Radiant Light

Nine talks on Shōbōgenzō Kōmyō

Radiant Light

Master Dōgen tells the following story in Shōbōgenzō Kōmyō. We’ve created a composite version from talks by Shōhaku Okumura now available in our latest bandcamp audio release. It’s entitled “Radiant Light: 9 talks on Shōbōgenzō Kōmyō.”

The Tang Emperor Xianzong1 requested someone to bring the buddha’s relics from Famen Temple to the palace for making offerings to them. On that occasion, in the night, people saw the radiant light. The emperor was greatly delighted.

In the early morning of the next day all his retainers presented letters of congratulation saying, “It is the response of the sacred to His Majesty’s sacred virtue.”

At the time, there was a minister whose name was Hanyu Wengong2. He had studied buddha dharma at the end of the seat of a buddha-ancestor. Wengong alone did not write a letter of congratulation.

Emperor Xianzong asked, “All the other retainers have presented letters of congratulation. Why do you not present a letter of congratulation?”

Wengong answered, “Your humble retainer has taken a look at a Buddhist text. It is said that the buddha light is not blue, yellow, red, or white. The light we had this time is the radiant light of the dragon-gods as the sign of their protection.”

The Emperor asked, “What is the buddha-light like?”

Wengong did not answer.3

As Dōgen tells it, the ministers of the Chinese Emperor wrote letters to him offering congratulations upon the appearance of light from the Buddha’s relics, but one person, Wengong, did not. Wengong said that light appearing from the Buddha’s relics is not Buddha’s light.

Okumura-rōshi reveals, “When I first read just Dōgen’s writing Kōmyō, I really didn’t understand the point of this fascicle. In order to understand what Dōgen is discussing, especially in this story of the Buddha’s relics emitting light, we need to study the original meanings of this word “kōmyō” in Buddhist scriptures. I think even Dōgen Zenji studied those kind of things, so he was very familiar with those categorizations of the different kinds of light. By studying how this word has been used in Buddhism, both in early Buddhism and later in the Mahayana sutras, I started to understand the point of Dōgen’s discussion.”

When we read Shōbōgenzō Kōmyō, the difference between kōmyō as an object of our eye sense organs and the kind of kōmyō that is not the object of our eyes is really important.

The discussion in this story is about the difference between these two kind of kōmyō — in Sanskrit these are even two different words, but when the Sanskrit was translated into Chinese, somehow these were translated by the same word. So please keep it in your mind that these two kōmyō are really two different things. One is the object of our eyesight and another is the light emitted by Buddhas or Bodhisattvas or other beings, even from human beings.

So in this story, Wengong said that the light emitted by the relics is not buddha’s light—that kind of light should be something that cannot be seen by our eyesight; that is the point of this story.

But Dōgen kind of made a twist, which is another main point of this fascicle Kōmyō.

If Buddha’s Dharma body is this entire universe, even all those colors which are the object of eyesight are not outside of Buddha’s light— so this is kind of a twist.

Those things we usually see are not Buddha’s light, but Buddha’s light is not separate from those things we see and experience in day-to-day life.

The fascicle discusses the relationship between these two. Those kinds of light are not Dōgen’s creation, but this kind of structure of the light — Buddha’s light, and the monk’s light or practitioners light — and the connection between these two things, is a main point of this writing Kōmyō.

And Rōshi thinks a third point is made by asking: when we see — often our eyes are open to this Buddha’s light — how should we live? What does our life look like?

At the end of Shōbōgenzō Kōmyō, Dōgen introduces a few more kōan stories of Chinese Zen masters, and finally he mentions that the abbot returns to the abbot’s room, the tenzo goes to the kitchen, and monks go to the zendo. That is how we emit this light. Not only do monks return to the sōdō or monk’s hall (in other words, sitting, meditation practice, or zazen) but the tenzo goes to kitchen and the abbot goes to abbot’s room — the kind of usual day-to-day activity within the monastery. That is how we can live being illuminated by Buddha’s light.

This is a kind of an introduction to Shōbōgenzō Kōmyō4.

Radiant Light: 9 talks on Shōbōgenzō Kōmyō — you’ll find the entire digital album here.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Rōshi

“Radiant Light: 9 talks on Shōbōgenzō Kōmyō” is also available for sale on the Dōgen Institute’s audio page.

Photograph by: Jon Fife. License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode. Disclaimer. Link to materials. Original photograph modified for use in this instance. We offer our thanks to Mr. Fife for his permission to use this photograph.

