗に非ず明に非ず即月生ず、)
[When we see, it is] neither dark nor bright, the moon is born.

We hold up this kōan on the sixteenth night.
Wishing for fullness of the moon’s body, you miss moon of mind.

The expression, “This very mind watches the moon” is from Juching’s jodo (formal dharma hall discourse) on the occasion of the mid-autumn full moon. Dōgen Zenji is asking his monks to hold up this expression as a kōan.

The night of the 16th is called izayoi, which means “the night of hesitation.” This is the night directly after the full moon night. Because the moon rises a little later than it does on the evening of the full moon, people think the moon is hesitating. Even though the moon of the 16th night is not so different from the full moon, there is a slight difference each night. The full moon is the symbol of perfection, yet the next day, in the process of waning, it is not perfect anymore, the same as our practice.

As I mentioned in my comment on Juching’s jodo, this moon is not simply the moon in the sky— rather, using the beautiful full moon as metaphor, Juching is talking about the structure of the network of interdependent origination. This “mind” is neither thinking-mind that is the subject which sees the moon as object, nor the “mind-nature” that is a hidden, permanent substance stored inside of us, like a diamond hidden in the rock and dirt, as mentioned in some Buddhist texts based on the theory of tathagata-garbha. This “mind” is the mind that is together with all dharmas, as Dōgen discussed in Shobogenzo Sokushinzebutsu (Mind is itself Buddha).

As Dōgen said in Shobogenzo Tsuki (Moon), the mind is swallowed by the moon and also the mind swallows the moon. The mind and the moon are not in the common relation as subject and object. The moonlight is the light of the myriad dharmas in which the self is included. Only moonlight is there, there is no self (mind). From another side, there is no moonlight beside the self (mind). Further, they vomit each other and become two (not-one) as subject and object. We see the moon that includes us, and the moon sees us who are part of the moon. This is the pattern of logic which Dōgen used in Shobogenzo Makahannyaharmitsu (Mahaprajna Paramita), “Form is emptiness; emptiness is form; form is form; emptiness is emptiness.” Our practice is to awaken to that reality, to live in accord with the reality, and to notice and express the reality with our body and mind.

In Shobogenzo Shinjingakudo (Body and Mind Studying the Way), Dōgen said this about the mind:

In any case, mountains, rivers, and the great earth; the sun, the moon, and stars are nothing other than the mind.[2]

And he said this about the body:

The entire ten-direction world is nothing other than the true human body. Coming and going within life-and-death is the true human body. Turning this body, we depart from the ten unwholesome deeds, keep the eight precepts, take refuge in the Three Treasures, give up our home and become a home-leaver; this is studying the Way in its true meaning. Therefore it is called the true human body.[3]

As ultimate reality, both body and mind are together with all beings within the network of interdependence. This is the full moon.

From the side of our concrete study and practice, Dōgen said in Shobogenzo Zuimonki:

Is the Way attained with the mind or the body? In the teaching schools, it is said that because body and mind are not separate, the Way is attained [not only with the mind, but also] with the body. Yet it is not clear that we attain the Way with the body, because they say body and mind are not separate. Now, in my [Dharma] family, the Way is [truly] attained with both body and mind.[4]

We study and practice the buddha way with both body and mind and attain the way with both body and mind. This is possible because both body and mind are together with all beings. But in a practical way, it is very difficult. Sometimes, we put too much emphasis on studying and understanding the Dharma and ignore practicing with our body. Sometimes, we think that having understanding is not important, and that we should just practice without thinking. In one of the Dharma Words included in Eihei Koroku, Dōgen said:

We could say that the situation of Buddha’s house is the oneness in which the essence, practice, and expounding are one and the same.[5]

Essence is shu (宗), the ultimate reality; practice is gyo (行), activities with the body; expounding is setsu (説), which refers to studying, understanding, discussing, and teaching using the mind. These three should be one. This oneness is the full moon. But in our actual practice, we put the emphasis either on just doing it, or on thinking and discussing without practicing. Then, the full moon (essence) is waning a little, like the moon of the 16th day.

Seeing the moon somewhat clearly, just then moon is born.
How can we grasp the moon in mid-autumn?

When we see the moon that is together with the moon and yet separate, seeing this reality from both sides, moon as our life is born, or our life becomes the moon. In Shobogenzo Genjokōan, Dōgen said:

When a person attains realization, it is like the moon’s reflection in water. The moon never becomes wet; the water is never disturbed. Although the moon is a vast and great light, it is reflected in a drop of water. The whole moon and even the whole sky are reflected in a drop of dew on a blade of grass or a single tiny drop of water. Realization does not destroy the person, as the moon does not make a hole in the water.

However, even seeing this reality from both sides, we are endlessly asking, “How can we grasp the moon in mid-autumn?” This is the meaning of butsukojoji, our continuous and endless practice as ever going-beyond Buddha.

— • —

[1] (Dōgen’s Extensive Record 10-82, p.632) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., http://www.wisdompubs.org.
[2] Okumura’s unpublished translation.
[3] Okumura’s unpublished translation.
[4] From Okumura’s unpublished translation of the Choenji version of Zuimonki. Forthcoming from Wisdom Publications.
[5] (Dōgen’s Extensive Record 8-11, p. 521) © 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.

— • —

For further study:

> More of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese Poems


Copyright 2020 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.