When Will We Meet the Compassionate Buddha?

Copyright©2021 Misaki C. Kido

Dōgen’s Chinese Poems (48)
Verse from Dharma Hall Discourse 486

When Will We Meet the Compassionate Buddha?
486. Dharma Hall Discourse for the ceremony for Buddha’s Parinirvāna [1252]

In Crane Forest with the moon fallen, how could dawn appear?
In Kusi[nagara] flowers wither, and spring is not spring.
Amid love and yearning, what can this confused son do?
I wish to stop these red tears, and join in wholesome action.[1]

「涅槃會」 (涅槃会)

鶴林月落曉何曉 (鶴林の月落ちぬ、曉、何ぞ曉ならん。)
鳩尸花枯春不春 (鳩尸の花枯れて、春、春ならず)
戀慕何爲顛誑子 (戀慕、何爲せん顛誑の子)
欲遮紅涙結良因 (紅涙を遮めて良因を結ばんと欲す)

— • —

This is verse 47 in Kuchūgen and Dharma Hall Discourse (上堂, jōdō) 486 in Volume 7 of Eihei Kōroku (Dōgen’s Extensive Record). After a long presentation and a short pause, Dōgen Zenji recites this verse at the end of the jōdō. This verse in Manzan’s version has a few typographical differences but no change in meaning.

486. Dharma Hall Discourse for the ceremony for Buddha’s Parinirvāna [1252]

This Dharma Hall discourse was presented on the 15th day of 2nd month, in 1252, on the occasion of Buddha’s Parinirvāna Day. Together with Buddha’s Birthday and Enlightenment Day, Parinirvāna Day is one of the most important annual events in all Buddhist traditions. In the Theravada tradition, these three events are celebrated on one day in April or May, as Wesak. Seven dharma discourses given on Parinirvāna Day are recorded in Eihei Kōroku. This is the last one, given in the year before Dōgen’s own entering nirvāṇa.[2]

At Antaiji, we chanted the Sutra on the Buddha’s Bequeathed Teaching (Butsu-yuikyō-gyō, 佛遺教経) from the beginning of February until the 15th. While Sawaki Rōshi was alive, during these evenings, the monks gave a lecture in turn each day on a certain part of the Sutra. This was the only occasion during the year when Sawaki Rōshi listened to the monks’ talks. While Uchiyama Rōshi was the abbot, we each gave a lecture in turn in the mornings on certain basic Buddhist texts. Uchiyama Rōshi did not listen to our lectures.

In the Pali Mahaparinibbana Sutta, right before he entered nirvāṇa, Shakyamuni Buddha said to Ananda:

Ananda, it may be that you will think: “The Teacher’s instruction has ceased, now we have no teacher!” It should not be seen like this, Ananda, for what I have taught and explained to you as Dhamma and discipline will, at my passing, be your teacher.”[3]

In the Sutra on the Buddha’s Bequeathed Teaching, the Buddha’s saying is:

From now on all of my disciples must continuously practice. Then the Thus Come One’s Dharma body will always be present and indestructible. You should know therefore, that everything in the world is impermanent. Meetings necessarily have separations, so do not harbor grief. Every appearance in the world is like this, so you should be vigorous and seek for an early liberation. Destroy the darkness of delusion with the brightness of wisdom. The world is truly dangerous and unstable, without any durability.[4]

In the latter sutra, the notion of Buddha’s “Dharma body” that is always present and indestructible appears. Buddha’s Parinirvāna Day is the occasion to reflect on both the impermanence of our lives and the eternity of Buddha’s Dharma body. In this case, the “eternity” of Buddha’s Dharma body is different from “permanence.” The indestructible Dharma body is always present only if his disciples practice what the Buddha taught. I use the word “eternity” in terms of beyond arising and perishing, while “permanence” means something existing now continues to exist without perishing. Another English term for this term “eternity” might be “timeless.”

