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.

— • —

[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.

— • —

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

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.

— • —

[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.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

— • —

For further study:

> More of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese Poems


Copyright 2019 Sanshin Zen Community

Are “we” destroying the natural world?

Nine Talks on Genjōkōan
photo © Shodo Spring

Is it egocentric to say we’re destroying the natural world, since we are part of nature anyway— even though it is clearly something that is happening through us?

 

In Shobogenzo Butsukojoji (The Matter of Going Beyond Buddha), Dōgen wrote:

“The great sky does not obstruct the drifting of the white clouds” is Shitou’s expression. Nor does the great sky obstruct the great sky. The great sky does not impede the great sky itself from drifting, and also the white clouds do not impede the white clouds themselves. White clouds are drifting without obstruction; furthermore, the drifting of white clouds does not impede the great sky from drifting. Not obstructing others is non-obstruction of the self. [The great sky and the white clouds] do not require each other’s non-obstruction. It is not that there exists some mutual non-obstruction. For this reason, [they] don’t obstruct [each other.] This is how we uphold nature and form of ‘the great sky,’ ‘non-obstruction,’ and ‘the drifting of the white clouds.’”

Here Dōgen is talking about a well-known expression from a story about Shitou Xiqian (Jp. Sekito Kisen 700-790), in which Shitou says, “The great sky does not obstruct the drifting of the white clouds.” This is a source of something I often say— that when we are sitting in zazen, we are like a vast sky, and our thoughts are like clouds coming and going. Sitting like a vast sky doesn’t hinder or stop white clouds freely flying. According to Sekito this is the essential meaning of Buddha Dharma. That means we do nothing. We don’t know anything and we don’t gain anything. We are just sitting. Within this just sitting, clouds are freely coming and going.

In his comment on this koan story, Dogen said a very interesting thing. He said, “The great sky does not impede the great sky itself from drifting, and also the white clouds do not impede the white clouds themselves.” “Great sky” is this entire network of interdependent origination. In this case we are like white clouds within the vast sky. Somehow, we are born, stay for a while, and disappear. Each and every being is like a white cloud in the vast sky, but he also says the great sky doesn’t hinder the great sky— each and every cloud doesn’t hinder each and every cloud flying freely. I think this is a really great comment. Everything is moving and changing, coming and going within this great nature. Within this entire network of interdependent origination, every one of us is like a cloud in the sky. Appear, stay for a while, change, and disappear. In our zazen we really become a part of this movement. White clouds do not hinder the entire network, or vast sky.

But somehow, we human beings destroy nature. We hinder this entire movement because of our desires, because of our delusion that we are the center of the world, and that it is the right thing to fulfill our desires. By trying to fulfill our desires, we disturb this entire network. We are even destroying nature. Even though we are a very tiny part of nature, we think we are the owner of nature. I think that is a very basic delusion we modern human beings have. And so we harm ourselves.

Sometimes I feel like we human beings, and our civilization, are creating a cancer for nature. Cancer is really a part of this body. But somehow a cancer grows in a different way from the order and harmony of this body. I don’t think cancer has an evil intention to destroy nature. But somehow it grows so quickly. Because of that nature, when the cancer grows to a certain extent this entire body dies. And when this entire body dies, the cancer has to die. So cancer is a kind of a paradoxical being. In a sense this process of growth, to live and grow freely, is a process of dying. Our human civilization, what we are doing in this modern time, seems like the same thing. Because we are a very tiny part of nature, we are living together with nature as a part of nature. But somehow we grow too fast, and within this process of growing we destroy nature. When we destroy nature more than a certain extent nature dies. When nature dies we have to die. There’s no way for us to live without nature, without air or water. But even though we know it, we still pollute the water and the air. This is a basic kind of ignorance.

I heard that in a healthy body there is always a cell which could become a cancer, but doesn’t necessarily grow as a cancer. There might be some way to stop from being a cancer, even though we still don’t know what it is. We need to find that way as our wisdom. I think Buddha’s teaching can be one contribution to this modern civilization, to avoid total destruction. What we can do as Buddhists or Dogen Zenji’s disciples is, I think, to present this practice and the view that we are part of an entire network of interdependent origination, that we cannot exist without the support or relationship with all those things. Then our life could be changed. Some people say it’s too late, but I think it’s never too late. If we think it’s too late, that is the end of the story. We need to continue.

