Leisurely seclusion

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.

— • —


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.)

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

Waka by Dōgen

Copyright 2018 Sanshin Zen Community

Tenzo Kyokun 6 – Seeing Things With a Buddha Eye

Beginning with the passage studied in this podcast episode, Dōgen describes the most important point in the attitude of the tenzo. The meaning of Dōgen’s admonition is very clear: don’t complain. The tenzo receives food ingredients from storage, and whatever the tenzo receives, they don’t complain, they just accept things as they are and work together with those things to make them into the best food or dish possible.

But if we carefully read the expressions and sentences, what Dōgen is saying is not so simple. Of course, the meaning is to avoid “like and dislike.” But the reason for that attitude is very deep and important within the essence of Buddhist teaching. In the English translation alone, we cannot see that connection.

Listen to the podcast for more.


If your device does not display the embedded player, or if buffering takes too long, please visit:  http://sanshin.podomatic.com/entry/2017-10-14T12_22_53-07_00

See our podcast page for the previous episode in this series, or visit http://sanshin.podomatic.com.

This talk continues Shohaku Okumura Roshi’s commentary on Dogen Zenji’s Tenzo Kyokun – Instructions for the Zen Cook (covering the second paragraph on page 37).

This talk was originally given at Sanshinji in Bloomington, IN on September 12, 2007.

Copyright 2017 Sanshin Zen Community

Meeting with a person

Devoted to the Way

© Can Stock Photo / iamagoo
にほの海や Nio no umi ya On the lake of Nio,
矢橋のおきの Yabase no oki no A ferry boat is sailing
渡し舟 watashi bune offshore of Yabase.
おしても人に oshitemo hito ni [I would like to] push it
あふみならばや afumi naraba ya to meet the person.


This waka is Addendum 13 and the last waka in the Shunjusha text of Dogen Zenji Wakashu (Collection of Dogen Zenji’s Waka). Nio is the old name of the waterfowl called kaitsuburi (grebe, Tachybaptus ruficollis). Lake Biwa, the largest lake in Japan located in Shiga Prefecture, was called Nio no umi (Lake of Nio) because many grebes and other water fowl live there. Today the grebe is the prefectural bird of Shiga Prefecture. Lake Biwa can be seen from Mt. Hiei where Dogen practiced for several years as a novice.

Yabase is the name of a town on the east coast of Lake Biwa in Kusatsu City in Shiga Prefecture. In the ancient times, Yabase was well known as the port of a ferry boat that connected Kusatsu and Otsu, creating a short cut to travel to the capital Kyoto that was much shorter than walking around the lake. Afumi in the last line is a paronomasia that combines oumi, the old name of Shiga Prefecture) and “the person to meet.” Afu can mean to meet (au, 会う), and mi (身) means a body or a person.

The first three lines of this waka describe the scenery of Lake Biwa. A ferry boat is sailing on the lake offshore from Yabase. Then, Dogen (if this waka was written by him) says, even though it is a short cut, he still wishes to push his boat out to meet with the person on the ferry as soon as possible.

This waka was found by Dr. Doshu Okubo in Toyo-wakashu (藤葉和歌集) a collection of waka compiled in the Nanbokucho period (1336 – 1392) by Ogura Sanenori. Dr. Okubo included this waka in Dogen Zenji Wakashu as a part of Dogen Zenji Zenshu published by Chikuma Shobo in 1970. Okubo wrote in his Dogen Zenji Den no Kenkyu (Study of the Biographies of Dogen Zenji, Chikuma Shobo, 1966) that this waka might be evidence that Dogen Zenji attended gatherings of aristocrats for writing waka while he lived in Fukakusa.

In Toyo-wakashu, this waka is included in the section of love poems. People considered this to be a poem by a person who wishes to meet his or her lover as soon as possible so he/she wishes to push out the boat. Because of this, some people hesitated to consider this written by Dogen. Another interpreter thinks this is not necessarily a love poem. Only the compiler of the waka collection thought this waka is about the sentiment of a lover.

I have no basis to decide whether this waka was written by Dogen Zenji or not. The only thing I can suggest is that in Shobogenzo Gyoji (Continuous Practice), Dogen wrote about his encounter with his late master Rujing (Nyojo):

Manoatari senshi wo miru kore hito ni afunari.
I saw my late master with my own eyes; this is [truly] meeting with a person.

If this waka was written by Dogen, I think this expression “hito ni afu (to meet a person)” could mean to meet with a true person of the Way. In Shobogenzo Zuimonki, Dogen talked about his meeting with many such people who completely dedicated their lives to the Buddha Way.

Dogen also wrote in Shobogenzo Uji (Being time):

Ware hito ni au nari; hito ware ni au nari; ware ware ni au nari; shutu shutu ni aunari.
I encounter a person; a person encounters a person; I encounter myself; going forth encounters going forth.

