The Growth of Oneness

Copyright©2023 Misaki C. Kido

Dōgen’s Chinese Poems (62)

The Growth of Oneness

  1. Dharma Hall Discourse for Winter Solstice on the First Day of the [Eleventh] Month [1240]

佛佛身心今得長 (佛佛の身心、今長ずることを得。)
璧珠面目象天方 (璧珠の面目、天方に象どる。)
算來等積幾長遠 (算え來り等しく積める幾の長遠ぞ)
佳節度知是一陽 (佳節は度り知りぬ、是れ一陽なり)

The body and mind of each Buddha now can grow.
The face and eyes of jade rings and round jewels are shaped in a heavenly palace.
Having counted each of them, how long and far do they reach?
On this auspicious occasion, knowing the count is the single brightness.[1]

This is verse 61 in Kuchūgen and the final part of Dharma Hall Discourse (上堂, jōdō) 25 in Volume 1 of Eihei Kōroku. This dharma hall discourse was given at Kōshōji in Fukakusa on the occasion of the winter solstice, the first day of 11th month in 1240. Manzan’s version is the same as Monkaku’s version.

Dōgen’s speech preceding this poem is as follows:

“Attaining oneness, heaven is clear; attaining oneness, earth is at rest.” Attaining oneness, a person is at peace; attaining oneness, the time becomes bright. As this oneness grows, within the [days] growing longer, the buddha ancestors attain longevity. Everybody, within this growth you arouse awakening mind, practice, engage the way with effort, and attain realization of a single phrase. You have already attained the power and vitality that is within this growth.

Therefore, making a rosary with the bodies of buddha ancestors, you reach three hundred sixty days. Every time this day [of winter solstice] arrives, [the length of days] proceeds just like this. This is exactly the body and mind of buddha ancestors, so [this growth] proceeds like this.


The Growth of Oneness
25. Dharma Hall Discourse for Winter Solstice on the First Day of the [Eleventh] Month [1240]

The title of this poem in Kuchūgen is朔旦冬至 (sakutan tōji): 朔 (saku) means the first day of the month, 旦 (tan) is dawn or morning. The first day of a month in the lunisolar calendar is always the new moon day. 冬至 (tōji) is winter solstice, the first of the twenty-four seasons based on the movement of the sun; it is always in the eleventh month. In the lunisolar calendar which was used in China and Japan, the first day of 11th month became the winter solstice once every nineteen years. That occasion was considered auspicious; at the Chinese and Japanese imperial courts, sakutan tōji was an important celebration. Because it is winter solstice, the length of day is the shortest and length of the night is the longest of the entire year; in addition, it is the new moon day, and therefore people did not see any illumination by the moon’s light. This day was considered to be the day Yin(陰 ●)energy reaches its ultimate point. It was also thought that, from that day forward, Yang(陽 ○)energy restores its strength each day—the daytime is getting longer. This is the important turning point of the season. It seems Dōgen Zenji celebrated this rare occasion at Kōshōji. Since he passed away 13 years later, he did not experience the next sakutan toji in 1259. In this poem, he connects the change of the season in the calendar and the change in the heavens and the earth with his community’s practice in the Buddha way.

When he gave this dharma hall discourse, he was living at Kōshōji in Fukakusa, in the southern suburbs of capital city, Kyoto. (Today, Fukakusa is a part of Kyoto City.) The scenery of the day of winter solstice must have been very different between Fukakusa and Echizen, where he lived later. To the first winter solstice dharma hall discourse at Eiheiji in 1246, the compiler Ejō added this note to the text:

This mountain [temple] is located in Etsu [province] in the Hokuriku [northern] region, where from winter through spring the fallen snow does not disappear, at various times seven or eight feet, or even more than ten feet deep. Furthermore, Tiangtong [Rujing, Dōgen’s teacher] had the expression “Plum blossoms amid the fallen snow,” which the teacher Dōgen always liked to use. Therefore, after staying on this mountain, Dōgen often spoke of snow.[2]

In the southern part of Kyoto City, the climate is influenced by the Seto Inland Sea, the same as in Osaka, where I grew up. The winter weather is much milder than Echizen. Kyoto and Osaka have snow only a few times a year and it never stays. When I practiced at Antaiji, located in the northern part of Kyoto City, we used to do takuhatsu (begging) in that area after December sesshin, which was close to winter solstice. We walked on the street named Fushimi kaidō (highway) around Fukakusa with bare feet wearing a pair of straw sandals, but we did not feel so cold. The scenery of winter solstice at Kōshōji might be warmer than at Echizen and sunny. The daytime was still short but they did not need to worry about low temperatures and snow accumulation. Winter solstice is the turning point from the strong Yin energy to the growing Yang energy. Things are getting brighter, and people could expect that spring is coming. In this poem, Dōgen uses this seasonal change of the external world and people’s psychology to describe monks’ practice.

The body and mind of each Buddha now can grow.
The face and eyes of jade rings and round jewels are shaped in a heavenly palace.

In his speech for the dharma hall discourse, (after which this poem is recited), Dōgen quotes two phrases from Chapter 39 of Dao De Jing (道徳経, Dōtokukyō) by Laozi (老子, Rōshi):

Attaining oneness, heaven is clear; attaining oneness, earth is at rest.

