The pure water of faith

Manishpant33 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0) ]

If people genuinely practice with right faith, they all attain the Way equally. – Dōgen[1]

Student:
Could you talk a little bit about the phrase “right faith?”

Okumura Roshi:
“Right faith” is a translation of shōshin (正信); shō is “true” or “right” and shin is “faith” or “belief.” This Chinese character basically means “trust.” One part of the character for shin means “people” and the other part means “words,” so to believe means to believe people’s words – when someone is saying something, to accept it and trust that this person’s sayings are truth. As a Buddhist term, it’s said there are two kinds of shin or faith. One is called shinge, another is called gyoshin. Ge is understanding, so shinge is a combination of faith and understanding. Gyo means to respect, literally, to look up; so gyoshin is a combination of respect and trust.

Shinge, the first kind of faith, is explained using the example of someone who is digging a well. At the beginning, they can’t see the water, but as they keep digging, they start to see the soil getting wet. When they see that the soil is getting wet, even though they don’t have water yet, they have a belief that, “If we keep digging, then we will surely get water.” We don’t have the water yet, but we trust that if we keep this practice, we will get it. This is faith based on some understanding.

The second kind of faith comes out of our respect for the person who is speaking, such as a teacher; because of respect we trust the person, therefore, we trust his teaching, even though we don’t have any understanding. A typical example of this is faith in the pure land, as Shinran taught. Shinran said that he didn’t know whether chanting nembutsu is really a cause of being born in the pure land or not. He said that because he had nothing to do beside this practice, believing what his teacher Honen was teaching, and believing in the age of last dharma, self-power practice worked. Therefore, this practice of chanting nembutsu is the only possibility. So, even if he was deceived by his teacher and went to hell instead of the pure land, he said, that’s ok. He trusted his teacher’s teaching, because that’s the only hope he had. That kind of faith is called gyoshin— because of our trust in our teacher, we trust the teaching.

The title of Shinran’s major writing is Kyogyoshinsho; kyo is “teaching,” gyo is “practice,” shin is “faith,” and sho is “verification.” Those were all important elements for him, but in his case shin is really the basis of his teaching. In the case of Dōgen, gyo (practice) is the basis, but in this quotation he’s saying that shin is also important. Without shin or faith, we cannot keep this kind of nonsense practice, just to sit without expecting anything. This is a really difficult thing if we don’t have trust or belief or faith. Dōgen’s teaching is really difficult. As I often say, many of his teachings didn’t make sense to me at all. But somehow, I couldn’t stop, or I could continue (either expression is fine) because of my trust in my teacher’s way of life. It was not because of my understanding of Dōgen’s teaching, but because I wanted to live like my teacher, and follow my teacher’s practice based on zazen following Dōgen’s teaching. Whether I understand Dōgen or not is not so essential. But after I started to understand what he was saying, I was very happy, and my practice became more meaningful, and I had more gratitude for his teaching. I feel very fortunate; even though I didn’t understand his teaching I could continue to practice, and finally I started to understand.

So, in our practice also, I think faith is really important. Faith is the energy that allows us to continue with the many questions and doubts we have during the process of practicing for many years. Sometimes I had so many good reasons or excuses to stop, but somehow I couldn’t, because of my trust in my teacher’s way of life. My teacher and my teacher’s teacher had been practicing this zazen so many years, and they never stopped. Their life is already over. I can’t doubt their practice. They completely devoted their entire lives to this practice. So even though I didn’t understand the teaching or dharma taught by Dōgen, still I could continue. So, I think faith is really important.

One of the definitions of faith in Buddhism which appeared in the Abhidharmakośa is, in Chinese, shin chojo; cho and jo both mean to “be clear,” and shin is mind/heart. That means the mind/heart being pure or clear. According to that text, shin is like a jewel. It’s said that in India when monks travelled and had to drink water from rivers or ponds— I don’t know if this is true or not— there were certain jewels which when put in the muddy water, settled the mud down and then the surface of the water became pure. This mud is our doubt or delusions. If there is shin or faith, our delusions or our doubts go down and our life becomes clear and pure, and we can drink. Shin is not a belief in some kind of a system of belief or a doctrine we have to accept, like in many religions. Faith is something which makes our minds pure and clear.