— • —

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

Being one with chocolate, how does that work?

image © 2019 David S. Thompson

I’m confused about name and form, and the idea that if you end the subject-object relationship, and see what was formerly an object as part of yourself, you drop the attachment to it— practically speaking, how does that work? If I have a piece of chocolate, and try to end the subject-object relationship with that piece of chocolate, it’s a part of me, but I still want to eat it.

 

According to Buddha when we sit letting go of thought, or keep our karmic consciousness idling, then name and form (namarupa) disappears, ceases to exist. Do you believe this? I really believe this. This [holds marker] ceases to be a brown marker to me, this is just as it is. We let go of the name and evaluation, and try not to do anything with this. It’s there, but this is not a brown marker, we don’t make a judgment whether this is useful or not useful. It’s still here but it ceases to be namarupa. At that time, as in Dogen Zenji’s expression, it starts to be the Buddha Dharma, or to reveal itself just as it is. This is not namarupa or the object of my perception, but this is just as it is. That is just what Dogen Zenji says at the very beginning of Genjokoan, “When all dharmas are Buddha Dharma, there is delusion and realization, practice, life and death, buddhas and living beings.” When we let go of all of our different thoughts in zazen, all things cease to be namarupa and start to be Buddha Dharma. That is the time we can practice with all different dharmas. But still this is it. It doesn’t change, but the relationship between this person and this thing has changed. We encounter this not as a namarupa or object of my judgment or evaluation, but this is just as it is. It has its own form, nature, body, energy, and function. That is when I can practice with this [holds marker], when this starts to show the reality of all beings, impermanence, egolessness, and interdependent origination. As far as I perceive this as a brown marker, I have some connection or relationship. I’m hooked within this connection of a person who has a desire and the object of my desire to write or do something meaningful or valuable for this person. If we stop all those hooks, this thing starts to reveal the reality of all beings. It becomes a buddha that teaches us and shows us the reality of all beings. So it becomes a teacher. The relationship and meaning of this being becomes different. It’s still here but it ceases to be namarupa and starts to be Buddha Dharma.

In our zazen we can really completely let go of all perceptions or thinking or evaluation or anything. But when we get out of the zendo this starts to be namarupa again and we have of deal with namarupa. Practice within our daily lives is more complicated. What Buddha taught in the Sutta Nipata is not the end of the teaching. There is the Mahayana teaching and also what Dogen teaches: how we can live based on this teaching of Buddha. As a Mahayana Buddhist or bodhisattva we have to work within the society with all beings. We cannot sit twenty-four hours a day seven days a week. Somehow, we have to work or interact with other people with different ideas, opinions or views. We have to deal with namarupa. How can we deal with namarupa if we cannot avoid contact with namarupa?

I think what Dogen is saying, and what Mahayana Buddhism is teaching, is that there is another way to avoid contact even though we are working together with things, and that is to become one with this. As Dogen Zenji said in Tenzo Kyokun, when you work in the kitchen you should be one with the rice, water, or fire. That is another way this ceases to be namarupa, and yet remain a part of my life. One way of “avoiding” contact is to really let go of everything and sit facing the wall. Another way is to encounter this as one thing. That is the question Dogen is answering in Bendowa: whether this can be applied only during zazen or if this can also be applied in our daily lives. This is a kind of difficult point, a delicate point. We have to really think deeply.

