En mi caso, mi deseo de asistir al Ango no estaba motivado sólo por el interés en recibir la certificación como enseñante, sino también por mi interés de aprender todo lo que pudiera de la tradición y de los monjes japoneses. Ya había saboreado esta práctica en Shōgōji, y sabía la importancia que el entrenamiento representaba para impregnarse de la esencia del Zen de Dogen. Más aun, estaba motivado por la aspiración de compartir lo que aprendiera con las personas que practicaban conmigo en Colombia. Desde el momento en que asumí la creación de un grupo de práctica en Bogotá, hace años, mi principal motivación ha sido la de despertar en otros la conciencia de que todos formamos parte de una única red llamada vida, y que cualquier cosa que hagamos afecta a los demás. Más aun, estaba convencido de que no importa lo que hagamos, si no incluimos a los demás en nuestra propia práctica, esta carece de sentido. Cuando se me presentó la posibilidad de asistir, sabía que era una oportunidad única, para la misión que junto con mis amigos estábamos tratando de desarrollar en Colombia. Fue muy emocionante regresar a La Gendronnière, el templo donde hacía 21 años había recibido la ordenación por primera vez.
Durante todo este tiempo, el maestro Okumura continuaba concentrado en su labor de traducir con gran cuidado la obra de Dogen y compartirla a través de sus charlas y de sus escritos. A medida que me iba sumergiendo en las enseñanzas del maestro Okumura, cada vez me maravillaba más del profundo conocimiento e intuición que él tenía de la obra de Dogen Zenji y su sorprendente capacidad para compartir y hacer accesible estos difíciles escritos que hasta ahora se me habían presentado insondables. Comprendía paso a paso el privilegio de poder estudiar con alguien que personificaba los dos aspectos de la práctica que para mí eran la esencia: una profunda dedicación al estudio del budismo y el Zen de Dogen, y una práctica ejemplar que continuaba las enseñanzas del maestro Uchiyama.
En marzo de 2009 tuve el enorme privilegio de recibir la transmisión del Dharma del maestro Okumura. Con este ritual privado, cumplía mi voto de años de convertirme en un vehículo de la enseñanza, en puente para que otras personas se puedan beneficiar de este maravilloso camino que guiaba mi vida. Pero en realidad, era el comienzo de una nueva etapa y mi responsabilidad frente al voto que había realizado de compartir mi práctica con los demás. Mi sincera aspiración empezaba a tomar forma gracias al apoyo que había recibido de mi maestro.
Como parte de mi proceso de certificación de la escuela, en agosto de 2009 visité los templos Eiheiji y Sojiji en Japón y realicé la ceremonia Zuise. En esta ceremonia el heredero que acaba de recibir un linaje, oficia como abad honorífico por un día en cada uno de estos dos templos. El primer paso es rendir homenaje a cada uno de los fundadores Eihei Dogen Zenji y Keizan Jokin Zenji, en la sala del fundador. La emoción que sentí en aquel momento fue indescriptible, pues tengo un profundo agradecimiento y admiración por la labor que estos maestros realizaron, y gracias a su dedicación y a que nunca se detuvieron frente a las dificultades, la enseñanza llegó a mí a través de mi maestro. Durante el desayuno de celebración al final de la ceremonia en Eiheiji, pensé en las condiciones auspiciosas que me habían permitido estar ahí. Recordé mis inicios en la práctica, los momentos en los que desde el fondo de mi corazón había pedido poder recorrer el camino, todos los obstáculos que había debido superar, uno a uno, para llegar a este momento. Mi agradecimiento hacia el maestro Okumura y hacia todos los maestros del linaje era inconmensurable. Este momento marcaba el inicio de una nueva etapa en mi camino, un nuevo amanecer para la práctica, un nuevo comienzo.
As for me, my desire to attend the ango was not motivated solely by interest in acquiring certification as a teacher, but also by my interest in learning everything I could about the tradition and about Japanese monks. I had already tasted this practice at Shōgōji and I knew how important training was for becoming imbued with the essence of Dōgen ‘s Zen. I was driven even more by the aspiration to share what I would learn with the people who were practicing with me in Colombia. From the moment I took on the setting up of a practice group in Bogota years ago, my chief motivation has been to awaken in others awareness that we all form part of one network called life and that whatever we do affects others. I was even more convinced that no matter what we do, if we fail to include others in our own practice, this practice will be meaningless. When the chance to attend the ango came up for me, I knew it was a unique opportunity for the mission that my friends and I together were trying to develop in Colombia. For me it was very thrilling to return to La Gendronniére, the temple where I had taken ordination for the first time 21 years earlier.
All during this period, Okumura Rōshi continued to focus on bis work of carefully translating Dōgen’s teachings and sharing them through his talks and writings. The more I delved into Okumura Rōshi’s teachings, the more wonderstruck I was by the deep knowledge and intuition he had of Dōgen Zenji’s work and by bis surprising ability to share and make accessible these difficult writings that until then had seemed unfathomable to me. Gradually I carne to understand the privilege of being able to study with someone who personified the two aspects of practice that far me constituted the essence: a pro found devotion to the study of Buddhism and Dōgen’s Zen, and an exemplary practice that was carrying on Uchiyama Rōshi ‘s teachings.