— • —

[1] From the answer to question 18 in Bendōwa. See Kōshō Uchiyama et al., The Wholehearted Way: A Translation of Eihei Dōgen’s Bendōwa with Commentary (Boston, Mass: Tuttle Publishing, 1997). page 40.

— • —

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 2020 Sanshin Zen Community

End of year gratitude

 

Dear friends,

Here, at the end of the year, we would like to offer our thanks to our readers, listeners, and viewers. There are three things for which we would like to thank you.

Thanks to your efforts, we have reached our goal in raising funds for the matching grant from The Frederick P. Lenz Foundation for American Buddhism. Over the next year-plus, we will be working to implement a system to make video offerings available to you. Some of these will be freely available, and others will be provided on a subscription basis, so that we may begin to build a self-sustaining structure. Thank you for your support in raising these funds.

The second thing for which we would like to offer our thanks is for your participation on our websites, and for reading our publications. We have almost 500 people who have subscribed to posts directly from the Dogen Institute website, and we now have over 3,000 Facebook followers. Many of you have also read books by Okumura Roshi and our other authors, which have been produced with the support of our Dogen Institute volunteers. We trust that this indicates that many people are enjoying Okumura Roshi’s writings about Buddhism, about Zen, and about Dogen Zenji.

The third thing is that we thank you for your practice. Our hope that the things you read, hear, and see on our websites are supportive of your practice, in whatever form that may take.

Bowing,
David S. Thompson
Director, Dogen Institute
Sanshin Zen Community

— • —


Copyright 2019 Sanshin Zen Community

Moon, Echizen

Copyright©2019 Misaki C. Kido

 

Dōgen’s Chinese Poem (24)

「八月十五夜」 (八月十五夜)

Fifteenth Night of the Eighth Month

Echizen moon over Echizen mountains, how bright!
In the whole cloudless sky its spreading radiance is clear.
Traces are ended of recognizing reflections but missing the real.
Late at night, the higher it gets, the brighter.[1]

越山越月復何明   (越山の越月復た何ぞ明かなる)
一霽溌天光潔晴 (一霽天に溌いで光潔として晴る)
認影迷頭蹤跡斷 (影を認めて頭と迷う蹤跡斷えたり)
轉高轉照二三更 (轉た高く轉た照らす二三更)

This is verse 24 in Kuchugen and verse 80 of volume 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dōgen’s Extensive Record). There are slight differences in line two of Manzan’s version:

一亘青天皎潔晴 (一亘の青天皎潔として晴る)
In the entire blue sky, [its light] shines clearly.

 

Echizen moon over Echizen mountains, how bright!
In the whole cloudless sky its spreading radiance is clear.

As I wrote in my comments on Kuchugen verse 19, Dōgen Zenji uses his love of the moon as a motif in that poem to express his insight of the Dharma. This is another example of his poems composed on the night of harvest moon. The next six poems (25-30) in Kuchugen are all about the moon.

Etsu (also read as Koshi, 越) refers to the large part of northern Japan facing the Sea of Japan. There are three divisions: Echizen (越前, front Etsu) presently Fukui Prefecture; Ecchu (越中, middle Etsu) presently Toyama Prefecture; and Echigo (越後, back Etsu) presently Niigata Prefecture. Dōgen’s temple Eiheiji is located in Echizen. In this poem, “Echizen moon over Echizen mountains” (越山越月) means the mountains and the moon Dōgen Zenji sees at Eiheiji in Echizen. Dōgen describes the beautiful full moon above the mountains that illuminate the entire sky and earth. Before electric light was invented, in the night, even if someone had a candle or an oil lamp, it was dark. The light of the full moon was overwhelmingly bright in the night. When I lived in the woods in western Massachusetts, since I had grown up in the suburbs of the big city of Osaka, Japan, I was surprised how bright the full moon’s light was, especially in the winter when the ground was covered with snow. In the remote mountains in Echizen, for Dōgen and his sangha at Eiheiji in 13th century, the harvest moon in August must have had great power. It is perfectly clear without clouds. Dōgen and his monks have a special gathering to view the moon and compose poems about the moon.

