Dōgen, on Dōgen

Dōgen Zenji

Dōgen’s Chinese Poems (43)

[Dōgen’s] Verses of Praise on Portraits of Himself
自賛 Jisan 6

Having eaten the old fist of Taibai,
Bulging eyes see both North Star and cowherd.
Myself is deceived by myself, with nowhere to search.
For your sake, the old woman still moved gently.[1]

喫來太白老拳頭 (喫し來る太白の老拳頭、)
突出眼睛看斗牛 (眼睛を突出して斗牛を看る、)
自被自瞞無覓處 (自ら自に瞞かれ覓むるにところなし、)
老婆為汝尚油油 (老婆汝がためになお油油。)

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[Dōgen’s] Verses of Praise on Portraits of Himself
自賛 Jisan 6

This is verse 42 in Kuchūgen and Jisan 6 in Volume 10 of Eihei Kōroku (Dōgen’s Extensive Record). Manzan’s version has a small difference in line 4:

扶桑那畔去油油 (扶桑那畔去って油油)
In Japan, I am still moving gently.

Jisan (自賛) is the second section of the three divisions in Volume 10 of Eihei Kōroku (Dōgen’s Extensive Record). Twenty verses are included in this section. This possibly means that there were twenty portraits of Dōgen and that he wrote a praising verse for each of them. Unfortunately, it is not possible to see any portraits of Dōgen painted while he was alive and which are accompanied with his own calligraphy of self-praising verse–except perhaps one.

The oldest and most well-known portrait of Dōgen is stored at Hōkyōji, established by Hōkyō Jakuen (1207–1299), one of Dōgen’s disciples. According to some scholars, the painting stored there was made while Dōgen was alive, and the calligraphy of the praising verse was written by Dōgen himself on fifteenth day of the eighth month in 1249. The fifteenth day of the eighth month is the full moon day, when Dōgen and his sangha often had a party to see the beautiful full moon and compose poems. This painting is called “Dōgen’s portrait watching the moon.” That is why in the painting his eyesight is going upward. Other scholars think the painting was made after Dōgen’s death and the calligraphy was made by someone else.

Jakuen was a Chinese monk who practiced together with Dōgen under the guidance of Tiantong Rujing. After Rujing’s passing away, Jakuen came to Japan to practice with Dōgen. While Dōgen was alive, he took care Rujing’s memorial hall. After Dōgen’s death, he received dharma transmission from the second abbot, Ejō and left Eiheiji. He sat by himself in the mountains not far from Eiheiji for many years. The lord of that region built a temple for him named Hōkyōji. Hōkyō is the name of the era during which Dōgen and Jakuen practiced with their teacher Rujing. Jakuen did not leave any writings, not even a verse. Jakuen’s dharma heir was Giun (1253–1333) who became the fifth abbot of Eiheiji. Beginning with Giun, Eiheiji was taken care of by Jakuen’s lineage for several centuries. The self-praising poem on the portrait is included in Eihei Kōroku, but Menzan did not include this in Kuchūgen. Here is the poem on the portrait:

            一無寄一不収、 (一も寄る無く一も収めず、)

            Autumn is spirited and refreshing as this mountain ages.
            A donkey observes the sky in the well, white moon floating.
            One [the moon] is not dependent; one [the sky] does not contain.
            Letting go, vigorous with plenary of gruel and rice,
            Flapping with vitality, right from head to tail,
            Above and below the heaven, clouds and water are free.[2]


Having eaten the old fist of Taibai,
Bulging eyes see both North Star and cowherd.

Taibai is another name of Mt. Tiantong, on which Rujing’s monastery was located. Here it refers to the abbot of the monastery, Tiangtong Rujing, Dōgen’s teacher.

In the very beginning of Shōbōgenzō Juppō (十方, Ten Directions), Dōgen wrote, “A single fist is nothing other than the ten directions.”[3] “Old fist,” that is, the entirety of the ten-directions, refers to Rujing’s teaching of the network of interdependent origination transmitted from Shakyamuni Buddha through the fifty generations. He had eaten Rujing’s teaching, embodied it and made it himself.

Dōgen’s eyes are transformed in in such way he can see both north and south. 斗牛 (to-gyū) is abbreviation of 北七星 (hokutoshichisei, the seven stars of the dipper in the north, the Big Dipper) and 牽星 (kengyūsei, cowherd star, Altair). The Cowherd star is well-known because of the old Chinese story regarding the origin of the Qixi Festival (七夕, tanabata). The cowherd boy (Altair) and the weaver girl (Vega) loved each other, but they could not meet because the Silver River (Milky Way) blocked them. The Emperor of Heaven allowed them to meet once a year on seventh day of the seventh month.

