Painting a scroll

National Palace Museum [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Dōgen’s Chinese Poem (23)

「六月半示衆」 (六月半衆に示す)

Presented to the Assembly in the Middle [Full Moon Day] of the Sixth Month

Pull yourself by your own nose.
Summer practice period is for painting a scroll.
From now on, only thirty days remain.
Directly make diligent effort to save your head from fire.[1]

自家鼻孔自家牽 (自家の鼻孔自家牽く)
一軸画図九夏天、 (一軸の画を図く九夏の天、)
今後僅残三十日、 (今より後僅かに残る三十日、)
直須精進救頭燃。  (直に須く精進して頭燃を救うべし。)

 

This is verse 23 in Kuchugen and verse 79 of volume 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dōgen’s Extensive Record). There is a slight difference in line 2 of Manzan’s version:

一片工夫九夏天(一片の工夫 九夏の天)
The ninety-day summer practice period is one piece of effort.

 

Pull yourself by your own nose.
Summer practice period is for painting a scroll.

“Summer practice period” (Skt. varsa, varsika) is a Buddhist tradition dating from Shakyamuni Buddha’s time. The Sanskrit word varsa means “rain.” In India, during the three-month rainy season, Shakyamuni Buddha prohibited monks’ travel in order to prevent the killing of insects and worms while walking on muddy roads. The monks stayed together in one place to focus on studying dharma and practice. Monks were allowed to make a simple hermitage in which to stay during the period. Later, Buddhist monasteries were established as places to stay during the three-month practice period. The rest of the year, the Buddha and the monks were travelling. The practice period is called ge-ango (夏安居, summer peaceful abiding) in Japanese.

This tradition has been continued at Chinese and Japanese Zen monasteries even today. Usually the summer practice period began on the 15th day (the full moon day) of the 4th lunar month and completed on the 15th day of the 7th month. A monk’s dharma age was counted based on how many times the monk had completed the practice period. Those who had attended the practice period more than five times were called acarya (阿闍梨, ajari), and those who had more than ten times were called upadhyaya (和尚, osho) and were able to be a teacher.

Dōgen Zenji put emphasis on the significance of the summer practice period. He wrote Shobogenzo Ango (Peaceful Abiding) in which he describes the formal ceremonies for the beginning and the end of the practice period.

Since the time of the King of the Empty Eon there has been no practice higher than this practice. Buddha ancestors have valued it exclusively, and it is the only thing that has remained free of the confusion caused by demons and deluded people outside the way. In India, China, and Japan all descendants of buddha ancestors have participated in the practice period, but deluded people outside the way have never engaged in it. Because it is the original heart of the single great matter of buddha ancestors, this teaching of practice period is the content of what is expounded from the morning of the Buddha’s attaining the way until the evening of pari-nirvana. There are Five Schools of home leavers in India, but they equally maintain a ninety-day summer practice period and without fail practice it and realize the way; and in China none of the monks in the Nine Schools have ever ignored the summer practice period. Those who have never participated in the summer practice period in their lifetimes cannot be called buddha disciples or monks. Practice period is not only a causal factor; it is itself practice-realization, it is itself the fruit of practice.[2]

The expression “pull yourself by your own nose” comes from the way ancient farmers tamed an ox by making a hole in the ox’s nostril and putting a ring through it. Then when the farmer took the ox to where they had to work, he pulled a rope tied to the ring. Here Dōgen is saying that monks who participate in the practice period should be self-motivated to actively practice together with others. They should not be like an ox who is pulled by others and practice only because they are forced to do so.

“Painting a scroll (一軸画図)“ is a difficult expression to understand. Possibly this expression has something to do with what Dōgen wrote in Shobogeno Zazenshin (Acupuncture Needle of Zazen). In this fascicle, Dōgen introduced the story of Nanyue (Nangaku)’s polishing a tile. In the story, Nanyue visited his disciple Mazu (Baso) who was always sitting.

Once Nanyue visited Mazu and asked, “Great worthy, what do you aim at (図, zu) in practicing zazen?”
Baso said, “I am aiming at becoming Buddha (図作佛).”

In his comments on this story, Dōgen interprets “aiming at (図)” as “painting” or “illustrating.” He says,

We should know, Mazu is saying that zazen is, without fail, aiming at becoming-buddha. Zazen is always the aiming of becoming-buddha (作佛の図).

Dōgen interprets this Chinese character 図 as “painting.” He also says:

Do not become stuck in loving a carved dragon, we should go forward and love the real dragon. We should study that both the carved dragon and the real dragon have the power of forming clouds and rain. Neither value the remote nor disparage what is remote. Be accustomed and intimate with the remote. Neither disparage what is close nor value the close. Be accustomed and intimate with the close. Do not take the eyes lightly nor attach too much weight to the eyes. Do not put too much weight to the ear nor take the ears too lightly. Make both the ears and eyes sharp and clear.

