Category Archives: Study pages

Interconnected: the study of our times

A message from Okumura Roshi

The problem which all people are facing now is really about Shoji (Life-and-Death) and Zenki (Total Function).

These are the two fascicles of Shobogenzo I was asked to talk about in London recently. I had to cancel my talks and return home because of the pandemic.

Zenki says that we are interconnected with all beings, therefore both life and death are the manifestation of total function.

When we are born, we don’t attain anything, when we pass away, we don’t lose anything.

Copyright©2020 Jisho Takahashi

Interconnected: the expression “zenki”

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Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.
This is the last of a series of three posts on Zenki and Shoji.
You can find the first post in this series here.
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For further study:

Our life: the study of our times

A message from Okumura Roshi

The problem which all people are facing now is really about Shoji (Life-and-Death) and Zenki (Total Function).

These are the two fascicles of Shobogenzo I was asked to talk about in London recently. I had to cancel my talks and return home because of the pandemic.

I think the important point of studying Shoji (Life and Death) is that our life is extremely fragile and therefore it is precious.

We need to take care of our life without clinging to it.

Copyright©2020 Jisho Takahashi

Our usual understanding of “my life”

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Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.
This is the second of a series of three posts on Zenki and Shoji.
You can find the first post in this series here.
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For further study:

Alive or Dead: the study of our times

A message from Okumura Roshi

From February 25 to March 16 of this year, I was in Europe. I visited four Zen centers in Italy, Greece, and France. Fortunately, even though the influence of coronavirus was increasing, the practice events at these centers went well. The final place I was to visit was London, but the event had to be cancelled.

On March 16th, I returned to Bloomington, about the time the US government banned entrance to all from Europe except US citizens and permanent residents. After returning to Sanshinji, I have been staying in the temple trying avoid contact with other people except for my family. Because Sanshinji has been closed since the day I returned, it is not difficult to live without coming into contact with people. Fortunately, I have had no health problems. During this quiet time, I am focusing on preparation for future Genzo-e and writing books.

Since April 1, I have been sitting one period of zazen in the morning from Monday to Friday, and I do morning service by myself. In addition to the usual morning service, I chant the Enmeijukku Kannonkyo and dedicate it to the people whose lives were taken, to those who are sick, to the care givers, and to all people, who are all facing this problem together.

For the two-day event in London, I was going to talk about Shobogenzo Shoji (Life-and-death) and Shobogenzo Zenki (Total Function). During this period of the pandemic, Dogen Zenji’s teachings on life-and-death and total function of interdependent origination are very relevant for all of us. I would like to visit London and share the teachings in these fascicles of Shobogenzo when the pandemic is gone.

Uchiyama Roshi once said that, when people in the society do not know what to do because of confusion, the best thing we can offer is sitting immovably, silently, and peacefully with upright posture.

When I sit by myself, I feel a connection with all people.

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Below we are republishing content regarding Shoji, modified from an earlier Dōgen Institute post. Two more extracts from lectures on Shoji and Zenki will follow in subsequent weeks.
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Alive or dead?

Life and death

 

Dōgen Zenji held the collected Ch’an (Zen) kōans of the Blue Cliff Record in high esteem. Its contents were compiled by Ch’an Master Yuanwu Keqin — Engo in Japanese — who also provided commentary. So it’s no surprise that he might appear in Dōgen Zenji’s own writings.

We find Engo mentioned in Fascicle 42 of Shōbōgenzō titled Zenki. Okumura Roshi translates the title as Total Function.

Engo is also referenced in Fascicle 93, Shōji, or Life and Death.

Okumura Roshi lectured on those two texts in November, 2009 during the five-day Genzo-e Retreat at Sanshinji. In the following audio clip from that gathering, he introduces us to those chapters with a famous kōan from the Blue Cliff Record. It’s Case 55, Alive or Dead. It involves Master Dogo and his student Zengen.

Roshi describes what transpires between master and disciple when they visit a home where there’s been a death. It provokes a burning question for Zengen. Tapping the coffin, he asks his master, “Alive or dead?”

In telling the story, Hojo-san allows us to experience the perspective of both disciple and master. Even more, we can share the insights he brings to these works through his own translation of the texts.

What is alive? What is dead? What is total function?

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Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.
This is the first of a series of three posts on Zenki and Shoji.
You can find the original version of the content on Shoji here.

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For further study:

    • Life & Death: 9 lectures on Shōbōgenzō Zenki and Shōji — You’ll find the entire digital album here.

> More recordings by Shōhaku Okumura


Copyright 2020 Sanshin Zen Community

Transience Within Boundless Nature

Today, we repost a commentary by Okumura Roshi as one possible way to reflect on recent events.

 

無常
Impermanence

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.[1]

“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.[2]

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. Dōgen’s 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.

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[1] Chapter 1.1, Helen Craig McCullough’s translation
[2] Translation by Robert N. Lawson, on Washburn University website

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Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

> Other Waka by Dōgen


Copyright 2020 Sanshin Zen Community

New article by Okumura Roshi in September 2019 Dharma Eye

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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 Ikka Myoju: One Bright Jewel, please see our DI page dedicated to these articles.

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Copyright 2018 Sanshin Zen Community

New article by Okumura Roshi in September 2018 Dharma Eye

— • —

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 latest article on Ikka Myoju: One Bright Jewel, please see our DI page dedicated to these articles.

— • —


Copyright 2018 Sanshin Zen Community