As far as the chocolate— I think you can eat it; but it depends on your physical condition. Sugar can be a poison depending upon your condition. You have to consider the relationship between the chocolate and you. A baby doesn’t have a concept of the mother’s milk. Cats and dogs also don’t have names or concepts, still they know what they can eat, or what they need to keep them alive. Probably there is no “perception” in Buddhist terms, but they have five skandhas and food is probably something to them. Maybe cats and dogs don’t eat what they need out of desire but out of necessity. Cats don’t eat more than they need, but we humans eat even when we know it’s a poison. To eat too much delicious food harms our bodies, but still I want to eat it. That is because we think this is important, this is expensive, or this is delicious, or I cannot eat if I don’t eat right now. I think this is a problem caused by our mind or thinking, and I think that is desire. But the appetite of babies or cats and dogs is not desire. It’s a necessity, they only eat as much as they need. They are more enlightened than us.

But if I want the chocolate, then the chocolate is namarupa, an object of my desire. If I just eat it without thinking or considering my healthy condition, we are in need of wisdom. Even if this brown marker ceases to exist as namarupa, still this can be used as a marker. But this cannot be a piece of chocolate, we cannot eat this. When we start to think whether to eat this piece of chocolate or not, a kind of wisdom arises to see what happens when I eat this. That is what we do in our daily lives— we have to deal with this. When we start to question our relationship with this chocolate, then the chocolate becomes Buddha Dharma. Chocolate is teaching us to consider whether we are being led by our desire or wisdom. I think that is our practice in our daily lives. We have to deal with this. If we eat it without thinking, just because we want to eat it, just because I like it, then this is really namarupa. But when we stop one moment and think whether this is a good thing or not or what the action of eating this causes to these five skandhas, then we start to learn about this thing and that thing.

Even from one piece of chocolate we can see the entire universe, because everything is connected with this one piece of chocolate. The chocolate is in front of me because of the farmers who grow the cocoa plants and the people who worked making chocolate at a factory, and people who transported it from where it was made to in front of me. When we see this chocolate, we can see the entire net of interdependent origination. After that we have to make a decision to eat it or not. Then the chocolate really becomes a teacher of dharma. It’s not a mystical thing, this is really a day-to-day ordinary thing. But if we are careful, we can study dharma even from one piece of chocolate. I think that is what Dogen is saying. Does it make sense?

— • —

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

Moon-Viewing

Dōgen’s Chinese Poem (19)

「秋月」

Autumn Moon

The fifteenth night [full moon] of the eighth month, facing the moon each person [in the assembly] composed a verse about the moon. This moon is not the moon of the heart, not the moon in the sky, not yesterday’s moon, not the night moon, not the round moon, and not the crescent moon. I suppose it is the autumn moon. How is it?

Although golden waves are not calm, [the moon] lodges in the river.
In refreshing air it shines on high, and all the ground is autumn.
Reed flowers on the Wei River, snow on Song Peak,
Who would resent the endlessness of the long night?[1]

八月十五夜、於月前各頌月。此月非心月、非天月、非昨月、非夜月、非円月、非尖月、想像是秋月也、如何。
(八月十五夜、月前において各おの月を頌す。此の月、心月に非ず、天月に非ず、昨月に非ず、夜月に非ず、円月に非ず、尖月に非ず、想像するに是れ秋月なり、如何。)
金波非泊雖河宿、 (金波泊まらず河に宿ると雖も、)
爽気高晴匝地秋、 (爽気高く晴れて匝地秋なり、)
渭水蘆華嵩嶽雪、 (渭水の蘆華嵩嶽の雪、)
誰怨長夜更悠悠。 (誰か怨みん長夜更らに悠悠たることを。)

 

This is verse 19 in Kuchugen and verse 74 of volume 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dogen’s Extensive Record). In Manzan’s version, there is a slight difference in the first line only of this poem:

金波非止亦非流 (金波止まるに非ず亦た流るるに非ず 
Golden waves neither stay nor flow

In Eihei Koroku, this poem has a long introduction as above. In east Asian countries such as China, Vietnam, Korea, and Japan, a celebration called the harvest moon is held on the full moon day of the eighth month. In Japan we call it o-tsuki-mi (お月見 moon-vewing). People offer moon-viewing dumplings (tsukimidango 月見団子) together with Japanese pampas grass (susukiススキ). On this occasion, Dogen Zenji holds a gathering, writing poems with his assembly of monks. Each one of the monks composes a poem on the full moon. Dogen loves the moon as the symbol of the Dharma of interconnectedness and penetration of each and myriad phenomenal things and the vast, infinite moonlight. The oldest portrait of Dogen Zenji stored at Hokyoji is called the moon-viewing portrait (月見の像).

