Spring Crimson Penetrating All Minds  

Copyright©2022 Misaki C. Kido

Dōgen’s Chinese Poems (52)
Spring Crimson Penetrating All Minds

發心畢竟二何窮 (發心・畢竟二つ何ぞ窮めん。)
如是二心佛祖風 (是の如きの二心は佛祖の風なり。)
忘自度他功徳力 (自を忘れ他を度す功徳力。) 
家郷春色桃華紅 (家郷の春色、桃華紅なり)

In both arousing the mind and the ultimate stage,
how do we practice fully?
Engaging these two minds like this
is the style of buddha ancestors.
Forgetting self and freeing others
with the strength of merit and virtue,
My homeland’s spring color, peach blossom crimson.[1]

— • —

This is verse 51 in Kuchūgen and Dharma Hall Discourse (上堂, jōdō) 487 in Volume 7 of Eihei Kōroku. This verse in Manzan’s version and Monkaku’s version are the same.

Spring Crimson Penetrating All Minds

This is the title we gave the dharma hall discourse in the English translation of Eihei Kōroku, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. There is no such title in the original. This discourse consists only of this verse, without any speech by Dōgen. It is not certain if Dōgen gave a speech which was not recorded with this verse, or if for some reason he only recited this verse.

This discourse was given next to Dharma Hall Discourse 486, given on Buddha’s Parinirvāṇa Day (the fifteenth day of the second month in 1252), and before discourse 489, on the occasion of Closing the Fireplace (on the first day of the third month of that year). It is getting warmer, and heating is not necessary anymore, so they remove the fireplace from the monks’ hall. The second half of the second month in the lunar calendar is around the end of March or beginning of April in the solar calendar. It is the time peach blossoms and other flowers begin to bloom. Traditionally in Japan, the third day of the third month has been celebrated as Peach Festival, or Girl’s Day.

This verse has something to do with what Dōgen wrote in Shōbōgenzō Hotsubodaishin (発菩提心, Arousing Bodhi-mind), the fourth of the twelve-fascicle collection of Shōbōgenzō. Dōgen scholars suppose that these twelve fascicles were written in Dōgen’s later years.

In both arousing the mind and the ultimate stage,
how do we practice fully?
Engaging these two minds like this
is the style of buddha ancestors.

The first line here and the third line (described below) of the complete verse are taken from a verse in the Mahāyāna Parinirvāṇa Sutra. Dōgen quotes the verse in Shōbōgenzō Hotsubodaishin (Arousing Bodhi-mind):

Kāśyapa Bodhisattva praised Shakyamuni Buddha with a verse saying,
[First] arousing [bodhi-]mind and the [mind of bodhisattvas in the] ultimate stage are not different;
between these two [stages of] mind, the former is more difficult [to arouse].
[It is the mind of] ferrying across others before oneself.
For this reason, I [respectfully] make prostrations to [those] who have first aroused [bodhi-]mind.
When they first arouse [bodhi-mind], they are already the teachers of human and heavenly beings.
They are superior to sravakas and pratyekabuddhas.
Such arousing [bodhi-]mind surpasses the triple world.
Therefore, it can be called the unsurpassable.[2]

It seems that Dōgen did not so much appreciate the theory of buddha-nature discussed in the Parinirvāṇa Sutra; but it does seem that he appreciated this verse from it, particularly the line “ferrying across others before oneself (自未得度先度他, ji-mitokudo-sendo-ta).” Probably this is the reason that in Dharma Hall Discourse 383, he recommends reading the Parinirvāṇa Sutra together with the Lotus Sutra and the Prajna Paramita Sutras.

In this verse, Kāśyapa Bodhisattva says to Shakyamuni Buddha that the bodhi-mind we first arouse and the bodhi-mind of the most developed bodhisattvas who are about to attain buddhahood are one and the same mind. And yet, for us beginners as immature bodhisattvas arousing the bodhi-mind to save others before ourselves is definitely more difficult than for the more developed bodhisattvas who have been practicing for many kalpas, life after life. Therefore, Kāśyapa Bodhisattva praises and makes prostrations to the immature bodhisattvas who have first aroused the mind to save others before themselves.

In his comments on this verse, Dōgen says:

Arousing [bodhi-]mind is to arouse the mind of ferrying others before oneself for the first time. This is called first arousing bodhi-mind. After having aroused this mind, we further meet with innumerable buddhas and make offerings to them, we see buddhas and hear dharmas, and further arouse bodhi-mind. It is like adding frost on the snow.

The so-called ultimate stage refers to the awakening of the fruit of buddhahood. When we compare anuttara-samyak-sambodhi (ultimate awakening) with first arousing bodhi-mind, they are like the kalpa-gni and the fire of a firefly. However, when we arouse the mind of ferrying across others before ourselves, these two are not at all different.[3]

The kalpa-gni is the fire that burns the entire universe at the end of the kalpa of dissolution, one period of the cycle of four periods: 1) kalpa of creation, 2) kalpa of duration of created world, 3) kalpa of dissolution, and 4) kalpa of nothingness. Our bodhi-mind is tiny and weak like that of a firefly, and the great bodhisattvas bodhi-mind is like the fire that burns the entire universe. These two are so different, and yet, Dōgen says, these are the same fire; it is not a matter of the scale but the quality.