In his teisho on this poem, Kodo Sawaki Roshi said this poem is not simply a description of the beauty of the full moon. According to him, in this poem, etsu has a double meaning. The surface meaning is, as I said above, the proper name Echizen, but the literal meaning of this kanji (越) is “to go beyond,” “to surpass,” or “to transcend.” Sawaki Roshi said this is about the scenery of zazen. When we read Dōgen’s poems about the moon, we need to remember what he wrote in Shobogenzo Tsuki (Moon).[2]  He quotes Panshan Baoji’s saying and comments that the myriad phenomenal things and moonlight completely interpenetrate each other. Each one of us is a part of myriad phenomenal things. Therefore, we cannot be the subject that sees the moon and the moon is not object that is seen by us. The complete scenery is the moon, the myriad phenomenal things and us at the same time. This is what phrases such as “transcending mountain” and “transcending moon” and also “transcending self” refer to – within zazen of dropping off body and mind, the whole cloudless sky.

Traces are ended of recognizing reflections but missing the real.
Late at night, the higher it gets, the brighter.

“Recognizing reflections but missing the real (認影迷頭)” comes from the story of Yajnadatta, which appears in the Surangama Sutra:

The Buddha said to Puruna, “…Have you not heard about Yajnadatta, the man from Sravasti who saw a face with perfectly clear features in the mirror one morning and became enraptured with it? Then he became upset because he supposed he had lost his own face. It struck him that he must have turned into a headless ghost. For no good reason he ran madly out of his house. What do you think? What caused this man to run madly about for no good reason?”

Puruna replied, “He was clearly insane. That and nothing else was the cause.”[3]

Yajnadatta saw the reflection of his face in a mirror and he loved it, but he found that it was the only a reflection, not the real thing. Since he could not see his own true face, he thought he had lost it and became mad and ran around the city to find his own face. We are often like Yajnadatta; we wander around trying to seek ourselves outside.

Because Dōgen Zenji expresses elsewhere that he does not appreciate the Surangama Sutra, we need to be careful how he uses expressions from it. But here I think he expresses the same thing as he writes in Eihei Koroku Vol. 9:

A person in the mountains should love the mountains.
With going and coming, the mountains are his body.
The mountains are the body, but the body is not the self
So where can one find any senses or their objects?[4]

Within the entire world in which all things are illuminated by the moonlight, the moonlight and all things are seamless. We are part of seamless reality, there is no separation between the self (subject; sense organs) and the objects (the moon, the mountains, and even ourselves).

Therefore, “traces are ended of recognizing reflections but missing the real.” In our zazen such a thing as this “missing the real” is not possible. Instead, it is as if the moon rises higher and higher and the world becomes more and more clear and bright.

— • —

[1] (Dōgen’s Extensive Record 10-80, p.632) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., www.wisdompubs.org.

[2] See Okumura Roshi’s comments on Kuchugen verse 19.

[3] Translation by Buddhist Text Translation Society: The Surangama Sutra: with Excerpts from the Commentary by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua (Buddhist Text Translation Society. 2009) p.159.

[4] Translation by Taigen Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record: A translation of the Eihei Koroku (Wisdom Publications,2004), p.552.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

— • —

For further study:

> More of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese Poems


Copyright 2019 Sanshin Zen Community

Is practice practicing itself?

Photo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

[A special message: Help bring video to Dogen Institute! Please help us receive a matching grant. Use the button to donate.

Dear Dōgen Institute readers and listeners,

We have exciting news to share in our fundraiser this fall! The Dōgen Institute has received a matching grant from The Frederick P. Lenz Foundation for American Buddhism to help enter the world of online video. Our ongoing mission is to provide opportunities for all who are interested in the study of Dōgen Zenji and his teachings. Now, we are receiving significant help towards that mission, and need your support to receive this gift.

Please donate to our effort

—– Today’s post —–

Question Fifteen:
Even in this corrupt declining age of the world, is it possible to attain enlightenment through this practice?

Reply:
In the Teaching Schools they focus on various classification systems, yet in the true teaching of Mahayana there is no distinction of True, Semblance, and Final Dharma, and it is said that all who practice will attain the Way. Especially in this simply transmitted true dharma, both in entering dharma and in embodying it freely, we receive and use our own family treasure. Only those who practice know on their own whether they attain enlightenment or not, just as those who use water notice on their own if it is cold or warm.

Student:
Is practice practicing itself?

