Meeting the World-Honored One

Copyright©2023 Misaki C. Kido

                              Dōgen’s Chinese Poems (64)

Meeting the World-Honored One
136.  Enlightenment Day Ceremony Dharma Hall Discourse

落草六年老作家    (落草六年老作家、)
夜來不覺入梅花    (夜來覺えず梅花に入る。)
春風尀耐箇中起    (春風尀耐にして箇の中より起り、)
紅白枝枝謾自誇    (紅白の枝枝、謾に自ら誇る。)

The old head of the house, after falling in the grass for six years,
during the night entered the plum blossoms without realizing it.
The spring wind arising within [the plum blossoms] cannot stay put;
the branches all red and white take pride in themselves.

This is verse 63 in Kuchugen and forms the beginning part of Dharma Hall Discourse (上堂, jōdō) 136 in Volume 2 of Eiheikōroku. This dharma hall discourse was given on the occasion of the Enlightenment Day Ceremony on the 8th day of the 12th month in 1245. This verse in Manzan’s version is the same as Monkaku’s version.

Meeting the World-Honored One
136.  Enlightenment Day Ceremony Dharma Hall Discourse

This verse is recited at the beginning of Dharma Hall Discourse 136. Dōgen Zenji held the first summer practice period at the newly built monastery in Echizen from the 4th month to the 7th month of the year. This is the first Buddha’s Enlightenment Day which Dōgen and his sangha celebrated at Daibutsuji (大仏寺), renamed as Eiheiji in the 6th month of the next year, 1246. The rest of the dharma hall discourse is:

All of you venerable monks, do you want to know the causes and reasons for [the awakening of] Bhiku Gautama? The first cause for accomplishing the Buddha way is hearing Tiantong [Rujing] speak about dropping away. The second is the power of Daibutsu’s [Dōgen’s] fist entering all of your eyeballs. Its spiritual power and wisdom transform and liberate living beings, who suddenly see the bright star, or [this fist’s power and wisdom] take over your entire body so that you sit on the vajra seat [of Buddha’s awakening]. Grasping and letting go are each brilliant. With one raised [fist], we meet thirty-three people.
Although it is like this, how does the life root of the World-Honored One remain in all of your hands? Do you want to meet the World-Honored One?
Dōgen raised his fist and paused for a while, then opened his five fingers wide and paused, then said:
“You have already met the World-Honored One. How is it to have met him?
After a pause Dōgen said: Right now awaken the way and see the bright star. This is exactly the place where the Tathāgata eats porridge.[1]

In the first sentence, Dōgen begins to talk about Shakyamuni Buddha (Bhiku Gautama)’s awakening, but he also mentions his own awakening upon hearing Tiangtong Rujing’s speaking of dropping away,[2] and his assembly monks’ awakening, being transformed through his practical teachings as if his fist had entered their eyeballs. As he mentions later, the fist refers to going beyond conceptual thinking and actualizing the ultimate truth in zazen. The Buddha’s awakening is within their practice. The Buddha’s awakening and its wisdom power transforms not only them, but all living beings, and allows them to see the morning star and sit upon the vajra seat under the bodhi-tree. The morning star is always shining when we sit on the cushion. It seems Dōgen is saying that the Buddha’s awakening has been continuing to transform the ways all beings are, and their practice at Daibutsuji is taking place within the power of the Buddha’s awakening together with all buddha-ancestors in the thirty-three generations until the Sixth Ancestor.

“Grasping and letting go” is a translation of 把放 (ha-hō), which is an abbreviation of 把住 (hajū, grasping and not allowing a person to move) or 把定 (hajō, grasping and settling down), and放行 (hō-gyō, letting go).

For example, in the Record of Linji (臨済録, Rinzairoku), when Linji talked about “a True Man with no rank in this lump of red flesh,” a monk asked, “Who is it?”

The Master got down from his chair, seized hold of the monk and said, “Speak! Speak!”
The monk was about to say something, whereupon the Master let go of him, shoved him away, and said, “True Man with no rank – what a shitty ass-wiper!”[3]

“Seized hold of,” is 把住 (hajū, grabbing and not allowing a person to move), “let go of him” here is not 放行 (ho-gyō, letting go), but an expression having the same meaning. This is an early example of two sides of Zen teaching. One side is grasping the student, not letting him/her move, putting the person under control in order to be free from their karmic ways of thinking and to awaken to the absolute truth beyond thinking. The other side is letting the student go and allowing him/her to act freely in the marketplace.

Dōgen often uses 把定 (hajō, grasping and settling down) and 放行 (hō-gyō, letting go) in Shōbōgenzō. These are two sides of expressing the dharma, rather than two ways of interacting with students. One is grasping the mind and settling in the ultimate truth, and the other is letting go, and functioning freely in day-to-day reality.

At the end of this dharma hall discourse, Dōgen shows his fist, and then opens his hand and shows the five fingers. This shows the gestures of “grasping” and “letting go.” For example, my zazen practice is my own personal practice done with only my body and mind, here and now. This is grasping and settling down. But our zazen allows us to be with all beings in the network of interdependent origination, interpenetrating even with Shakyamuni’s zazen when he was sitting under the bodhi-tree and saw the morning star. This is letting go.

When his monks eat morning porridge, it is exactly the same as when the Buddha ate porridge offered by the village girl, Sujata.