In this Dharma discourse, Dōgen says:

Therefore [nirvāna] is neither departing nor entering [the world], nor hiding in despair. Nor is it birth or extinction, nor going or coming. And yet, simply when the opportunity and conditions join together, parinirvāna is manifested. This night [Buddha] entered nirvāna under the twin sāla trees, and yet it is said that he always abides on Vulture Peak.[5]

As it was the death of the Buddha, it was a sad time. Some of the people surrounding the Buddha’s death bed, including Ananda, cried; other monks, such as Anuruddha, did not cry . In the Pali Mahaparinibbana Sutta, we read:

And those monks who had not yet overcome their passions wept and tore their hair, raising their arms, throwing themselves down and twisting and turning, crying: ‘All too soon the Blessed Lord has passed away, all too soon the Well Farer has passed away, all too soon the eye of the world has disappeared! But those monks who were free from craving endured mindfully and clearly aware, saying: ‘all compounded things are impermanent–what is the use of this?’[6]

In Crane Forest with the moon fallen, how could dawn appear?
In Kusi[nagara] flowers wither, and spring is not spring.

“Crane Forest” is a translation of kakurin (鶴林). It is said that at the place of the Buddha’s passing away, there were four twin trees of sāla—together, eight trees surround the Buddha’s death bed. The flowers of those sāla trees suddenly bloom and change their color into white, as if white cranes are flying. Therefore, the place came to be called Crane Forest. In paintings of the Parinirvāna, half of the sāla trees are withered and the leaves have become brown; another half of the tees continue to flourish with green leaves. This shows the impermanence of rupa-body and the eternity of Dharma body. The Buddha’s mother Queen Maya is coming down from the heavens. She wants to offer some medicine, but it seems too late, so she throws the medicine down. But still, it is not in time. Monks, bodhisattvas, lay people, and heavenly beings come to see the Buddha’s passing away. Not only human and heavenly beings, but also all different kinds of living beings gather around the death bed to show their respect and sadness.

In this poem, Dōgen Zenji remains on the side of the monks who had not yet released from delusions and desires, such as Ananda. After the Buddha’s death, the full moon set, and it became dark. Even when the time of dawn came, it was still dark for them. The flowers of the sāla trees had fallen. Even though it was springtime, for those monks, this spring was not cheerful like a usual spring.

Amid love and yearning, what can this confused son do?
I wish to stop these red tears, and join in wholesome action.

In this poem, Dōgen Zenji is together with those unenlightened monks and calls himself “a confused son” overwhelmed by sadness for losing their teacher. The original word ten’oshi (顛誑子) is a strong word. Ten (顛) means “upside down” used for example, in the Heart Sutra, tendō musō (顛倒夢想)—inverted or up-side-down view. O (誑) means crazy. Shi (子) is “son” or “child.”

In the final line, he expresses his wish and vow that no matter how sad and painful this experience, he wishes to stop his red tears, and continue to practice following the Buddha’s final teaching. In this way, the indestructible Dharma body is always present.

— • —

[1] (Dōgen’s Extensive Record Volume 7, Dharma Hall Discourse 486, p.433) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., www.wisdompubs.org.
[2] Dharma Hall Discourse 121 (p.147), 146 (p.173), 225 (p.230), 311 (p.287), 367 (p.323), 418 (p.374), 486 (p.432).
[3] The Long Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Dīgha Nikāya (translation by Maurice Walshe, Wisdom) p.269–270. Dhamma refers to the teachings, and discipline refers to Vinaya Precepts.
[4] Translated from the Chinese by: The Buddhist Text Translation Society, Dharma Realm Buddhist University, Talmage, California, USA.
[5] Dōgen’s Extensive Record p. 432
[6] The Long Discourses of the Buddha, p.272.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

— • —

For further study:

> More of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese Poems


Copyright©2021 Sanshin Zen Community

Ryōkan Interpreted: the true Dharma eye

Collage "Crazy Moon"
Copyright©2021 Tomon Marr
(from the book)

[An extract from Okumura Roshi’s new book: Ryōkan Interpreted.]

Chapter title: Ryōkan and Dōgen

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.

— • —

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 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.[1]

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.

— • —

[1] Red Pine, trans., The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain, (Port Townsend, Wash: Copper Canyon Press, 2000), p.209.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

— • —

For further study:

> More Ryōkan


Copyright©2021 Sanshin Zen Community

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.