This quote from Uji has something to do with the koan included in Shinji Shobogenzo (Dogen’s collection of 300 koans) case 92:

Zen master Sansheng (Dharma heir of Linji) said, “When I meet a person, I go out. When I go out, I don’t guide the person.”
Cunjiang of Xinghua Monastery said, “When I meet a person, I don’t go out. When I go out, I guide the person.”

Zen master Yuanwu, the commentator of the Blue Cliff Record; Hongzhi, the Soto Zen master who composed verses on the hundred koan included in the Book of Serenity; and Dogen’s teacher Rujing all mentioned this koan in their Dhama Hall discourses.

I think that if this waka was composed by Dogen, meeting “with a person” means meeting with anyone devoted to the Way. 

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

> Other Waka by Dōgen

Copyright 2017 Sanshin Zen Community

Mountain Dwelling

In the mountains, and in samsara

山居 二首
Two poems on Mountain Dwelling

立よりて Tachiyorite I won’t stop by
かげもうつさじ kage mo utsu sa ji at the bank of the valley stream,
溪川の tanigawa no so that my appearance is not reflected on it.
ながれて世にし nagarete yo ni shi Because I think,
出でんとおもへば iden to omoeba the water will flow
into the world [of samsara].


Addenda 11 and 12 of the Shunjusha text of Dogen Zenji Wakashu (Collection of Dogen Zenji’s Waka) are titled “mountain dwelling (sankyo, 山居)” taken from a collection named Ryakugebon made by a monk named Kakugan (覚巖), who was the abbot of Entsuji in Okayama in the 19th century. We don’t know where Kakugan found these poems. Entsuji is the temple where the famous monk poet Ryokan practiced with his master Dainin Kokusen.

This waka is very similar to Addendum 1.

たちよりて  かげもうつさじ  かも川に みやこにいづる 水とおもへば
(Tachiyorite / kage mo utsusaji / kamogawa ni / miyako ni izuru / mizu to omoeba)
I won’t stop by / at [the bank] of Kamo river, / so that my appearance is not reflected on it. / Because I think, / the water will flow / into the capital.

The wording is a little different after the third line, but the meaning is the same. I don’t think I need to write a comment on this waka.

Addendum 12 

山ずみの Yama zumi no The moon on the mountain brow
友とはならじ tomo towa naraji does not become a friend
峯の月 mine no tsuki of this mountain dweller,
かれも浮世を karemo ukiyo wo Because it is also moving around
めぐる身なれば meguru mi nareba the floating world [of samsara].


The meaning of this poem seems the same as Addenda 1 and 12. It seems Dogen is saying that he does not want to interact with the valley stream and the moon because they have connection with the mundane world. It is difficult for me to think Dogen has such a negative attitude toward the people in the mundane world. It is true that as a Zen Buddhist monk, Dogen put strong emphasis on renunciation of the fame and profit in the mundane world so that he does not rely on political and economic power. However his practice in the mountain is not an escape from the world. Also, he always loves the sounds of valley stream as Buddha’s voice and the moon as the boundless radiant light of the entirety of interdependent origination. 

If Dogen really composed this waka, I hope we can read it as follows:

The moon on the mountain brow
cannot [always] accompany 
this mountain dweller [alone],
because it needs to move around 
and [illuminate the people in] the world [of samsara also].

The moon and the valley streams illuminate and expound the Dharma, not only for monks practicing in the secluded mountain but also for the people in the mundane world.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

> Other Waka by Dōgen

Copyright 2017 Sanshin Zen Community

Dew on the Grass

Eternity within impermanence


朝日待つ asahi matsu The dewdrops on a blade of grass,
草葉の露の kusaba no tsuyu no waiting for the morning sunrise,
ほどなきに hodo naki ni [are existing] only for a short while.
急ぎな立ちそ isogina tachi so Autumn wind in the field!
野辺の秋風 nobe no akikaze “Don’t begin to blow in a hurry.”

A dewdrop is beautiful and yet stays only for a short time. There are expressions such as 露珠 (roshu), a dewdrop that is as beautiful as a jewel and 露華 (roka), dewdrops shining in the sunlight like flowers. Our life, that is precious but impermanent without perpetual self-nature, is also compared to a dewdrop (露命, romei), dewdrop-like life. Dogen Zenji used this expression several times, for example, in Fukanzazengi (Universal Recommendation of Zazen):

Furthermore, your body is like a drop of dew on a blade of grass; your life is like a flash of lightening. Your body will disappear soon; your life will be lost in an instant.1

While I stayed at Valley Zendo in western Massachusetts, I worked harvesting blueberries at a blueberry farm for a few weeks in the summer for several years. In the early mornings, the blueberry field was so beautiful. Each and every blueberry and the leaves on the plants were covered with dewdrops. In the morning sun, the many acres of the blueberry field looked like a carpet of bright jewels. However soon after sun rose a little higher and the air got warm, all of the dewdrops completely disappeared.

