Grieving for my Late Teacher

Copyright©2022 Misaki C. Kido

Dōgen’s Chinese Poems (58)

Grieving for my Late Teacher
515. Dharma Hall Discourse in Memorial for Tiantong [Rujing, 1252]


Memorial for Tiantong [Rujing]

先師今日忽行脚、 (先師今日忽ちに行脚し、)
趯倒從來生死關。 (從來生死の關を趯倒す。)
雲惨風悲溪水溌、 (雲惨み風悲しみ溪水溌ぎ、)
稚兒戀慕覓尊顔。 (稚兒戀慕して尊顔を覓む。)

On this day my late teacher suddenly went on pilgrimage,
Kicking over the barrier of his previous births and deaths.
The clouds grieve, the wind moans, and the valley streams are turbulent,
As his young child (Dōgen) yearns and looks for his beloved face.[1]

This is verse 57 in Kuchūgen and Dharma Hall Discourse (上堂, jōdō) 515 in Volume 7 of Eihei Kōroku. This dharma hall discourse was given on the occasion of the Memorial Day of Dōgen’s teacher Tiantong Rujing, on the 17th day of the 7th month in 1252. This is the final occasion Dōgen gave a dharma hall discourse for his teacher’s memorial. Manzan’s version of this verse is the same as Monkaku’s version.

After reciting this verse, Dōgen said:

This is a statement about his passing away in complete tranquility. Student of Eihei, what can you say as a statement about realizing and repaying our debt of gratitude?

After a pause Dōgen said: After months and years of devotion to my kind benefactor, how can the clouds dissipate? My tears have stained more than a spot on my patched robe.

Grieving for my Late Teacher
515. Dharma Hall Discourse in Memorial for Tiantong [Rujing, 1252]

The first dharma discourse on Tiangtong Rujing’s memorial recorded in Eihei Kōroku was given on the 17th day of the 7th month in 1246.[2] After that, Dōgen gave a discourse each year on this occasion until 1252. We don’t know if Rujing’s memorial was held at Kōshōji before moving to Echizen or not. It is difficult for me to imagine that Dōgen and his sangha did not have memorial ceremonies for Rujing at Kōshōji, but somehow there is no record of it. Although Dōgen’s discourse for Rujing’s memorial was held each year, somehow Dōgen recited only a verse without any speech, except on this occasion. This was his final memorial discourse for his teacher. In the 7th month in 1253, he was already sick; at the beginning of the 8th month, he went to Kyoto and passed away on the 27th day.

Tiangtong Rujing (天童如浄, Tendō Nyojō, 1162–1227) was born in Yue Province (越州, Etsu-shu). We don’t have any information concerning when he was ordained, who was his original teacher, or where and what he studied. According to his biography, he stopped studying Buddhist teachings and began to practice Zen when he was 19 years old.[3] He practiced with various Zen masters well-known in his time, in both Rinzai and Sōtō traditions. He became the dharma heir of the Sōtō Zen Master, Xuedou Zhijan (Seccho Chikan, 雪竇智鑑, 1105–192). Rujing became the abbot of Qingliang Temple (清涼寺, Seiryoji) in 1210, when he was 48 years old. From that time, he served as abbot for five prestigious monasteries before becoming the abbot of Tiangtong monastery in 1224.

According to his biography, Dōgen heard of Rujing’s reputation while he was travelling to visit various teachers and monasteries. From an old man named Laoshin (老璡, Rōshin), Dōgen heard that Rujing was the only Zen master in China who had clear eyes. At first, Dōgen did not have a chance to meet Rujing. But when he came a second time to Tiantong monastery, Dōgen found that Rujing was the new abbot. Dōgen met him on the 1st day of the 5th month in 1225.[4] Unfortunately, Dōgen’s Japanese teacher Myōzen passed away in the same month. From the 7th month of that year on, Dōgen practiced as a disciple of Rujing and recorded his questions and Rujing’s answers; this record later became Hōkyōki. Dōgen practiced with Rujing for the next few years, until the summer of 1227. I suppose that period was the happiest time in Dōgen’s life. He had found his true teacher, one who gave answers to his basic questions regarding Buddhist teachings and Zen practice. He became friends with lay practitioners, many of whom were well educated Confucianists and government officers. Dōgen wrote Chinese poems in exchange with them. They must have liked this young monk from Japan who could compose Chinese poems freely. We find about fifty such poems written in 1226 in volume 10 of Eihei Kōroku.

