(c) Can Stock Photo / glopphy
Dogen’s Chinese Poem
||In birth and death we sympathize with ceasing then arising.
||Both deluded and awakened paths proceed within a dream.
||And yet there’s something difficult to forget,
||In leisurely seclusion at Fukakusa, sound of evening rain.
This is verse 2 in Kuchugen and verse 69 of vol. 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dogen’s Extensive Record, p.627). There are some differences in lines 1 and 3 in Manzan’s version in Kuchugen:
The first line is:
[Living in] birth and death is pitiful, [everything is] like [always] changing clouds.
The third line is:
Even in awakening, [there is] one single thing inscribed [in my mind].
In the first line of the poem, Dogen mentions the impermanence of human life, in which everything is always changing. We feel pity or sympathy for all living beings, including others and ourselves, who all experience rapid change and the reality that nothing can stay without changing. There is nothing we can rely on. The original word for “pitiful” or “sympathy” is “aware 憐れ” in Japanese, which was an important word for ancient Japanese poetry and aesthetic sense. “Aware” or “monono aware” refers to the “appreciation of the fleeting nature of beauty.” Just so, in this poem, Dogen is not simply expressing the pessimistic feeling about impermanence. In Dogen’s teachings, “seeing impermanence” is not negative. In the first section of Gakudo-Yojinshu (Points to Watch in Studying the Way), he said,
“The Ancestral Master Nagarjuna said that the mind that solely sees the impermanence of this world of constant appearance and disappearance is called bodhi-mind. …. Truly, when you see impermanence, egocentric mind does not arise, neither does desire for fame and profit. Out of fear of time slipping away too swiftly, practice the Way as if you are trying to extinguish a fire enveloping your head. Reflecting on the transiency of your bodily life, practice as diligently as the Buddha did when he stood on tiptoe for seven days.”
The second line says, whether we are walking in the samsara that is the path of delusion, or the bodhisattva path of awakening, our life is like walking in a dream. In Buddhist texts, ‘dream” is used with at least two meanings. One is “sleeping and dreaming,” in opposition to awakening. When we are deluded, we feel that everything we think or experience is really happening. But when we awake, we see the emptiness of all things, that is, we see everything is like a dream. At the end of the Diamond Sutra, there is a verse that says:
“As a lamp, a cataract, a star in space
an illusion, a dewdrop, a bubble
a dream, a cloud, a flash of lightning
view all created things like this.”
Whether we are deluded or awakened, our life is like a dream. Dogen Zenji wrote the following in Shobogenzo Muchu-setsumu (Expounding a Dream within a Dream):
“Because the wondrous Dharma of all buddhas is simply “only buddha together with buddha,” all things either in the dream or in awakening are true reality. Within awakening there are arousing bodhi-mind, practice, awakening, and nirvana; within dreaming there are arousing bodhi-mind, practice, awakening, and nirvana. Both dreaming and awakening are true reality.”
In the third line of this poem, Dogen says that in the bodhisattva way— practicing with all beings both in samsara and in nirvana in which everything is like a dream— there is “something” difficult to forget (Monkaku-version) or “one thing” we should remember (Manzan-verson). There are three opinions in the commentaries regarding this “one thing (ichiji, 一事).”
According to the first interpretation, this “one-thing” is the sound of evening rain in Fukakusa. In this interpretation, the poem was written later, after he founded his own monastery Koshoji or Eiheiji. He is writing about his memory of the secluded life in Fukakusa.
The second interpretation is that this “one-thing” refers to Dogen’s determination to transmit the true dharma to Japan to save living beings. In Bendowa (Talk on the Wholehearted Practice of the Way), he wrote:
“After that, I returned home in the first year of Sheting (1227). To spread this dharma and to free living beings became my vow. I felt as if a heavy burden had been placed on my shoulders. In spite of that, I set aside my vow to propagate this, in order to wait for conditions under which it could flourish.”
Bendowa was written in 1230 when Dogen lived in secluded life (kankyo) in Fukakusa. Although he had set it aside, he could not forget his vow to spread the dharma and save all beings.
The third is Sawaki Roshi’s interpretation. He said “one-thing (ichiji, 一事)” is an abbreviation of ichi-daiji (一大事, one great matter), which comes from the Lotus Sutra. In the Second Chapter of the Sutra, it says, “All buddhas, the world-honored ones, only because of the one great matter, appear in the world.” In this case, “one-thing” refers to teaching the true reality of all beings (shoho jisso, 諸法実相). All buddhas appear in this world to open the gate of the true-reality, show it, and allow all living beings to open their eyes and enter the gate living within the true reality. This true reality is that each and every individual beings are living in their own unique ways only within the network of interdependent origination.
The final line expresses that Dogen himself sitting in the hermitage, and rain falling outside the hermitage are both part of interconnectedness. This poem reminds me of a waka poem of Dogen’s entitled Jingqing’s Sound of Rain Drops:
without extra mind [that grasps them],
the jewel-like raindrops
dripping from the eaves
 © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., www.wisdompubs.org
 Okumura’s translation in Heart of Zen: Practice without Gaining-mind (Sotoshu Shumucho, p.6)
 Translation by Red Pine, The Diamond Sutra, Counterpoint, p.27
 Okumura and Leighton’s translation in Wholehearted Way, Tuttle, p.20)
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Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.
Waka by Dōgen
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