In this waka, Dogen describes dewdrops on a blade of grass on an early autumn morning. The dewdrops stay only for a short while on a blade of grass until the sun rises. When the cold autumn wind blows, even the grass on which the dewdrops stay will wither. Seeing this scenery of the change of season, we human beings feel loneliness and sadness, and have some sympathy or even compassion toward the dewdrops and the grasses. We see our lives are the same as theirs. Soon or later we will all disappear, and we don’t know when.

This is the same reality as Kamo no Chomei wrote about in the Hojoki, which I introduced previously. However in the case of Dogen, this is not a pessimistic view of life. He sees beauty and dignity of life in impermanence. As Dogen wrote in Shobogenzo Genjokoan, every dewdrop reflects the boundless moon light. He sees eternity within impermanence. He also writes in Tenzo Kyokun (Instruction for the Cook):

“Although drawn by the voices of spring, do not wander over spring meadows; viewing the fall colors, do not allow your heart to fall. The four seasons cooperate in a single scene; regard light and heavy with a single eye.”2

We see that spring will come again and plants, flowers, insects, birds and all living beings will become active again. We don’t need to be overwhelmed by the cold autumn wind.


1 Okumura’s unpublished translation.
2 Dogen’s Pure Standards for the Zen Community: A translation of Eihei Shingi (Taigen Leighton & Shohaku Okumura, SUNY), p.49

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

> Other Waka by Dōgen

Copyright 2017 Sanshin Zen Community

Our Transformative Practice

All Things Come and Carry Out
Practice-Enlightenment Through This Self

Dōgen Zenji’s Shikantaza

© Can Stock Photo / coffeekai

There are many ways to realize enlightenment. One is to train under a true Zen master, listening to their teaching; the other is to do zazen whole-heartedly. In the former case you give full play to the discriminating mind, while in the latter, practice and enlightenment are unified. To enter the Way neither of these two methods can be dispensed with — both are necessary. 1
— Dōgen Zenji, Gakudō-yōjinshū

When we sit facing the wall, even though the wall is affecting our eyes, we don’t think, “I am the subject and the wall is an object.”

The wall is actually there. But this subject/object separation is not there.

So sitting in the zendo facing the wall and letting go of thought is something special — a very precious thing — reaching all of our activities.

In almost all of our activities there’s a separation. There’s a subject — me — and an object. And we make a separation and try to interact in the ways that suit us.

How can I make this my possession?
Or how can I achieve this good thing for me?
Or how can I get rid of this meaningless thing?

That is how we usually do. This is our life.

But in our zazen, sitting in the zendo, that separation between subject and object falls away. And even though the wall is really there, the wall is not an object of this person sitting.

And through our tradition of practice, our zazen allows us to change, to transform our way of life.
— Shōhaku Okumura-roshi

And we don’t really hear a bird singing or the calls of insects as a subject would. And they are not an object. But this person sitting and those insects making sounds are single-minded doing and together in the lotus position.

Even so, things happening inside ourselves, within our mind, become objects. All different kinds of thoughts, coming and going, become the objects of this person sitting. And I start to interact with those things.

I don’t like this thought
Or I hate this memory
Or I love this idea
Or I want to get things tomorrow.

That kind of thing is happening within my mind. And when we are doing such a thing, our mind is divided into two pieces. One side is subject, and the other side is object. And within our mind there is a separation between subject and object.

And we start to think, “So what are we doing now in zazen?”

When we are aware this separation and interaction is happening, we stop doing it and return to just sitting. To stop doing this is called letting go of thought, or in my teacher’s expression, “opening the hand of thought.”

We return to this oneness or the reality before separation between subject and object. Then we are simply part of life’s interconnected network.

But our zazen is not a method to see the reality of this interconnectedness.

The Lotus Sutra says only a Buddha together with a Buddha can fathom the true reality of all beings. Only a Buddha together with a Buddha means no human beings.

So the subject of this practice is not Shōhaku, this independent person, but all beings.

This entire network practices through this single person’s body and mind. So this sitting is not my personal action, even though I use my personal body and mind. That separation falls down.

But if we think “our interconnectedness,” we already make a separation. So in our zazen we don’t think even about interconnectedness, but just being there.

So zazen or Dōgen Zenji’s shikantaza, just sitting, is just being there within this network. We wholeheartedly participate in this interconnectedness.

And through our tradition of practice, our zazen allows us to change, to transform our way of life. Instead of conveying ourselves toward all things, we start to hear and see how all things are. And this body and mind, together, is part of all things.

— • —

Edited from a Dharma talk Shōhaku Okumura delivered at Great Tree Zen Temple in September, 2016.