[1 ] The Tang Emperor Xianzong (Kenso) reigned 806-821. He was father of the two emperors, Muzong (Bokuso, 821-825) and Xuanzong (Senso, 847-860). Xianzong was also grandfather of the three emperors, Jingzong (Keiso, 825-827), Wenzong (Bunso, 827-841), and Wuzong (Buso, 841-846).

[2 ] Hanyu (Kan Yu) Wengong (Bunko) also had a pen name, Tuizhi (Taishi).

[3 ] Shōbōgenzō Kōmyō, unpublished translation copyright 2017 by Shōhaku Okumura

> Other albums by Shōhaku Okumura

[4 ]Copyright 2017 Sanshin Zen Community

Flowers for Buddhas

Offerings to Ornament the Sky

Flowers offered to the sky

© Can Stock Photo / sadakko

この心 Kono kokoro Together with this [bodhi]-mind,
天つ空にも amatsu sora ni mo [I] embellish the heavenly sky
花そなふ hana sonau with these flowers.
三世の仏に miyo no hotoke ni I respectfully offer them to all the buddhas
奉らなむ tatematsura namu in the three times.

“I embellish the heavenly sky with these flowers.” This sentence refers to a story of a bodhisattva in one of Shakyamuni Buddha’s past lives that appears in the Chinese Vinaya text.

When Dipamkara Buddha was in this world, there was a bodhisattva (the future Shakyamuni Buddha) who lived as a hermit. When he heard Dipamkara Buddha was coming, he wanted to offer flowers. He bought five stalks of lotus flower, spending all the money he had. When he threw the flowers to the Buddha as an offering, they stayed in the sky and were transformed into a flower canopy which covered the Buddha. The canopy continued to cover the Buddha wherever he went.

In Shobogenzo Hotsumujoshin (Arousing Unsurpassable Mind), Dogen refers to this offering of the five stalks of lotus flowers:

Taking it up in this way, we sit a buddha and we make a buddha; this is called arousing bodhi-mind. In general, as the causes and conditions of arousing bodhi-mind, we don’t take it up from somewhere else, rather we take up bodhi-mind itself to arouse this mind. Taking up bodhi-mind means that we hold a single stalk of grass and make it into a Buddha; we hold the rootless tree and making it into a sutra. We offer a handful of sand to a buddha and offer a bowl of drink to a buddha. We offer one ball of food to living beings and offer five stalks of [lotus] flowers to a tathagata.1

This mind (kokoro) refers to bodhi-mind. As bodhisattvas — people who have aroused bodhi-mind — we exchange all of our personal possessions for the lotus (dharma) flowers and throw them into the sky (emptiness) to offer them to the Buddha. Then our offerings stay in the sky as ornaments of the world of Buddha dharma. They don’t fall down to the earth, the ground of human desire.

Ryokan (1758 – 1831) was inspired by this waka of Dogen and composed his own:

鉢の子に Hachinoko ni In my begging bowl,
菫たむぽぽ sumire tampopo putting violets and dandelions
こき混ぜて kokimazete mixing together,
三世の仏に miyo no hotokeni Let’s respectfully offer them
奉りてな tatematsuri tena to all the buddhas in the three times.

While Ryokan was begging (takuhatsu) in a spring day, some children in the village wanted to play with him as usual. Ryokan started to pick violets and dandelions in the spring field with the children. He put the flowers in his begging bowl and told the children, “Let’s offer these pretty flowers to the buddhas.

Possibly on the same occasion, Ryokan composed another waka,

飯乞うと Ii kou to
わが来しかども waga koshi kadomo Although I came [to practice] begging for food,
春の野に haru no no ni I spent the whole day
すみれ摘みつつ sumire tsumitsutsu in a spring field,
時を経にけり toki o henikeri picking violets.

Even though they have no market value, violets and dandelions are pretty flowers in the field. Ryokan and the children picked them and put them in the begging bowl and made them offerings to the buddhas. The begging bowl is made receive offerings from people, but Ryokan used it to make offering to the buddhas. His practice of begging and playing with children were also his offering.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

1 Shōhaku Okumura’s unpublished translation.

> Other Waka by Dōgen

Copyright 2017 Sanshin Zen Community

Back in stock! Zen of Four Seasons: Dogen Zenji’s Waka

image Zen of Four Seasons: Dogen Zenji’s Waka

The Dōgen Institute now has a limited number of copies of the beautiful, self-produced collection of 14 of Dogen Zenji’s waka poems based on the seasons.

Building upon the Dōgen Institute’s popular postings, this book features translation and commentary by Shohaku Okumura Roshi, calligraphy by Kaz Tanahashi, and photography by Ai Takahashi.