Monkey-mind horse-will

Copyright©2021 Misaki C. Kido

Dōgen’s Chinese Poems (47)
Verse from Dharma Hall Discourse 348

Like a Lotus in Flames
348. Dharma Hall Discourse

The sitting cushions of the seven buddhas are now about to be worn through;
The sleeping stick of my former teacher [Tiantong Rujing] has been transmitted.
Eyes and nose should be upright and straight,
Headtop reaching up to the blue sky, and ears aligned above the shoulders.[1]

「示衆」(示衆)
七佛蒲團今欲穿 (七佛の蒲團今、穿なんとす、) 
先師禪板已相傳 (先師の禪板、已に相傳す。)
眼睛鼻孔可端直 (眼睛鼻孔、端直なるべし)
頂對青天耳對肩 (頂きは青天に對し、耳は肩に對す)

— • —

This is verse 46 in Kuchūgen and Dharma Hall Discourse (上堂, jōdō) 348 in Volume 5 of Eihei Kōroku. This verse in Manzan’s version is the same as in Monkaku’s version. After reciting this verse in his discourse, Dōgen added a short comment.

At this very time, how is it?
After a pause Dōgen said: Do not control the monkey mind or horse will. Make an effort like a lotus in fire.

正当恁麼時、又作麼生。良久云、莫管他心猿意馬。功夫猶若火中蓮。
(正当恁麼の時、又た作麼生。良久して云く、管すること莫れ、他の心猿と意馬と。功夫は猶お火中の蓮の若し。)

348. Dharma Hall Discourse

This Dharma Hall Discourse was given in the ninth lunar month in 1249. The ninth lunar month is the last month of autumn, called nagatsuki (長月); this is an abbreviation of yonagatsuki (夜長月), which means the month in which night is getting longer. In the solar calendar this would be somewhere between the end of September and the beginning of November. Heat is over but it is not yet too cold, so it is a good time for zazen practice. In this jōdō, Dōgen Zenji first introduces the verse, and after a pause he makes a short comment that clearly shows a characteristic of his zazen practice.

The sitting cushions of the seven buddhas are now about to be worn through;
The sleeping stick of my former teacher [Tiantong Rujing] has been transmitted.

At Dōgen’s monastery Eiheiji, monks devoted themselves to zazen practice so much that their cushions are almost worn through. He says that their cushions (zafu) have been transmitted from Vipaśyin Buddha, who is the first of the seven buddhas of the past (before Shakyamuni Buddha) as we count back through all of the buddha-ancestors. Of course, it is not the cushion but zazen that has been transmitted. The phrase about sitting cushions being worn through comes from the expression “habuton (破蒲團),” literally, “breaking a cushion.” For example, in the section concerning Changqing Huileng (Chōkei Eryō長慶慧稜, 854–932) of Shōbōgenzo Gyōji (行持下, Continuous Practice, part 2), Dōgen praises Changqing, a disciple of Xuefeng (雪峰, Seppō), saying:

Master Huileng of Changqing was a venerable master [in the assembly of] Xuefeng. He studied and practiced going back and forth between Xuefeng and Xuansha for almost twenty-nine years. During those years and months, he broke twenty sitting cushions. Among todays’ people who love zazen, Changqing is considered to be the excellent example of yearning for the ancient [style of practice]. Although there are many who adore him, few of them are equal to him.[2]

“The sleeping stick” is zenpan (禅板). It is a flat wooden board about 1.7 feet long and 2 inches wide, and there is a hole in the upper part. This is used to support the sitter’s body when they sleep in the zazen posture. Originally in China, they put a cord into the hole and tied the rope behind their seat to support the body. In Japan, a sitter placed a zenpan on their hands and supported their chin. Zenpan is mentioned in case 20 of Blue Cliff Record; Lung Ya’s Meaning of the Coming from the West:

Lung Ya asked Ts’ui Wei, “What is the meaning of the Patriarch’s coming from the West?”
Wei said, “Pass me the meditation brace.”
Ya gave the meditation brace to Wei; Wei took it and hit him.
Ya said, “Since you hit me I let you hit me. In essence, though, there is no meaning of the Patriarch’s coming from the West.”