Okumura Roshi:
This question and answer is from Dogen’s work Bendowa. In Dogen’s answer, the sentence “Especially in this simply transmitted true dharma, both in entering dharma and in embodying it freely, we receive and use our own family treasure” is about Dogen’s own practice, the practice he teaches. “Our own family” is a translation of ji ke; ji is self, ke is house, home or family, and this “treasure” is the same “treasure-store” Dogen refers to in the last sentence of Fukanzazengi, his writing about zazen. The treasure doesn’t come from outside, the treasure-house is within our own house, it is our family treasure. It’s not a treasure we have to go out to find. We receive and use our own family treasure, it’s not dependent upon the conditions of the society. We use our own life-force to practice, so it’s not up to the condition of the world or the conditions of the age in which we live. That’s what “self” (ji) means in this passage.

This ji has the same meaning as in the phrase jijuyu zanmai. In order to practice jijuyu zanmai, Dogen described it in the early part of this writing, Bendowa. He called our zazen jijuyu zanmai. This term means we receive (ju) and use (yu) our own family treasure, so we don’t rely on others, we don’t rely on the conditions of society. We can practice using our own family treasure, our own body and mind. That’s all we need. These five skandhas are the family treasure. In order to practice this zazen as a jijuyu zanmai, what we need is only this body and mind. Nothing else. Even in a degenerate or evil world, if we practice, enlightenment is there.

There is another important teaching of Dogen, shu and sho are one. Shusho ichinyo is his expression— practice and verification (enlightenment) are one. This means if we use our family treasure, that is the five skandhas, body and mind, and practice this zazen as jijuyu zanmai, within this practice, verification is already there. Practice and verification / enlightenment / realization is not something we may attain at some time in the future, as a reward for this long and hard practice. Of course, our practice may be hard or difficult for many different reasons; still, if we practice wholeheartedly, verification is there. For Dogen, it only depends upon whether we arouse bodhicitta (aspiration) and practice, or not.

So this sentence in the answer to Question Fifteen is very important in understanding the overall point Dogen wants to teach us. Our practice is not dependent upon the condition of the world, but in our practice we use our own family treasure, and our practice can influence the world. It’s not that we cannot practice or we cannot attain enlightenment because this is a degenerate, evil world, but rather that if we really practice within these five skandhas, we can change the world. That’s another meaning of this sentence, I think. Here, Dogen is kind of very optimistic or positive.

In Genjokoan, Dogen said to study the buddha-way is to study the self, and to study the self is to forget the self, and to forget the self is to be verified by all myriad dharmas. The important point is that within all those myriad dharmas (bunpo), the self or this person is included. That means all myriad dharmas verify all myriad dharmas. So this self disappears; within our practice this self should be forgotten. That is what Dogen meant when he used the expression zenki, total function, or “total dynamic work” in Katagiri Roshi’s translation. That means ji is a part of this network of interdependent origination, one knot of this network of interconnectedness, not only within space but also within time. Everything is connected with everything within the three times and the ten-direction world.

In Shobogenzo Inmo, Dogen quotes a koan about a person named Sogyanandai. After this person became a master he once had a conversation with a student, Kayashata. They saw a wind-bell hanging at the temple building. The wind blew the wind-bell and made a sound, and the master said, “Is the wind ringing or is the bell ringing?” Kayashata answered, “Neither wind nor bell, but my mind (shin) is ringing.” In Inmo, Dogen discusses what this shin is. This is an interesting question. Commonly we say the bell is ringing, but does the sound of the bell really function outside of our hearing, outside the function of our sense-organs? If no one hears it, is sound still there, objectively? In this story, Kayashata said our mind is ringing. That means the sound is here, in our head. Before reaching our ear, the sound is just a vibration of the air, it has no sound. Sound is happening here, and within our mind we perceive or receive that sensation of the vibration of the air, and we think there is a sound. So sound is actually made after the wave of the air reaches our ear, and happens within our perception and formation. Finally, we think that it is the sound made by the bell and wind. So a common understanding of Kayashata’s answer is that sound is not out there but in here.

Dogen also quotes a similar koan involving the Sixth Ancestor Huineng and two monks. The two monks are arguing. When they see a banner moving one says, “The wind is moving” and the other says, “The banner is moving” but Hui-neng said, “Neither wind nor banner is moving, but your mind is moving.” What is this shin, or kokoro, or mind which both Kayashata and Huineng cite?