Further, Dōgen says:

To benefit all living beings is to help all living beings to arouse the mind of ferrying others before oneself. We should not expect to become a buddha by the power of arousing the mind of ferrying others before ourselves. Even if the virtue to become a buddha is ripened and is about to be completed, still we dedicate [the virtue] to all living beings to help them become buddha and attain the Way.

This is the basic nature of the first of the four bodhisattva vows: “Beings are numberless; I vow to free them.” Bodhisattvas aspire to become buddhas and enter nirvāṇa together with all beings. That means we vow not to enter nirvāṇa until all other beings enter nirvāṇa before us. We vow to stay in samsara as long as any beings are still there. All bodhisattvas vow to stay in samsara, working with other beings. Therefore, no bodhisattva ever crosses over the river to the other shore and enters nirvāṇa. The other shore is empty. When all bodhisattvas are working in samsara and helping each other, we can find nirvāṇa right here on this shore of samsara. Because of compassion, bodhisattvas never enter nirvāṇa, but because of wisdom, bodhisattvas do not abide in samsara. In Mahāyāna Buddhism, this way of life is called nirvāṇa without abiding (無住処涅槃, mujusho-nehan). That is why Dōgen continues:

However, after having aroused this mind, when we touch the great earth, everything [on the earth] becomes gold, and when we stir the great ocean, [the water in the ocean] becomes sweet dew. After this, when we grasp soil, stones, sands, or pebbles, we uphold the bodhi-mind. When we meet with water, foam, bubble, or fire, we intimately carry the bodhi-mind.

In Shōbōgenzō Sesshin-sesshō (Expounding Mind, Expounding Nature), Dōgen writes:

The Buddha Way is the Buddha Way at the time of first arousing bodhi-mind, and it is the Buddha Way at the time of attaining true awakening; [indeed] it is always the Buddha Way—in the beginning, in the middle, and at the end. For example, when a person travels ten thousand miles, the first step is a part of the thousand miles, and the thousandth step is also a part of the thousand miles. Although the first step and the thousandth step are different, both are equally parts of the thousand miles.

This is one of the reasons why Dōgen says that practice as a cause, and realization as a result, are one and the same. For mature bodhisattvas who are getting closer to the buddhahood, saving other beings might be a natural thing, but for immature bodhisattvas like us, who are not yet free from self-centered minds, it is extremely difficult to save others before we are saved ourselves. It sounds almost like self-negation.

No matter how difficult, and no matter how small, weak, and incomplete our practice may be, if we practice with such a spirit, we and the mature bodhisattvas such as Avalokiteśvara are the same. In other words, we are parts of the innumerable hands and eyes of Avalokiteśvara. In the poem, Dōgen says this is how (“the style”) buddha-ancestors have been practicing. We wish to continue this way of practice.

Forgetting self and freeing others
with the strength of merit and virtue,
My homeland’s spring color, peach blossom crimson.

It is difficult or almost impossible for us new and immature bodhisattvas to practice, if we think that we are the only bodhisattva and that all others are the beings we have to save. But if we think all others are also bodhisattvas, and others are also living in the same spirit, and I am one of the living beings for other bodhisattvas to help and support, then it is not such a difficult thing to live in such a spirit. This world becomes the world of helping and supporting each other. The basic teaching of Mahāyāna Buddhism is that we are living in the network of interconnectedness; we are all connected and supporting each other. Kōdō Sawaki Rōshi said, “Heaven and earth make offerings. Air, water, plants, animals, and human beings make offerings. All things make offerings to each other. It’s only within this circle of offering that we can live. Whether we appreciate this or not, it’s true.”[4] This circle of offering is our homeland.

Modern society looks like the world of separation and competition. It seems all people think only of their own personal or group benefit, and take advantage of others. In such a world, it is not possible to live with peace of mind. Our homeland would become like that of the realm of fighting spirits, hungry ghosts, or hell dwellers.

If we can do something for the sake of others’ benefit before our personal benefit, our world would change to the world of offering and supporting each other. That is the strength of merit and virtue which Dōgen talks about in the poem. In our helping and supporting each other, we can see the beauty of our homelands’ spring color, peach blossom crimson, and all other dharma flowers. The reference to peach blossoms in the spring came from the story of Lingyun Zhiqin (霊雲志勤, Reiun Shigon), who realized the Way upon seeing peach blossoms. He wrote a poem and presented it to his teacher Guishan Lingyou:

 For thirty years, I have been looking for the sword,
How many times have the leaves fallen and the branches grown anew?
Since once seeing the peach blossoms,
Up to the present, never once have I harbored any more doubts.[5]

They might have had peach blossoms at Eiheiji at this time. Dōgen combines the dharma and the seasonal beauty in front of their eyes.

— • —

[1] (Dōgen’s Extensive Record volume 7, dharma hall discourse 487, p.433) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., www.wisdompubs.org.
[2] This is Okumura’s unpublished translation. Another translation is in Nirvāṇa Sutra: A Translation of Dharmakshema’s Northern Version (translation by Kosho Yamamoto), p. 341.
[3] Okumura’s unpublished translation.
[4] The Zen Teaching of Homeless Kodo (Kōshō Uchiyama and Shohaku Okumura, Wisdom Publications, 2014), p.179.
[5] This is Okumura’s unpublished translation.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

— • —

For further study:
See Dōgen’s Extensive Record.

> More of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese Poems


Copyright©2022 Sanshin Zen Community

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com 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.