The same phrases were also used in Hongzhi’s and Rujing’s dharma hall discourses. Probably Dōgen gets this line from their sayings, not directly from Laozi. In Dao De Jing, “oneness ☯” refers to Dao (Way) in which the duality (Yin and Yang) is working to create multiplicity in the phenomenal world, according to Daoist teachings. But here, Dōgen uses “oneness” as emptiness and interconnectedness of all beings in Indra’s Net. Heaven and earth refer to space. Then Dōgen adds this sentence about people and time: “Attaining oneness, a person is at peace; attaining oneness, the time becomes bright (Yang, 陽).” Because of the harmonious function of interconnectedness, on the occasion of winter solstice, when Yin energy reaches its pinnacle, Yang energy begins to grow. Within this growth of daytime, the buddha ancestors attain longevity. It seems Dōgen sees the changing of the season as the growth of buddha’s wisdom life. Monks renew their bodhi-citta (awakening mind), practice the buddha way wholeheartedly, and verify the “one” phrase that expresses the ultimate reality beyond duality. Through their practice of the Way, the monks attain the Buddha’s life force within this network of interconnectedness.

Then Dōgen says, “Therefore, making a rosary with the bodies of buddha ancestors, you reach three hundred sixty days.” A rosary is a translation of 数珠 (juzu, Skt. mālā), a loop of beads to count the number of recitations, such as mantras in Vajra-yana or nenbutsu in Pure Land Buddhism. Originally it had 108 beads. The first bead is larger than the other beads and is considered the starting point; after 108 recitations, you return to the first bead. Using the ancient calendar, the first bead becomes the winter solstice (instead of the new year’s day). In the lunisolar calendar, one month is usually thirty days, and there are twelve months.[3] Therefore, in the poem, one year is mentioned as three hundred sixty days. Each and every day throughout a year is buddha-ancestors’ life. On the occasion of winter solstice, the circle of the rosary becomes refreshed and Buddha’s wisdom life keeps growing.

“Jade rings and round jewels” in a heavenly palace probably refers to the mani-jewel on each and every knot of the Net which is hung in Heavenly King Indra’s palace, that is, each and every one of us, and all things in the dharma world. All beings are interconnected with all other beings and penetrating each other. That is what “oneness” means in Buddhism. Francis H. Cook describe this Net:

If we now arbitrarily select one of these jewels for inspection and look closely at it, we will discover that in its polished surface there are reflected all the other jewels in the net, infinite in number. Not only that, but each of the jewels reflected in this one jewel is also reflecting all the other jewels, so that there is an infinite reflecting process occurring.[4]

Having counted each of them, how long and far do they reach?
On this auspicious occasion, knowing the count is the single brightness.

Even though we have been trying to count how many jewels there are, how long they have been there, and how far the net continues, we cannot reach the edge of interconnectedness. This is because the net is infinity in time and space. It is the same as counting the number of recitations using the beads of mala—when the counting reaches the end, it returns to the starting bead, and we begin from there one by one. Even though the Net is hung in Indra’s Palace, actually Indra’s palace is also only one knot of this Net. On this auspicious occasion of the winter solstice, we can see that it is simply single brightness (一陽). From this day onward, the brightness grows little by little with our practice day after day.

It seems that time is a circle at the same time it is linear flow from the past to the future through the present: a day is the circle of the earth rotating on its axis, a month is the circle of the waxing and waning of the moon, a year is the circle of Yin and Yang energy which creates the four seasons, and in the sexagenary cycle, every sixty years returns to the origin. According to Buddhist cosmology, the entire universe is going through the cycle of four kalpas: the Kalpa of Creation (成劫), the Kalpa of Duration of created world (住劫), the Kalpa of Dissolution (壊劫), and the Kalpa of Nothingness (空劫).[5]

Dōgen wrote in the beginning of Shōbōgenzō Gyōji (行持 Continuous practice):

In the great Way of the buddhas and ancestors, there is always unsurpassable continuous practice which is the way like a circle without interruption. Between the arousing of bodhi-mind, practice, awakening, and nirvāṇa, there is not the slightest break. Continuous practice is the circle of the Way.[6]

His image of the circle of the Way in which we continue the process of arousing bodhi-mind, practice, awakening, and nirvāṇa has something to do with the image of the circle of time in east Asia.

— • —

[1] Dōgen’s Extensive Record volume 1, Dharma Hall Discourse 25, p.95 © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc.,
[2] Dōgen’s Extensive Record, p.164.
[3] Leap years have thirteen months.
[4] Francis H. Cook in Hua-yen Buddhism: The Jewel Net of Indra. Penn State Press, 1977, p.2.
[5] See Buddhist Cosmology: Philosophy and Origins (Akira Sadakata, Kosei Publishing, 1997), p.99–104.
[6] Okumura’s translation. Another translation is in Treasury of the True Dharma Eye: Zen Master Dōgen’s Shobo Genzo (edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi, Shambala), p.352.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

— • —

For further study:
See Dōgen’s Extensive Record.

> More of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese Poems

Copyright©2023 Sanshin Zen Community

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