The Crown Of A Thousand Sages

Copyright©2021 Misaki C. Kido

Dōgen’s Chinese Poems (44)

[Dōgen’s] Verses of Praise on Portraits of Himself
自賛 Jisan 8

Expressing the way, this body appears as the crown of a thousand sages.
The total function meeting my face is fresh in the ten thousand times.
Some other time, if you want to understand this mountain elder,
Entrusting the bones and entrusting the marrow are equally intimate.[1]

道得現身千聖頂 (道得現身す千聖の頂、)
當機覿面萬回新 (當機覿面す萬回新たなり、)
他時要識這山老 (他時に這の山老を識らんと要せば、)
附骨附髓一等親 (附骨附髓一等に親し)

— • —

This is verse 43 in Kuchūgen and Jisan 8 in Volume 10 of Eihei Kōroku (Dōgen’s Extensive Record). This verse in Monkaku’s version and Manzan’s version are the same.

Expressing the way, this body appears as the crown of a thousand sages.
The total function meeting my face is fresh in the ten thousand times.

“Expressing the way” is a translation of dōtoku (道得). In this case,  (道) means “to speak,” “to say,” or “to express.” Toku (得) means “to be able to,” “to attain.” As a compound, dōtoku (道得) literally means “ability to speak.” Dōtoku is an important word in Dōgen’s teaching. He wrote a fascicle of Shōbōgenzo entitled “Dōtoku.” In that fascicle, Dōgen uses this word to include both verbal and wordless expressions. In the first sentence of this fascicle, he wrote that “All the Buddhas and ancestors are dōtoku.” Expression is itself the self of buddhas and ancestors. For us, Dōgen is what he wrote, said, or did as the expression of himself based on his lifelong practice and study of the Dharma.

Dōgen quotes Zhaozhou (趙州 Jōshū)’s saying, “If you do not depart from the monastery as long as you live, even if you sit immovably without speaking at all for five or ten years, no one will call you mute.” In his comment, Dōgen says,

Therefore, when we think of the practice and endeavor of not leaving the monastery for a [whole] lifetime, staying in the monastery for five or ten years, or passing through frost and flowers, the steadfast immovable sitting that has been traversed is a portion of dōtoku… Therefore, “not leaving a monastery for an entire lifetime” is not leaving dōtoku for an entire lifetime.[2]

In Dōgen’s writings, sitting quietly for many years without saying anything is dōtoku (expression); at the same time, he put an emphasis on speaking or writing using language as expressions of one’s own experiences. His continuous practice with his assembly and expressing his insight of Dharma by writing Shōbōgenzo and other works, including poems, is who he is. Through his continuous expression, the Buddha’s dharma body appears as the head top of all sages. I imagine that Dōgen Zenji is seeing the many mountains around Eiheiji as the buddhas’ dharma body, and he is expressing it together with all beings. As he writes in Genjōkōan, “All dharmas are the Buddhadharma”—when he sees mountains and rivers, trees and grasses, birds and flowers, he sees the Buddhadharma, the dharma body of the Buddha.

Each thing he sees in front of his eyes, and all the different beings within the mountains appear as the Buddhadharma interconnected with him within the total function of interconnected network. The scenery is always fresh and new.

Some other time, if you want to understand this mountain elder,
Entrusting the bones and entrusting the marrow are equally intimate.

“Some other time” means some time in the future after his passing away. The third line probably came from this conversation between Dongshan (洞山, Jp. Tōzan) and his teacher Yunyan (雲巌, Ungan):

Dongshan asked Yunyan, “A hundred years [after you have passed away,] when someone asked me if I was able to paint your portrait, how should I respond?”
Yunyan said, “Just tell the person, ‘Just this is it.’”

In China, the teacher’s portrait was given to the disciple as evidence of dharma transmission. Dongshan’s question was, what if someone asked if he truly transmitted Yunyan’s true face, what should he say, what is Yunyan’s Dharma?

Dōgen is saying to the people who see his portrait after his passing away, that if we want to express who Dōgen, the old monk living in the mountain, was, we should say to the person what is written in the last line of the poem.

In the last line of the poem, “Entrusting the bones and entrusting the marrow” refers to the well-known story of Dharma transmission from Bodhidharma to the Second Ancestor Huike (慧可, Eka). Bodhidharma said to his four disciples, “The time is coming. Why don’t you speak of what you have attained?” The first three disciples spoke of their understandings. To the first person, Bodhidharma said, “You have attained my skin.” To the second person, he said, “You have attained my flesh.” To the third person, Bodhidharma said, “You have attained my bone.” In his turn, Huike did not say anything but made three prostrations, and returned to his position. Bodhidharma said, “You have attained my marrow.”

The common interpretation of this story is that Huike’s understanding was deepest among the four people, and therefore Bodhidharma said Huike attained his marrow and had made him the second ancestor. But in Shōbōgenzo Kattō (Entanglement), Dōgen writes that he does to agree with such an understanding based on comparing and ranking the depth of the three disciples’ sayings and Huike’s not-saying.

Dōgen writes:

However, those who have not received the authentic transmission think that because among those four disciples’ understandings there are intimate ones and remote ones, in the Ancestor’s saying too there are degrees of shallowness and depth in the skin, flesh, bones, and marrow. They think that “skin and flesh” are more remote than “bones and marrow,” and say that because the Second Ancestor’s understanding was superior [to others], he received the [certification] of having attained the marrow… . . We should know that the “skin, flesh, bones, and marrow” expressed by the Ancestor have nothing to do with shallowness and depth.

This is one of the examples of the thought that—because the ultimate truth is beyond any language, concepts, and logic—keeping silence and using some direct action shows a deeper understanding. Dōgen does not appreciate such a “Zen” teaching. As he says in the first line of this poem, dōtoku with and without language is itself ancestors. This is the reason, that to see Dōgen’s portrait, we need to practice what he practiced and study his writings, including this poem.

— • —

[1] (Dōgen’s Extensive Record 10 [Dōgen’s] Verses of Praise on Portraits of Himself 8, p.605) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc.,
[2] Translations by Shohaku Okumura.

— • —

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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