The Big Dipper is in the north and Altair is in the south. “Being able to see both” might refer to another old story which appears in the Book of Serenity, Case 68. A man was good at astronomy and familiar with the signs of heavens. As he was looking between the North star and Altair, there was always a strange phenomenon to be seen. Inspired by the phenomenon, he and his friend found a pair of swords. The swords were two dragons. In the story, the dragon-swords might be the symbols of universal energy, yin and yan.

Here however, I think Dōgen means that his eyes are transformed into the true dharma eye (shōbōgen, 正法眼)that can see both the conventional truth (here) and the ultimate truth (there).


Myself is deceived by myself, with nowhere to search.
For your sake, the old woman still moved gently.

In Dōgen’s Extensive Record, he sometimes uses the expressions “to deceive” and “to be deceived” in terms of the relation between Tiantong Rujing and himself. For example:

Dharma Hall Discourse 1–48:
Somehow I just met my late teacher Taintong [Rujing]. However, I was not deceived by Tiantong. But Tiantong was deceived by this mountain monk.[4]

Dharma Hall Discourse 1–167:
“I cannot avoid deceiving my late teacher.”[5]

Dharma Hall Discourse 1-184, on the Memorial Day for Tiantong Rujing [1246]:
Don’t say that my late teacher deceived his disciple.
Rather, Tiantong was deceived by Dōgen.[6]

In this verse, Dōgen says he was deceived by himself. I have been considering what this means. In Shōbōgenzō Kattō, Dōgen quotes Rujing’s saying: “Bottle gourd vines intertwine with bottle gourd vines.” Then he said, “Bottle gourd vines intertwining with bottle gourd vines are the buddha-ancestors studying buddha-ancestors, and buddha-ancestors verifying and being in accord with buddha-ancestors.”[7] He says the teacher (Rujing) and the disciple (Dōgen) study and verify each other. When the vines of two gourd plants intertwine each other, we cannot see the separation.

I don’t think ‘deceiving’ and ‘being deceived’ means that there is something negative between Dōgen and Rujing. However, I cannot think of any positive meaning in this word. Possibly he is saying, although the teacher and his student are identical (not two), yet they are different, individual persons (not one).

But here, he says that he is deceived by himself. “With nowhere to search” might mean because nothing is hidden, the reality of all beings is always revealed everywhere. This is same as “eyes are horizontal, and nose is vertical.” But if so, why does he say he is deceived by himself? It might make sense if he says that he used to be deceived by himself in seeking the truth somewhere else, but now he is not deceived by anything and he doesn’t seek the truth anywhere else. So, I still don’t have any good answer as to what this means.

Finally, in this poem, Dōgen says he is like an old woman sharing his practice and teaching, watching, and protecting his disciples. 油油 (yūyū) means moving slowly and calmly like water in a big river flowing slowly. As a Chinese character, 油 means oil. Oil does not flow fast like water, so this word means moving slowly, not abruptly. It seems this verse was composed in Dōgen’s final years. The common image of Dōgen Zenji is as a strict teacher, and not so gentle. But in his final years, he might have become like an old lady toward his disciples. Dōgen once gave a caution to Tettsū Gikai, the third abbot of Eiheiji, for his lack of old-lady heart or grand-motherly heart.

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[1] (Dōgen’s Extensive Record 10 [Dōgen’s] Verses of Praise on Portraits of Himself 6, p.604) © 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, 10-Jisan 3, p.602–3.
[3] 拳頭一隻、只箇十方なり。
[4] In Manzan’s version, this sentence is, “Immediately recognizing that eyes are horizontal and the nose is vertical, I was not deceived by anybody, and returned to my homeland with empty hands.” See Dōgen’s Extensive Record, p.111.
[5] Dōgen’s Extensive Record, p.192.
[6] Dōgen’s Extensive Record. p.203
[7] Okumura’s unpublished translation.

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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

Copyright©2021 Sanshin Zen Community

New Children’s book – Squabbling Squashes

We are happy to announce the availability of a new children’s book, by Carol Lingman and Shohaku Okumura, illustrated by Minette Mangahas. A Zen Buddhist story for all ages on how to cultivate harmony amid our differences.

Squabbling Squashes

squabbling squashes

“It’s true that we are all different squashes . . .  some are bigger and some are smaller . . .  some are rounder and some are longer. But even if we are different, we are all connected. We are all growing together. We don’t have to be such squabbling squashes.”

Squabbling Squashes is a story for children of all ages about interconnection and learning to live in harmony amid differences, from a leading light of contemporary Zen—based on a parable from Kosho Uchiyama’s classic bestseller Opening the Hand of Thought.

Available here from Wisdom Publications.

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See our publications page for a complete listing.

