Staring at the moon

Copyright©2020 Misaki C. Kido

Dōgen’s Chinese Poems (29)

The Night of the Fifteenth;
Verse on “Before the gates of each house, the moon shines bright.”
十五夜、頌家家門前照明月 (十五夜、「家家の門前明月を照らす」を頌す)

Eyelids cut off, also his front teeth broken,
He aimed his eyes high to clearly see the moon.
The toad in the sky’s brightness reaches even the black mountain.
Nevertheless, the jade rabbit falls into the demons’ cave.[1]

眼皮綻又歯門闕、 (眼皮綻び又た歯門闕けたり、)
高著眼睛明見月、 (高く眼睛を著けて明らかに月を見る、)
空表蟾光縦黒山、 (空表の蟾光は縦い黒山なりとも、)
従他玉兎落鬼窟。 (他の玉兎の鬼窟に落つるに従す。)


This is verse 28 in Kuchugen and verse 84 of volume 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dōgen’s Extensive Record). This is the fourth of the six poems about “harvest moon” in Kuchugen based on Rujing’s dharma hall discourse. This poem is composed on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, probably in the year after Dōgen composed the previous three poems. This poem in Manzan’s version is quite different in all four lines:

箇箇圓成無欠闕 (箇箇圓成欠無し)
Each and every one is perfectly completed, lacking nothing,
家家門巷照明月 (家家門巷明を照らす)
The gate of each and every house is illuminated by the bright moon.
銀蟾假使沈黒山 (銀蟾たとえ黒山に沈むとも)
Even if the silver toad sinks into the black mountain,
玉兎從他墮鬼窟 (玉兎さもあらばあれ鬼窟に墮すことを)
Even if the jewel rabbit falls down to the demon’s cave, [it continues to illuminate each and every one].


Eyelids cut off, also his front teeth broken,
He aimed his eyes high to clearly see the moon.

Ganpi (眼皮) literally means eye-skin, in other words, eyelid. Hokorobi (綻) as a noun means “an open seam,” or “a seam that has come apart,” and as a verb (hokorobu), “to come apart at the seam,” “to begin to open” (like a flower), or to smile broadly (probably because when we smile our mouth is open). In this poem, “eyelids cut off” means that the eyes are open.

“His front teeth broken,” refers to what Rujing said in the final line of the verse in his dharma discourse: “How laughable; the barbarian monk with front teeth broken.” According to a legend, Bodhidharma’s teeth were broken by his debate opponents, so that he could not say anything. But Rujing says it is laughable that his opponents attacked Bodhidharma to keep him silent, because even if Bodhidharma had teeth, in order to perfectly express the beauty of nature illuminated by the moon, he would not say anything. Another interpretation could be that he does not need his mouth to express the ultimate truth beyond language– his nine-year sitting facing the wall was a perfect expression of it. Here Dōgen meant he (she, Bodhidharma, Rujing, Dōgen, or anyone else who is sitting) does not say anything. In the original Chinese, there is no subject in these two lines. I think Dōgen meant in zazen, the person sitting opens his/her eyes and closes his/her mouth.

In our zazen, we sit in the upright posture, keep our eyes open and close our mouth. This zazen is itself aiming our eyes high to see the moon clearly. In this case, the moon is not the object of our eye-consciousness, as Dōgen says in this waka poem:

大空に  Ozora ni
心の月を  kokoro no tsuki wo
ながむるも nagamuru mo
闇に迷ひて yami ni mayoi te
色にめでけり iro ni medekeri

Despite beholding the moon of the mind
in the great sky,
deluded in darkness
I praise its shape and color.

This moon of interconnectedness swallows the person sitting and the zazen of the person sitting swallows the entire network of interconnectedness. Our zazen is itself prajna, clearly seeing the emptiness of the five aggregates and interconnectedness. This is how we clearly see the moon by just sitting without seeing. When we sit and open the hand of thought, we are like the great sky that does not disturb the white clouds floating freely.

The toad in the sky’s brightness reaches even the black mountain.
Nevertheless, the jade rabbit falls into the demons’ cave.

“The toad in the sky’s brightness” and “the jade rabbit” appeared in the previous poem. These refer to the boundless moon that illuminates each and every phenomenal thing.

“The black mountain” (黒山, kokusan) and “the demons’ cave” (鬼窟, kikutsu) need some explanation. In Buddhist cosmology as described in the Abhidharmakosha, it is said that in the southern continent called Jambudvipa where we live, there are three groups of three black mountains south of Himavat (Himalaya). These black mountains are mentioned in various sutras. In one sutra, it is said that a traveler was in trouble when he encountered a demon in the black mountains; however, I don’t find any examples in the Abhidharmakosha in which the black mountain and the demon’s cave are combined.