Dogen strongly states that this shin is not a function of our psychology. It is not something happening within our five skandhas, when we receive this stimulation of the vibration of the air. Shin, in the answers of both Kayashata and Huineng, is not a function of our mind. Shin includes the wind, the banner, and the person seeing it. Or the wind, the wind-bell, and the person hearing it. All three are included within shin. The function of our mind or psychology is only a part of it. Dogen said that if we think this shin is a part of our psychology, then we completely miss the point of this story. Shin is the sound of the entire network of interdependent origination. Everything is working. And as a part of this entire movement, the wind moves and blows the bell and makes the vibration of the air that reaches our ear. We think this is a sound made by the bell, caused by the wind, but these are elements of this entire movement. What Dogen says is that when this mind is this mind, this is the mind that includes both subject and object.

As I said before, shin is not a part of our psychology. Uchiyama Roshi said this term should be considered as “life”— life can include all of these, but the English word “mind” cannot include all of them. Mind is a part of shin, of course it’s not excluded. It’s a part of it, but in Zen literature this shin is not part of our psychology. The function or work of this shin, including all those elements, is called zenki. It’s not that our mind is ringing. It’s not simply that the bell is ringing. It’s not a matter of the wind ringing. This sound is caused by the entire network of interdependent origination. Shin is actually “the family treasure.” So this family treasure is not our personal thing. These five skandhas are not our personal possession. As Dogen said, these five skandhas, this body and mind, is something that is public. It is not a private individual thing, it is actually a public treasure. Dogen is saying that “self” is not the small individual person, but is a part of this public thing. So, whether the world or society is difficult or not, chaotic or completely peaceful, the family treasure is never lost. When we awaken to this total function and practice, then buddha-dharma or true dharma appears or manifests right within this practice. That’s my understanding of what Dogen wanted to say.

— • —

[1] Kōshō Uchiyama et al., The Wholehearted Way: A Translation of Eihei Dōgen’s Bendōwa with Commentary (Boston, Mass: Tuttle Publishing, 1997).

— • —

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

Bring video to Dōgen Institute with a matching grant

 

Dear Dōgen Institute readers and listeners,

We have exciting news to share in our fundraiser this fall! The Dōgen Institute has received a matching grant from The Frederick P. Lenz Foundation for American Buddhism to help enter the world of online video. Our ongoing mission is to provide opportunities for all who are interested in the study of Dōgen Zenji and his teachings. Now, we are receiving significant help towards that mission, and need your support to receive this gift.

Please donate to our effort

Please donate to our effort

As you may know from the Dogen Institute website, we currently offer publications and audio primarily by Shohaku Okumura Roshi about Dogen Zenji, Buddhism, and Zen in general. Okumura Roshi has spent a lifetime practicing and studying Dogen’s teachings, and shares what he has learned through books, articles, posts on our website, audio albums, and soon, with your help, on video.

 

Video distribution presents certain challenges, which we have been able to identify and propose as a project. We plan to provide videos of Okumura Roshi’s lectures, and other dharma events. We believe the enhancement of video technology may help people to understand and relate to the important, but complex and subtle teachings which Okumura Roshi so carefully explains.

We need your help!

We are very pleased and grateful that The Frederick P. Lenz Foundation for American Buddhism has endorsed this project, and is willing to help make it a reality. We need to raise $3,250 or more in order to receive matching funds. Without your help, we won’t receive this grant.

Our vision is to bring these videos to light, and to make them available for people to subscribe to online. As in all our offerings, we hope to have some available free, and others available via paid subscription to help sustain our efforts. We’re excited to contemplate this model, and have further steps in mind if our initial efforts go well. But we can’t do anything without you! Please use the button above on this page to donate specifically to this effort.

Help us, and please contribute today.

With gratitude,

David S. Thompson
Director, Dōgen Institute

If you wish to make a recurring donation, please visit our Donations page, and use the PayPal button there, which will provide you that option.

If you wish to make a donation by mail, please make your check payable to “Sanshin Zen Community,” enter “DI video” in the memo field, and send your check to the following mailing address:

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— • —


Copyright 2019 Sanshin Zen Community

What does transmission mean?

 

What does transmission mean? Is it a “thing” that is transmitted?