I have never seen a zenpan in use today. It seems that Dōgen Zenji received a zenpan from Tiantong Rujing. This means that Dōgen’s sangha practiced zazen in the style of Rujing transmitted by Dōgen.

Eyes and nose should be upright and straight,
Headtop reaching up to the blue sky, and ears aligned above the shoulders.

In the third and fourth lines of the verse, Dōgen describes their zazen posture simply, and in accordance with what he wrote in Fukanzazengi and Shōbōgenzo Zazengi:

Sit in upright posture. Do not lean either to the left or right, either to the front or back. The line connecting your ears should be parallel with the line connecting your shoulders without fail. Your nose should be in line with your navel. Your tongue should be placed against the roof of your mouth. Breathe through your nose. Your lips and jaw should be closed. Keep your eyes open, neither too wide nor too little.[3]

Thus, the verse is a simple description of their zazen transmitted from the buddhas and ancestors through Dōgen Zenji. After reciting this verse, Dōgen asks the monks, “At this very time, how is it?” It is not clear if the monks offered some answers or not. In Eihei Kōroku, the monks’ reaction to Dōgen’s presentations is not recorded at all. Dōgen keeps silence for a while and offers a final comment:

Do not control the monkey mind or horse will. Make an effort like a lotus in fire.
莫管他心猿意馬。功夫猶若火中蓮。

I think this comment clearly expresses Dōgen’s Zazen practice. “The monkey mind or horse will” is a translation of shin’en iba (心猿意馬), shin (心) is mind, en (猿) is monkey, i (意) is will, or more commonly in Buddhist terminology, the sixth sense organ “mind.” Ba (馬) is horse. In this case, shin and i are not different. In Tenzokyōkun, Dōgen writes:

This principle is a certainty that you still do not yet clearly understand, only because your thinking scatters like wild birds (horses) and your emotions scamper around like monkeys in the forest. If those monkeys and birds (horses) once took the backward step of inner illumination, naturally you would become integrated. This is a means whereby, although you are turned around by things, you can also turn things around. Being harmonious and pure like this, do not lose either the eye of oneness or the eye that discern differences.[4]

He does not say that we should control our thinking mind; instead, he says, “If those monkeys and birds (horses) once took the backward step of inner illumination, naturally you would become integrated.” “Taking the backward step of inner illumination” (回光返照退歩, ekō henshō taiho) and “becoming integrated” (打成一片, dajō ippen)[5] are the same expressions Dōgen uses in Fukanzazengi, Universal Recommendation of Zazen. This is the opposite of what was said by Yuanwu, the Rinzai Zen Master who made The Blue Cliff Record: “Let the mind-monkey completely die and kill the mind-horse. (死却心猿殺却意馬).”[6]

In Shōbōgenzo Sanjūshichihon Bodaibunpō (三十七品菩提分法), Dōgen says this about right thinking in the eightfold noble path:

An ancient buddha [Yaoshan] said, “Think of not-thinking. How do you think of not-thinking? Beyond thinking.” This is right thinking, right cerebration. Breaking through the zazen cushion is right cerebration.”[7]

古佛いはく、「思量箇不思量底、不思量底如何思量、非思量。」これ正思量正思惟なり。破蒲團これ正思惟なり

In Dōgen’s practice, zazen of hishiryō (非思量, beyond thinking) which includes both thinking (思量, shiryō) and not-thinking (不思量, fushiryō) is the foundation of “right thinking” and “mindful work” in the kitchen and other places.

— • —

[1] (Dōgen’s Extensive Record volume 5, Dharma Hall Discourse 348, p.312) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., www.wisdompubs.org.
[2] This is Okumura’s unpublished translation. Another translation is in Treasury of the True Dharma Eye: Zen Master Dōgen’s Shobo Genzo (edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi), p.368.
[3] Okumura’s unpublished translation.
[4] This is the translation in Dōgen’s Pure Standards for the Zen Community: A translation of Eihei Shingi (translated by Taigen Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, SUNY, 1996), p.37-p.38. In a note, it says, “Instead of ‘birds,’ the common rufubon edition has ‘horses.’” (p.51)
[5] Literally, “becoming one-piece.”
[6] This is Okumura’s translation of the sentence from Recorded Sayings of Zen Master Yuanwu (圓悟佛果禪師語録). I cannot find another English translation.
[7] This is Okumura’s translation. Another translation is in Treasury of the True Dharma Eye: Zen Master Dōgen’s Shobo Genzo (edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi, Shambhala), p.682.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