It seems to me that in this poem and discourse, Dōgen integrates several different ideas and images: the Mahayana teaching regarding three buddha-bodies; the ultimate truth and the relative truth; Shakyamuni’s awakening under the bodhi-tree; Dōgen’s and his assembly of monk’s monastic practice; and the beauty of the changing seasons in nature.

The old head of the house, after falling in the grass for six years,
during the night entered the plum blossoms without realizing it.

“The old head of the house” is a translation of 老作家 (rō-sakke). (老) is old, and sakke (作家) as a worldly meaning indicates the head of a extended family system that includes both the nuclear family and their blood relatives. In the Zen tradition, this expression is used to refer to a skillful master who is capable of educating one’s disciples and is considered the head of a lineage. However, it is unusual to call Bhiku Gautama “the old head of the house,” because when Shakyamuni awakened, he was in his thirties, and he had not yet begun to teach. He did not have a dharma family yet. In this poem, it seems that Dōgen does not speak about Shakyamuni only as a historical person or the rūpa-kāya buddha. This Shakyamuni is the Buddha as dharma-kāya, saṃbhoga-kāya, and nirmāṇa-kāya, combined into one. Probably when Dōgen calls him “the old head of family,” he means Shakyamuni with eternal life who was enlightened from beginningless beginning, such as in the Lotus Sutra.

“Falling in the grass” is a translation of 落草 (raku-sō), which can mean two things. The common meaning is “to fall low,” “to go down in the world,” “to fall into reduced circumstances,” “to fall on hard times,” “to be ruined,” or “to sink into an unpleasant condition.” It might be possible to interpret this expression as referring to the prince of Shakya clan going down into the world and becoming a homeless ascetic practitioner for six years.

However, as a Zen expression, 落草 (raku-sō) has another meaning, which is paired with its opposing term 出草 (shu-ssō, going outside the grass). For example, in case 34 of the Blue Cliff Record (碧巌録, Hekiganroku), the expressions 落草之談 (raku-sō no dan) and 出草之談 (shu-ssō no dan), appear in Thomas Clearly’s translation as “a conversation in the weeds” and “a talk outside the weeds.”[4] These refer to a discussion on the conventional or relative truth and a discussion on the ultimate or absolute truth. Shakyamuni, as the eternal, absolute dharma-kāya who is enlightened from the beginningless beginning in the absolute truth, appears in this world (goes down into the world) as the nirmanaya-kaya, as a person who was born in India about twenty-five hundred years ago, lived for eighty years and passed away. As skillful means, he left his father’s palace and practiced asceticism for six years before awakening. When we see Shakyamuni attained buddhahood as the result of bodhisattva practice for the period of five hundred lifetimes, he is the saṃbhoga-kāya.

It seems Dōgen thinks of Shakyamuni’s awakening as the skillful means offered by the dharma-kāya; he thinks of his own and his assembly monks’ day-to-day practice as a function or manifestation of Shakyamuni’s wisdom life as dharma-kāya. And he seems to make the point that it is not only their monastic practice, but also that each and every thing taking place in the nature, such as plum blossoms’ blooming, is evolving within the awakening of the dharma-kāya Buddha.

Dōgen writes that the buddha’s awakening power enters into the plum blossoms. “Without realizing it” means “naturally,” without any intentional planning. This motif comes from a poem by Tiangtong Rujing which appeared in one of his discourses on Buddha’s Enlightenment Day. Dōgen quotes this poem in Shōbōgenzō Baika (Plum Blossom):

My late master, the ancient buddha, in his formal dharma-hall discourse, said to his assembly:
At the time Gautama lost his eyeball,
In the snow there was a plum blossom on a single branch.
Right now, everywhere, thorny branches are growing.
Instead, I laugh at the spring wind blowing vigorously.[5]

The eyeball the Buddha lost in his awakening appears as the plum blossom on a single branch in the snow in front of Rujing.

The spring wind arising within [the plum blossoms] cannot stay put;
the branches all red and white take pride in themselves.

The Buddha’s wisdom life enters plum blossoms, and then it cannot be still, it cannot be without functioning. From this life force, the spring wind is aroused. I think this refers to the power of Shakyamuni’s vow to save all beings, which made him stand up from sitting and walk to Deer Park to begin to teach others, beginning with the five monks who had practiced with him before. Then he continued to make the wind of the dharma for forty years. This same power made Dōgen transmit the Dharma from Rujing and transplant the plum tree to Japan. It allowed him to create the Zen monastic community named Daibutsuji (Great Buddha Temple). In the following year, he will rename the temple to Eiheiji. Eihei (Ch., Yongping) was the name of the Chinese era when Buddhism was officially transmitted to China in 67 CE.

In the final line, Dōgen says the branches of the plum trees bloom with red and white blossoms beautifully and vigorously in the snow. Even though the plum blossoms (his assembly monks) are only on a small number of branches covered with snow, Dōgen is sure that when the spring wind blows extensively and vigorously, the plum blossoms bloom here, there, and everywhere, as Rujing described.

[1] Dōgen’s Extensive Record, p.164-165.
[2] This is脱落, datsuraku, an abbreviation of 身心脱落, shinjin datsuraku, dropping off body and mind.
[3] The Zen Teachings of Master Lin-chi (translated by Burton Watson, Shambhala, 1992), p.13.
[4] The Blue Cliff Record (Thomas Clearly), p.212.
[5] Okumura’s unpublished translation. Another translation is in Treasury of the True Dharma Eye: Zen Master Dōgen’s Shōbōgenzō (by Kazuaki Tanahashi), p.582.

— • —

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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