Copyright 2021 Sanshin Zen Community

Manifesting the true body

Copyright©2021 Misaki C. Kido

Dōgen’s Chinese Poems (42)

Verses of Praise on Portraits
真賛 Shinsan 5

Master Butsuju [Myōzen]
「佛樹和尚」 (「佛樹和尚」)

His everyday practice of the way was thorough and intimate.
When he passed into nirvāṇa his face was fresh.
Tell me, what is his affair today?
Since the vajra flame, he manifests his true body.[1]

平生行道徹通親 (平生の行道徹通親し、)
寂滅以來面目新 (寂滅以來面目新なり)
且道如何今日事 (且く道え如何今日の事、)
金剛焔後露眞身 (金剛の焔後眞身を露す)

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This is verse 41 in Kuchūgen and Shinsan 5 in Volume 10 of Eihei Kōroku (Dōgen’s Extensive Record). Monkaku’s version and Manzan’s version have no differences between them.

Master Butsuju [Myōzen] 

Myōzen was one of Dōgen’s early teachers. He was sometimes called Butsuju-bō. Butsuju (仏樹, Buddha Tree) is Myōzen’s bōgō (房号), the name of a monk’s hermitage or cell. In Japan, Buddhist monks were known by the name of the place they lived, such as their temples (for example, Eihei Dōgen), or by the names of their hermitage or cell within a larger temple. Dōgen Zenji was also sometimes known by his bōgō, Buppō-bō (仏法房, Buddha Dharma) even though it is not certain if he lived in a hermitage by that name or if it was just a kind of a nickname. This custom came from China, where a person’s real name was not usually used outside one’s family. I suppose this poem was composed when Myōzen’s portrait was painted and Dōgen was asked to write a praising poem for the painting.

Myōzen (1184–1225) was a Rinzai Zen master, but since he died young in China, he is unknown in the Rinzai school. Almost all the information we know about him is from what Dōgen wrote or said about him. Myōzen was born in Iga (伊賀) or Ise (伊勢) Province in today’s Mie Prefecture. These provinces are next to each other. Dōgen wrote that Myōzen was from I-shū (伊州), which is usually an abbreviation for Iga. The abbreviation for Ise is Se-shū (勢州) but some scholars think this means Ise. We don’t really know where he was born and who were his parents.[2] When he was eight years old, he left his family and went up to Mt. Hiei to live with his teacher Myōyu. He was ordained as a monk at Mt. Hiei when he was sixteen years old. Later, he practiced Zen with Eisai at Kenninji, Kyoto. After Eisai’s death, in 1217, Dōgen began to practice Zen with Myōzen. In 1223, Myōzen went to China with Dōgen and two other monks. In Zuimonki, Dōgen talked about Myōzen’s decision to go to China even though his teacher Myōyu at Mt. Hiei was on his death bed and had requested Myōzen to postpone the travel until Myōyu’s death.[3]

After practicing at Tiangtong monastery for about two years, Myōzen passed away. Dōgen wrote about Myōzen’s death and his cremation ceremony in Note on Transmitting [Master Myōzen’s] Relics:[4]

On the eighteenth day of the fifth month of the first year of Baoqing Era [1225], he became ill. On the twenty-seventh day of the same month in the hour of the dragon [between seven and nine a.m.], he adjusted his robes, sat upright and entered nirvāṇa. Monks gathered like clouds and made prostrations [to Myōzen’s casket]; lay people came like mist and showed their respect by putting their head on the floor. After completing the funeral ceremony, during the hour of dragon on the twenty-ninth day of the same month, the cremation took place. The fire changed its light into five colors. The assembled people admired this and said, “Certainly relics (śarīra)[5] would appear.” As they said, when we saw the site of the cremation, we found three pieces of white crystal-like relics. When people reported this to the temple, all the monks in the assembly gathered together and honored [the relics] by having a ceremony. Later people continued to pick and collected more than three hundred sixty pieces [of relics].[6]

Dōgen took Myōzen’s relics back to Japan and gave part of them to Myōzen’s female student named Chi (智) together with the Note. In this praising poem, Dōgen writes about Myōzen’s cremation.

Dōgen practiced with Myōzen as his disciple for about nine years, from 1217 to 1225. Right before Myōzen’s death, on the first day of the fifth month in 1225, Dōgen first met Tiantong Rujing; later he became a dharma heir of Rujing. Dōgen referred to Myōzen and Rujing as his late masters. He gave dharma hall discourses on the anniversary of Myōzen’s death. Two of them are included in Eihei Kōroku.[7]

His everyday practice of the way was thorough and intimate.
When he passed into nirvāṇa his face was fresh.

