Coming Down from the Mountains

Copyright©2021 Misaki C. Kido

Dōgen’s Chinese Poems (41)

Verses of Praise on Portraits
真賛 Shinsan

Depiction of Shakyamuni Coming Down from the Mountains

A sack of flowing wind tied around his waist,
He stole the wind in the pines to insert or bring forth.
Then twirling a branch of winter plum blossoms to sell,
He came and went under the heavens, planning to find a buyer.[1]

腰頭帶箇風流袋 (腰頭に箇の風流袋を帶び、)
奪得松風且出内 (松風を奪得って且た出内す)
更賣臘梅拈一枝 (更に臘梅を賣って一枝を拈じ)
往來天下圖人貸 (天下に往來して人の貸わんことを圖る。)

— • —

This is verse 40 in Kuchūgen and Shinsan 1 in Volume 10 of Eihei Kōroku (Dōgen’s Extensive Record). This verse in Monkaku’s version and Manzan’s version have no difference.

Verses of Praise on Portraits
真賛 Shinsan

Volume 10 of Eihei Kōroku (Dōgen’s Extensive Record) is a collection of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese poems. This volume is divided into three parts. The first part is called Shinsan (真賛, Verses of Praise on Portraits; five verses). The second part is called Jisan (自賛, Verses of Praise on Portraits of Himself; twenty verses). The third is Geju (偈頌, Assorted Verses; 125 verses). Verses 1–39 in Kuchūgen are selections from part three; I have been discussing verses from this third section until now.

Shin (真) is usually translated as “true,” “real,” or “genuine.” In Zen Buddhism, this word also refers to a “portrait” of a deceased venerable master. In Chanyuan Qinggui (禅苑清規, Rules of Purity for the Chan Monastery), it says that a portrait of a deceased abbot is hung above the dharma seat during his funeral ceremony.[2]

San (賛) means “a praising verse” for the person painted in the portrait. Above a portrait of a deceased master, we often find a praising verse for that master. For example, in the commentary on case 11 of Blue Cliff Record, we read this sentence:

This verse by Hsueh Tou seems just like praise on a portrait of Huang Po, yet you people mustn’t understand it as “praise on a portrait.”[3]

If a verse is written by the master himself for the master’s own portrait, the verse is called jisan (自賛, praising oneself). Menzan selected two verses, 40 and 41, from the five verses in the Shinsan part. This one is a praising verse for Shakyamuni.

Depiction of Shakyamuni Coming Down from the Mountains

Commonly, “Shakyamuni Coming Down from the Mountains (出山の釈迦)” refers to paintings of Shakyamuni Buddha when he came down from the mountain after six years of very strict ascetic practice. This is one of the popular motifs of Zen paintings. After he came down from the mountain, he bathed and washed his body in the river, received food from a village girl named Sujata, and then sat under the bodhi tree where he attained unsurpassable awakening. Since the time of the Song Dynasty in China, and also in Japan, there have been many portraits of a skinny Shakyamuni walking using a staff. This theme emphasizes the strictness of Buddha’s six years of ascetic practice, and that his teaching was the Middle Way between the two extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification.

However, it seems this poem by Dōgen is a depiction of Shakyamuni Buddha walking down from the mountain after completing the awakening and after making up his mind to begin to teach. Since I never been to India, I am not sure if Shakyamuni Buddha really practiced and attained awakening on a mountain. From photos of Bodhgaya, it looks like the place Shakyamuni attained awakening was not really on a mountain. However, Chinese Zen people somehow thought so.

In this case, the mountain refers to the realm of the ultimate truth, the Dharma to which the Buddha awakened. In the beginning, the Buddha thought it was not possible to teach and share the same Dharma with other people. But after the God Brahma requested three times, he accepted and made up his mind to teach. He stayed in the same area sitting by different trees for several weeks, probably to translate his experience of the Dharma beyond language into language he could use to teach with, using conventional explanations. Then, finally, he started to walk down from the mountain of ultimate truth to Deer Park, to teach the five monks who used to practice the ascetic practice with him.