This limited edition book is printed on hand-made Nepalese Daphne paper, the binding is stitched around split bamboo splints, and the covers are handmade Daphne dyed with Catechu stamped in blind and gold.

This book is not available through other outlets.

We have been sold out for over a year. Don’t miss your chance to obtain a copy, as our supplies are intermittent. Copies will be signed by Okumura Roshi.

$75.00 in USA; $90.00 most countries outside of USA (includes shipping and handling).

Order by downloading the Sanshin Zen Community Order Form

For other books, see our purchase publications page.

For additional information, please contact admin@sanshinji.org

The Dharma of Impermanence

Transience Can Spawn Bodhi-Mind


© Can Stock Photo / lilkar

心なき Kokoro naki Even insentient beings
草木も今日は kusaki mo kyo wa such as grasses and trees
しぼむなり shibomu nari wither today.
目に見たる人 meni mitaru hito Seeing them in front of their eyes,
愁へざらめや ure-e zarameya how can people be without grieving?

In his teisho on this waka, Kōdō Sawaki Roshi emphasized the quality of our eyes, whether they are open to see impermanence and whether we can feel grief about the plants’ and our own lives. He compared himself with Dōgen Zenji who deeply realized impermanence by experiencing his mother’s death when he was seven years old.

Seeing the incense smoke at his mother’s funeral, Dōgen aspired to become a Buddhist monk. Sawaki Roshi’s mother died when he was five years old and his father died when he was seven; he was adopted by his aunt, but soon her husband died from a stroke in front of Sawaki Roshi’s eyes in the same year. Then he was adopted by Bunkichi Sawaki.

Though he had such painful experiences, Sawaki Roshi said that he did not really see impermanence; rather, he only worried about who would feed and raise him.

His adopted father Bunkichi was a gambler living in a red-light district. When Sawaki Roshi was eight years old, a middle-aged man died of a stroke in a prostitute’s room nearby. Sawaki Roshi saw the dead man in bed with his wife beside him, crying, “Why did you die in a place like this, of all places?”

Sawaki Roshi was stunned by this miserable scene, and this time impermanence and the impossibility of keeping secrets were inscribed deep in his mind.1 After all, Sawaki Roshi said, “Dōgen Zenji was sharp witted so that he could deeply see impermanence and aroused bodhi-mind by simply seeing the smoke of incense, or withering trees and grasses, but a dull-witted person like me could not feel the same thing until I had much more intense experiences.”

Even though Sawaki Roshi said he was dull-witted compared with Dōgen Zenji, I think he was the only person who had the eyes to see the spiritual meaning of impermanence among the many people who witnessed what happened at the brothel.

All plants — either grasses or trees — know when they sprout, grow, bloom flowers, bear fruits, and wither. Each plant has its own time and season.

If we are mindful, we can see that all things in nature are expressing the Dharma of impermanence. Particularly when we see plants withering, we cannot help but see the transience of our own lives if our eyes are open. We all see that our lives are not at all different from the lives of plants.

Seeing impermanence and feeling grief is a good chance to arouse bodhi-mind. This way of seeing impermanence is essentially different from the common sense of the fragility of life expressed by many Japanese poets. Seeing impermanence and feeling grief is not necessarily negative in Buddhism, especially in Dōgen’s teachings.

Dōgen Zenji says in Shōbōgenzō Hotsu bodaishin (Arousing Bodhicitta):

In general, arousing [bodhi-]mind and attaining the Way both depend on the instantaneous arising and perishing [of all things]. … In this way, whether we wish in our minds or not, being pulled by our past karma, the transmigration within the cycle of life and death continues without stopping for a single ksana *. With the body-mind that is transmigrating in this manner through the cycle of life and death, we should without fail arouse the bodhi-mind of ferrying others before ourselves. Even if, on the way of arousing the bodhi-mind, we hold our body-mind dear, it is born, grows old, becomes sick, and dies; after all, it cannot be our own personal possession. … 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 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.2

Seeing impermanence is not a negative thing in Buddhism even though we feel sad. It is a good chance to arouse bodhi-mind and aspire to practice what the Buddha taught. As Shakyamuni Buddha said in the Sutra on the Buddha’s Bequeathed Teaching, within the practice, the Buddha’s indestructible Dharma Body is actualized.