In this poem Dōgen says that our nothing special, day-to-day practice according to Buddha’s teaching during the practice period is painting buddha, the same as our zazen. Even though our practice is not mature enough, much less perfect, still as he says in Shobogenzo Ango:

Therefore, to see a practice period is to see buddha; to realize a practice period is to realize buddha; to practice a practice period is to practice buddha; to hear a practice period is to hear buddha; and to study a practice period is to study buddha.[3]

From now on, only thirty days remain.
Directly make diligent effort to save your head from fire.

This poem was composed on the fifteenth day of the sixth month, that is, around the middle to the end of July in the solar calendar. It is the hottest and most humid time of the year in Japan. Probably Dōgen sees that his monks are tired both mentally and physically. He wants to encourage them to practice diligently for another thirty days. “To save your head from fire (救頭燃)” is an analogy used in some sutras. When we have a fire on our head, we immediately and wholeheartedly rush to extinguish it to save our head from burning, without thinking. Dōgen Zenji uses this expression in Gakudo-yojinshu, Shobogenzo Zazengi, and a few other fascicles. In the same way, Dōgen encourages his monks to practice wholeheartedly during the final thirty days of the practice period.

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[1] (Dōgen’s Extensive Record 10-79, p.631) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., www.wisdompubs.org.

[2] Treasury of the True Dharma Eye: Zen Master Dōgen’s Shobo Genzo (Edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi, Shambhala) p.739-740

[3] Treasury of the True Dharma Eye: Zen Master Dōgen’s Shobo Genzo (Edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi, Shambhala) p.741

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Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

— • —

For further study:

> More of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese Poems


Copyright 2019 Sanshin Zen Community

Awakening the insects

“Ladybird Hotel”by Smudge 9000 is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Dōgen’s Chinese Poem (22)

因在相州鎌倉聞驚蟄作 (因みに相州鎌倉にあって驚蟄を聞いて作る)

Composed Once While Staying at Kamakura in Sagami Province in the Time of Hearing Exciting Insects

For half a year I’ve eaten rice in a white-robed person’s house.[1]
On an old tree, plums blossom amid snow and frost.
Exciting insects, a thunderbolt crashes and roars.
Spring colors of the emperor’s country, red peach blossoms.[2]

半年喫飯白衣舎  (半年飯を喫す白衣の舎、)
老樹梅花霜雪中  (老樹の梅花霜雪の中、)
驚蟄一雷轟霹靂  (驚蟄の一雷霹靂轟く、)
帝郷春色桃花紅  (帝郷の春色桃花紅なり。)

This is verse 22 in Kuchugen and verse 77 of volume 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dōgen’s Extensive Record). There are slight differences in lines 3 and 4 in Manzan’s version:

驚蟄一轟霹靂 (驚蟄一霹靂と轟く)
Exciting insects, one sound crashes and roars.
帝郷春色桃紅 (帝郷の春色小桃紅なり)
Spring colors of the emperor’s country, small peach blossoms are red.

 

For half a year I’ve eaten rice in a white-robed person’s house.
On an old tree, plums blossom amid snow and frost.

According to his biography Kenzeiki, Dōgen Zenji spent about half a year in a lay person’s house from the 8th month of 1247 to the 3rd month of 1248. Although Kenzeiki says he was invited by Hojo Tokiyori, the regent of the Kamakura Shogunate government, today many scholars think he was invited by his patron, Hatano Yoshishige and stayed at his house. In the collection of Dōgen’s Waka poems, there is a waka on “the separate transmission outside the teachings” which Dōgen composed for Tokiyori or his wife.

荒磯の                   Araiso no
浪もえよせぬ        nami mo e yosenu
高岩に                 takaiwa ni
かきもつくべき  kaki mo tsuku beki
法ならばこそ        nori naraba koso

Precisely because the Dharma
can be inscribed
only at the top of tall rocks
even waves cannot reach
along the rugged shore

After returning to Eiheiji in the third month of 1248, Dōgen gave a Dharma Hall Discourse to his assembly:

Dharma Hall Discourse on the Fourteenth Day of the Third Month of the Second Year of Hoji [1248]

On the third day of the eighth month of last year, this mountain monk departed from this mountain and went to the Kamakura District of Sagami Prefecture to expound the Dharma for patrons and lay students. On this month of this year, just last night, I came home to this temple, and this morning I have ascended this seat. Some people may have some questions about this affair. After traversing many mountains and rivers, I did expound the Dharma for the sake of lay students, which may sound like I value worldly people and take lightly monks. Moreover, some may ask whether I presented some Dharma that I never before expounded, and that they have not heard. However, there was no Dharma at all that I have never previously expounded, or that you have not heard. I merely explained to them that people who practice virtue improve; that those who produce unwholesomeness degenerate; that they should practice the cause and experience the results; and should throw away the tile and only take up the jewel. Because of these, this single matter is what this old Eihei has been able to clarify, express, trust, and practice. Does the great assembly want to understand this truth?

