Speaking of Not Speaking

Syced, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Dōgen’s Chinese Poems (60)

Speaking of Not Speaking
270. Dharma Hall Discourse



Polishing a tile to make a mirror is diligent effort.
How could the way of thinking within steadfast, immovable sitting be careless?
If you want to visit that realm of glimpsing the ground [of Buddhahood],
you should further come here and close your mouth in silence.[1]

This is verse 59 in Kuchūgen and Dharma Hall Discourse (上堂, jōdō) 270 in Volume 4 of Eihei Kōroku. The date of this dharma hall discourse is not known but it was given sometime between the 5th day of the 5th month and 7th day of 7th month in 1248. Manzan’s version is the same as Monkaku’s version.

In Eihei Kōroku, after reciting this verse, Dōgen made a short speech:



Tell me great assembly, are Eihei and the ancient ones the same or different? Try to say something and I’ll see how you do. If you do not speak, I will speak for all of you.
After a pause, Dōgen struck his abbot’s chair with the handle of his whisk, and got down from his seat.

Speaking of Not Speaking
270. Dharma Hall Discourse

The first two lines of this poem are about two dialogues Dōgen Zenji discussed in Shōbōgenzō Zazenshin (坐禅箴, Acupuncture Needle of Zazen). Zazenshin was originally written at Kōshōji in 1242, and presented to the assembly at Yoshiminedera in the 11th month of 1243, shortly after moving to Echizen from Kyoto. In the same month, Dōgen wrote Shōbōgenzō Zazengi (坐禪儀, Zazengi, Standard of Zazen).

The late professor Kakuzen Suzuki has speculated[2] that during this time Dōgen also revised Fukanzazengi (普勧坐禅儀, Universal Recommendation of Zazen), creating the so-called popular version (rufu-bon, 流布本), which is the final version we usually read or recite today. This popular version is included in Vol. 8 of Eihei Kōroku (Dōgen’s Extensive Record), but historical information as to when Dōgen revised it is not available.

According to Bendōwa[3], and to the short document named The reason for writing Fukanzazengi,[4] the first version of Fukanzazengi was written right after he returned to Japan from China in 1227. This first version does not remain. In 1233, the year he established Kōshōji, he revised Fukanzazengi. The manuscript of this second version (tenpukubon) in Dōgen’s own hand is still stored at Eiheiji, and is designated a Japanese national treasure.

When we compare the tenpuku-version and the popular version (the third), one of the interesting and important differences is that in the third version, expressions from these two dialogues which appear in Zazenshin are added. The same expressions appear in Shōbōgenzō Zazengi. That is the reason Professor Suzuki supposed the third version was made around the same time as Shōbōgenzō Zazenshin and Zazengi. That is, Dōgen made the final satisfying expression of his insight about zazen practice around this time.

After moving to Echizen in 1243, Dōgen did not have a temple to carry on formal monastic practice with his assembly until the fall of 1244. Beginning in the summer of 1245, he resumed the 90-day summer practice period. Therefore, within the time period between the move and the resumption of the practice period, he could focus his time and energy on writing Shōbōgenzō. In less than two years, he wrote thirty-five fascicles of Shōbōgenzō, including Zazenshin. That is more than one third of the entire collection.

This dharma hall discourse 270 was given during the fourth summer practice period at Eiheiji in 1248. Probably assembled monks already were already familiar with what Dōgen wrote in Zazenshin and in the third version of Fukanzazengi.

Polishing a tile to make a mirror is diligent effort.
How could the way of thinking within steadfast, immovable sitting be careless?

In Zazenshin, Dōgen first introduces Yaoshan Weiyan’s (薬山惟儼, Yakusan Igen, 751 -834) dialogue with a monk:

When the master was sitting, a monk asked, “What is thinking in steadfast immovable sitting?
The Master said, “Thinking of not-thinking.”
The monk said, “How is the thinking of not-thinking?
The Master said, “Beyond thinking.”[5]

In the final version of Fukanzazengi, Dōgen writes of the three essential points of zazen: harmonizing breath (調息), harmonizing bodily posture (調身), and harmonizing mind (調心). But regarding harmonizing mind, he simply quotes this dialogue as the essential way of zazen, without any explanation. To understand that part of Fukanzazengi, we need to study his comments on this dialogue in the Zazenshin fascicle. In it, Dōgen says:

Truly “not-thinking” has been discussed from ancient times, but we have to question “thinking of how.” We cannot say that there is no thinking in immovable sitting. For what reason are we not able to penetrate the infinite profundity of immovable sitting? Unless we are extremely stupid that disparages what is close, we are capable of questioning and thinking (思量) of the immovable sitting. The Great Master said, “Beyond-thinking (非思量).” Since it is clear that we use beyond-thinking; whenever we think of (思量) not-thinking (不思量), we use beyond-thinking.[6]

Dōgen is saying that zazen is not to eliminate all thoughts and make our mind completely blank. And yet, zazen is not thinking either. Zazen is thinking of not-thinking using beyond thinking.