 

The World-honored One, before an assembly of millions on Vulture Peak, picks up an uḍumbara flower and winks. The assembly is totally silent. Only the face of Venerable Mahākāśyapa breaks into a smile. The World-honored One says, “I have the right Dharma-eye treasury and the fine mind of nirvana; along with the saṃghāṭī robe, I transmit them to Mahākāśyapa. The World-honored One’s transmission to Mahākāśyapa is “I have the right Dharma-eye treasury and the fine mind of nirvana.”[1]

 

In this translation of a passage from Shobogenzo Butsudo, “right Dharma-eye treasury” in Japanese is shobogenzo, and “the fine mind of nirvana” is a translation of nehan myoshin; another translation might be “wondrous mind of nirvana.” “The saṃghāṭī robe” is the okesa.

This is the famous story of the first dharma-transmission, from Shakyamuni to Mahakasyapa, without using any words or concepts. This is called the transmission from mind to mind, or in Japanese isshin and denshin, mind is transmitted with mind. The Dharma, without any words or concepts or verbal teaching at was transmitted. People in so-called Zen school thought this was the origin of their tradition.

The word in “transmission” in Japanese is fuzoku; another possible translation is “entrust.” The idea of transmission came from the Chinese family system. I don’t think this is an Indian idea or concept. Within Chinese family systems, within the family tree, father to son and father to son, the family position or profession and property is transmitted from the father to the oldest son. The oldest son inherits from the father. This is the original idea of dharma-transmission. As when family property is transmitted from father to son, this strange thing called Dharma is transmitted from teacher to disciple.

I think this idea of dharma-transmission was created in China. It’s said that until the separation between Northern and Southern schools, between Eno (Huineng) and Jinshu, there’s no such idea of dharma-transmission or lineage. It’s after the sixth ancestor that this concept of dharma-transmission, that I receive or transmitted this person’s Dharma, became very important. Before that, I think they did have the idea of “I receive the teaching from this person, and I transmit this teaching to the next generation,” but that initially was not so important. Yet after one person created the story of dharma-transmission from the fifth ancestor to the sixth ancestor, the authority and the authenticity of that person (Eno) depended thoroughly on this dharma-transmission.

When Eno received transmission, he was not a monk yet, he was a lay person. How could he become the sixth ancestor, even though he was not even a monk? The basis for Eno as a legitimate successor of the fifth ancestor was only this mind-to-mind transmission. Even though Eno had not even received the Vinaya precepts and become a monk, somehow this was transmitted. After that, lineage and transmission became really important. From that point on, they created a family tree.

Bodhidharma came around the beginning of the sixth century. The beginning of the seventh century is the time of the fourth and fifth ancestors. It seems like it’s historically true that Bodhidharma had a disciple whose name was Huiko or Eka, but the relationship between Eka and the fourth ancestor Dōshin is not clear at all. In order to make this connection someone created an image of the third ancestor, Sosan. The famous poem Shinjinmei was composed after they made this connection. Historically speaking, the connection between these groups is not really clear.

This connection was made after the sixth ancestor, in order to make the family tree authentic or legitimate. Groups started to say “my lineage came from Bodhidharma.” Another point is that the sixth ancestor Huineng, as a historical person, was not so active. Jinshu, the founder of the Northern School was much more active and well known. But Huineng became the sixth ancestor because of the activity of one of his students, Jinne. Jinne was the person who created the story of dharma-transmission from the fifth ancestor to Huineng. The story of two competing dharma poems written by Huineng and Jinshu is fictitious, of course. It’s not a true historical event, because Jinshu practiced with the fifth ancestor in his early career, and he became independent much earlier than the fifth ancestor’s death. So there’s no chance the Jinshu and Huineng competed when the fifth ancestor was dying. If you read John McRae’s book [Seeing through Zen] this is really clear.

After the time of Baso and Sekito, Baso’s school became really popular and big, and Sekito’s school was not so big. The Soto School or Soto-shu, came from Sekito’s, and the Rinzai School is from Baso’s. The relation between Baso’s and Sekito’s schools and Huineng is actually not clear. In the lineages, Nangaku Ejo was placed between Baso and Huineng, and Seigen Gyoshi between Sekito and Huineng. But these two are the most inactive people among Huineng’s disciples. Scholars think they existed historically, but the connection between Baso and Nangaku was not clear. There is the story of polishing a tile, but that is the only connection. So that might be a made-up story by a later person. Sekito’s and Seigen’s connection was also not so clear. Today scholars think this connection was also created at the same time; there are many other examples. In order to make their group kind of a legitimate dharma-descendant of Bodhidharma, groups made a connection. That is the theory of modern skeptical scholars. I think that is possible. I don’t believe the historical lineage, but I don’t necessarily believe those scholars’ theories are true, because I don’t know. But I think that these explanations are possible.