After a pause, Dōgen said: I cannot stand that my tongue has no means to express the cause and the result. How many mistakes I have made in my effort to cultivate the way. Today how pitiful it is that I have become a water buffalo. This is the phrase for expounding Dharma. How shall I utter a phrase for returning home to the mountains?

This mountain monk has been gone for more than half a year.
I was like a solitary wheel placed in vast space.
Today, I have returned to the mountains, and the clouds are feeling joyful.
My great love for the mountains has magnified since before.[3]

It seems that Dōgen’s stay in Kamakura was not so comfortable. The second line of this Chinese poem, “On an old tree, plums blossom amid snow and frost,” is difficult for me to understand. Kamakura has a temperate climate. I checked the climate of present-day Kamakura– in the beginning of March, the lowest temperature is 8.5 ℃ (about 40 ℉). Even during the coldest time of the year in Kamakura, in February, it is above 0℃ (32 ℉). It might have been that it was colder in the 13th century, or that during the year Dōgen stayed, there was unusually cold weather. Still it is difficult for me to imagine that Dōgen saw plum blossoms blooming in the frost and snow in Kamakura on 5th day of the second month (the beginning of March in solar calendar). It seems more suitable as the scenery of early March at Eiheiji in Fukui. “Plum blossoms in the snow” is taken from a poem by his teacher Rujing, and is often used positively in Dōgen’s poems as an image of the Buddha’s awakening. However, here it seems Dōgen means to refer to the dharma flower or to Dōgen himself, in difficult conditions.

Exciting insects, a thunderbolt crashes and roars.
Spring colors of the emperor’s country, red peach blossoms.

“Exciting (the) insects” is a translation of keichitsu (驚蟄 or 啓蟄). This is the 3rd of the 24 solar terms (節氣) in traditional East Asian calendars, roughly the first two weeks during the second lunar month, that is, around March 5th to 20th in the solar calendar. The word keichitsu means the awakening of hibernating insects. 驚 is “to startle” and 蟄  means “hibernating insects.” In China it is traditionally said that during keichitsu, thunderstorms will wake up the hibernating insects, which implies that the weather is getting warmer. It seems that “Spring colors of the emperor’s country, red peach blossoms” is more suitable as the scenery of Kamakura around the time of keichitsu.

This poem is composed following a poem of Dōgen’s teacher Tiantong Rujing (Tendo Nyojo), which appears in the recorded sayings of Rujing. Dōgen quotes Rujing’s poem in Shobogenzo Kajo (Day-to-day activity). Rujing spent half a year at Ruiyan Temple (Zuiganji), but by the emperor’s invitation, he had to move to Jingci Temple (Jojiji) in the emperor’s capital. He offered this poem on the occasion of leaving the mountain temple:

半年喫飯坐鞔峰、
For half a year, I’ve eaten rice and sat on Banpo peak.
鎖斷煙雲千萬重、
This sitting cuts through thousands of layers of misty clouds.
忽地一聲轟霹靂、
Suddenly, a thunderclap resounds.
帝郷春色杏華紅。
In the capital, the color of spring must be the crimson of apricot-blossoms.

This poem by Rujing makes complete sense. Rujing was the abbot for half a year at Ruiyan Temple on the mountain named Banpo peak. The mountain was covered in misty clouds and he sat zazen at a place in a deep mountain landscape separated from the mundane world. But he received the emperor’s invitation to become the abbot at Jingci Temple in the emperor’s capital, where it was much warmer. He could not decline the invitation from the emperor, just as when insects hear the sound of thunderclap on the day of keichitsu, they must awaken from hibernation.

However, in the case of Dōgen’s poem, there is no such surprising change for him on that day. In Kenzeiki, it says that Dōgen was invited by the regent Hojo Tokiyori to become the abbot of Kenchoji, which the regent was going to establish in Kamakura, but Dōgen declined and went back to Eiheiji.

— • —

[1] According to a tradition going back to India and China, white robes are the garb of Buddhist laypeople.

[2] (Dōgen’s Extensive Record 10-77, p.630) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., www.wisdompubs.org.

[3] Dōgen’s Extensive Record, p.246.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

— • —

For further study:

> More of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese Poems


Copyright 2019 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

Is there a universal consciousness?

Is there a universal consciousness from which we are separated by delusion? Or when we let go of delusion, do we simply manifest something? Is there a thing separated from us only by delusion which we can join, or are we each unique examples of perfection?

In Dogen’s writings, this is not really clear; I think he takes both sides. My understanding from my own practice, and from studying Dogen, and from my teacher’s teaching, is that there’s not a certain fixed, universal reality, from which we are separate only because of our thinking. If we are living within the realm of thinking, how can we know such a reality? How do we know that it exists even though we don’t see it? It’s not really clear to me. I don’t believe there is that kind of a foundation, which is sometimes called buddha-nature, or the true reality of all beings.