In this introduction, Dogen says that the moon they are seeing today is not the moon of the heart (心月 shin-getsu, mind-moon), not the moon in the sky (天月 ten-getsu, heaven-moon), not yesterday’s moon (昨月 saku-getsu, yesterday-moon), not the night moon (夜月 ya-getsu, night-moon), not the round moon (円月 en-getsu, round- or complete-moon), and not the crescent moon (尖月 sen-getsu, sharp-pointed-moon), but the autumn moon (秋月 shu-getsu). I don’t quite understand what this introduction means. The autumn moon and the other names of the moon he mentions here do not negate each other. The autumn moon cannot be the spring, summer, or winter moon, but it can be the heart-moon, heaven-moon, etc. Actually, these are the expressions used by Dogen himself in Shobogenzo Tsuki (Moon) and in Genjokoan. Possibly Dogen is asking his monks not to express the moon in the way he has already in his writings, but rather to create something unique from their own hearts.

In his teisho on this poem, Sawaki Roshi mentions that “the autumn moon” is taken from a poem by Hanshan (寒山 Kanzan, Cold Mountain):

吾心似秋月  My mind is like the autumn moon
碧潭清皎潔  clear and bright in a pool of jade
無物堪比倫  nothing can compare
教我如何説  What more can I say.[2]

In this reading, the autumn moon is really a symbol of the pure and clear mind, which is what shin-getsu (mind-moon) means.

Although golden waves are not calm, [the moon] lodges in the river.
In refreshing air it shines on high, and all the ground is autumn.

Golden waves (金波) refers to the moonlight reflected on the surface of river water. A commentary suggests that this river is the Milky Way, which in Japanese is called the river in the heavens (天の河 amanogawa). But I think that in this case, a river on the earth is a better interpretation. This is the same scenery Dogen writes about in Genjokoan, “Although the moon is a vast and great light, it is reflected in a drop of water.” The water is constantly moving, and the moonlight looks as if it is moving too, and yet it also looks as if it is not moving. This is the same as is stated in Manzan’s version: “Golden waves neither stay nor flow.”

The moon is shining in the boundless sky within the clear, brisk autumn air. In Shobogenzo Tsuki (Moon), Dogen quotes the saying by Zen Master Panshan Baoji:

The mind-moon is alone and completely round. Its light swallows the myriad phenomenal things. The light does not illuminate objects. Nor do any objects exist. Light and objects simultaneously vanish. Then what is this?

In his commentary on this, Dogen says,

The myriad phenomenal things are moonlight, not myriad phenomenal things. This is why the light swallows the myriad phenomenal things. Because the myriad phenomenal things naturally swallow moonlight completely, the light swallowing light itself is referred to as light swallowing the myriad phenomenal things.[3]

He interprets this scenery as the complete interpenetration of all phenomenal things and the entirety of Indra’s net. Later, he also says that the moon vomits phenomenal things, that is, moonlight is moonlight and phenomenal things are phenomenal things. He is expressing the reality in which oneness and multiplicity both vanish and yet are completely there. This is what is meant by the second line, “In refreshing air it shines on high, and all the ground is autumn.” Each and every thing and the moonlight express the beauty of universal autumn.

Reed flowers on the Wei River, snow on song Peak,
Who would resent the endlessness of the long night?

Dazu Huike, the second ancestor of Chinese Zen, lived by the Wei River. Song Peak was where Bodhidharma sat for nine years at Shaolin temple. These two places are not far away from each other. When Huike first visited Bodhidharma, the mountain was covered with snow. In Dogen’s poem, the white moonlight is illuminating reed flowers and snow which are both white. This is the scenery of a cool and peaceful world, free from the heat of the burning house of samsara.

