Author Archives: layman genki

Our Transformative Practice

All Things Come and Carry Out
Practice-Enlightenment Through This Self

Dōgen Zenji’s Shikantaza

© Can Stock Photo / coffeekai

There are many ways to realize enlightenment. One is to train under a true Zen master, listening to their teaching; the other is to do zazen whole-heartedly. In the former case you give full play to the discriminating mind, while in the latter, practice and enlightenment are unified. To enter the Way neither of these two methods can be dispensed with — both are necessary. 1
— Dōgen Zenji, Gakudō-yōjinshū

When we sit facing the wall, even though the wall is affecting our eyes, we don’t think, “I am the subject and the wall is an object.”

The wall is actually there. But this subject/object separation is not there.

So sitting in the zendo facing the wall and letting go of thought is something special — a very precious thing — reaching all of our activities.

In almost all of our activities there’s a separation. There’s a subject — me — and an object. And we make a separation and try to interact in the ways that suit us.

How can I make this my possession?
Or how can I achieve this good thing for me?
Or how can I get rid of this meaningless thing?

That is how we usually do. This is our life.

But in our zazen, sitting in the zendo, that separation between subject and object falls away. And even though the wall is really there, the wall is not an object of this person sitting.

And through our tradition of practice, our zazen allows us to change, to transform our way of life.
— Shōhaku Okumura-roshi

And we don’t really hear a bird singing or the calls of insects as a subject would. And they are not an object. But this person sitting and those insects making sounds are single-minded doing and together in the lotus position.

Even so, things happening inside ourselves, within our mind, become objects. All different kinds of thoughts, coming and going, become the objects of this person sitting. And I start to interact with those things.

I don’t like this thought
Or I hate this memory
Or I love this idea
Or I want to get things tomorrow.

That kind of thing is happening within my mind. And when we are doing such a thing, our mind is divided into two pieces. One side is subject, and the other side is object. And within our mind there is a separation between subject and object.

And we start to think, “So what are we doing now in zazen?”

When we are aware this separation and interaction is happening, we stop doing it and return to just sitting. To stop doing this is called letting go of thought, or in my teacher’s expression, “opening the hand of thought.”

We return to this oneness or the reality before separation between subject and object. Then we are simply part of life’s interconnected network.

But our zazen is not a method to see the reality of this interconnectedness.

The Lotus Sutra says only a Buddha together with a Buddha can fathom the true reality of all beings. Only a Buddha together with a Buddha means no human beings.

So the subject of this practice is not Shōhaku, this independent person, but all beings.

This entire network practices through this single person’s body and mind. So this sitting is not my personal action, even though I use my personal body and mind. That separation falls down.

But if we think “our interconnectedness,” we already make a separation. So in our zazen we don’t think even about interconnectedness, but just being there.

So zazen or Dōgen Zenji’s shikantaza, just sitting, is just being there within this network. We wholeheartedly participate in this interconnectedness.

And through our tradition of practice, our zazen allows us to change, to transform our way of life. Instead of conveying ourselves toward all things, we start to hear and see how all things are. And this body and mind, together, is part of all things.

— • —

Edited from a Dharma talk Shōhaku Okumura delivered at Great Tree Zen Temple in September, 2016.

[1] Ed Brown & Kazuaki Tanahashi, Moon in a Dewdrop: Writings of Zen Master Dogen, ed. Kazuaki Tanahashi (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1985) pp. 31-43.

Copyright 2017 Sanshin Zen Community

Transience Within Boundless Nature


世中は Yononaka wa To what can this world
何にたとへん nani ni tatoen be compared?
水鳥の mizudori no The moonlight
はしふる露に hashi furu tsuyu ni reflected in water drops
やどる月影 yadoru tsukikage splashed from a waterfowl’s beak.

This is the tenth waka in the 13 addendum waka in the Shunjusha text. It appears only Menzan’s Sanshodoei collection. It is not certain where Menzan found this verse; if it was composed by Dōgen, he expressed the beauty of impermanence and his insight regarding the interpenetration of impermanence and eternity.

A waterfowl dives into the water of a pond and comes up to the surface. It shakes its bill; water drops are splashed. In each and every one of the droplets, the boundless moonlight is reflected. The water drops stay in the air less than a moment before returning to the pond. Each of them is as bright as the moon itself.