This idea of transmission clearly came from the Chinese idea of the family system. This idea of transmission has something to do with authority and orthodoxy. Dōgen seems to believe the story of Mahākāśyapa’s transmission was true, but I don’t believe this. This is a story created in the tenth century, during the Song dynasty of China. We can’t find this story in any writings before that, so this is a made-up story by people in so-called Zen school. However, Dōgen Zenji thought this is true. That might be another point we have to consider, whether this is true or not. If we don’t think this is true, then what shall we do? Dōgen said that great Buddhas like Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya, and Nirmanakaya were not true, but that the historical Buddha is true, and this story of Mahākāśyapa’s transmission is the way Dharma has been transmitted from Shakyamuni to Mahakasyapa and through Tendo Nyojo to Dōgen. But now we can see this is not true either, so we have to do something. Until about fifty years ago, all “Zen Buddhists” believed this is true. Now we are in a time of change or transition, to see whether we want to continue this tradition or if we want to change the tradition. I have no answer yet. But when we study Dōgen, we have to keep this in mind. Since he negated some Mahayana traditions or other Buddhist traditions, what should we do about this tradition?

In Uchiyama Roshi’s teisho on Bendowa, he says there is nothing to transmit and yet something is transmitted. That’s why this is called wondrous dharma. This is not a “thing” but a lifestyle, or life attitude that has been transmitted from teachers to students. If I hadn’t met, practiced, and studied with my teacher, I would have no idea this way of life was possible. This is something transmitted, but this is not a thing. This is not a written teaching. This is an actual way or attitude of life. Perhaps “recognition” might better than “transmission.” We have to think whether this concept of “Zen dharma-transmission” still works or not in modern times— it’s a point we have to consider.

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[1] From Shobogenzo Butsudo. Nishijima & Cross’s translation is in Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo, Book 3, p. 63.

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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:

> Other Questions and responses


Copyright 2019 Sanshin Zen Community

Painting a scroll

National Palace Museum [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Dōgen’s Chinese Poem (23)

「六月半示衆」 (六月半衆に示す)

Presented to the Assembly in the Middle [Full Moon Day] of the Sixth Month

Pull yourself by your own nose.
Summer practice period is for painting a scroll.
From now on, only thirty days remain.
Directly make diligent effort to save your head from fire.[1]

自家鼻孔自家牽 (自家の鼻孔自家牽く)
一軸画図九夏天、 (一軸の画を図く九夏の天、)
今後僅残三十日、 (今より後僅かに残る三十日、)
直須精進救頭燃。  (直に須く精進して頭燃を救うべし。)

 

This is verse 23 in Kuchugen and verse 79 of volume 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dōgen’s Extensive Record). There is a slight difference in line 2 of Manzan’s version:

一片工夫九夏天(一片の工夫 九夏の天)
The ninety-day summer practice period is one piece of effort.

 

Pull yourself by your own nose.
Summer practice period is for painting a scroll.

“Summer practice period” (Skt. varsa, varsika) is a Buddhist tradition dating from Shakyamuni Buddha’s time. The Sanskrit word varsa means “rain.” In India, during the three-month rainy season, Shakyamuni Buddha prohibited monks’ travel in order to prevent the killing of insects and worms while walking on muddy roads. The monks stayed together in one place to focus on studying dharma and practice. Monks were allowed to make a simple hermitage in which to stay during the period. Later, Buddhist monasteries were established as places to stay during the three-month practice period. The rest of the year, the Buddha and the monks were travelling. The practice period is called ge-ango (夏安居, summer peaceful abiding) in Japanese.

This tradition has been continued at Chinese and Japanese Zen monasteries even today. Usually the summer practice period began on the 15th day (the full moon day) of the 4th lunar month and completed on the 15th day of the 7th month. A monk’s dharma age was counted based on how many times the monk had completed the practice period. Those who had attended the practice period more than five times were called acarya (阿闍梨, ajari), and those who had more than ten times were called upadhyaya (和尚, osho) and were able to be a teacher.