Reed flower (蘆, roka) is used in case 13 of The Blue Cliff Record:

雪蘆花を覆えば、朕迹を分け難し。
When snow covers the white flowers, it’s hard to distinguish the outlines.
白馬、蘆花に入る。
A white horse enters the white flowers.[4]

“The white flowers” in the original Chinese is “蘆花 reed flowers.” In The Blue Cliff Record, these expressions are used with the same meaning as in a line from Treasure Mirror Samadhi (宝鏡三昧, Hokyozanmai) composed by Dongshan (洞山 Tozan), the founder of Chinese Caodong (Soto) school:

Filling a silver bowl with snow,
Hiding a heron in the moonlight[5]

All phenomenal things are illuminated by white moonlight. It is quiet, peaceful, cool, and undefiled scenery in which both difference and unity are completely integrated. This is also the scenery of our zazen.

Dogen says it is difficult to stop viewing the moon and go to bed because the moon is not only beautiful but also expresses the Dharma, in which we are the part of the moon. Shortly before his passing away in 1253, he saw the full moon on the fifteenth day of the eighth month in Kyoto, and he composed his last waka poem:

また見んと 思ひし時の 秋だにも 今夜の月に ねられやはする
Mata min to / omoishi toki no /  aki da nimo / koyoi no tsuki ni  / nerare yawasuru

I wasn’t sure if I could expect to see autumn again
gratefully I see the full moon of this night
How is it possible for me to sleep?

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[1] (Dogen’s Extensive Record 10-71, p.629) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., www.wisdompubs.org.
[2] Translation by Red Pine, The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain, Copper Canyon Press, 2000. P.39
[3] Unpublished translation copyright 2019 Shohaku Okumura.
[4] Translation by Thomas Cleary (The Blue Cliff Record, Shambhala, 2005) p. 88
[5] Translation by Thomas Cleary (Timeless Spring: A Soto Zen Anthology, Weatherhill, 1980) p.39.

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Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

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Peach and plum, pine and bamboo

Copyright©2019 Misaki C. Kido

Dōgen’s Chinese Poem (18)

「春雪夜」「春雪の夜」

Snowy Night in Spring

Peach and plum blossoms under snow and frost are not what I love.
In green pines and emerald bamboo, so much cloudy mist.
Even though not yet stained with chicken skin and crane hair,
For some decades I have abandoned fame and gain.[1]

桃李雪霜非愛処 (桃李雪霜愛処に非ず、)
青松翠竹幾雲煙 (青松翠竹幾くの雲煙ぞ、)
鶏皮鶴髪縦無染 (鶏皮鶴髪縦い染むること無くとも、)
名利抛來數十年 (名利抛て來る數十年。)

This is verse 18 in Kuchugen and verse 71 of volume 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dogen’s Extensive Record). This poem in Menzan’s version is quite different. Only the last line is the same:

桃李假娟我曷憐 (桃李娟を假るも我れ曷んぞ憐まん)
I don’t appreciate peach and plum blooming beautifully,
松杉失翠或應悁 (松杉翠を失う或た應に悁うべし)
Rather I have pity on the pines and cedars losing their green color [being covered by the snow].
道人忘卻紛飛意 (道人忘卻す紛飛の意)
A person of the Way forgets the [monkey-] mind that is jumping around in disorder.
名利抛來數十年 (名利を抛って來る數十年)
For some decades, I have abandoned [desire for] fame and gain.

 

Peach and plum blossoms under snow and frost are not what I love.
In green pines and emerald bamboo, so much cloudy mist.

It is difficult for me to understand this poem in the Monkaku-bon version. This is a poem about snow falling in a spring night. The Chinese character桃 (Ch. Tao, Jp. momo, Prunus persica) is peach and the Chinese character 李 (Ch. Li, Jp. sumomo, Prunus salicina) is usually called plum in English. This is different from ume(梅, Japanese apricot, Prunus mume) though that is also called “plum” in English. These characters (桃李 peach and plum) are often used together. For example, there is a famous saying from Shiji (Jp. Shiki, 史記) by Simaqian (Jp. Shibasen, 司馬遷) about the virtuous personality of a general who was respected by all people:

桃李不言下自成蹊 (桃李言わざれども下自ら蹊を成す)
Peach and plum do not say anything but underneath these trees, naturally a trail is made.