In the next part of Zazenshin, Dōgen introduces the dialogue between Nanyue Huairang, (南嶽懐譲, Nangaku Ejō, 677–744) and his disciple Mazu Daoyi (馬祖道一, Baso Dōitsu, 709–88). This dialogue appears in The Record of Transmission of the Lamp (景徳伝灯録, Keitokudentō-roku) Vol. 5. The story in the text is:

In the Kaiyuan era (713–41), there was a monk named Daoyi. He was staying at Quanfa (Denpō, Dharma Transmission) temple and always practiced zazen.
The master (Nanyue) knew that he was a vessel of the Dharma.
He visited [Daoyi] and asked, “Great worthy, what do you aim at (図, zu) in practicing zazen?”
[Dao]yi said, “I am aiming at becoming Buddha.”
The master then picked up a tile in front of the hermitage and started to polish it on a rock.
[Dao]yi said, “For what are you polishing a tile?”
The master said, “I am polishing it to make a mirror.”
[Dao]yi said, “How can tile-polishing make a mirror?”
The master said, “If polishing a tile does not become a mirror, how can zazen become a buddha?”
[Dao]yi said, “How is it right?”
The master said, “Suppose that [a person is] riding a cart. If the cart does not move, which is right, to hit the cart or to hit the cow?”
[Dao]yi did not reply.
The master also instructed, “Do you study sitting-Zen or study sitting-buddha?”
If you study sitting-Zen, Zen is neither sitting nor lying down.
If you study sitting-buddha, buddha is not a fixed form.
Within the Dharma of non-abiding, you cannot do picking and discarding.
If you [practice] sitting-buddha, that is nothing other than killing-buddha.
If [you] attach [yourself] to the sitting form, [you will] never reach the principle [of zazen.]”
Upon hearing this instruction, [Dao]yi felt as if he drunk ghee (the greatest of all flavors, the ultimate truth).[7]

In the Zazenshin fascicle, Dōgen makes several changes to this story and provides an amazingly unique and creative interpretation. He almost completely changes the meaning of Nanyue’s instruction and expresses his own insight about zazen. It is not possible to introduce how he reads this dialogue in this short article. However, one of the important points he makes is about the meaning of polishing a tile. Even though Nanyue meant that becoming buddha by sitting in the zazen posture is impossible—like making a mirror by polishing a tile—Dōgen says that polishing a tile is itself making mirror; that is, sitting zazen using our body and mind (five aggregates, a piece of tile) is itself becoming buddha. He writes, “We should truly know that a beginner’s zazen is the first zazen. The first zazen is the first sitting-buddha.”

In the popular version of Fukanzazengi, there is another sentence:

Do not seek to become Buddha. (To be buddha) has nothing to do with the forms of sitting or lying down.

These expressions also came from the story of polishing a tile.

In the first two lines of this poem from Dharma Discourse 270, Dōgen is saying that making efforts in our zazen is simply polishing a tile without gaining mind, and that is itself making a mirror. We need to single-mindedly study the thinking within steadfast, immovable sitting.

If you want to visit that realm of glimpsing the ground [of Buddhahood],
you should further come here and close your mouth in silence.

In these two lines, “that realm” (那辺, nahen, there) and “here” (這裡 shari) are two sides of our practice. “That realm of glimpsing the ground [of Buddhahood]” is “making a mirror” and is “becoming a buddha.” “Coming here and closing your mouth in silence” is “polishing a tile” by just sitting using our five aggregates. In Yaoshan’s expression, “here (這裡, shari)” is “thinking (思量)” and “that realm” is “not-thinking (不思量).” “Beyond thinking” and “steadfast immovable sitting (兀兀地) include both.

In Shōbōgenzō Zanmai ō zanmai, Dōgen writes:

For last four or five hundred years, my late teacher alone gouged out the eye of the buddha-ancestors and sat therein. Few masters in China have been equal to him. There have been only few who have clarified the fact that sitting is the buddha-dharma itself, that the buddha-dharma is nothing other than sitting. Even though some have understood through experience that sitting is the buddha-dharma, none have known that sitting is just sitting. Much less have there been any who have upheld and maintained the buddha-dharma as the buddha-dharma.[8]

In this paragraph, “sitting, (打坐, taza) is “here” and “the buddha-dharma” is “there.” “Sitting” is “the buddha-dharma,” and “the buddha-dharma” is “sitting,” and yet, “sitting” is just “sitting,” and “the buddha-dharma” is just “the buddha-dharma.” Dōgen uses the same logic as in his Shōbōgenzō Mahāprajñāpāramitā:[9] “form is emptiness (色即是空),” and “emptiness is form (空即是色),” “form is just form (色是色)” and “emptiness is just emptiness (空即空).

This means that, even though “sitting” is “the buddha-dharma” and “the buddha-dharma” is “sitting,” if we sit thinking, “this sitting is itself the buddha-dharma,” then what we are doing is neither just “sitting” nor “the buddha-dharma.” We are just thinking that it is so. When we sit, we need to really just sit, even without thinking that “sitting is the buddha-dharma.”

“Close your mouth in silence” is a translation of 觜盧都 (shiroto). This expression appears in Kuchūgen verse 34. In that poem, Dōgen also introduces the story of polishing a tile. Please take a look at that article.

After reciting this poem, Dōgen asks his monks a question—is what he expresses and what he practices is the same as the ancient masters’? It seems the monks did not say anything. Then Dōgen announces that he will say something on behalf of them. And yet, without speaking anything, he just hits his seat with the handle of his whisk and gets down. Does he speak or does he not speak?

— • —

[1] (Dōgen’s Extensive Record volume 4, dharma hall discourse 270, p.261) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., www.wisdompubs.org.
[2] Fukanzazengi, (Koza Dōgen 3, Dōgen no Chosaku, Shunjusha, 1980), p.207–8.
[3] 辧道話
[4] 普勧坐禅儀撰述由来, Fukanzazengi Senjutu Yurai
[5] Okumura’s unpublished translation.
[6] Okumura’s unpublished translation.
[7] Okumura’s unpublished translation.
[8] Okumura’s unpublished translation.
[9] 摩訶般若波羅蜜, Makahannyaharamitsu

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

— • —

For further study:
See Dōgen’s Extensive Record.

> More of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese Poems

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