— • —

For further study:

> More of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese Poems


Copyright©2021 Sanshin Zen Community

The spring within a cold flower; a heron in the moonlight

Copyright©2021 Misaki C. Kido

Dōgen’s Chinese Poems (46)
Verse on the Fifteenth Day of the First Month

The Spring within a Cold Flower
Dharma Hall Discourse on the Fifteenth [Full Moon] Day of the First Month [1252]

How can white reed flowers covered in snow be defiled by dust?
Who knows that there are many people on the pure earth?
A single plum flower in the cold, with fragrant heart blossoming,
Calls for the arising of spring in the emptiness of the pot of ages.[1]

上元上堂 (上元上堂)

雪覆蘆花豈染塵 (雪、蘆花を覆う、豈に塵に染まんや。)
誰知浄地尚多人 (誰か知らん、浄地に尚お人多きことを。)
寒梅一點芳心綻 (寒梅一點芳心綻ぶ、)
喚起劫壺空處春 (喚起す、劫壺空處の春。)

— • —

Until verse 44 in Kuchūgen, all the verses were taken from Volume 10 of Eihei Kōroku (Dōgen’s Extensive Record). From this verse onward, Menzan selected poems from other volumes. This is verse 45 in Kuchūgen and Dharma Hall Discourse (上堂, jōdō) 481 in Volume 7 of Eihei Kōroku. The second line of this verse in Manzan’s version is different:

風光占斷屬當人 (風光占斷、當人に屬す)
The scenery is completely occupied by the very person

Dharma Hall Discourse on the Fifteenth [Full Moon] Day of the First Month [1252]

The Fifteenth [Full Moon] Day of the First Month is called jōgen (上元). This is one of the three gen: (元, origin, foundation): jōgen (上元, upper gen–the 15th day of first month), chūgen (中元, middle genthe 15th day of the 7th month), and kagen (下元, lower gen–the 15th day of the 10th month). In Daoism, these days were celebrated as the birthdays of the three deities. The 15th day of the 1st month has also been celebrated because it is the first full moon day of the year. On the same day in 1251, Dōgen Zenji gave a jōdō (dharma hall discourse) and mentioned that the origin of this day’s celebration is in the mundane world.[2]

This jōdō was given on the 15th day of the 1st month, as the first jōdō of the year 1252. This was the final active year of Dōgen’s life. After this, he gave about fifty more jōdō. His last jōdō was given on the occasion of the Buddha’s Enlightenment Day, on the 8th day of the 12th month of the year. In the 6th day of the first month of 1253, Dōgen wrote Shōbōgenzo Hachidainingaku (八大人覚, Eight Aspects of Great Beings’ Awakening), which was his final writing. When he wrote this fascicle, he was aware of that his life was getting closer to the end. He was active until almost the end of 1252 in terms of giving dharma hall discourses. He went to Kyoto in the 8th month of 1253 to get some treatments but passed away there on the 28th day of the same month.

How can white reed flowers covered in snow be defiled by dust?
Who knows that there are many people on the pure earth?

“White reed flowers covered in snow,” is a Zen expression from Case 13, Pa Ling’s Snow in a Silver Bowl of The Blue Cliff Record (Hekiganroku). In the instruction of the case, Yuanwu said, “Clouds are frozen over the great plains, but the whole world is not hidden. When snow covers the white flowers, it’s hard to distinguish the outlines.”

The main case is a monk’s question and the answer by Zen Master Baling Haojian (?–?), a dharma heir of Yunmen Wenyan (864–919).

A monk asked Baling, “What is the school of Kanadeva?”
Baling said, “Piling up snow in a silver bowl.”[3]

Kanadeva was the dharma heir of Nāgarjuna and the 15th ancestor of the Zen lineage in India. It is said that he was very eloquent and good at debate. He defeated many non-Buddhist teachers in debates using language. The meaning of the monk’s question was something like this: if the truth is beyond language, what was Kanadeva’s principle for discussing using language.