Dōgen sees the scenery in the moment a waterfowl shakes its beak and water drops are splashed. Each and every droplet reflects the boundless moonlight. He thinks our lives in this world is the same. Our lives are as impermanent as the water drops, and yet, as he wrote in Genjōkōan, the boundless moonlight is reflected. In Shōbōgenzō Hotsubodaishin (Arousing Bodhi-mind), Dōgen wrote:

Our lives arise and perish within each ksana. Their swiftness is like this. Moment after moment, practitioners should not forget this principle. While being within this swiftness of the arising and perishing of transmigration in each ksana, if we arouse one single thought of ferrying others before ourselves, the eternal longevity [of the Tathagata] immediately manifests itself..

From the end of the Heian Era (794 – 1192) to the beginning of the Kamakura era (1192 – 1333), Japan experienced a transition in social structure and political power. The emperor’s court had been losing its power and the warrior (samurai) class had been getting more and more powerful. In the process of the growth of the warrior class, there were numberless civil wars between the Taira clan and the Minamoto clan, even in the capital, Kyōto. Finally in the end of twelfth century, the Shogunate government was established in Kamakura by Minamoto Yoritomo. Concurrent with this transition in society were lots of natural disasters. People saw piles of dead bodies on the bank of Kamo River in Kyōto. They believed that the age of final-dharma (mappo) had begun in 1052. They saw the impermanence of society and also people’s lives.

In the very beginning of the famous Tale of the Heike it is said:

The sound of the Gion Shoja bells echoes the impermanence of all things; the color of the sala flowers reveals the truth that the prosperous must decline. The proud do not endure, they are like a dream on a spring night; the mighty fall at last, they are as dust before the wind.

— Chapter 1.1, Helen Craig McCullough’s translation

“Gion Shoja” refers to the Buddhist monastery in India and “sala flower” refers to the flower of the sala tree in Kushinagara where Shakyamuni passed away. It is said that when Shakyamuni passed away, the sala trees gave forth flowers in full bloom out of season.

Dōgen’s contemporary, Kamo no Chomei (1153 – 1216), wrote an essay entitled Hojoki (My Ten-Foot Hut) in 1212, one year before Dogen became a monk at Enryakuji in Mt. Hiei. Chomei wrote about the situation in the capital, Kyōto. He recorded that they had many natural disasters such as great fires, whirlwinds, typhoons, earth quakes, etc. beside the destruction caused by the civil wars between Heike and Genji clans. In the beginning of Hojoki he wrote:

[1] Though the river’s current never fails, the water passing, moment by moment, is never the same. Where the current pools, bubbles form on the surface, bursting and disappearing as others rise to replace them, none lasting long. In this world, people and their dwelling places are like that, always changing.

[3] Nor is it clear to me, as people are born and die, where they are coming from and where they are going. Nor why, being so ephemeral in this world, they take such pains to make their houses pleasing to the eye. The master and the dwelling are competing in their transience. Both will perish from this world like the morning glory that blooms in the morning dew. In some cases, the dew may evaporate first, while the flower remains—but only to be withered by the morning sun. In others, the flower may wither even before the dew is gone, but no one expects the dew to last until evening.

— Translation by Robert N. Lawson, on Washburn University website

These are the well-known examples of people’s sense of transience and the vanity of life in the mundane world at the time of Dōgen. His insight into impermanence is very different from those pessimistic views of fleeting world. As he expresses in this waka, although seeing impermanence is sad and painful, still, that is the way we can arouse bodhi-citta (way-seeking mind) and also see the eternity within impermanence.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura-roshi

> Other Waka by Dōgen

Copyright 2017 Sanshin Zen Community

Bendōwa, Part Two

Family Ties and Nascent Sōtō Lineage

Bendowa, part 2

Shōhaku Okumura continues his talks on Bendōwa with something of an origin story for Sōtō Zen. We get the inside line on why Master Dōgen felt it necessary to establish his own school. Plus, we get some back story on Ejō, the man who’d succeed him as abbot of Eiheiji monastery.

Drawing from at least three different sources, Okumura-rōshi describes Ejō’s path from student monk to first encountering Dōgen Zenji at Kenninji.