In March 2009 I had the enormous privilege of receiving dharma transmission from Okumura Rōshi. Through this private ritual I was fulfilling my longtime vow to become a vehicle of the teaching, a bridge for other people to be able to benefit from this wondrous Way that was guiding my life. Actually, however, it was the start of a new phase in my responsibility towards the vow I had made to share my practice with others. My earnest aspiration was beginning to take shape thanks to the backing I had received from my teacher.
As part of my certification process by the Sōtō School, in August 2009 I visited Eiheiji and Sojiji in Japan and completed the zuise ceremony. In this ritual the dharma heir who has just received a lineage officiates as honorary abbot for a day in each of these two temples. The first step is to pay homage to each of the founders, Eihei Dōgen Zenji (at Eiheiji) and Keizan Jōkin Zenji (at Sōjiji) in the Founder’s Halls. The emotion I felt at that moment was indescribable, for 1 have a profound gratitude and admiration for the work that these masters accomplished. Thanks to their dedication and the fact that they were never stymied in the face of difficulties, the teaching reached down in time to me through my teacher. During the celebratory breakfast at the end of the ceremony at Eiheiji, I reflected on the auspicious conditions that had allowed me to find myself there. I recalled my first steps in practice, the times when from the bottom of my heart I had asked to be able to walk the Path, and all the obstacles I had had to surmount, one by one, to reach this moment. My gratitude toward Okumura Rōshi and toward all the masters of the transmission was boundless. This moment marked the beginning of a new stage in my path, a new dawn, a new beginning for practice.
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From Chapter 3, The Visible Form of my Vow by Densho Quintero.
Okumura Roshi is a regular contributor to Dharma Eye, the journal of the Soto Zen Buddhism International Center, providing translation of and commentary on fascicles of Dogen Zenji’s Shobogenzo. Numerous articles are available free online. For a full listing, and the latest article on Shobogenzo Kannon, which we have just posted, please see our DI page dedicated to these articles.
I remember that a long time ago, while staying at Entsūji monastery, my late teacher upheld the true Dharma eye. At that time, I experienced the pivotal point for transforming my self. Therefore, I asked him to let me read the texts, and I intimately practiced following Dōgen’s teachings. Further, I realized that I had been wastefully using my strength. After that, I left my teacher and traveled far and wide to practice with other teachers. What was my affinity with Eihei [Dōgen]? Wherever I went, I respectfully practiced the teachings of the true Dharma eye. More years than I can remember have passed away. I forgot the function, returned to my home country and have been living the idle, lazy life.
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In this second section [of a longer poem], Ryōkan remembers his experience of studying and practicing Dōgen’s teaching of the true Dharma eye treasury while he practiced at Entsūji monastery. His teacher Dainin Kokusen gave instructions on the true Dharma eye. Ryōkan says here only shōbōgen. It is not clear if this refers to the text Shōbōgenzō (with zō abbreviated because the number of Chinese characters is limited in a line of poetry), or if this refers to the eye that sees true Dharma. Even if shōbōgen in this poem does not refer to the text Shōbōgenzō, I believe Kokusen gave lectures on Dōgen’s writings including Shōbōgenzō. Either way, it is certain that through his teacher, Ryōkan studied Shōbōgenzō. He was inspired by Dōgen’s teaching and asked his teacher to allow him to read the texts by himself. At this time, Shōbōgenzō was not yet published in a woodblock version, which is why Ryōkan asked special permission from the abbot to read a rare and precious hand-copied manuscript.
Entsūji was founded by Tokuō Ryōkō (徳翁良高 1648–1709), one of the dharma heirs of Gesshū Sōko (月舟宗胡 1618–1696) and a dharma brother of Manzan Dōhaku (卍山道白 1636–1715). They pioneered the movement of “returning to Dōgen” in order to restore the uniqueness of the Sōtō School as distinct from the Rinzai School and the newly established Ōbaku School. Ryōkan’s master Kokusen (1723–1791) was one of Tokuō’s dharma grandsons and Entsūji must have owned Shōbōgenzō and other texts by Dōgen, as well as important texts of Zen and Buddhism in general.
By studying Shōbōgenzō, Ryōkan says that he experienced the pivotal point for transforming himself. Until then, he probably thought “Ryōkan” studied and practiced the dharma using his own power and effort to see the true reality of all beings, but he now found that all beings came to him and allowed him to practice. This is one of the most important points of Dōgen’s teaching in Genjōkōan.
