Hanging out

Copyright©2021 Misaki C. Kido

Dōgen’s Chinese Poems (38)

Given to Examination Graduate Ru


Natural wondrous wisdom itself is true suchness.
Why should we employ Confucian discourse or Buddhist texts?
Rely on sitting at ease at your place, and hang your mouth on the wall.
Friends arrive here and are released from emptiness.[1]

天然妙智自眞如 (天然の妙智自ずから眞如) 
何借儒論及佛書 (何ぞ儒論及び佛書を借らん)
靠坐閑牀掛口壁 (閑牀に靠坐して口を壁に掛く) 
知音到此脱空虚 (知音此に到って空虚を脱す)

This is verse 37 in Kuchūgen and verse 18 of volume ten of Eihei Kōroku (Dōgen’s Extensive Record). This verse in Manzan’s version has some differences in the second, third, and fourth lines:

何仮儒書及佛書 (何ぞ儒書及び佛書を仮らん)
Why should we rely on Confucian texts or Buddhist scriptures?
獨坐繩牀口掛壁 (繩牀に獨坐して口壁に掛く)
Sitting alone on the rope-chair, and hang your mouth on the wall.
等閑一實勝千虚 (等閑の一實千虚に勝れり)
One thoughtless reality is superior to thousands of hollow [discussion].

Given to Examination Graduate Ru

Verses 35, 36, 37, 38, and 39 in Kuchūgen were composed while Dōgen Zenji was in China. In volume 10 of Eihei Kōroku, there are fifty verses composed while he was practicing in China. These are the oldest written words by Dōgen while he was a training monk. In front of these verses, the compiler Sen’ne wrote:

Master Dōgen, in the second year of the Baoqing [Hōkyō] era of Song China [1226, wrote the following while] residing at Tiantong Jingde Zen temple on renowned Taibai Mountain in Qingyuan Province.[2]

Dōgen went to China with his master Myōzen in 1223 and stayed at Tiantong monastery where they had a connection through Myōzen’s master, Eisai. Since Myōzen remained there, the monastery became the base for Dōgen. The abbot of the monastery was the Rinzai master Wuji Liaopai, who died in 1224. Although the chronological order is not clear, Dōgen sometimes traveled extensively visiting various Zen masters. When he returned to Tiantong monastery in early 1225, he met Tiantong Rujing who had become the new abbot after Wuji’s passing away. In Shōbōgenzō Menju (Face-to-face Transmission), he wrote:

On the first day of the fifth month in the first year of the Baoqing (Jp. Hōkyō) Era of Great Song China (1225), I, Dōgen, for the first time offered incense-burning and did prostrations in [the abbot’s room] Myōkōdai (Mt. Sumeru Terrace). For the first time my late master, the ancient buddha, saw me, Dōgen.[3]

On the twenty-seventh day of the same month, Myōzen passed away. Dōgen became Rujing’s disciple and practiced intimately with him until he received dharma transmission and went back to Japan in 1227. Dōgen recorded his conversations with Rujing in Hōkyōki (the Record of Hōkyō Era) beginning from the seventh month in 1225. Rujing recognized Dōgen’s sincere practice and understanding of the Dharma. Dōgen wrote this about his practice under Rujing’s guidance:

When I was staying at Tiantong Zen Monastery in great Song China, while the old master Rujing was the abbot there, we did zazen until the third part of the second watch[4] and got up at about the second or third part of the fourth watch[5] to do zazen. The old master sat with the assembly in the monks’ hall. He never took even a single night off. While sitting, many monks fell asleep. The old master walked around hitting them with his fist or his clog, scolding them and compelling them to wake up.[6]

By 1226, I suppose that among the many people associated with Rujing, Dōgen was well known as the eminent disciple of the abbot of Tiantong monastery. Except for verses 35 and 36 about his pilgrimage to the Mt. Potolaka, most of the other verses Dōgen created in China were composed for lay practitioners who were Chinese government officers and their families.