Their flowers are beautiful and their fruits are tasty, so many people come to the trees and naturally make a trail. This might be a rough equivalent to the English proverb: “Good wine needs no bush.” In Chinese culture, peach is also a symbol of longevity.

Ume blooms at Eiheiji in the very early spring when the ground is completely covered with snow. Dogen loves the image of ume blossoms in the snow. Peach and sumomo (translated as “plum”) bloom in mid-spring after the snow has melted away. If the peach and plum flowers were covered with snow, it must have been really unusual weather. In this poem, Dogen writes that on a spring night, they had unusually late snow on the peach and plum blossoms. But he says he does not love them.

Right after moving from Kyoto to Echizen, Dogen saw snowfall on the bright leaves in the fall. He was moved by the beauty and composed a waka poem:

In the month of long nights
it snowed
on the bright leaves
Why don’t those who see this
compose a poem?

Although the situation in his Chinese poem is similar to this waka, white snow on the bright fall leaves and snow on the spring flowers, in his Chinese poem he says he does not love the scenery. The expression Dogen uses is 非愛処 (not a place to love) – the same expression Shitou (Jp. Sekito) used in his “Song of the Grass-hut”— “I don’t love what worldly people love (世人愛処我不愛).” This seems to be quite a strong negation. Exactly what does he not love? The flowers of peach and plum, or the snow and frost which cover the beautiful flowers and possibly damages them, making them unable to produce their fruit?

In the second line, he says that the green colors of pine needles and emerald bamboo are also covered by the cloudy mist so that they are not seen clearly. The green color of pine needles and bamboo is commonly appreciated as the symbol of fidelity and constancy. Things beautiful and faithful are covered by the snow and the mist. What does this scenery mean to Dogen?

Even though not yet stained with chicken skin and crane hair,
For some decades I have abandoned fame and gain.

Chicken skin (鶏皮) refers to a winkled face of an aged person. Crane hair (鶴髪) means white hair like a crane’s feather. These are symbols of aging. It seems that Dogen says he is not yet so old. Nyo (名) is fame and ri (利) is profit. He has abandoned his desire for fame and profit since the time he became a Buddhist monk at the age of thirteen. As he often said and wrote, being free from the desires for fame and profit is one of the most important virtues for a Buddhist monk.

I don’t quite understand this poem in Monkaku version. The relationship between the first three lines and the last line is not clear to me. Peach and plum blossoms and the green color of pine and bamboo are beautiful, and people love them. But spring snow and mist cover their beauty. Smooth skin and black hair are desirable symbol of youth, but gradually change into chicken skin and crane hair – like the spring snow and cloudy mist which cover the beautiful colors of flowers, pine needles, and bamboo. It seems that although Dogen is getting closer to old age, he has neither love nor hatred for these things. Or possibly he expresses that even though he has abandoned worldly values such as fame and profit since he was young, he still feels some sadness when he sees that the aging process is already beginning.

Menzan’s version of this poem is more understandable to me. In this version, Dogen does not say that he sees peach and plum blossoms covered with snow and frost. He simply says he does not appreciate their luxurious beauty that most worldly people love. What he actually sees is the green colors of pine needles and cedar leaves getting covered and hidden by the snow. He has sympathy for them, for keeping their faithfulness and beauty even when covered by snow. In this version, peach and plum represent what worldly people love, and pine and cedar trees covered with snow are not appreciated by worldly people, who don’t even come to see them.

The practice of Dogen and his monks practicing on a remote mountain is like the faithfulness of cedars and pines. As a person of the Way, he is free from the monkey-mind that jumps in a disorderly way among beautiful and valuable things such as peach and plum blossoms in the worldly system of value. Rather, Dogen identifies himself with the pine and cedar trees in the snow. He has been living in this way for several decades since he became a Buddhist monk, even before he moved to Echizen. Faithful and continuous practice of just sitting without gaining mind, that is good for nothing, is not appreciated in the market place, but Dogen Zenji is completely committed to the practice.

