Copyright©2020 Misaki C. Kido

Dōgen’s Chinese Poems (28)

The Night of the Seventeenth;
Verse on Raising His Whisk and saying, “Look!”

With no fog or mist, and no green waves,
There is toad or rabbit [of the moon], cold to the bone.
People cherish [the moon], even hidden by mountains, reflected in waters.
He raised [his whisk] and fooled the heavens; look carefully.[1]

無霧無霞無碧浪、 (霧無く霞無く碧浪無し、)
有蜍有兎有毛寒、 (蜍有り兎有り毛寒有り、)
隠山落水人縦惜、 (山に隠し水に落として人縦い惜しむとも、)
豎起瞞天著眼看。 (豎起して天を瞞ず眼を著けて看よ。)

This is verse 27 in Kuchugen and verse 83 of volume 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dōgen’s Extensive Record). This is the third of six poems about the “harvest moon” which are based on Rujing’s dharma hall discourse. In Menzan’s version, this poem has some differences in the first three lines:

無霧無霞波浪靜 (霧無く霞無く波浪靜なり、)
With no fog or mist, and waves are quiet,
有蟾有兎毛寒 (蟾有り兎有り毛寒し、)
There is toad or rabbit [of the moon], cold [not only] to the hairs [but also] to the bones,
夜深太白手中拂 (夜深けて太白手中の拂、)
Late in the night, the whisk in the hand of Taibai,[2]


With no fog or mist, and no green waves,
There is toad or rabbit [of the moon], cold to the bone.

On the mid-autumn night Rujing gave his dharma hall discourse, the sky was completely clear, without fog or mist, and the ocean was still, without winds or waves. The moon toad and the moon rabbit refer to the moon based on ancient Chinese mythical stories about the moon goddess Chang’e (嫦娥, Joga in Japanese). It seems there are many different versions of her story. One version says that she attained immortality and lived in the moon. Her husband on the earth made an altar and made offerings on the mid-autumn day. This was the origin of the mid-autumn moon festival. Another version says that somehow, Chang’e became a toad and still lives in the moon. Dwelling in the moon together with the toad, the moon rabbit makes an elixir for gaining eternal longevity with a mortar and pestle. In Japan, people thought that the rabbit is making mochi, pounded rice cake. The rabbit was called “jewel rabbit” (玉兎, gyokuto) or “golden rabbit” (金兎, kinto). Dōgen uses the images of the toad and rabbit and says that since the sky is beautifully clear, the toad and rabbit are clearly seen.

There is Buddhist version of the story about the moon rabbit from the Jataka tales, as well as similar stories with some variations. In those stories, the rabbit jumped into a fire to offer its body to a hungry old man, since the rabbit could not find anything else to offer. The old man was actually the god Sakra in disguise. Sakra took the rabbit to the moon, so that everyone could see and remember the rabbit’s virtuous action.

However, to me, it is strange that Dōgen says that the moon was “cold to the bone.” The mid-autumn day falls during September or October in solar calendar, so it must have been cool but could not have been “cold to the bone.” I suppose the moon is a metaphor of a bodhisattva’s awakening and nirvana. This might have something to do with the expression “the clear and cool moon of the bodhisattva (菩薩清涼月, bosatu shoryo no tsuki) from the Avatamsaka Sutra (Flower Ornament Sutra). In this case, shoryo, clear and cool, refers to nirvana; that is, being free from the heat of the burning house of samsara. There is a verse in the Avatamsaka Sutra about the moon of the light of wisdom of a bodhisattva (菩薩智光月, bosatu chiko no tsuki), which contains a slightly different expression referring to the same “clear and cool moon”:

The moon of the light of knowledge of enlightening beings
Has the realm of reality for its sphere,
Coursing through ultimate emptiness,
Seen by all the world.
In the minds of consciousness of the three worlds,
It waxes and wanes through time.[3]

This verse sounds similar to what Dōgen says in Genjokoan:

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 drop of water. Realization does not destroy the person, as the moon does not make a hole in the water. The person does not obstruct realization, as a drop of dew does not obstruct the moon in the sky.[4]

Even though in the previous verse of Kuchugen[5] Dōgen said that complete interpenetration between the self and the moonlight is the ultimate reality, practically speaking, we continuously need to treat this as a koan and examine whether we put too much emphasis either on our body or on our mind. In our mind (consciousness of the three worlds) the interpenetration waxes and wanes through times and occasions. However, Dōgen met at least one person in whom he felt the full moon was completely actualized. That person was his master Tiantong Rujing, who raised his whisk and said, “Look!” The whisk was Rujing himself completely interpenetrated with the moonlight.

Rujing gave his dharma hall discourse at Qingliang Temple (Seiryoji, 清涼寺), probably in 1212. Dōgen did not actually listen to his teacher on that occasion. But he could still feel the great power of Rujing’s saying, “Look!” overlapping his own experience of hearing Rujing’s statement given on the occasion of entering the abbot’s room (入室, nyusshitu) in the third lunar month in the spring of 1226. Dōgen precisely recorded this experience in Shobogenzo Shohojisso (The True Reality of All Beings):

For entering the room, he said, “A cuckoo cries and the mountain bamboos split.” This is the announcement for entering the room. He said nothing else. Although there were many monks, no one said anything. They were greatly impressed and simply awed.[6]

Even though the mid-autumn night was not really cold, in this poem, using the expression “cold to the bone,” Dōgen expresses the extreme strength of Rujing’s utterance, which might have given people goose bumps.

People cherish [the moon], even hidden by mountains, reflected in waters.
He raised [his whisk] and fooled the heavens; look carefully.

Like the poet Li Bai who tried to catch the moon he saw on the water and died, people love the moon, even if the moon is behind mountains or reflected on the water. When Tiantong Rujing raised his whisk and said, “Look!” Rujing was the true full moon itself, more true than the moon in the sky. Dōgen urges us as his students to look at it carefully, as the reality of our own self.

— • —

[1] (Dōgen’s Extensive Record 10-83, p.633) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., http://www.wisdompubs.org.
[2] Taibai is another name of Mount Tiantong. This is also the courtesy name of Li Bai who tried to catch the moon on the water.
[3] Translation by Thomas Cleary, “The Flower Ornament Scripture: a translation of the Avasamsaka Sutra” (Shambhala, 1993) p.1154. This is a translation of 80-volume Avatamsaka Sutra; “The clear and cool moon” appears in the 40-volume version of the same sutra. “Knowledge” in this translation is the same as “wisdom,” and “enlightening beings” is a translation of “bodhisattva.”
[4] Okumura’s translation, Realizing Genjokoan (Wisdom Publications, 2010) p.3.
[5] See the post, This very mind watches the moon.
[6] Okumura’s unpublished translation.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

— • —

For further study:

> More of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese Poems

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