Out Into the World

Copyright©2022 Misaki C. Kido

Dōgen’s Chinese Poems (57)

Completion of a Dharma Year
442. Dharma Hall Discourse Closing the Summer Practice Period [Seventh Month, Fifteenth Day, 1251]

「解夏」(「解夏」)

Completion of Summer Practice Period[1]

護生禁足雖三月             (護生禁足、三月なりと雖も、)
法歳周圓今日來             (法歳周圓して、今日來る。)
更擧揵槌鳴露地             (更に揵槌を擧して露地に鳴らせば、)
衲僧布袋一時開             (衲僧の布袋、一時に開く。)

After three months of protecting our lives without departing the monastery,
The completion of another Dharma year has come.
Now, striking the wooden sounding block on the bare ground,
patch-robed monks at this time open their travelling bags
to go back out into the worldI.[2]

This is verse 56 in Kuchūgen and Dharma Hall Discourse (上堂, jōdō) 442 in Volume 6 of Eihei Kōroku. This is the dharma hall discourse which was given on the occasion of completion of the summer practice period on 15th day of 7th month in 1251, two years before Dōgen’s passing away. This verse in Manzan’s version is the same as Monkaku’s version.

Completion of a Dharma Year
Dharma Hall Discourse Closing the Summer Practice Period [Seventh Month, Fifteenth Day, 1251]

In the colophon of Shōbōgenzō Maka-hannya-haramitsu (Maha-prajñā-pāramitā), Dōgen wrote, “On a day of the summer practice period in the first year of Tenpuku (1233), expounded to the assembly at Kannon-dōri-in [Monastery].” 1233 was the year he established Kōshōji, his first monastery, and that was the first practice period at Kōshōji. It was also the first summer practice period of Sōtō Zen tradition in Japan. However, Dōgen did not have a monks’ hall or a dharma hall yet. There is no information about how many training monks were there. It might have been an informal practice with a small number of people. Still, he called it summer practice period (ge-ango, 夏安居). Until the monks’ hall and the dharma hall were constructed in 1236, his teaching was done in an informal setting, as recorded by Ejo in Zuimonki. It must have been important for him to have the summer practice period, even when he didn’t have necessary monastic facilities.

Dōgen worked on fundraising, and the monks’ hall and the dharma hall were constructed in 1236. On the occasion of the opening ceremony, he gave the first dharma hall discourse on the 15th day of the 10th month in 1236. After that he had summer practice periods each year, except probably in 1244.[3] During this period, he wrote many fascicles of Shōbōgenzō and expounded them to the assembly.

On the 13th day of the sixth month of 1245, during the first summer practice period at Daibutsuji, he wrote Shōbōgenzō Ango (安居) and said:

Among these furnishings, we have the ninety-day summer practice period. It is the top of the head and the face of buddhas and ancestors; it has been intimately experienced in their skin, flesh, bones, and marrow. Holding up the eyeball and the top of the head of the buddhas and ancestors, we make them as the days and months of the ninety-day summer practice period; one retreat is called nothing other than the “buddhas and ancestors.” The head to tail of the practice period is the buddhas and ancestors; apart from this, there is not “an inch of ground,” there is not “the whole earth.”[4]

We understand from this history that having summer practice period was very important for Dōgen Zenji and his sangha. Their practice is itself manifestation of buddha-ancestors.

After three months of protecting our lives without departing the monastery,
The completion of another Dharma year has come.

“Protecting our lives without departing the monastery,” is a translation of goshō-kinsoku (護生禁足); goshō (護生) is protecting life and kinsoku (禁足) is prohibition of leaving the monastery.

Ango (安居 literally, peaceful abiding) is a translation of the Sanskrit word “varṣa” meaning “rain.” During the three-month rainy season, Indian monks were requested to stay in one place. According to a Vinaya text, Buddhist monks did not have this system originally, so that they traveled during cold weather, hot weather, and rain; all year round. People looked down at them and criticized them, saying, “How can they walk trampling down the crops and grasses, injuring life that is one-facultied and bringing many small creatures to destruction.”[5] Then the Buddha instructed monks not to travel during the rainy season, to prevent the killing of insects and worms while walking on muddy roads. The residences established for staying during the rain retreat are called varṣāvāsa or “rain abode.” That could be the origin of the expression u-ango (雨安居, rain peaceful abode). This system continued even after monasteries were established, and it has been maintained until today. In India, “protecting life” means not to kill insects and other living beings, but here we interpret that the peaceful abiding is the protection of the monks’ dharma life by focusing on practicing and studying under the guidance of a teacher.

In Chinese Zen monasteries, people had to stay at a certain monastery during this three-month period, usually from the 16th of the 4th month to the 15th of the 7th month in the lunar calendar. For the rest of the year, they could travel, visiting Zen masters and monasteries.

“The completion of another Dharma year” is a translation of hō-sai-shū-en (法歳周圓). After receiving full ordination, a monks’ dharma age was counted by how many times they practiced and completed the summer practice period. That was the measurement of seniority in monasteries, which determined the order of their seats in the monks’ hall. At the end of a practice period, they became one year older. The monks who had completed five ango were called ācārya (ajari, 阿闍梨). Those who had completed ten ango were called upadhyaya (oshō, 和尚), and could be teachers of novice monks.

Now, striking the wooden sounding block on the bare ground,
patch-robed monks at this time open their travelling bagsto go back out into the world

According to Chányuàn qīngguī (Zen-en Shingi, 禅苑清規) the expressions Dōgen uses in the first two lines (protecting life, without departing the monastery, completion of another Dharma year) are the expressions used in the announcements made by the Ino[6] on the occasion of the beginning and the end of the practice period.

According to this text, at the opening ceremony, the Ino recites, “I venture to say, the summer breeze now blows through the fields and the Flame Emperor reigns over the region. When the Dharma King ‘prohibits the feet,’ it is the time for the children of Sakya to protect all living creatures…”[7]

At the ceremony at the end of the practice period, the Ino recites, “I venture to say, the golden wind now blows through the fields and the White Emperor reigns over the region. When the King of Enlightenment brings the summer retreat to a close, it is the time of the completion of the Dharma year…[8]

Before these announcements, the Ino strikes the wooden sounding block placed next to the Manjshuri altar at the center of the monks’ hall. In the poem, “the bare ground” refers to the floor in the monks’ hall where monks walk to reach their seat on the platform.

When the announcement closing the practice period is made, monks open their travel bags to prepare for leaving the monastery to travel. The expression “open the travelling bags,” also means to return to the conventional world after three months of focused study and practice of the ultimate truth in the monastery. Probably the same thing happens at Eiheiji at the end of the summer practice period.

— • —

[1] This title does not exist in Eihei Kōroku. Menzan added it for Kuchūgen.
[2] (Dōgen’s Extensive Record volume 6, dharma hall discourse 442, p.397) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., www.wisdompubs.org.
[3] He did not have a temple to do formal practice in 1244. Dōgen left Kōshōji and moved to Echizen right after the summer practice period in 1243, and Daibutsuji (later Eiheiji) was constructed in 1244.
[4] Translation by Okumura.
[5] The Book of the Discipline (Vinaya-pitaka) Vol.4 (Luzac & Company Ltd., 1971), p.183.
[6] The Ino is the monk in charge of the meditation hall in a monastery.
[7] The Origins of Buddhist Monastic Codes in China: An annotated Translation and Study of the Chanyuan Qingui (translation by Yifa, Kuroda Institute, 2002), p.141. ‘Prohibit the feet,’ is another translation of kinsoku (禁足), prohibition of walking outside the monastery.
[8] Ibid p.144.

— • —

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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