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[1] (Dogen’s Extensive Record 10-71, p.628) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., www.wisdompubs.org.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

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Buddha’s view

image by: James Spurrier CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

Are a human being and a buddha different?

A common idea in Buddhism is that we are deluded human beings, buddhas are enlightened, and it takes more than forever to become a Buddha. In early Buddhism people thought that no one can become a buddha, but in Mahayana Buddhism we are Buddha’s children – bodhisattvas are Buddha’s children – and if we continue to practice, even though it takes more than forever, we can become a buddha. So there is a connection. In a sense, living beings are a cause – now we start to study this Dharma as a cause and when we become really mature then we can become a buddha. So it’s not completely separated. Buddhas and living beings have a connection. Actually, when we read Dogen’s writings, different people or figures are teaching in different buddha-lands. That is because especially in Mahayana Buddhism, there isn’t just one Buddha.

In early Buddhism people thought Buddha was the only one; there was Shakyamuni, and no other Buddha. But I think Shakyamuni himself said that he didn’t create anything new, but that he was a person who discovered an old castle hidden in the forest. This analogy means there must have been someone else who found or discovered the same thing. I think that in the next stages of Buddhist history people started to think there were other buddhas. They thought there were seven buddhas in the past, that Shakyamuni was the seventh in a series of Buddhas, and yet he was one Buddha at one time, and in one world. So in this world, after Sakyamuni died and until Maitreya Buddha appears after fifty-seven billion years or so, we have no buddha. Subsequently, Mahayana Buddhists began to think that this universe is not the only universe. There must be many other universes and worlds. So in this world until Maitreya appears there is no Buddha, but there must be many other buddha-lands, and at this present moment other buddhas are teaching in different buddha-lands. They created many buddhas, numberless buddhas such as Amithaba Buddha in the western world.

Yet Buddha also said that each and every thing, all beings are a buddha, including ourselves, because each and every thing is empty. Emptiness is the reality to which the Buddha awakened. This reality and a buddha who awakens to that reality is the same thing. The Lotus Sutra says that only a buddha together with a buddha can see that reality. We cannot see it, we cannot talk about it, we cannot express it using words or language. What we have to remember is there are two layers of reality. One is the way we view things using our thinking mind. Another is going beyond this discriminating mind, that is what buddha means. We are bodhisattvas, Buddha’s children. If we want to become a buddha and if we vow to practice and follow that way, we have to follow Buddha’s darshana, Buddha’s way of viewing things. So as a bodhisattva somehow we need both. This is the point – we need both. If Buddha’s darshana or Buddha’s insight is really beyond our reach then Buddhism and buddhas have nothing to do with us. We are living beings within muddy water and still we want to bloom the flower of dharma. So our life has a contradiction or paradox. Even though we are independent individuals, limited and conditioned, still we want to study and practice and manifest this infinite, boundless reality that can be seen only by buddhas together with buddhas. How can we share Buddha’s way of viewing things within this life? That is a very essential point of bodhisattva practice. According to Dogen Zenji the pivotal point or joint of these two is our zazen.

In common buddhist terms living beings and buddhas are different. But when we discuss about our zazen, or Dogen’s teaching, and also Mahayana teachings, buddhas and living beings are just one reality. Buddhist teaching is really strange. We have to understand it in many different layers or profundities. When we see the reality from the deepest point of view (Buddha’s view) there is no such distinction between Buddha and a living being. But from a human perspective we aren’t Buddha. We are so different from Buddha. Even though we aspire to study the dharma, still this aspiration is self-centered. “I want to find the truth.” “I want to live in a better way then I live now.” So it’s still ego-centered. Even our motivation to study dharma is still self-centered. If I think living beings and Buddha is one and the same, if so, why do I have to practice? Why do I have to study? In fact, that was the original question Dogen had when he was fifteen years old. So please keep that question in your mind. I think it is important.

— • —

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:

    • For a translation of the Lotus Sutra sometimes used by Okumura Roshi, see this book.

> Other Questions and responses


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