Like Dōgen, Ejō was ordained as a Tendai monk on Mt. Hiei. And Rōshi tells us Ejō studied and practiced with the idea of becoming an eminent teacher. But on a visit with his mother, she essentially told him to forget about it. She hadn’t allowed him to become a monk so he could rise to a high position, associating with the upper class. What she had in mind for her son was genuine practice — in poverty, not for fame and profit. With her admonition, he left the monastery.

We learn Ejō then practiced Pure Land Buddhism with Shōkū, a disciple of Hōnen. And Hōjō-san mentions the oft-overlooked detail that Shōkū was Dōgen’s elder brother. Ejō practiced with Shōkū at his temple that remains on Kyoto’s west side. After several years, Ejō became dissatisfied and moved on.

Ejō then practiced Zen with Kakuan, a disciple of Nōnin who founded the Darumashū (Dharma School). In a few years, he received inka from Kakuan.

When Ejō heard Dōgen had returned from China — transmitting a new type of Zen — he wanted to visit Dōgen “to check out what is this new thing [sic].” He’d already studied everything he thought important and attained kenshō.

So Ejō called on Dōgen at Kenninji. And as Rōshi tells us, for the first few days, Dōgen Zenji agreed with everything Ejō said. Then, seeing Ejō as a sincere person Dōgen began sharing his own understanding and insight. At first Ejō tried to argue, but soon realized what Dōgen Zenji was saying was much deeper than his own understanding. So he wanted to practice with Dōgen — even though Dōgen was two years younger.

Click or tap play for the complete picture . . .

So, what about these family ties and Sōtō lineage?

What if Ejō’s mother hadn’t set him on a path leading away from a lofty Tendai position? What if he hadn’t become dissatisfied practicing with Dōgen’s elder brother?

Would Ejō still have sought out Dōgen? Would he have recorded the dharma talks that became Shōbōgenzō Zuimonki? Would he have become second abbot of Eiheiji?

In an earlier post, Oshō-san referred to the Chinese imagery of creation as a mother weaving on a loom. She runs her thread horizontally and vertically through space and time to create a beautiful brocade.

But pull out a single strand, and what happens? Might that fabric that appears so real to the senses just unravel? Dharmas dependent upon other dharmas function as the warp and weft of our universe.

If you’ve found this offering rewarding, please consider following this link to Sanshin’s bandcamp page for the entire digital album.

— • —

Recorded translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura-rōshi

> Other albums by Shōhaku Okumura

Copyright 2017 Sanshin Zen Community

Jingqing’s Sound of Rain Drops


鏡清雨滴声 Kiku mama ni Just hearing
また心なき mata kokoro naki without extra mind [that grasps them],
身にしあれば mi ni shi areba the jewel-like raindrops
おのれなりけり onore nari keri dripping from the eaves
軒の玉水 noki no tamamizu are myself.

This is the fifth waka in the 13 addendum waka in the Shunjusha text. This waka appears only Menzan’s Sanshodoei collection; we don’t know where he found it. There is a similar verse in another later collection of Dōgen’s waka called the Yukonzan version, but the first three lines are different:

耳に見て  /  目に聞くならば  /  うたがは  /  おのれなりけり  /  軒の玉水
mimi ni mite / me ni kiku naraba / utagawaji / onore nari keri / noki no tamamizu

Seeing with ears and hearing with eyes,
there is no doubt that,
the jewel-like raindrops
dripping from the eaves
are myself.

In the Rinzai tradition, this waka is considered to have been written by Daito Kokushi (Shuho Myocho, 1282 – 1338). The fourth line of Daito’s waka is a little different, (おのずからなる、onozukara naru; Seeing with ears and hearing with eyes, / there is no doubt that, the jewel-like raindrops dripping from the eaves / as they simply are). Anyway, there is no evidence to judge if this is really Dōgen’s waka or not.