The Lotus Sutra says:

“Only a buddha together with a buddha can fathom the Reality of All Existence, that is to say, all existence [has] such a form, such a nature, such an embodiment, such a potency, such a function, such a primary cause, such as secondary cause, such an effect, such a recompense, and such a complete fundamental whole.”[1]

That reality is the reality we are living in— and yet we cannot see it. That’s what I’m referring to when I talk about the network of interdependent origination. Whether this reality is the same or not is a really important, really subtle point. There is a solid foundation as a reality, and we are a part of it, and yet we are separate from it because we are full of deluded thinking. To return to that reality by letting go of thought is one way to understand our practice. But I don’t think this is the case. When we let go, we are not sure whether there is such a foundation or not. This is a kind of belief. In the Lotus Sutra, it says that only a buddha together with a buddha can see this. I cannot speak on behalf of Dogen or Uchiyama Roshi, but within my practice, my own personal practice, I am not sure if there’s such a solid foundation from which we deviate. Whether such a thing exists or not, our practice is we just let go.

When I discuss the network of interdependent origination as a circle with crisscrossed lines as a net within that circle, I often say that the circle is extra. That means, I’m sure we’re connected with all beings, and yet there’s no such boundary as that circle. When we let go, we are released from self-clinging, released from our artificial man-made picture of the world. That’s all. We are not sure whether we return to this foundation or not. There’s no way to figure it out. “Now I have returned” or “Now I’m there”— there’s no way to make sure or verify that I’m there. But what we can do is just to let go and be released from our clinging. To open our hand is it. But if we say that when we open our hand, we return to this, then it is the same as the teaching of original enlightenment— that we are separate from original enlightenment because of our delusion, and our practice is to return to that reality. That is one of the ideas of Buddhist philosophy based on the theory of tathagata-garbha, or buddha-nature.

This question also has something to do with Dogen’s style of teaching or writing. I have been reading his writings for many years, but from studying his writings I don’t find such a solid “foundation” within his teaching, or something built up from that foundation. I see the same thing when I read Nagarjuna. What they are doing is almost deconstructing or destroying that foundation. That means that even this foundation is our idea. Letting go means we also have to let go of that type of idea. In the answer to question four in Bendowa, Dōgen said,

 “…when we truly do zazen thoroughly, relying on the Buddha mudra and letting go of all affairs, we transcend the limits of sentimental judgments about delusion and enlightenment…”[2]

“Sentimental judgment” is what we think. What we do is just let go of our clinging, and grasping, and deconstruct the building we have been building using the bricks of concepts, and knowledge, and thinking, like a system of thinking or thought. When we finish building this system of thought, it becomes a prison. We can’t get out. Our practice is to make a hole into these walls by letting go of whatever we have been thinking, whatever we have been achieving, whatever we have been grasping. In my understanding, Dogen did not build a building on the basis of a solid foundation— he tried to deconstruct this idea. Still, he is trying to show us a way of life, what we should do, how we should live. He describes what we should do, how we should practice in the zendo or for the rest of the day within the monastery. He teaches us how to live. But I think his teaching is how to live based not upon a certain kind of truth or reality, but by the way we become free from our clinging to any theory, even this kind of theory. That is my personal understanding. On this point I sometimes feel different from my teacher’s teaching. I think Uchiyama Roshi’s teaching is based on the idea or theory of buddha-nature, and to return to that reality, although he also negated that there is any such fixed thing. I think it’s really difficult to judge, in Dogen’s teaching, or Uchiyama Roshi’s teaching, or even in what I’m saying, whether that teacher is thinking of that kind of solid, fixed reality or truth to which we return. We are always in the process of letting go. There’s no end.

— • —

[1] Bunnō Katō and William Edward Soothill, The Threefold Lotus Sutra (Tokyo; New York: Kosei Pub. Co.; Weatherhill, 1987). p. 52

[2] Kōshō Uchiyama et al., The Wholehearted Way: A Translation of Eihei Dōgen’s Bendōwa with Commentary (Boston, Mass: Tuttle Publishing, 1997). p. 28

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Commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

The Dōgen Institute offers an occasional series of questions from students with responses from Okumura Roshi  about practice and study. These questions and responses are from Okumura Roshi’s recorded lectures, and are lightly edited.

— • —

For further study:

> Other Questions and responses


Copyright 2019 Sanshin Zen Community

Aspirations on a winter night

Copyright©2019 Misaki C. Kido

Dōgen’s Chinese Poem (21)

冬夜諸兄弟言志、師見和之 (冬夜に諸兄弟志を言う、師見て之れに和せらる)

Seeing the Brother Monks Speaking of Their Aspirations on the Winter [Solstice] Night, the Teacher Dōgen Joined In

Over more than twenty-one hundred years,
In India and China so much has passed, yet Dharma remains.
Although the robe transmitted by buddha ancestors is all pervading,
I sympathize with clouds and water monks in bitter cold wintry night.[1]

二千一百有余歳、 (二千一百有余歳、)
竺漢幾経法尚残、 (竺漢幾か経て法尚お残る、)
仏祖伝衣縦徧界、 (仏祖の伝衣縦い徧界なりとも、)
可憐冬夜水雲寒。 (憐れむべし冬夜水雲の寒きを。)

 

This is verse 21 in Kuchugen and verse 76 of volume 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dōgen’s Extensive Record). There is no difference in this poem between the Monkaku version and the Manzan version.