“Examination graduate” refers to the people who have passed the imperial examination called keju (科挙, Jp. kakyo) and qualified to be government officials. Such intellectuals were also called shidafu (士大夫, Jp. shitaifu); scholar-official or literati) and many of them practiced Zen. It seems Verse 14 of volume 10 of Eihei Kōroku was given to this person’s mother and verse 47 was given to his younger brother.

Natural wondrous wisdom itself is true suchness.

“Natural” is a translation of tianran (天然, Jp. tennen, heaven-thusness). Tianran refers to phenomenal things created by “heaven” without any influence from human beings, or to reality beyond human thinking or desires. This word is similar to ziran (自然, Jp. shizen), meaning (1) being without any human artificial influence and (2) “inherent” or “innate.” Wuweiziran[7] is one of the essential expressions in Daoism.

In Buddhism, tianran or ziran is used as a name for the non-Buddhist philosophy that negates causality which was taught by Makkhali Gosala, one of the six non-Buddhist teachers in Shakamuni’s time. Later, writing in Shōbōgenzō, Dōgen used this word “tianran” with a negative connotation referring to this non-Buddhist teaching.

“Wondrous wisdom” is a translation of miaozhi (妙智, Jp. myōchi). Innate wondrous wisdom (天然妙智) is not the usual wisdom developed and attained through study and practice, but is naturally endowed to all people from the beginning. This is synonymous with buddha-nature, mind-nature, or original enlightenment in the tathagata garbha theory, mentioned for example in The Awakening of Faith in Mahāyāna (大乗起信論, Daijō Kishin ron). This innate wisdom is same as One-Mind that is true-suchness (zhenru, 真如, Jp. shinnyo) in that theory. This first line seems to be a description of the essential principle of that theory.

In that theory in The Awakening of Faith in Mahāyāna, originally One-Mind is pure and without defilement, like peaceful water. Somehow, suddenly the wind of ignorance blows, and waves are caused, that is, our discriminative thinking, which differentiates good/bad, right/wrong, like/dislike etc. We take actions based on such discriminations, we make good or bad karma, and as the result, our life becomes transmigration within samsara. By stopping discriminative thinking, we return to the original One-Mind. Even when we are in delusion and transmigrating in samsara, the original One-Mind is not eliminated; it is hidden but still there, only we cannot see it. Sometimes, it is compared to a diamond hidden in a rock. The One-Mind hidden by delusive discriminating thoughts is called original enlightenment (本覚, Jp. hongaku). When we arouse bodhicitta and practice in order to gradually return to the original One-Mind, that process is called actualization of enlightenment (始覚, Jp. shikaku).[8] Dahui’s kanhua (watching story) Zen put emphasis on the actualization of enlightenment through a kind of break-through experience called kenshō (見性) and Tsaodong (Sōtō) silent-illumination Zen put emphasis on silent sitting as the manifestation of original enlightenment.[9] This idea is also the basis of the famous Zen expression, “separate transmission outside the teachings (教外別伝, kyōge-betsuden).” Later Dōgen criticized this idea in Shōbōgenzō Bukkyō (仏教, Buddha’s Teaching) and Bukkyō (仏経, Buddha Sutras).

 Why should we employ Confucian discourse or Buddhist texts?

Because innate wondrous wisdom is already endowed within all people, and because it is beyond human conceptual, discriminative thinking, any language written in Confucian, Daoist, or Buddhist texts cannot be the direct expression of the true reality. This is the fundamental logic behind the idea of the three teachings: that Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism are identical (三教一, sankyō-icchi). In this view, the three teachings are an explanation from various perspectives of the ultimate reality which is beyond language and thinking, so that when we return to the ultimate reality, there is no difference among these three teachings. Later, Dōgen strongly criticized this idea in Shōbōgenzō Shohōjissō (諸法実相, The True Reality of All Beings) and Bukkyō (仏経, Buddha Sutras).