Baling’s answer was taken from Dongshan Liangjie (807–869)’s expression in the beginning of the well-known poem Hōkyōzanmai (宝鏡三昧, Jewel Mirror Samadhi):

銀盌盛雪、明月藏鷺。類之不齊、混則知處。

Filling a silver bowl with snow,
Hiding a heron in the moonlight–
When you array them, they’re not the same;
When you mix them, you know where they are.[4]

In the capping words on the main case, Yuanwu said, “A white horse enters the white flowers.” These three expressions: “Filling a silver bowl with snow,” “When snow covers the white flowers,” and “A white horse enters the white flowers,” show the same meaning. All these things are white, and therefore look similar. It is difficult to make distinctions, and yet, these are not one and the same; if we simply think everything is one and the same, that is a mistake. These expressions express the merging of difference and unity, neither one nor two (不一不二). When we use language to express the Dharma, we need to express both sides.

These are poetic expressions of the interpenetration of the ultimate truth and the conventional truth. But in this verse, Dōgen uses the image of the white reed flowers covered by snow as the expression of purity without defilement. I don’t think Dōgen really sees the scenery of white reed flowers covered with snow on that day. In a white world, there is no dust which causes defilement. This image is not only of the world covered completely with snow; their wholehearted practice, the assembly monk’ minds, and the sangha as a whole are free from defilement on this auspicious day. Eiheiji was a small temple in the remote mountains, and yet, Dōgen says there are quite a few practitioners gathered together to practice for the sake of the Dharma on the pure earth. As Dōgen discussed in jōdō 128 of Eihei Kōroku, that assembly is a great monastery even though the number of the monks are small.[5]

A single plum flower in the cold, with fragrant heart blossoming,
Calls for the arising of spring in the emptiness of the pot of ages.

In such a cold and completely white world, only one white plum blossom is blooming. This is another image of the merging of difference and unity. In Shōbōgenzo Baika (Plum Blossom), Dōgen says:

“A plum blossom in the snow” is the one-time emergence of the uḍumbara flower. How often do we see our Buddha Tathagata’s true dharma eye, and yet we miss his blink and fail to smile?

Dōgen says that the plum blossom is the uḍumbara flower which Shakyamuni holds when he wordlessly blinks on the Vulture Peak. We have seen plum blossoms so many times, but we have not noticed that it is Shakyamuni Buddha’s true dharma eye treasury, and we have failed to smile in response as Mahākāśyapa did.

In this verse, Dōgen says that his and the monks’ fragrant hearts are also “blossoming” with the plum blossom. The Chinese character he uses (綻, hokorobu) can mean “to smile.” Even though it is still cold, and everything is covered with snow the same as during winter, because of the single plum blossom he knows it is already spring, and he smiles.

This moment of the encountering of the single plum blossom and the fragrant mind’s smile calls for the timeless spring. “The pot of ages” (劫壺) reference comes from a Chinese classic. The official watchman of a market found out that an old man who owned a medicine shop entered into a pot placed in front of his shop after closing every evening. The watchman asked the old man what he did in the pot. The old man was a mountain wizard. He invited the watchman to enter the pot with him. In the pot there was another world like a paradise. From this story, in Zen literature, “the pot of ages” is used referring to the world of enlightenment before separation of subject and object and before the empty kalpa. Sometimes the spring in the pot is called “timeless spring.”

In this verse, Dōgen is saying that timeless spring is right now, right here, where monks whole heartedly practice for the sake of the Dharma in the cold but beautiful white mountain.

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[1] (Dōgen’s Extensive Record volume 7, dharma discourse 481, p.428) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., www.wisdompubs.org.
[2] See Dōgen’s Extensive Record, vol.5, p.366.
[3] Translation by Thomas Clearly in The Blue Cliff Record, p.88
[4] Translation by Thomas Clearly in Timeless Spring: A Sōtō Zen Anthology (Weatherhill, 1980), p.39.
[5] Dōgen’s Extensive Record, p.152.

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Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

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For further study:

> More of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese Poems


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