Seeing the Brother Monks Speaking of Their Aspirations on the Winter [Solstice] Night, the Teacher Dōgen Joined In

Dōgen Zenji gave a formal discourse in the Dharma Hall on the morning of winter solstice each year. Five of them are recorded in Eihei Koroku. During the night, it seems that his assembly of monks have some kind of gathering and speak of their aspirations. Until the winter solstice, yin () energy is getting stronger, the day is getting shorter, and the night is getting longer. On the winter solstice day yin energy is strongest; however, from that day on it is also the time yang() energy gradually restores its strength. This is a good occasion for refreshing one’s mind. What these monks are doing might be similar to making a new year’s resolution. Dōgen is listening to the monks’ aspirations and presents this poem.

In the Winter Solstice Dharma Hall Discourse for 1245 at Daibutsuji (later renamed Eiheiji), Dōgen said:

For a luminous jewel without flaw, if polished its glow increases. Today’s first [arising of] yang [and the daylight’s increase] is an auspicious occasion; a noble person reaches maturity. Although this is an auspicious occasion for lay people, it is truly a delight and support for buddha ancestors. Yesterday, the short length [of day] departed, yin reached its fullness, and the sound of cold wind ceased. This morning the growing length [of day] arrived, and yang arises with a boisterous clamor. Now patch-robed monks feel happy and sustained, the buddha ancestors dance with joy.[2]

Dōgen says, “Although this is an auspicious occasion for lay people,” because the winter solstice cerebration is not originally a Buddhist annual event but is taken from the Chinese secular custom.

Over more than twenty-one hundred years,
In India and China so much has passed, yet Dharma remains.

According to Jingde Chuandeng lu (景徳伝灯録 Keitoku Dento-roku), Shakyamuni was born during the reign of King Zhao of the Zhou dynasty, on the eighth day of 4th month in the twenty-sixth year of his reign. That is 1029 BCE. The Buddha died in the 53rd year of the reign of King Mu, on the fifteenth day of the second month. That is 949 BCE. Dōgen calculates the number of years after the Buddha’s death based on this record. In Shobogenzo Bussho (Buddha Nature) he wrote:

Commitment to its study has continued for two thousand one hundred and ninety years (until now, the second year of Ninji (1241), a direct, undeviating lineal descent of exactly fifty generations (until my late master, priest Tien-t’ung Ju-ching).[3]

I am not sure why Chinese people determined the Buddha’s birth and death dates in that way. Even today, Buddhist scholars have various opinions about the birth and death dates of the Buddha. According to Theravada tradition, Shakyamuni Buddha was born in 624 and died 544 BCE. Some Japanese scholars think he was born 463 and died 383 BCE.

In any event, Shakyamuni Buddha’s teachings have been transmitted and spread all over Asian countries. According to Zen tradition, the Dharma had been transmitted through fifty generations of ancestors in India and China until Dōgen transmitted it to Japan. Dōgen founded Koshoji monastery in 1233 and practiced there for ten years before moving to Echizen in 1243 to establish Eiheiji. Dōgen taught and practiced there with (most likely) a relatively small number of assembly monks.

Although the robe transmitted by buddha ancestors is all pervading,
I sympathize with clouds and water monks in bitter cold wintry night.

In Shobogenzo Den-e (Transmission of the Robe), Dōgen writes:

In which tradition, like our authentic transmission, have both the robe and the Dharma of Shakyamuni Buddha been authentically transmitted? These exist only in the Buddha Way. When we encounter this robe and the Dharma, who can be lax in venerating them and making offerings to them? Even if, on each day, we have to discard our bodily lives as innumerable as the sand of the Ganges river, we have to make offerings to them. We have to take a vow to meet [the robe and the Dharma] and respectfully receive it lifetime after lifetime, world after world. Even though we were born beyond mountains and oceans more than one hundred thousand miles away from the land where the Buddha was born, and though we are foolish and uncivilized, if we hear the true Dharma, receive and maintain a kasyaya even for one single day and night, and study even one phrase or one verse [of the Dharma], we have the good fortune of making and offering not only to one or two buddhas but also to countless hundreds, thousands, billions of buddhas. Even if this is done by our self, we have to venerate, love, and value our deeds. We should thoroughly express our gratitude for the great kindness of the ancestral masters who have transmitted the Dharma.

Dōgen is happy that he has some monks who study the Dharma and practice wearing the kasyaya he transmitted from China. Even though his temple is small, he says the merit is pervading the entire dharma world. However, he is also sorry and feels pity for those monks who practice in such a cold climate.