During this time, Dōgen could practice intensive zazen with some very sincere co-practitioners, as he describes in Zuimonki.[5] One of them was a monk from far away. Since this monk did not have money, he made a robe of paper and wore it even though the robe always made strange noises. When another monk advised him that he should return home and get new robes and other things, he rejected the advice, saying, “My hometown is far away. I do not want to waste time on the road and lose time [I could spend] practicing the Way.” Dōgen added, “This is why many good monks have appeared in China.”[6]

In Shōbōgenzō Continuous Practice (行持, Gyōj), Dōgen quoted Rujing’s dharma discourse given at Tiantong monastery in 1226, when he was 65 years old. For Dōgen, I suppose this is one of the most important teachings he received from Rujing.

In his public sermons, my late master regularly said,
“Since I was nineteen years old, I have practiced at many monasteries widely in various districts. There was no teacher who could teach for the benefit of people. Since I was nineteen years old, I have not had even one day or one night that I did not sit on the round cushion. Since even before I became the abbot of a temple, I did not talk with people in the village, because I valued the time. Whichever monasteries I stayed in, I did not visit other hermitages or dormitories [beside the monks’ hall I stayed in]. Much less did I waste my time traveling to enjoy the sceneries of mountains and rivers. In addition to the zazen in the public place in the monks’ hall, I sought a quiet place on a lofty building or in a secluded quiet place, and I sat alone. I always carried a round cushion in my sleeve. I sometimes sat beneath a cliff. I always wished to wear down the diamond seat [where the Buddha sat underneath the bodhi tree]. Such was my aspiration. Sometimes, the flesh of my buttock festered [with sores]. At those times, I determined to practice zazen more. This year, I am sixty-five years old; I have become an oldster, my brain doesn’t work well, and I cannot practice zazen [as I used to]. And yet, because I feel brothers gathered from the ten directions are precious, I stay as the abbot of this monastery, to instruct the visitors and transmit the way for the sake of the assembly. There is no Buddhadharma at the places of the abbots in the various districts.”[7]

Rujing passed away soon after Dōgen returned to Japan. Traditionally it is said that Rujing died in 1228, but these days some Dōgen scholars think he died on the 17th day of the 7th month in 1227. A young monk in Rujing’s assembly, Jakuen (寂円) moved to Japan to practice with Dōgen and stayed in Japan the rest of his life. While Dōgen was alive, Jakuen served as the manager of Rujing’s memorial hall (joyoden 承陽殿), and after Dōgen’s death, he established his own temple Hōkyōji (宝慶寺) near Eiheiji. Hōkyō is the name of the era during which Dōgen and Jakuen practiced under the guidance of Rujing.

On this day my late teacher suddenly went on pilgrimage,
Kicking over the barrier of his previous births and deaths.

After returning from China, Dōgen established his first monastery Kōshōji in Fukakusa in 1233 and practiced there for ten years. I suppose Dōgen worked hard to create a monastery where monks could practice in the same way as he had with Rujing at Tiantong Monastery. He received the Recorded Sayings of Rujing in 1242. On that occasion, he gave a special dharma discourse and got down from his seat and with his assembly of monks made three prostrations to the book.[8] Dōgen and his sangha left Kōshōji and moved to Echizen on the 16th day of the 7th month in 1243, the day before Rujing’s memorial day.