Rely on sitting at ease at your place, and hang your mouth on the wall.

The method of returning to the original source, the ultimate reality, is to stop thinking using words, concepts and logic, shut the mouth, and sit. “Hung your mouth on the wall” came from a kōan, Case 46 of Book of Serenity.

Great Master Yuanming of Deshan said to the assembly, “When you get to the ultimate end, you just find the buddhas of all times have their mouths ‘hung on the wall.’ There is still someone who laughs, ha! ha! If you know this one, your task of study is finished.”[10]

The famous Sōtō Zen master Hongzhi, who coined the expression “silent illumination” also used this expression several times. To me, this verse by Dōgen seems like a clear description of silent illumination Zen.

Friends arrive here and are released from emptiness.

Emptiness in this line is 空虚; 空 is empty, 虚 is void. “Being released from emptiness” sounds like the person was released from the wrongly taken poison of emptiness, that is, released from clinging to the view of emptiness. But here it means that, in silent sitting, we are released from discriminative thinking, which is nothing other than empty discussion using words, concepts and logic. Probably that is why Manzan’s version says that, “one thoughtless reality (等閑一実)” is superior to “thousands of hollow [discussion] (千虚).”

In 1226, when he wrote this verse, Dōgen was a twenty-six-year-old training monk in Rujing’s assembly. The intellectual lay practitioners for whom he wrote these poems were high class government officials who were Rujing’s students and also patrons of the monastery. I assume those lay practitioners liked Dōgen, who was a young foreign monk from Japan and yet a brilliant person who could write Chinese poems freely using the correct technique of rhyming corresponding to their poems offered to him. In Hōkyōki, Dōgen recorded his conversation with Rujing regarding Rujing’s poem on the windbell; in this conversation, Rujing recognized Dōgen’s understanding of Chinese poetry.

“What you say is profound and has the mark of greatness. I composed this poem while I was at Chingliang monastery. Although people praised it, no one has ever penetrated it as you do. I acknowledge that you have the Eye. You must compose poems in this way.”[11]

However, Dōgen was not in a position where he could argue about Zen Buddhist teachings with those government officials. I guess what he wrote in this poem might be the common understanding of Chinese Tsaodong (Sōtō) school’s silent illumination Zen, with the ideas of “special transmission outside teachings,” and “three teachings are identical.” I am not sure if this poem is the straightforward expression of his understanding at that time in 1226 or if he already had some questions about the theory. In Hōkyōki, we find that he questioned Rujing about these points. I feel that even though Dōgen’s shikantaza (just sitting) is similar to silent-illumination Zen, the theoretical basis is different. In any event, it took Dōgen some more time until he could clearly express his insight regarding these ideas.

— • —

[1] (Dōgen’s Extensive Record 10–18, p.614) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., www.wisdompubs.org.
[2] Dōgen’s Extensive Record p.610
[3] This is Okumura’s unpublished translation.
[4] About eleven p.m.
[5] About two-thirty or three a.m.
[6] Okumura’s unpublished translation of Chōenji-bon Zuimonki 3–19.
[7] Wuwei (無為Jp. mui, without-action, effortless action) plus ziran (自然, Jp. shizen).
[8] See The Awakening of Faith (translated by Yoshito S. Hakeda. Columbia University Press, 1967) p.36–37.
[9] See How Zen Became Zen: The Dispute over Enlightenment and the Formation of Chan Buddhism in Song-Dynasty China (Morten Schlutter, Kuroda Institute, 2008) p.119–21.
[10] Book of Serenity: One Hundred Zen Dialogue (Thomas Cleary, The Lindisfarne Press, 1990), p.194.
[11] See Deepest Practice, Deepest Wisdom: Three Fascicles from Shōbōgenzō with Commentaries (Kōshō Uchiyama, Wisdom Publications, 2018) p.7.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

— • —

For further study:

> More of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese Poems

Copyright©2021 Sanshin Zen Community

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