At Sanshinji, our zendo has an air conditioner. I can sit wearing a summer kimono, koromo, and okesa (kashaya) all year around. Still, sometimes we complain if it too cold or too hot in the zendo. I feel I need to practice repentance. Dōgen Zenji said his era was uncivilized, but people in a very civilized country like the USA are not necessarily better Buddhist practitioners. Dōgen Zenji said in Shobogenzo Zazengi (Standard of Zazen), “It is essential that it [the zendo] is warm in the winter and cool in the summer.” Possibly he would agree with having an air conditioner for the zendo. But I am not sure.

— • —

[1] (Dōgen’s Extensive Record 10-76, p.630) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., www.wisdompubs.org.

[2] Dōgen’s Extensive Record, Jodo 135, p.163 -164.

[3] The Heart of Dōgen’s Shobogenzo (translated by Norman Waddel and Masao Abe, SUNY, 2002) p.60.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

— • —

For further study:

> More of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese Poems


Copyright 2019 Sanshin Zen Community

Why is the mudra so important?

Buddha mudra(c) Can Stock Photo / coffeekai

 

“When one displays the buddha mudra with one’s whole body and mind, sitting upright in this samadhi even for a short time, everything in the entire dharma world becomes buddha mudra, and all space in the universe completely becomes enlightenment.”[1]

 

Why is the mudra so important?

In this passage from Bendowa, Dōgen is describing what happens when we really practice what Buddha taught and what Nyojo Zenji taught – in other words, in dropping off body and mind, how does this world look? Dōgen is describing a paradigm shift, a completely different way of how things look. From one side, all objects are a temptation for a person with six sense-organs. When we encounter any object, we try to get it or we try to escape from it. Buddha and Nyojo taught that we should cut off this linking. In our day-to-day lives, we are hooked. Our perception and namarupa are hooked. In our zazen practice, we unhook this fixed connection between subject and object. It is, as I often say, like putting the gears into neutral. But then, how do these things look? That is the other side of the story. I think that is what Dōgen is describing here.

When I read this for the first time I thought this kind of writing should be thrown away, or accepted. We can do only two things. Just accept it and believe it, trust it and practice it – or just throw it away. There is no way we can make sure if this is really true or not. Later, Dōgen Zenji himself said these things cannot be perceived. My question was, if so, how did Dōgen know those things happen? I still have the same question. But after forty years, now I trust that what Dōgen is writing here is really happening in our zazen.

“When one displays the buddha mudra with one’s whole body and mind…”

This “one” is a translation of hito – it means a person. He didn’t say “if a buddha sits in zazen” or “if an enlightened person sits in zazen,” but any person, and even for a short time. Even if we sit as a very beginner for the first time, the same thing happens in our zazen. Buddha mudra is a translation of butsu in. Earlier, Dōgen used the expression ichi butsu shin in; this is the same thing. This in is mudra, ichi is of course one, so this means, “one buddha mind mudra.”

You may know the word “mudra.” [shows mudra with hands]. When we sit in zazen we hold our hands like this and we make an oval with the thumbs. This is called hokkai gyo in; in English, “cosmic mudra.” This means that two sides or duality becomes one, one form, or one circle. In Buddhism, there are many different mudras or ways to hold the hands depending upon which buddha is being described or depicted. Each mudra has its own meaning. But here, this kanji for mudra means in English a stamp or seal. A seal is when you write a letter, put it in an envelope and seal it with something, or put a stamp on it to show by whom this letter is written. Stamps or seals are very important in Chinese and Japanese culture. On certain paintings or calligraphy, if someone’s seal is there, it is a certification that this painting or calligraphy was done by this person. Even today in Japanese society we have a stamp or a seal, and we use it to make legal interactions. This stamp is like a signature in American society.

This Buddhist mudra, stamp, or seal is a certificate which if we find it, we know this belongs to Buddha. It’s like a logo in American culture. If we find the logo, this belongs to this person or this company. So, this is a logo of Buddha. I translate this as “whole body and mind,” but the original expression Dōgen used is san go san is three and go is actions or karma. San go refers to action done with body, speech, and mind. Using those three – body, speech, and thought/mind – we create karma.

This word san go is often used in Vajrayana Buddhism (Jp. Shingonshu). In Vajrayana practice they sit in a certain posture, this is a karma or action of body. They use mantra in their meditation practice, that is an action of mouth or speech. And of course, they concentrate on certain objects, that is an action of mind. So they use three actions in their meditation practice. But in the case of our sitting practice, we don’t use mantras, so we have no speech karma. That’s why instead of translating it as “three actions,” I translate it as “whole body and mind.” In some commentaries it says that we put our tongue on the roof of our mouth. Someone – perhaps Menzan – said this is an action of mouth or speech. But san go is not an action of the mouth, it is an action of the body. So, I think there’s no action of speech in our zazen practice. That’s why I didn’t use “three actions” but instead used “entire body and mind.” When we sit in this upright posture and breathe through our nose deeply from our abdomen and keep our eyes open and hold our hands showing cosmic mudra and let go of everything coming up in our mind, this is how we show the buddha mudra within our whole body and mind.