It seems that these two are used together only in Zen texts. There are two ways this expression is used. One is sitting in zazen closing our eyes. For example, we read in Chanyuan Qinggui (禅苑清規, Zennen Shingi) Zazengi, “Zen master Fayun Yuantong (Houn Entsu) also admonished his students who sat zazen with their eyes closed, saying, “You are sitting in the cave of demons in the Black Mountain. (法雲圓通禪師、亦訶人閉目坐禪、以謂黒山鬼窟。)”[2] Yunmen (雲門, Unmon) also used this expression with this meaning in a dharma hall discourse.[3]

Another usage of this expression is, for example, in the case 25 of Hekiganroku (Blue Cliff Record): “As soon as you make a comparative judgment, you’re in the demon cave of the mountain of darkness making your living.”[4] In this case, “being in the demon’s cave in the black mountain,” means staying within the habitual dualistic way of thinking. This is the same meaning as is used in the Diamond Sutra: “Subhuti, imagine a person who enters a dark place and who can’t see a thing. He is like a bodhisattva ruled by objects, like someone practicing charity ruled by objects.”[5] In this sutra, the Buddha said that a bodhisattva should practice dana (giving, charity) without attachment to the giver, the receiver, or the gift. But people who are not free from the separation between subject (giver), object (receiver), and gift are in a dark place where the giver is ruled by the objects, that is, the receiver and the gift, and where the giver is also ruled by the result of his/her giving— he/she expects to receive a reward.

This expression is also used in the dialogue between Xuansha (玄沙, Gensha) and a monk about one bright jewel:

Once a monk asked, “I have heard that you said that the entire ten-direction world is one bright jewel. How can this student (I) understand it?”
The master said, “The entire ten-direction world is one bright jewel. What is the use of understanding it?”
The next day, the master asked the same monk, “The entire ten-direction world is one bright jewel. How do you understand it?”
The monk said, “The entire ten-direction world is one bright jewel. What is the use of understanding it?”
The Master said, “I know that you are making a livelihood inside a demon’s cave in the black mountain.”

In his comments on this koan story in Shobogenzo Ikka Myoju (One Bright Jewel), Dōgen changed the meaning of the expression, “making a livelihood inside a demon’s cave in the black mountain” and said, “Therefore, forward steps and backward steps within the demon’s cave in the black mountain are nothing other than the one bright jewel.”[6] Here he interpreted “a demon’s cave in the black mountain” as the “darkness” from the pairing of “brightness and darkness” in Sandokai. In this interpretation, “darkness” is beyond discrimination, and “making a livelihood” is making discriminations and choices to do things in our daily lives.

In the poem we are studying, Dōgen uses “black mountain and demon’s cave” in its common meaning, with negative connotations: the habitual, discriminative, conceptual, dualistic way of thinking with some self-attachment. But in our zazen, we are illuminated by the boundless moonlight, the reality beyond discrimination. Here, “the demon’s cave in the black mountain” and the moonlight are completely inter-penetrating each other. By opening the hand of thought (letting go of thought), the discriminative thinking produced in our brain which is continuously coming and going is not grasped. In our zazen, we are determined not to take any action based on our thoughts, therefore we are not defiled by them. The poisons in our three poisonous minds are still coming and going, and yet, our minds are detoxified.

In Kuchugen poem number 26 (Verse on “This very mind watches the moon”), Dōgen says that we have to continuously make efforts to attain the mid-autumn full moon with both body and mind. In Kuchugen poem 27 (Verse on Raising His Whisk and saying, “Look!”), he mentions his teacher Rujing as an example of the perfect manifestation of the full moon. Here, in poem 28, Dōgen says that in our zazen, we are not different than Rujing. As Dōgen said in Shobogenzo Bussho (Buddha-nature) describing the example of Nagarjuna, in zazen in which we let go of our self-centeredness, our body manifests the full moon:

Body manifesting a round moon shape,
Expressing thereby the body of the Buddhas;
Expounding Dharma, without any form,
Expounding without sight or sound.[7]

— • —

[1](Dōgen’s Extensive Record 10-83, p.634) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc.,
[2] Okumura’s unpublished translation.
[3] See Master Yunmen: From the Record of the Chan Teacher “Gate of the Clouds” (Urs App, Kodansha International, 1994), p. 145.
[4] Thomas Cleary’s translation in case 25 of The Blue Cliff Record (Shambhala), p.168
[5] Translation by Red Pine in The Diamond Sutra (Counterpoint, 2001). P. 14.
[6] See my commentary on Shobogenzo Ikka Myoju in Dharma Eye, #44.
[7] The Heart of Dōgen’s Shobogenzo (translated by Norman Waddell and Masao Abe, SUNY, 2002), p.77-78.

— • —

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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