In the beginning of Shōbōgenzō Genjōkōan Dōgen said, “Therefore, flowers fall even though we love them; weeds grow even though we dislike them.” Then at the end of the same fascicle he wrote, “Since the wind’s nature is ever-present, the wind of the Buddha’s family enables us to realize the gold of the great earth and to transform the [water of] the long river into cream.”3

By seeing the reality beyond our self-centered desire or expectation, we see our lives are connected with all beings. This waka might have a connection with the case 27 of the Blue Cliff Record “Yunmen’s The Body Exposed, The Golden Wind”:

A monk asked Yunmen, “How is it when the tree withers and the leaves fall?”
Yunmen said, “Body exposed in the golden wind.”
. 4

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

1 See The Zen Teaching of Homeless Kōdō (Kōshō Uchiyama, Wisdom Publicatins) p.235.
2 Okumura’s unpublished translation.
3 Okumura’s translation in Realizing Genjōkōan (Wisdom Publications, 2010), p.1, p.5
4 The Blue Cliff Record (Thomas Cleary, Shambhala, 1977) p.176.

* An instant; an infinitesimal unit of time.

> Other Waka by Dōgen

Copyright 2017 Sanshin Zen Community

One Bright Jewel

From nine talks on Shōbōgenzō Ikka no Myōju

One Bright Jewel

When Spring, 2009 rolled around, Shohaku Okumura was just back from Japan. The Genzo-e retreat was set to begin at Sanshinji in Bloomington, Indiana. And he would spend five days lecturing on Dōgen Zenji’s Shōbōgenzō Ikka no Myōju. He’d arrive with seven translations of that single chapter.

As you’ll hear in the excerpt below, Hojo-san unequivocally states, “In English, Ikka no Myōju is One Bright Jewel.” Then he shares that six of the seven translations he brought render the title as “One Bright Pearl.” In his understated way, Roshi assesses the muddle with, “To me, this is a problem.”

This anecdote beautifully demonstrates that Okumura’s lectures for the retreat — like his translations — don’t necessarily rely on conventional wisdom. The entire 13 hours of teaching deliver his original scholarship and personal understanding. In that regard alone, these recordings provide an invaluable tool for an exploration of Zen practice that conveys true Dharma.

Determine its value for yourself with the free sample below. It also traces Dogen’s path from 13-year-old Tendai monk in Kyoto to body and mind dropping off in China.

Enjoy this introduction to the sort of analysis and applicability to our practice unavailable anywhere else.

You’ll find the full digital album here.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

> Other albums by Shōhaku Okumura

Copyright 2017 Sanshin Zen Community

The Tail of the Elephant

Dogen’s Waka 47

Tail of the elephant

(c) Can Stock Photo / frenta; (c) Can Stock Photo / MattiaATH

世の中は Yo no naka wa [People in] this world are like
まどより出づる Mado yori izuru the elephant going out the window.
きさの尾の Kisa no o no Only its tail remains
ひかぬにとまる Hikanu ni tomaru without being pulled [from inside].
さはり斗りぞ Sawari bakari zo [Such a tiny thing becomes] the obstacle
[to renouncing the mundane world].

“An elephant going out a window” is an unusual image.

Menzan changed kisa 象, elephant, to ushi 牛, water buffalo and added the title “A Water Buffalo Passes Through a Window” to this waka, as if Dogen Zenji wrote this poem as a comment on the 38th case of the Mumonkan (Gateless Barrier). The Mumonkan was compiled in 1228, the year before Dogen left China to return to Japan.

Shinchi Kakushin (1207 – 1298) is a Rinzai Zen master who received the Bodhisattva Precepts from Dogen and later went to China — received inka from Wumen Huikai (Mumon Ekai, 1183 – 1260), the compiler of the Mumonkan — and returned to Japan in 1254.

Dogen had passed away in the previous year and probably did not have a chance to read the Mumonkan. According to it, this koan was the saying of Song Dynasty Rinzai Zen master Wuzu Fayuan (Goso Hoen, ? – 1104), and therefore Dogen might have known it. And yet, Dogen never mentions it in his writings nor includes it in the collection of 300 koans in the Shinji Shobogenzo.

In most of the older versions of the collection of Dogen’s waka before Menzan, the animal mentioned in this waka is kisa (elephant) and not ushi (water buffalo). Menzan also changed sawari (obstacle) to kokoro (the mind).

I suppose that these changes were Menzan’s mistakes. The meaning of this poem as a whole became completely different from Dogen’s original.

The eminent modern Rinzai Zen Master Zenkei Shibayama Roshi said in his comments on the case, “This tail is nothing else than the formless form of Reality.”1 Shibayama Roshi also quotes this waka by Dogen Zenji. The translation of this waka in his teisho is as follows:

This world is but the tail of a buffalo passing through a window.
The tail is the mind,
Which knows neither passing nor not-passing.