Ryōkan practiced at Entsūji for 12 years from 1779 to 1791, from the time he was twenty-two until he was thirty-three years old. Shortly before his death in 1791, Kokusen gave a poem and a staff to Ryōkan. Commonly this is considered to mean Ryōkan received inka (the seal certifying completion of practice) or dharma transmission. Seemingly, he was therefore qualified to be the abbot of a Sōtō temple. And yet when Ryōkan passed away, he was simply called “Ryōkan Shusō (head monk)” on his mortuary tablet. In today’s Sōtō School system, after completing shusō practice, we receive dharma transmission sometime later, and only after copying the sanmotsu (three documents: shisho,kechimyaku, and daiji) and visiting Eiheiji and Sōjiji to do zuise (the ceremony of being abbot for a day). I think it was the same in Ryōkan’s time, but no one, including Ryōkan himself, ever mentioned that he received dharma transmission or copied the three documents or visited Eiheiji or Sōjiji for zuise. Probably, Kokusen passed away before giving transmission to Ryōkan and Ryōkan did not want to receive transmission from another teacher. Or possibly he had already decided not to be a Sōtō Zen temple priest and part of the government-controlled Buddhist system. In any event, Ryōkan left Entsūji around the time his teacher passed away and never returned. He traveled widely for several years until 1796 when he was thirty-nine. We don’t know much about where he visited or what he did during this period. But in this poem, Ryōkan says that wherever he went, he met and respectfully practiced shōbōgen (the true Dharma eye). Again, some people interpret this line as Ryōkan meaning he could read a hand-copied manuscript of Shōbōgenzō at many places, but I don’t agree with this interpretation. I think Ryōkan means that wherever he went he practiced with the essential spirit of Dōgen: “studying the self” and “dropping off body and mind.”
In the poem, Ryōkan remembers that in his youth, he studied and practiced following Shōbōgenzō and other teachings of Dōgen. However, after returning to Echigo when he was thirty-nine years old, he gave it up, and as he expressed it, “I have been living the idle, lazy life.” “Lazy life” is a translation of sorai (疎懶). So means “negligent” or “careless” and rai means “lazy,” “dull,” or “idle.” An example of the same kind of person is Hanshan (寒山, Kanzan). This “laziness” is not completely negative and Ryōkan’s lifestyle after returning to Echigo is a typical example of “Zen laziness.” Ryōkan loved Hanshan’s poems. One of Ryōkan’s famous poems is:
For my entire life, I have been too lazy to rise in the world. I live freely, leaving everything to heaven’s truth. In my bag, three measures of rice. By the fireside, a bundle of firewood. Who inquires after the trace of delusion and realization? Why do I care for the dusts of fame and profit? In the night rain, inside my grass-hut I stretch my legs leisurely.
Ryōkan doesn’t care for social climbing but leaves everything to “heaven’s truth.” Heaven’s truth (天真, tenshin) means reality as-it-is before being processed by human thinking. Ryōkan’s poem might have been inspired by a poem by Hanshan:
All my life too lazy to work favoring the light to the heavy. Others take up a career, I hold onto a sutra, a scroll with nothing inside. I open it wherever I go. For every illness it has a cure and heals with whatever works. Once your mind contains no plan wherever you are it is alert.
When Ryōkan says, “I am too lazy to rise in the world,” this “world” includes the Buddhist temples as a part of the worldly social system. At some time of his life, as he wandered here and there, I think that Ryōkan found he could not live like Dōgen because, internally, his impractical personality could not work with others within an organization and, externally, because of the situation of the Sōtō School and its temples. He had to create his own lifestyle and practice as a bodhisattva inspired by Dōgen’s teaching, but without imitating Dōgen’s style as it was practiced at Sōtō Zen monasteries of the time.
However, there may be a difference between the Chinese “lazy” Zen monks and Ryōkan, for Ryōkan could not be completely lazy; he is not one hundred percent comfortable being a “lazy” Zen monk. Sometimes, he feels shame or even guilt for having left his family responsibilities and for having discontinued the diligent monastic practice that Dōgen carried out. His mind is ambivalent even though he knows he cannot change his way of life. To me, this is an attractive aspect of Ryōkan. Probably the Chinese Zen monks had the same kind of internal entanglements, but Zen literature as it comes down to us is hagiography created by later people about legendary monks whom they worshiped; it makes no mention of their internal dilemmas.
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 Red Pine, trans., The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain, (Port Townsend, Wash: Copper Canyon Press, 2000), p.209.
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Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.
Just published!The Japanese poet Ryōkan (1758–1831) is known throughout the world for his deep and delightful lyric verses, evoking the beauty of nature and the precious and transitory nature of everyday life. In his new book, the internationally-known Zen Buddhist commentator and author Shohaku Okumura newly translates poems by Ryōkan and provides commentary on Ryōkan’s life and works, for the enjoyment of lovers of poetry and for Buddhist practitioners alike.
This handsome volume commences with an essay by Tonen O’Connor, Resident Priest of Emerita of the Milwaukee Zen Center, and is enhanced with the inclusion of photography of Roykan’s beloved “Snow Country” by Hoko Karnegis, Vice Abbot of Sanshin Zen Community. Tomon Marr, a disciple of O’Connor, has graced the cover and chapter headings with contemporary works of mixed media in response to Ryōkan.