When we sit in this posture showing buddha mudra, this mudra means that this action belongs to Buddha, and does not belong to Shohaku. Shohaku gives up as an owner of these five skandhas. Shohaku doesn’t use these five skandhas during sitting. Shohaku offers this body and mind, or five skandhas, to Buddha for the sake of Buddha. So in one way, this is Shohaku’s personal action, for the sake of Shohaku, fulfilling Shohaku’s desire. But Shohaku has surrendered, and this is when buddhadharma appears.

“…sitting upright in this samadhi even for a short time, everything in the entire dharma world becomes buddha mudra, and all space in the universe completely becomes enlightenment.”

When we sit showing buddha mudra, this entire universe becomes buddha mudra. When one person is sitting showing buddha mudra, this entire universe becomes buddha mudra. This means this entire universe belongs to Buddha. Depending upon our attitude toward this body and mind, and also toward this world, this world or universe can be this person’s personal possession, or Buddha’s possession. The meaning of this entire world or universe is completely changed depending upon our attitude. That is the point.

Other Buddhist traditions and lineages use different approaches. Their unique style can be called their mudra. Whether that is a buddha-mudra or not is something we cannot judge for other traditions or judge for other persons in the same tradition. It’s really up to our own attitude. Even when I am sitting with this mudra, it can be my ego-centric activity – to experience stillness in order to enjoy this peacefulness. Even though we sit in this posture using this mudra, if this is my personal, individual action for the sake of this person (me), then this is not a buddha mudra. I also think buddha mudra is not only this mudra. There can be numberless forms of buddha mudra. Even if it’s not a so-called buddha mudra, in other traditions they can call the same thing by a different name. We cannot judge that our mudra is buddha mudra and their mudra is something different. What we can do is to make sure that our practice is to show the buddha mudra. I think that is the only thing we can do.

Buddha mudra is using our limited body and mind in order to express this seamless reality.

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[1] The Wholehearted Way: A Translation of Eihei Dogen’s Bendowa with Commentary by Kosho Uchiyama Roshi (translated by Shohaku Okumura and Taigen Daniel Leighton, Tuttle Publishing, 1997) p.22.

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Commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

The Dōgen Institute offers an occasional series of questions from students with responses from Okumura Roshi  about practice and study. These questions and responses are from Okumura Roshi’s recorded lectures, and are lightly edited.

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For further study:

> Other Questions and responses


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Where chrysanthemums bloom

enrei-ka           Copyright©2019 Misaki C. Kido

Dōgen’s Chinese Poem (20)

「重陽與兄弟言志」(重陽に兄弟と志を言う)

Speaking of Aspiration with Brother Monks on the Ninth Day of the Ninth Month

Last year on the ninth month, leaving this place.
This year on the ninth month, coming from this place.
Stop dwelling on passing days, months, and years.
Look with delight in the undergrowth where chrysanthemums bloom.
[1]

去年九月此中去 (去年九月此の中より去り、)
九月今年自此來 (九月今年此れ自り來る)
休憶去來年月日 (去來の年月日を憶うこと休みね、)
懽看叢裡菊花開 (懽び看る叢裡菊花開けたり。)

This is verse 20 in Kuchugen and verse 75 of volume 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dogen’s Extensive Record). There are differences in the title, the third, and the fourth lines of this poem in Manzan’s version.

「重陽與兄弟再會」(重陽に兄弟と再會す
Meeting again with Brother Monks on the Ninth Day of the Ninth Month

去年九月此中去 (去年九月此の中より去り)
[You] left here in the ninth month of last year.
九月今年自此來  (九月今年自ら此に來る)
[You] come here in the ninth month of this year.
拈卻古來年月日 (來の年月日を拈卻し)
Taking up the days, months, and years that have gone,
凭欄一笑菊花開  (欄に凭って一笑すれば菊花開く)
Leaning on the handrail and laughing with each other, chrysanthemums bloom.

 

Last year on the ninth month, leaving this place.
This year on the ninth month, coming from this place.

“The ninth day of the ninth month” is called choyo (重陽, Ch. chongyan), one of the five seasonal festivals called sekku (節句): the seventh day of the first month (人日, jinjitu), the third day of the third month (上巳, joshi / jomi), the fifth day of the fifth month (端午, tango), the seventh day of the seventh month (七夕, tanabata), and the ninth day of the ninth month (重陽, choyo). These were considered days marking changes in the seasons. The dates and names came from China, but Japanese people had developed these festivals for praying for the well-being of people during each season. On each occasion people offered certain seasonal flowers and foods. March 3rd (Girls’ Festival / Dolls’ Festival), May 5th(Boys’ Festival / Iris Festival), and July 7th (Star Festival) are still observed today.

Choyo (重陽) literally means “double yan” because 9 is the largest odd number that is considered yan (陽). Even numbers are considered as yin (陰). This day is called the Double Ninth Festival or the Chrysanthemum Festival. In the ancient Japanese imperial court, they held a party for viewing chrysanthemum flowers on this day. It seems Dogen Zenji has some kind of gathering with his assembly monks on this occasion for viewing chrysanthemum flowers and asks them to compose a poem on their aspirations.

