When Will We Meet the Compassionate Buddha?

Copyright©2021 Misaki C. Kido

Dōgen’s Chinese Poems (48)
Verse from Dharma Hall Discourse 486

When Will We Meet the Compassionate Buddha?
486. Dharma Hall Discourse for the ceremony for Buddha’s Parinirvāna [1252]

In Crane Forest with the moon fallen, how could dawn appear?
In Kusi[nagara] flowers wither, and spring is not spring.
Amid love and yearning, what can this confused son do?
I wish to stop these red tears, and join in wholesome action.[1]

「涅槃會」 (涅槃会)

鶴林月落曉何曉 (鶴林の月落ちぬ、曉、何ぞ曉ならん。)
鳩尸花枯春不春 (鳩尸の花枯れて、春、春ならず)
戀慕何爲顛誑子 (戀慕、何爲せん顛誑の子)
欲遮紅涙結良因 (紅涙を遮めて良因を結ばんと欲す)

— • —

This is verse 47 in Kuchūgen and Dharma Hall Discourse (上堂, jōdō) 486 in Volume 7 of Eihei Kōroku (Dōgen’s Extensive Record). After a long presentation and a short pause, Dōgen Zenji recites this verse at the end of the jōdō. This verse in Manzan’s version has a few typographical differences but no change in meaning.

486. Dharma Hall Discourse for the ceremony for Buddha’s Parinirvāna [1252]

This Dharma Hall discourse was presented on the 15th day of 2nd month, in 1252, on the occasion of Buddha’s Parinirvāna Day. Together with Buddha’s Birthday and Enlightenment Day, Parinirvāna Day is one of the most important annual events in all Buddhist traditions. In the Theravada tradition, these three events are celebrated on one day in April or May, as Wesak. Seven dharma discourses given on Parinirvāna Day are recorded in Eihei Kōroku. This is the last one, given in the year before Dōgen’s own entering nirvāṇa.[2]

At Antaiji, we chanted the Sutra on the Buddha’s Bequeathed Teaching (Butsu-yuikyō-gyō, 佛遺教経) from the beginning of February until the 15th. While Sawaki Rōshi was alive, during these evenings, the monks gave a lecture in turn each day on a certain part of the Sutra. This was the only occasion during the year when Sawaki Rōshi listened to the monks’ talks. While Uchiyama Rōshi was the abbot, we each gave a lecture in turn in the mornings on certain basic Buddhist texts. Uchiyama Rōshi did not listen to our lectures.

In the Pali Mahaparinibbana Sutta, right before he entered nirvāṇa, Shakyamuni Buddha said to Ananda:

Ananda, it may be that you will think: “The Teacher’s instruction has ceased, now we have no teacher!” It should not be seen like this, Ananda, for what I have taught and explained to you as Dhamma and discipline will, at my passing, be your teacher.”[3]

In the Sutra on the Buddha’s Bequeathed Teaching, the Buddha’s saying is:

From now on all of my disciples must continuously practice. Then the Thus Come One’s Dharma body will always be present and indestructible. You should know therefore, that everything in the world is impermanent. Meetings necessarily have separations, so do not harbor grief. Every appearance in the world is like this, so you should be vigorous and seek for an early liberation. Destroy the darkness of delusion with the brightness of wisdom. The world is truly dangerous and unstable, without any durability.[4]

In the latter sutra, the notion of Buddha’s “Dharma body” that is always present and indestructible appears. Buddha’s Parinirvāna Day is the occasion to reflect on both the impermanence of our lives and the eternity of Buddha’s Dharma body. In this case, the “eternity” of Buddha’s Dharma body is different from “permanence.” The indestructible Dharma body is always present only if his disciples practice what the Buddha taught. I use the word “eternity” in terms of beyond arising and perishing, while “permanence” means something existing now continues to exist without perishing. Another English term for this term “eternity” might be “timeless.”

In this Dharma discourse, Dōgen says:

Therefore [nirvāna] is neither departing nor entering [the world], nor hiding in despair. Nor is it birth or extinction, nor going or coming. And yet, simply when the opportunity and conditions join together, parinirvāna is manifested. This night [Buddha] entered nirvāna under the twin sāla trees, and yet it is said that he always abides on Vulture Peak.[5]

As it was the death of the Buddha, it was a sad time. Some of the people surrounding the Buddha’s death bed, including Ananda, cried; other monks, such as Anuruddha, did not cry . In the Pali Mahaparinibbana Sutta, we read:

And those monks who had not yet overcome their passions wept and tore their hair, raising their arms, throwing themselves down and twisting and turning, crying: ‘All too soon the Blessed Lord has passed away, all too soon the Well Farer has passed away, all too soon the eye of the world has disappeared! But those monks who were free from craving endured mindfully and clearly aware, saying: ‘all compounded things are impermanent–what is the use of this?’[6]

In Crane Forest with the moon fallen, how could dawn appear?
In Kusi[nagara] flowers wither, and spring is not spring.

“Crane Forest” is a translation of kakurin (鶴林). It is said that at the place of the Buddha’s passing away, there were four twin trees of sāla—together, eight trees surround the Buddha’s death bed. The flowers of those sāla trees suddenly bloom and change their color into white, as if white cranes are flying. Therefore, the place came to be called Crane Forest. In paintings of the Parinirvāna, half of the sāla trees are withered and the leaves have become brown; another half of the tees continue to flourish with green leaves. This shows the impermanence of rupa-body and the eternity of Dharma body. The Buddha’s mother Queen Maya is coming down from the heavens. She wants to offer some medicine, but it seems too late, so she throws the medicine down. But still, it is not in time. Monks, bodhisattvas, lay people, and heavenly beings come to see the Buddha’s passing away. Not only human and heavenly beings, but also all different kinds of living beings gather around the death bed to show their respect and sadness.

In this poem, Dōgen Zenji remains on the side of the monks who had not yet released from delusions and desires, such as Ananda. After the Buddha’s death, the full moon set, and it became dark. Even when the time of dawn came, it was still dark for them. The flowers of the sāla trees had fallen. Even though it was springtime, for those monks, this spring was not cheerful like a usual spring.

Amid love and yearning, what can this confused son do?
I wish to stop these red tears, and join in wholesome action.

In this poem, Dōgen Zenji is together with those unenlightened monks and calls himself “a confused son” overwhelmed by sadness for losing their teacher. The original word ten’oshi (顛誑子) is a strong word. Ten (顛) means “upside down” used for example, in the Heart Sutra, tendō musō (顛倒夢想)—inverted or up-side-down view. O (誑) means crazy. Shi (子) is “son” or “child.”

In the final line, he expresses his wish and vow that no matter how sad and painful this experience, he wishes to stop his red tears, and continue to practice following the Buddha’s final teaching. In this way, the indestructible Dharma body is always present.

— • —

[1] (Dōgen’s Extensive Record Volume 7, Dharma Hall Discourse 486, p.433) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., www.wisdompubs.org.
[2] Dharma Hall Discourse 121 (p.147), 146 (p.173), 225 (p.230), 311 (p.287), 367 (p.323), 418 (p.374), 486 (p.432).
[3] The Long Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Dīgha Nikāya (translation by Maurice Walshe, Wisdom) p.269–270. Dhamma refers to the teachings, and discipline refers to Vinaya Precepts.
[4] Translated from the Chinese by: The Buddhist Text Translation Society, Dharma Realm Buddhist University, Talmage, California, USA.
[5] Dōgen’s Extensive Record p. 432
[6] The Long Discourses of the Buddha, p.272.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

— • —

For further study:

> More of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese Poems


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