Dōgen Zenji put emphasis on the significance of the summer practice period. He wrote Shobogenzo Ango (Peaceful Abiding) in which he describes the formal ceremonies for the beginning and the end of the practice period.

Since the time of the King of the Empty Eon there has been no practice higher than this practice. Buddha ancestors have valued it exclusively, and it is the only thing that has remained free of the confusion caused by demons and deluded people outside the way. In India, China, and Japan all descendants of buddha ancestors have participated in the practice period, but deluded people outside the way have never engaged in it. Because it is the original heart of the single great matter of buddha ancestors, this teaching of practice period is the content of what is expounded from the morning of the Buddha’s attaining the way until the evening of pari-nirvana. There are Five Schools of home leavers in India, but they equally maintain a ninety-day summer practice period and without fail practice it and realize the way; and in China none of the monks in the Nine Schools have ever ignored the summer practice period. Those who have never participated in the summer practice period in their lifetimes cannot be called buddha disciples or monks. Practice period is not only a causal factor; it is itself practice-realization, it is itself the fruit of practice.[2]

The expression “pull yourself by your own nose” comes from the way ancient farmers tamed an ox by making a hole in the ox’s nostril and putting a ring through it. Then when the farmer took the ox to where they had to work, he pulled a rope tied to the ring. Here Dōgen is saying that monks who participate in the practice period should be self-motivated to actively practice together with others. They should not be like an ox who is pulled by others and practice only because they are forced to do so.

“Painting a scroll (一軸画図)“ is a difficult expression to understand. Possibly this expression has something to do with what Dōgen wrote in Shobogeno Zazenshin (Acupuncture Needle of Zazen). In this fascicle, Dōgen introduced the story of Nanyue (Nangaku)’s polishing a tile. In the story, Nanyue visited his disciple Mazu (Baso) who was always sitting.

Once Nanyue visited Mazu and asked, “Great worthy, what do you aim at (図, zu) in practicing zazen?”
Baso said, “I am aiming at becoming Buddha (図作佛).”

In his comments on this story, Dōgen interprets “aiming at (図)” as “painting” or “illustrating.” He says,

We should know, Mazu is saying that zazen is, without fail, aiming at becoming-buddha. Zazen is always the aiming of becoming-buddha (作佛の図).

Dōgen interprets this Chinese character 図 as “painting.” He also says:

Do not become stuck in loving a carved dragon, we should go forward and love the real dragon. We should study that both the carved dragon and the real dragon have the power of forming clouds and rain. Neither value the remote nor disparage what is remote. Be accustomed and intimate with the remote. Neither disparage what is close nor value the close. Be accustomed and intimate with the close. Do not take the eyes lightly nor attach too much weight to the eyes. Do not put too much weight to the ear nor take the ears too lightly. Make both the ears and eyes sharp and clear.

In this poem Dōgen says that our nothing special, day-to-day practice according to Buddha’s teaching during the practice period is painting buddha, the same as our zazen. Even though our practice is not mature enough, much less perfect, still as he says in Shobogenzo Ango:

Therefore, to see a practice period is to see buddha; to realize a practice period is to realize buddha; to practice a practice period is to practice buddha; to hear a practice period is to hear buddha; and to study a practice period is to study buddha.[3]

From now on, only thirty days remain.
Directly make diligent effort to save your head from fire.

This poem was composed on the fifteenth day of the sixth month, that is, around the middle to the end of July in the solar calendar. It is the hottest and most humid time of the year in Japan. Probably Dōgen sees that his monks are tired both mentally and physically. He wants to encourage them to practice diligently for another thirty days. “To save your head from fire (救頭燃)” is an analogy used in some sutras. When we have a fire on our head, we immediately and wholeheartedly rush to extinguish it to save our head from burning, without thinking. Dōgen Zenji uses this expression in Gakudo-yojinshu, Shobogenzo Zazengi, and a few other fascicles. In the same way, Dōgen encourages his monks to practice wholeheartedly during the final thirty days of the practice period.

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[1] (Dōgen’s Extensive Record 10-79, p.631) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., www.wisdompubs.org.

[2] Treasury of the True Dharma Eye: Zen Master Dōgen’s Shobo Genzo (Edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi, Shambhala) p.739-740

[3] Treasury of the True Dharma Eye: Zen Master Dōgen’s Shobo Genzo (Edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi, Shambhala) p.741

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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


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