 In the first line, Dōgen praised Myōzen for his day-to-day practice being thoroughly penetrated and intimate with the buddha way. Myōzen must have been a well-known venerable master even before going to China. At the end of Postscript for Myōzen’s Certificate for Receiving the Vinaya Precepts (明全戒牒奥書, Myōzen Kaichō Okugaki), Dōgen wrote that Myōzen was the preceptor who gave the bodhisattva precepts to the retired emperor, Go-Takakura. Unfortunately, Myōzen left no writings, not even a poem. Probably he was not an eminent scholar or a talented poet, but rather, a quiet, practical, and down-to-earth person. His teacher Eisai put emphasis on keeping the precepts. It is said that Eisai received the Vinaya Precept from his Chinese master. This was very unusual for a monk from the Japanese Tendai tradition. Saichō, the founder of the Tendai school, gave up the Vinaya Precepts and discontinued the practice of receiving them in his school. Myōzen might be a faithful dharma heir of Eisai on this point. In Dharma Hall Discourse 435 on the occasion of Myōzen’s memorial day in 1251, Dōgen quoted the famous poem from the Dhamma Pada, “Not performing any evil, respectfully practicing all good, purifying one’s own mind, this is the teaching of all buddhas,” showing a close connection to the precepts.

In the second line, Dōgen refers to Myōzen’s entering nirvāṇa, that is, his death. Dōgen says that when Myōzen died, and even today, his face (面目, menmoku) is always fresh. This does not mean his physical face; menmoku is used as an abbreviation for the “original face” (本来の面目, honrai no menmoku). His continuous practice, including his passing away, is the manifestation of his true face as a Buddhist monk.

Tell me, what is his affair today?
Since the vajra flame, he manifests his true body.

In the third line, Dōgen is addressing the person for whom Myōzen’s portrait was painted, probably Myōzen’s disciple or a lay supporter: what is Myōzen doing today? Dōgen is asking to us too, “Do we continue to live following Myōzen’s example?” Our practice is Myōzen’s affair today. Myōzen is not gone. He is still living together with the people who practiced with him, Dōgen, and us–all who are walking the bodhisattva path. Are we living in the same way Myōzen lived, continuing his teaching and practice?

In the final line, “the vajra flame” refers to the fire that burned Myōzen’s body at his cremation. However, this word has another meaning which comes from the Song of Enlightenment (証道歌, Shōdōka), the classic Zen poem:

A man of great will carries with him a sword of wisdom,
Whose flaming Vajra-blade cuts all the entanglements of knowledge and ignorance;
It not only smashes in pieces the intellect of the philosophers
But disheartens the spirit of the evil ones.[8]


“Vajra-flame” refers to the flame of prajñā (wisdom) which extinguishes the fire of the three poisonous minds, greed, anger/hatred, and ignorance. This is like the story of Shakyamuni Buddha subduing the fierce nāga king’s fire with his own fire of wisdom.[9] I think Dōgen means that Myōzen became the vajra-flame, his true body, through his passing away. Dōgen is asking if we live with awakening of emptiness, impermanence and no-self as Myōzen did.

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[1] (Dōgen’s Extensive Record 10 – Verses of Praise on Portraits 5, p.601) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., www.wisdompubs.org.
[2] Tanahashi’s translation says that he was from Iyo (伊予) Province, but I think it is a mistake. Iyo (伊予) was in Shikoku, its abbreviation is Yo-shu (予州). See Enlightenment Unfolds: The Essential Teachings of Zen Master Dōgen (Edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi, Shambhala), p.30.
[3] See Shōbōgenzō-Zuimonki (translation by Shohaku Okumura, Sōtōshū Shūmuchō, 1988) 5–12, p.178–80.
[4] Jp. 舎利相伝記, Shari-soden-ki.
[5] For more information about śarīra, see: Śarīra – Wikipedia.
[6] Okumura’s unpublished translation.
[7] See Dharma Hall discourse 435 and 504 in Dōgen’s Extensive Record (translation by Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura) p. 390–91 and p. 450. It is not known if Dōgen gave more dharma discourses for Myōzen which were not recorded, or if he gave them only twice, in his last years, 1251 and 1252. He also gave dharma discourses for his late parents in 1251 and 1252.
[8] D.T. Suzuki’s translation (Manual of Zen Buddhism), p.95. “The philosophers” refers to non-Buddhist teachers.
[9] See Gotama Buddha: A Biography Based on the Most Reliable Texts (by Hajime Nakamura, Kosei Publishing Co.), p.294.

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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

Copyright©2021 Sanshin Zen Community

New article by Okumura Roshi in 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 Shobogenzo Kannon, please see our DI page dedicated to these articles.

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Copyright 2021 Sanshin Zen Community