The last line is Shibayama Roshi’s addition to make the meaning of ‘the mind’ clear. This translation is based on Menzan’s version. It seems to me that Menzan revised Dogen Zenji’s waka in the way that made it compatible with the interpretation of case 38 of the Mumonkan in Rinzai tradition. Traditional commentaries in the Soto Zen tradition have also been based on Menzan’s revised version of this waka. Until the second half of the 20th century, Dogen Zenji had been understood based on the interpretations by Tokugawa period Soto Zen masters.

The story of an elephant going out of a window appears in a sutra entitled The Story of Anathapindada’s Daughter Receiving Ordination (Taishō Tripiṭaka: T0130_.02.0845c09).

Anathapindada was a millionaire who donated the land of Jetavana Vihara to Shakyamuni. In the story, when Kasyapa Buddha, the sixth of the seven buddhas in the past, was alive, there was a king. The king had ten unusual dreams and asked Kasyapa Buddha what the dreams meant. In the king’s first dream, an elephant tried to get out of a room through a window; although rest of its body got out, only its tail remained without being pulled through. Kasyapa Buddha said that this dream was about a situation in the future after Shakyamuni Buddha had passed away. There will be some people, either men or women, who will have left home to become monks, but even though they have done this their minds will still be influenced by greedy attachments to fame and profit regarding mundane things and they will not be able to attain deliverance.

In this waka, Dogen wants to say that there are many people in his time who have left home to become Buddhist monks, but many of them still have some attachment to fame and profit and therefore they are not able to be released from the triple-world of samsara.

In Shobogenzo Keiseisanshoku (Sounds of Valley Streams and Colors of Mountains) Dogen says:

Moreover, we should not forget the aspiration we aroused when we first sought the Buddha Way. What I want to say is that when we first aroused bodhi-mind, we didn’t seek the Dharma for the sake of others and we abandoned fame and profit. Without seeking fame and profit, we simply aspired to attain the Way. We never expected to be venerated and receive offerings from the king and ministers. However, such causes and conditions for [the desire for fame and profit] are present now. [Fame and profit] are not what we expected originally or what we sought after. We did not expect [to be] involved in entanglements with human and heavenly affairs. And yet foolish people, even if they have aroused bodhi-mind, soon forget their original aspiration and mistakenly expect offerings from human and heavenly beings. And when they receive them, they are delighted, thinking that the virtue of the Buddha-dharma has been realized. When kings and ministers come frequently to take refuge, [such people] think this is the manifestation of their Way. This is one of the demons afflicting the practice of the Way. Even though we should not forget the compassionate mind [toward such people], we should not be delighted [when such people venerate us]. 1

In this waka, Dogen uses the story of the elephant’s tail from the Agama to criticize many of the Japanese Buddhist monks of his time. In Shobogenzo Zuimonki he said the same thing as in Keiseisanshoku, for example in section 6-21 of the Choenji version (5-20 of Menzan’s version):

Nowadays, some people seem to have renounced the world and left their families. Nevertheless, when examining their conduct, there are those who are not yet true home-leavers. As a home-leaver, first of all, we must depart from our [ego-centered] self as well as from [desire for] fame and profit. Unless we become free from these, even if we urgently practice the Way as if extinguishing a fire enveloping our head, or devote ourselves to diligent practice as hard as [people who] cut off their hands or legs, it will only be a meaningless trouble that has nothing to do with renunciation. 2

This is not a problem only about Indian monks after Shakyamuni’s death and Japanese monks at the time of Dogen. In the United States today, Buddhist institutes are not as large as in India or medieval Japan, so I don’t think people become Buddhists monks/priests for the sake of fame and profit. Still, we may make the same kind of mistakes on much smaller scale in our practice.

When we compete with other people and want to consider we are better than others, or we want other people to consider us as superior practitioners to them, or if we study Buddhist teachings to show others that we have better knowledge, our motivation is not genuine bodhi-mind. We are moved by our ego-centered desire to be winners in the competition. This is the way we ourselves create samsara within our own Buddhist practice. That is the tiny tail of the elephant that binds us to samsara.

— • —

1 This is Okumura’s unpublished translation. Another translation is in Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo, Book 1 (Gudo Nishijima & Chodo Cross) p.92
2 This is Okumura’s unpublished translation of the Choenji version. Another translation is in Shobogenzo-zuimonki: Sayings of Eihei Dogen Zenji recorded by Koun Ejo (Shohaku Okumura, Sotoshu Shumucho) p.191

> Other Waka by Dōgen

Copyright 2017 Sanshin Zen Community