Pull Your Own Nose and Lift the Ancient Kōan  

Copyright©2022 Misaki C. Kido

Dōgen’s Chinese Poems (53)

Pull Your Own Nose and Lift the Ancient Kōan
Dharma Hall Discourse Beginning the Summer Practice Period [1247]

掘空平地搆鬼窟 (空を掘り地を平らげ鬼窟を搆う。)
臭惡水雲撥溌天 (臭惡の水雲、撥ねて天に溌ぐ。)
混雜驢牛兼佛祖 (混雜す、驢牛と佛祖と。)
自家鼻孔自家牽 (自家の鼻孔、自家牽く。)

Digging a hole in the sky, leveling the earth, and constructing a demon’s cave,
The monk’s bad-smelling waters splatter, pouring over the heavens.
Donkeys and cows mix together with buddhas and ancestors.
Pull yourself by your nose.[1]

— • —

This is verse 52 in Kuchūgen and Dharma Hall Discourse (上堂, jōdō) 238 in Volume 3 of Eihei Kōroku. Dōgen Zenji recited this verse at the beginning of the dharma hall discourse and made a short speech. This verse in Manzan’s version and Monkaku’s version are the same.

The speech he gave after the verse is:

Tell me, how shall we today lift up the ancient kōan from two thousand years ago?
After a pause Dōgen said: A copper head and iron brow keep practicing. A wooden ladle and a clump of soil clap their hands and laugh.

Pull Your Own Nose and Lift the Ancient Kōan

This is the dharma hall discourse on the occasion of the beginning of the summer practice period on 15th day of the 4th month in 1247. Dōgen Zenji and his sangha moved from Kōshōji in Fukakusa, near Kyoto to Echizen (presently Fukui Prefecture) in 1243. The buildings of the new monastery Daibutsuji were built in 1244 and they moved in the winter of 1244. In 1245, they had the first summer practice period (ango) at Daibutsuji. In 1246, the temple name was changed to Eiheiji, and Pure Standards for Temple Administrators (知事清規 Chiji Shingi) was presented during the summer practice period. So it was in this year, that the sangha began to practice following the traditional system based on the Chinese pure regulations (清規 shingi). The sangha was divided into two groups. One group stayed in the monks’ hall and concentrated on practice, following The Model for Engaging the Way (弁道法 Bendoho); another group worked in the administration building, kuin (庫院), which included the kitchen, storeroom, and various administrative offices to support the practice.

“Pull Your Own Nose” in the title is from the fourth line of this verse, and “Lift the Ancient Kōan” is taken from Dōgen’s speech after the verse. The ninety-day summer practice period is an ancient kōan given by the Buddha in which each monk is studying and practicing using their karmic self in order to study the self that is empty and interconnected with all beings. Another way to understand the title is that the empty and interconnected self pulls and trains the self-centered karmic self.

Digging a hole in the sky, leveling the earth, and constructing a demon’s cave,
The monk’s bad-smelling waters splatter, pouring over the heavens.

“Digging a hole in the sky, leveling the earth,” is a translation of kukku heichi (掘空平地). The sky and earth mean the entire world. Monastic practice is not simply a means to develop monks’ individual bodies and minds, but allows us to discover the emptiness and interconnectedness with the entire heaven and earth. This expression might also mean that monks work with emptiness (空), the ultimate truth, oneness of all beings and also work with the earth (地), one of the four great elements, the concrete, the conventional truth, multiplicity. Digging emptiness is making it concrete, and leveling the earth is to see oneness. By seeing and working with both sides, the monks can act in the middle way between discrimination and beyond discrimination.

“Constructing a demon’s cave” is kō kikutsu (搆鬼窟). By working with all beings in heaven and earth, the monks construct a demon’s cave. A demon’s cave is an abbreviation of kokusan kikutsu (黒山鬼窟), a demon’s cave in the black mountain, commonly used in the negative meaning—that is, being caught up with discriminative thinking or clinging to non-discrimination. For example, in Case 25 “The Hermit of Lotus Flower Peak Holds up His Staff” in the Blue Cliff Record, there is a sentence in Yuanwu’s commentary, “As soon as you make a comparative judgement, you’re in the demon cave of the mountain of darkness making your living.”[2]

In Shōbōgenzō Ikka myōju (一顆明珠, One Bright Jewel), Dōgen quotes Xuansha’s dialogue with a monk, in which Xuansha used this expression in the common, negative way.

Once a monk asked, “I have heard that you said that the entire ten-direction world is one bright jewel. How can this student (I) understand it?”
The master said, “The entire ten-direction world is one bright jewel. What is the use of understanding it?”
The next day, the master asked the same monk, “The entire ten-direction world is one bright jewel. How do you understand it?”
The monk said, “The entire ten-direction world is one bright jewel. What is the use of understanding it?”
The Master said, “I know that you are making a livelihood inside the demon’s cave in the black mountain.”[3]

In his comments on this dialogue, Dōgen changed the meaning of the expression and said, “Therefore, forward steps and backward steps within the demon’s cave in the black mountain are nothing other than the one bright jewel.” Thinking using the dharma-eye, which sees both discrimination and beyond discrimination, is one bright jewel that is the entire ten-direction world. In the verse from Kuchūgen, he used this expression in the same way. Seeing both the ultimate truth and the conventional truth, we use our thinking based on beyond-thinking during the practice period.