Dogen is saying that the last year’s ninth day of ninth month left this place, and this year’s ninth day of the ninth month came from this place. The subject of these two lines is the time, the ninth day of the ninth month. “This place” does not refer to some particular place on the earth, but to the entirety of the network of interdependent origination. Time is coming and going within this network the same as each and every being, including ourselves.

 

Stop dwelling on passing days, months, and years.
Look with delight in the undergrowth where chrysanthemums bloom.

In the third line, Dogen says that we should stop dwelling on or thinking about time (days, months, and years) that is flowing within the linear stream from the past to the future through the present. Commonly we think of time in this way. Dogen does not negate this way of viewing time, but he says that is not only way to think about time. His insight about time is very unique, as many people have discussed.

Studying Dogen’s writings, I think he considered time in three ways. The first is the common way: time flows from the past to the future through the present. The second is the time that is the absolute present. The past has gone; therefore, it does not exist anymore. The future has not yet come; therefore, it does not exist yet. The only actual time is the present. In Genjokoan, he says:

Firewood becomes ash. Ash cannot become firewood again. However, we should not view ash as after and firewood as before. We should know that firewood dwells in the dharma position of firewood and has its own before and after. Although before and after exist, past and future are cut off. Ash stays at the position of ash, with its own before and after.[2]

At this present moment, firewood is completely dwelling in the dharma position of firewood. In the past it was a live tree, but the time of a live tree has already gone. There is no live tree anymore. In the future, after the firewood is burned, the firewood will be completely gone and only ash will be there. And yet, ash is not here and now at all. The past is not reality anymore and the future is not reality yet. Only this present moment is actual. That is what “past and future are cut off” means.

Uchiyama Roshi said that this present has no length. If there is the slightest length, we can still cut it into half and one part is in the past and another part is in the future. For example, consider 10:00 a.m. 9:59 a.m. is not yet 10:00 a.m.; 10:01 a.m. is already not 10:00 a.m. When we take a closer look at this, no matter how many 9’s after 9:59 we add (9:59999…), it will never become 10:00a.m. No matter how many zeros we add, if we had a 1, (10:0000…1), it is already not 10:00 a.m. The present of 10:00 a.m. has no length. That means all there is is the past that has already gone, and the future that has not yet come. The present is only a boundary between the not-existing past and the not-existing future. The present is 0. Time disappears when we look at in this way.

The third way of considering is time that does not flow. In Bendowa Dogen says:

Therefore, even if only one person sits for a short time, because this zazen is one with all existence and completely permeates all times, it performs everlasting buddha guidance within the inexhaustible dharma world in the past, present, and future.[3]

In our zazen, we sit at this absolute present, then, we are one with all the time and all beings. This is the time that does not flow. From the moment of big bang until the present, time does not flow, there is only one whole moment without any segments. Segments such as a second, an hour, a day, a month, a year, a century, and so on are only the production of human thinking. Beyond observation and measurement by human beings, time is one whole moment without any segments.

In the third line, Dogen says we should stop thinking of times grasped in the conventional way, in which we make a story of our karmic life. In zazen, we settle in the absolute present of here and now, then the time that does not flow appears. I call it eternity.

When we are completely being here and now, it is delightful to see the chrysanthemums. In his teisho on this poem, Sawaki Roshi mentioned that the chrysanthemum is called enrei-ka (延齢花), which means present “the flower which prolongs one’s longevity.” When we sit in zazen, and when we do things dwelling right here and now, being free from a self-made karmic story, the buddha’s eternal life is revealed right there. This is what Sawaki Roshi meant when he said, “It’s pointless for human beings merely to live a life that lasts seventy or eighty years.”[4]

In Manzan’s version, this is not a philosophical poem about time but a very straightforward expression of Dogen’s joy at meeting his brother monks again. The title is, “Meeting again with Brother Monks on the Ninth Day of the Ninth Month.” The subject of the first two lines is his brother monks. “This place” refers to Eiheiji. His brother monks left Eiheiji on the ninth day of the ninth month the previous year, and they returned on the same day of the current year. Dogen express his joy at meeting them again. They talk about what happened to them during the year in which they did not see each other. When they laugh with each other leaning on the handrail, they find beautiful chrysanthemums blooming.

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[1] (Dogen’s Extensive Record 10-75, p.629) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., www.wisdompubs.org.

[2] Realizing Genjokoan: The key to Dogen’s Shobogenzo (Shohaku Okumura, Wisdom Publications, 2010) p.2.

[3] The Wholehearted Way: A Translation of Eihei Dogen’s Bendowa with Commentary by Kosho Uchiyama roshi (translated by Shohaku Okumura and Taigen Daniel Leighton, Tuttle Publishing, 1997) p.23.

[4] The Zen Teaching of Homeless Kodo (Wisdom) p.205.

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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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