In Echizen, Dōgen established his second monastery, first named Daibutsuji, then renamed Eiheiji. He practiced there with a small number of assembled monks for ten more years. If it is true that when he wrote this poem Dōgen realized that his life would not continue for a long time, he must have been thinking of what he had been doing during the twenty-five years after Rujing’s death, following his teacher’s life.

In the first and second lines of this poem, Dōgen says that Rujing began another pilgrimage on this day. Doing so, he broke down the gate which separates life and death. I think this is what Rujing expressed in his death poem, and is also what Dōgen wrote in Shōbōgenzō Life-and-death (Shoji, 生死):

This present life-and-death is the Life of buddha. If we dislike it and try to get rid of it, we will lose the Life of buddha. If we desire to remain [in life-and-death] and attach ourselves to it, we will also lose the Life of buddha. What would be retained is simply the appearance of buddha. Only when we don’t dislike life-and-death and don’t desire life-and-death do we first enter the mind of buddha.[9]

The clouds grieve, the wind moans, and the valley streams are turbulent,
As his young child (Dōgen) yearns and looks for his beloved face.

When Dōgen Zenji gave this discourse in 1252, he probably knew that his life would not last long. He expresses his emotion straightforwardly in this poem. The clouds express their sadness, the sound of wind is crying, and the valley streams make unusually noisy, even violent sounds. All things in nature express their grief. Even though neither Rujing nor Dōgen disliked or tried to escape from life-and-death, or liked or attached themselves to life-and-death, still the entire world is sad and moaning their passing away.

Dōgen expresses his sadness, feeling like a young child seeking his parents’ faces. Dōgen’s death poem is pretty similar to his teacher’s poem. It seems like he wishes to meet Rujing again after leaping beyond and falling into the yellow spring.

Rujing’s death poem:

For sixty-six years,
Offences and faults have filled the entire heaven.
Suddenly leaping beyond,
While still alive, falling down into the yellow spring.
Life and death have never interacted with each other.[10]

Dōgen’s death poem:

For fifty-four years,
Having been illuminating the highest heaven,
Suddenly leaping beyond,
Breaking down the great thousand worlds,
The entire body, without seeking anything,
While still alive, falling down into the yellow spring.

— • —

[1] (Dōgen’s Extensive Record volume 7, Dharma Hall Discourse 515, p.459) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc.,
[2] See Dōgen’s Extensive Record, P. 203.
[3] Some Dōgen scholars suppose Rujing studied Tandai teachings until he became 19 years old.
[4] In Shōbōgenzō Face-to-face Transmission (面授, Menju), Dōgen wrote, “On the first day of the fifth lunar month in the first year of the Baoqing (Jp. Hōkyō) Era of Great Song China (1225), I, Dōgen, for the first time offered incense-burning and did prostrations in [the abbot’s room] Myokodai (Mt. Sumeru terrace). For the first time my late master, the ancient buddha, saw me, Dōgen.”
[5] See for example, Dōgen’s Shōbōgenzō Zuimonki (Shohaku Okumura, Wisdom Publication, 2022) 2–5 (p.75), 2–11 (p.87), 3–19 (p.157–59).
[6] Ibid., p.37.
[7] Okumura’s unpublished translation. Another translation is Treasury of the True Dharma Eye: Zen Master Dōgen’s Shōbōgenzō (edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi, Shambhala, 2010), P.376–377
[8] Dōgen’s Extensive Record, Dharma Hall Discourse 105, p.140.
[9] Okumura’s unpublished translation.
[10] Okumura’s unpublished translation. From the Recorded Sayings of Tiangtong Rujing (天童如浄禅師語録). There is another translation of the poem in Steven Heine’s The Zen Poetry of Dogen. (Dharma Communications, 2005) p.154.
[11] Okumura’s unpublished translation. Dogen’s Death poem is from Kenzeiki (建撕記), Dogen’s biography written by Kenzei, the 14th abbot of Eiheiji, in the 15th Century. Another English translation is in Steven Heine’s The Zen Poetry of Dogen. (Dharma Communications, 2005) p.154.

— • —

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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