The title of this waka, “Jingqing’s Sound of Raindrops,” refers to the koan that appears as case 46 of the Blue Cliff Record (Hekiganroku). The conversation between Zen master Jingqing and a monk in the kōan is as follows:

Jingqing asked a monk, “What sound is that outside the gate?”
The monk said, “The sound of raindrops.”
Jingqing said, “Sentient beings are inverted. They lose themselves and follow after things.” (衆生顛倒、迷己遂物)
Then the monk said, “What about you, Teacher?”
Jingqing said, “I almost don’t lose myself”
The monk said, “What is the meaning of ‘I almost don’t lose myself’?”
Jingqing said, “Though it still should be easy to express oneself, to say the whole thing has to be difficult.” 1

In this kōan, the Zen master Jingqing and his student are inside a building and hear a sound. This kōan is about the relation between the six sense organs and the objects of the sense organs, in this case “ear” and “sound.” Because it was raining outside, the monk answered his teacher that it was the sound of raindrops they were hearing. Then Jingqing said, “Sentient beings are viewing things upside-down. They lose themselves and follow after things.” This saying is based on a teaching of the Surangama Sutra. The sentence from the sutra is:


From the time without beginning, all beings have mistakenly identified themselves with what they are aware of. Controlled by their experience of perceived objects, they lose track of their fundamental minds. 2

“Their fundamental minds” refers to the One-Mind, Mind-nature, Original-Mind, etc.— the mind source as the noumenon. In this section of the sutra, the fundamental mind (honmyō-meijō-shin,本妙明浄心, the originally pure and wondrous understanding mind) is compared to an innkeeper; the thinking-mind caused by encountering objects, therefore based on dichotomy between subject and object, is compared to the visitors of the inn. Thinking-mind is conditioned, impermanent and ever-changing, but the innkeeper is always there, so it is permanent.

What the sutra means is that when we lose sight of the true essence of the self (the fundamental mind), we identify ourselves as the subject that is facing the objects we encounter, we discriminate among them, evaluate them and chase after or escape from them, and thus we begin to transmigrate within samsara. Being deluded by the “visiting” discriminative mind and losing the fundamental mind is the cause of suffering within samsara.

However, Dōgen did not appreciate the Surangama Sutra during his entire life. I think, that was because it promoted this concept of an “original fundamental mind” as noumenon.

Jinqing says that people are deluded and lose themselves and they chase after external things. Then the subject and the object become separate. When these are separate and interact, something happens in our minds. In the koan, a thought is aroused in the student’s mind and he said “that was the sound of raindrops.” He grasped himself as the subject that is hearing the sound of raindrops. According to this master’s teaching, at that very moment the student loses the fundamental self, chases after an object (heard) and becomes the subject (hearer) of doing such action (hearing).

According to the Surangama Sutra, this means that all of the discriminative thinking caused by interactions between the sense organs and the objects of the sense organs is delusion. We should therefore stop thinking, restore calmness without waves of discriminative thinking and awaken only to this pure and bright fundamental mind, free of all duality and defilements. Based on this teachihg, Jingqing is saying that as soon as the monk hears the sound of the raindrops and tries to answer the teacher’s question, he has fallen into the duality between subject and object and begun interacting with it. His point is that when the monk’s mind is divided into subject and object, and the subject thinks about the object, and he then answers his teacher, he has lost his original self.

In Shōbōgenzō Ikka-myōju (One Bright Jewel), Dōgen writes:

The “entire ten-direction” means the ceaseless activities of chasing after things and making them into the self, and chasing after the self and making it into things.

In this sentence, Dōgen uses the same expression Jingqing used, but in the positive way. If this waka was written by Dōgen, I think he expressed the same thing. Our life is ceaseless and endless interaction between the self and myriad things, but the self and myriad things are not in the dichotomy of subject and objects; rather they are working together as a part of the total function (全機zenki) of the entire network of interdependent origination. In Tenzō-kyōkun, Dōgen writes, “All day and all night things come to mind and the mind attends to them At one with them all, diligently carry on the Way.”

In this case “mind” means the tenzō or the self. Things come to the self and the self attends to those things. This is the way the self and myriad things work together as one reality. The important point here is being attentive. We need to intimately work with myriad things in the way we express our awakening to the reality of impermanence, selfless, and interconnectedness.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura-roshi

1 Translation by Thomas Cleary &J.C. Cleary (The Blue Cliff Record, Shambhara,1977) case 46, p.275.
2 Translation by Buddhist Text Translation Society (The Śūraṅgama Sūtra, Buddhist Text Translation Society, 2009), p.65.

> Other Waka by Dōgen

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