“The monk’s bad-smelling waters splatter, pouring over the heavens.” This is an ironical expression, probably taken from Tiantong Rujing’s verse for the Librarian:

The Librarian
Excreted directly from the mouth of old bandit Gautama,
A lot of donkey-dung (sutras), and horse manure (Vinaya texts) as well!
Rolling them all into a ball, turning them around,
The bad-smell pervades the heavens, annoying people in the sahā-world.[4]

As many Zen masters did, Rujing sometimes used “dirty words” to express the Buddha’s awakening and teachings. The most famous example might be case 21 of the Gateless Barrier (無門関, Mumonkan), Yummen’s Dried Shit-Stick.[5]

Rujing’s verse is about the manager of the storage for scriptures. Within a building on the monastery grounds, there was a huge rotary bookcase in which scriptures (tripiṭaka) were stored. There was a belief that, when a person turned the bookcase once, there was merit produced, just the same as reciting the entire Buddhist library. Probably this was for air circulation, keeping the bookcase cool and dry to protect the books.

Rujing said that the Buddhist scriptures were like the excrement of the old bandit Gautama, that is, Shakyamuni Buddha. By turning the scriptures, the bad-smell pervades the entire world. The word “bad-smell (臭悪, shūaku)” is used in the description of the smell from the process of a corpse decaying; this was used as a method for the contemplation of impurity (不浄観, fujōkan).

Dōgen Zenji sometimes used this kind of expression. There is a story that an old Pure Land Buddhist master once listened to Dōgen’s dharma discourse, and he was stunned when Dōgen used the expression, “a dried sit-stick.” This master declared that Zen was a terrible teaching, which says the buddha is a dried shit-stick. Hearing that, Dōgen said, “I want to cry, that even such a respectable master said such a foolish thing.”

In this verse, Dōgen says that the monks splash their bad-smelling water over the entire heaven. This is a reference to the actual practice of monks during the practice period; they have to use their karmic body and mind and yet practice the Buddha’s practice. Of course, there are tons of beautiful phrases to praise the Buddha’s awakening and teachings, and monks’ practice. I think Zen masters tried to avoid using such flowery, hackneyed words, and tried to make their audience or readers wake up.

Donkeys and cows mix together with buddhas and ancestors.
Pull yourself by your nose.

Donkeys and cows refer to the monks’ karmic bodies and minds. Yet in their practice, based on zazen and on following the Buddha’s teachings and on the proscriptions of the pure standards (shingi), buddhas and ancestors manifest themselves within the monks’ practice.

“Pull yourself by your nose” is an expression Dōgen also took from Rujing. This is from a verse on the eighth of the ten ox-herding pictures titled, “Forgetting both Person and Ox,” in which only the round circle is there and nothing is in it. In the first two lines of his poem for this picture, Rujing said, “One’s own nostril is drilled by the self, and one’s own rope is pulled by the self.”[6] This means that the both the person and the ox are the self. The self makes a hole in the ox’s nostril and the self puts the rope in the hole and pulls the rope to guide the self. That is the monks’ practice during the practice period. I think this is the same as Dōgen’s expression jijuyū-zanmai, and the same as Kōdō Sawaki Rōshi’s expression, “self selfing the self.” The monks make a vow to practice during the ninety-days practice period; they make a hole in their nostril and pull their own nostril to guide themselves.

— • —

[1] Dōgen’s Extensive Record Volume 3, Dharma Hall Discourse 238, p.238) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., www.wisdompubs.org.
[2] The Blue Cliff Record (translation by Thomas Cleary, Shambhala, 1977), p.168.
[3] Okumura’s translation.
[4] This is Okumura’s translation from “Recorded sayings of Tiantong Rujing” in Study on Zen Master Tiantong Rujing (天童如浄禅師の研究)by Genryu Kagamishima (Shunjusha, Tokyo, 1983), p. 380.
[5] In Zen Comments on the Mumonkan (Zenkei Shibayama, Harper & Row, 1974), p.154, the case reads:
           A monk asked Unmon, “What is Buddha?”
           Unmon said, “A shit-stick!” (Kanshiketsu!)
In Master Yunmen: From the Record of the Chan Master “Gate of the Clouds” (translation by Urs App, Kodansha America,1994), p.126, the dialogue is:
           Someone asked, “What is Shakyamuni’s body?”
           The master said, “A dry piece of shit.”
[6] 自家の鼻孔自家穿つ。自家繩索自家牽く。

— • —

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

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