A sack of flowing wind tied around his waist,
He stole the wind in the pines to insert or bring forth.

“A sack of flowing wind” is a translation of 風流袋 (fūryū bukuro). Fukuro (袋) is a sack like the Chinese laughing Buddha, Budai[4] always carried on his back to put everything he received during mendicant rounds. The sack Buddhist monks use to carry three robes for travelling is called zudabukuro (頭陀袋); we still carry it when doing takuhatsu. Dōgen writes that when Shakyamuni was leaving the mountain after attaining awakening, he carried such a bag on his waist. It seems the bag is empty; only the air was in it. Fūryū (風流) was an important word in Japanese aesthetics after the Muromachi period (1336–1573), and is often translated as “artistic,” “tasteful,” “refined,” or “elegant.” In Dōgen’s time, this word was not so widely used. As a Chinese word, fūryū means a style of past respectable people which we should continue.

When Shakyamuni left Bodhgaya, he only had this empty cloth sack around his waist. He stole “the pine wind” and kept it in the sack; he took it out to teach and put it back in, again and again. “The pine wind” (松風, shōfū or matsukaze) is used for example in the classic Zen poem, Song of Enlightenment (証道歌, Shōdōka): “The moon is serenely reflected on the stream, the breeze passes softly through the pines.”[5] This is a depiction of the cool and serene scenery of interconnectedness in which each thing illuminates, supports, and benefits each other and is free from the heat of the burning house of samsara.

Dōgen also used “pine wind” in another poem:

Someone asked the meaning of coming from the west.
The wooden ladle’s handle long, the ravine is just as deep.
If you want to know this boundless meaning,
The wind in the pines play a stringless lute.[6]

In the line from the topic poem, Dōgen is saying that Shakyamuni awakened to the true reality of all beings, stole the wind from nature, put it into his sack and pulled it out whenever he gave Dharma teachings. The pine wind became various teachings or medicine depending on the problems his listeners had.

Then twirling a branch of winter plum blossoms to sell,
He came and went under the heavens, planning to find a buyer.

“The winter plum blossom (臘梅 rōbai)” literally means “plum blossoms in the twelfth month (臘月, rōgatsu).” This refers to Shakyamuni’s awakening and came from Tiantong Rujing’s poem on the occasion of Buddha’s Enlightenment Day:

At the time Gautama lost his eyeballs,
In the snow, there was only a single branch of plum blossoms.

In Shōbōgenzō Baika (梅華, Plum Blossoms), Dōgen says that the uḍumbara flower Shakyamuni picked and held on the Vulture Peak when he transmitted Shōbōgenzō (true dharma eye treasury) to Mahākāśyapa was also a branch of plum blossoms.

What Shakyamuni awakened to, taught many people the rest of his life, and transmitted to Mahākāśyapa was the true reality of all beings—that is, how things are co-existing within the network of interdependent origination. He made efforts to try to sell this universal truth, travelling extensively in India during his entire lifetime. Did he find any buyer?

— • —

[1] (Dōgen’s Extensive Record 10–1, p.599) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc.,
[2] The Origins of Buddhist Monastic Codes in China: An Annotated Translation and Study of the Chanyuan Qinggui, (translated by Yifa, Kuroda Institute, 2002), p.217.
[3] Translation by Thomas Clearly, The Blue Cliff Record (Shambhala, 1977), p.77.
[4] Another name for Budai is Hotei (布袋), which literally means “cloth sack.”
[5] Translation by D.T. Suzuki, Manual of Zen Buddhism, p.95.
[6] Dōgen’s Extensive Record, Volume 9–71, p.585.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

— • —

For further study:

> More of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese Poems

Copyright©2021 Sanshin Zen Community

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your 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.