With this post, we are excited to bring you a new series on Dōgen by Okumura Roshi.
Dogen Zenji’s Chinese Poems
In Dogen’s Extensive Record (Eihei Koroku), more than 400 Chinese poems are included. Menzan Zuiho (1683 -1769) selected 150 poems from the text and made a collection of Dogen’s Chinese poems entitled Kuchugen (句中玄；Profundity within Phrases) published in 1759. This became a popular collection of Dogen Zenji’s Chinese poems among Soto Zen practitioners in Japan. Menzan used the Eihei Koroku text revised by Manzan Dohaku (1636-1715). Rev. Taigen Dan Leighton and I translated Monkaku-bon version of Eihei Koroku, which is older than Manzan’s version. I will select the poems from Kuchugen but use our translation of the Monkaku version. When there are important differences between the Monkaku version and Manzan’s version, I will point them out.
In the introduction of Kuchugen, Menzan said:
Our ancestor Eihei [Dogen] visited to the South [part of China] and returned to the East (Japan) and composed numerous verses. However, because those verses are included here and there in his Extensive Record (Eihei Koroku), unless they are old and well-educated masters, people seldom hear of [Dogen’s verses]. Young students most rarely memorize them. I, a stubborn old man, using some free time from Zen practice, have selected some of them and allowed the novices in my assembly to recite the poems [by Dogen]… Now, I wish to circulate [Dogen’s poems] by publicizing [this collection] with wood-block printing. I sincerely wish that young novices of our school read this collection, recite them, and memorize them in their mind, [then] they will receive the unseen blessing from the Buddha-ancestors. Their capability to carry on the great Dharma in the future will be naturally strengthened.
In Japan, since the time of Menzan, Soto Zen novices have been reciting and memorizing these poems; doing so, they become familiar with Dogen Zenji’s expressions. Since Eihei Koroku is a massive text written in Chinese, it is not possible for young students to read it without much study.
Beginning this month, I will introduce some of his Chinese poems from Kuchugen using the translation in Dogen’s Extensive Record (Wisdom Publications, Boston, 2004) with my short comments. The original Chinese poems and Japanese way of reading them (yomikudashi) is from Dogen Zenji Zenshu (Complete Collection of Dogen) vol.13 (Kagamishima Genryu, Shunjusha, Tokyo, 2000). Kodo Sawaki Roshi gave teisho on some of the poems from Kuchugen. The transcriptions of his teisho are included vol. 5 and vol. 7 of Sawaki Kodo Zenshu (Complete Collection of Sawaki Kodo, Daihorinkaku, Tokyo, 1962). I will mention what Sawaki Roshi said when it is helpful to appreciate the poem.
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An impromptu work during the time of leisurely seclusion¹
|阿誰取舎雖悄然、||阿誰か取舎せん悄然なりと雖ども、||Though settled, no longer picking up or discarding,²|
|万物同時現在前、||萬物同時に現在前す、||At the same time before me myriad things appear.|
|仏法従今心既尽、||佛法今從り心既に盡きぬ、||[Within] Buddha Dharma, from now on
[seeking] mind’s abandoned.
|身儀向後且随縁。||身儀向後且た縁に隨う。||After this my activity will just follow conditions.|
Kankyo (閑居) means a quiet and secluded life in a hermitage. When used in negative sense, it can mean idle or lazy life without working for the society. There is a proverb that says: When pipsqueaks live leisurely (kankyo) they do evil things. (Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.) In Buddhism, this is almost always used in a positive way as a retreat in a secluded hermitage. In Dogen Zenji’s life, the period after he moved from Kenninji to Fukakusa in 1230 until he founded his own monastery, Koshoji in or around the same place in 1233, is called Fukakusa kankyo. In this case, kankyo means living quietly in a hermitage without many followers as a sangha. This verse is considered to be made during that period.
Sawaki Roshi said that kankyo does not necessarily means to live by oneself at a quiet place without much actions. Even when we live alone in a quiet place, same as the proverb, if we are controlled and moved by some mistaken views or our personal desires for fame and profit, it is not kankyo at all. Ultimately speaking, kankyo means sitting in zazen letting go of all thoughts and quietly and peacefully abiding within beyond-thinking (非思量, hishiryo).
Even when we are living in a busy life with so many things to do, if we clarify and settle down within our self, being free from our self-centered desires and competition with others, our life is in serenity. We are not controlled by causes and conditions, but we are able to work with causes and conditions in a healthy and harmonious way. This is what Dogen Zenji is saying in this poem. He expresses his determination to live in such a way. Therefore, even after he established his monastery, and working hard to teach and practice the Dharma with his assembly and to protect his sangha within society, he did not stop doing kankyo.
¹ This is verse 65 in volume 10 of Dogen’s Extensive Record (p. 626)
² In Manzan’s version, the first line is a little different: 雙忘取捨思翛然 (Forgetting both picking up and discarding, my thoughts are settled.)
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Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi
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