[1] Ed Brown & Kazuaki Tanahashi, Moon in a Dewdrop: Writings of Zen Master Dogen, ed. Kazuaki Tanahashi (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1985) pp. 31-43.

Copyright 2017 Sanshin Zen Community

Transience Within Boundless Nature


世中は Yononaka wa To what can this world
何にたとへん nani ni tatoen be compared?
水鳥の mizudori no The moonlight
はしふる露に hashi furu tsuyu ni reflected in water drops
やどる月影 yadoru tsukikage splashed from a waterfowl’s beak.

This is the tenth waka in the 13 addendum waka in the Shunjusha text. It appears only Menzan’s Sanshodoei collection. It is not certain where Menzan found this verse; if it was composed by Dōgen, he expressed the beauty of impermanence and his insight regarding the interpenetration of impermanence and eternity.

A waterfowl dives into the water of a pond and comes up to the surface. It shakes its bill; water drops are splashed. In each and every one of the droplets, the boundless moonlight is reflected. The water drops stay in the air less than a moment before returning to the pond. Each of them is as bright as the moon itself.

Dōgen sees the scenery in the moment a waterfowl shakes its beak and water drops are splashed. Each and every droplet reflects the boundless moonlight. He thinks our lives in this world is the same. Our lives are as impermanent as the water drops, and yet, as he wrote in Genjōkōan, the boundless moonlight is reflected. In Shōbōgenzō Hotsubodaishin (Arousing Bodhi-mind), Dōgen wrote:

Our lives arise and perish within each ksana. Their swiftness is like this. Moment after moment, practitioners should not forget this principle. While being within this swiftness of the arising and perishing of transmigration in each ksana, if we arouse one single thought of ferrying others before ourselves, the eternal longevity [of the Tathagata] immediately manifests itself..

From the end of the Heian Era (794 – 1192) to the beginning of the Kamakura era (1192 – 1333), Japan experienced a transition in social structure and political power. The emperor’s court had been losing its power and the warrior (samurai) class had been getting more and more powerful. In the process of the growth of the warrior class, there were numberless civil wars between the Taira clan and the Minamoto clan, even in the capital, Kyōto. Finally in the end of twelfth century, the Shogunate government was established in Kamakura by Minamoto Yoritomo. Concurrent with this transition in society were lots of natural disasters. People saw piles of dead bodies on the bank of Kamo River in Kyōto. They believed that the age of final-dharma (mappo) had begun in 1052. They saw the impermanence of society and also people’s lives.

In the very beginning of the famous Tale of the Heike it is said:

The sound of the Gion Shoja bells echoes the impermanence of all things; the color of the sala flowers reveals the truth that the prosperous must decline. The proud do not endure, they are like a dream on a spring night; the mighty fall at last, they are as dust before the wind.

— Chapter 1.1, Helen Craig McCullough’s translation

“Gion Shoja” refers to the Buddhist monastery in India and “sala flower” refers to the flower of the sala tree in Kushinagara where Shakyamuni passed away. It is said that when Shakyamuni passed away, the sala trees gave forth flowers in full bloom out of season.

Dōgen’s contemporary, Kamo no Chomei (1153 – 1216), wrote an essay entitled Hojoki (My Ten-Foot Hut) in 1212, one year before Dogen became a monk at Enryakuji in Mt. Hiei. Chomei wrote about the situation in the capital, Kyōto. He recorded that they had many natural disasters such as great fires, whirlwinds, typhoons, earth quakes, etc. beside the destruction caused by the civil wars between Heike and Genji clans. In the beginning of Hojoki he wrote:

[1] Though the river’s current never fails, the water passing, moment by moment, is never the same. Where the current pools, bubbles form on the surface, bursting and disappearing as others rise to replace them, none lasting long. In this world, people and their dwelling places are like that, always changing.

[3] Nor is it clear to me, as people are born and die, where they are coming from and where they are going. Nor why, being so ephemeral in this world, they take such pains to make their houses pleasing to the eye. The master and the dwelling are competing in their transience. Both will perish from this world like the morning glory that blooms in the morning dew. In some cases, the dew may evaporate first, while the flower remains—but only to be withered by the morning sun. In others, the flower may wither even before the dew is gone, but no one expects the dew to last until evening.

— Translation by Robert N. Lawson, on Washburn University website

These are the well-known examples of people’s sense of transience and the vanity of life in the mundane world at the time of Dōgen. His insight into impermanence is very different from those pessimistic views of fleeting world. As he expresses in this waka, although seeing impermanence is sad and painful, still, that is the way we can arouse bodhi-citta (way-seeking mind) and also see the eternity within impermanence.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura-roshi

> Other Waka by Dōgen

Copyright 2017 Sanshin Zen Community