A dewdrop splashed.

Okumura Roshi has translated many of Dogen’s poems. This post originally appeared in 2013 and was one of the most-read posts of that year.


In the year he passed away, in the evening of the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month, Dogen composed the following poem.

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

I [was not sure] if I could expect to see the autumn again,
[Gratefully I can see] the full moon of this night,
How is it possible for me to sleep?

About ten days after arriving in Kyoto, on the night of 15th, he saw the beautiful full moon.

The 15th day of the 8th lunar month is called the mid-autumn, the center of the three months of autumn– that is, around the day of the autumnal equinox. In East Asian countries including China, Korea, Vietnam, and Japan, people celebrate the mid-autumn harvest moon festival.

At Eiheiji, Dogen gave formal dharma discourse on this day each year. He also had a gathering with his disciples for composing poems on this day. We can find one Chinese poem included in the Eiheikoroku:

The fifteenth night [full moon] of the eight 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

In this year, he was not sure if he could live until the autumn. Because he could see the full moon in Kyoto where he was born and had grown up, he was very delighted and wanted to see the moon all night.

The moon was one of the important metaphors of the dharma he often used, such as moon in the dewdrop in Genjokoan. In one of his waka poems he wrote that this world is like a dewdrop splashed from a waterfowl’s beak staying in the air only for a few seconds and yet the boundless moonlight is reflected on it and it is shining like the moon itself.

Dogen passed away on 28th of that month in 1253.

¹Dogen’s Extensive Record, vol. 10, p. 629

Copyright 2019 Sanshin Zen Community

At the bottom of rushing waters

photo ©David S. Thompson

Dogen’s Chinese Poem (15)


Given to a Zen Person

Who hates ignorance, which is simply the autumn dew?
From the beginning, true form is actually within this.
Its remains are hard to see at the bottom of rushing waters.
Bound up it’s easy to transform the self we receive.

無明誰惡唯秋露 (無明誰か惡まん唯だ秋の露、)
實相元來此裡眞 (實相元來此の裡に眞なり、)
留而難知流水底 (留めて知り難し流水の底)
結來變易承當身 (結び來ては變じ易し承當の身)

This is verse 15 in Kuchugen and verse 57 of volume 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dogen’s Extensive Record). This is the second of three poems titled, “Given to a Zen Person” in Kuchugen. This poem in Menzan’s version has slight differences in lines 1 and 3:

無明誰惡艸頭露 (無明誰か惡まん艸頭の露)
Who hates ignorance, which is dew on a blade of grass?

Even if possible to remain, it is hard to know what there is at the bottom of rushing water.

Who hates ignorance, which is simply the autumn dew?
From the beginning, true form is actually within this.

Ignorance is a translation of mumyo (無明), literally “lack of brightness (knowledge).” In Sanskrit, this is avidya. Avidya is the first of the twelve links of causation, and the root cause of suffering and transmigration within samsara. Because of ignorance, we cannot see reality as it is. We take action with distorted visions of things inside and outside of ourselves. In Yogacara teachings, it is like a person in the dark seeing a piece of rope as a poisonous snake and becoming frightened. In an opposite case, we might see something dangerous, and yet, because of a lack of knowledge or attentiveness, we ignore it. Influenced by such distorted views, we have desires to make things our possession or to escape from them. We take actions to fulfill such desires and our lives become chasing after some things which are desirable and escaping from other things we dislike. These are the functions of the three poisonous minds: greed, hanger/hatred, and ignorance. As a result, we make mistake after mistake and we lose the sight of the peaceful foundation of our lives.

“True form” is a translation of jisso (実相), which is an abbreviation of shoho jisso (諸法実相), true reality of all things, which comes from the second chapter of the Lotus Sutra. In my understanding, shoho jisso is the teaching that each and every unique, individual thing can exist as it is only in the relation with all other things throughout time and space. In the case of seeing a piece of rope as a snake and becoming frightened, by seeing it more carefully and mindfully, we may find it is not a snake but a rope, and further, we may discover the rope as a collection of some kind of fiber, therefore it is also empty.

This is a common understanding of “ignorance” and “true form” in Mahayana Buddhism. We need to become free from ignorance and see the true reality by attaining wisdom (prajna). Here Dogen is saying something one step further. For example, in Chapter 7 of the Vimalakirti Sutra, The Dharma-door of Nonduality, the bodhisattva Vidyuddeva declared, “‘Knowledge (vidya)’ and ‘ignorance (avidya)’ are dualistic. The natures of ignorance and knowledge are the same, for ignorance is undefiled, incalculable, and beyond the sphere of thought. The realization of this is the entrance into nonduality.”[2]

A bodhisattva has made a vow not to enter nirvana but to stay in samsara to walk with all living beings. For a bodhisattva to hate and escape from “ignorance” and to seek after “true form” is another duality, which creates another samsara within our practice. A bodhisattva who sees non-duality does not hate “ignorance,” because ignorance does not have self-nature, it is impermanent like dew on a blade of a grass in autumn. In the same way, a bodhisattva does not chase after “true form” to make it their personal possession. As Dōgen’s poem implies, when the sun rises, dew-like ignorance will disappear into the air. Water vapor in the air becomes dew on the grass and then returns to the air depending upon the temperature. “Ignorance” is empty, that is why the transformation from taking action based on ignorance to seeing true form is possible. Even when we see a rope as a poisonous snake, the poisonous snake does not really exist. We can see that both the snake and the rope are empty. We don’t need to be afraid of and escape from delusions caused by ignorance. In Gakudo-yojinshu (Points to Watch in Practicing the Way), Dogen Zenji says:

You must understand that we practice within delusions and attain realization before enlightenment. At that moment, you will comprehend that boats and rafts are merely yesterday’s dream and will be able to cut off your previous views based on words which bind you like a vine or a snake.[3]

Its remains are hard to see at the bottom of rushing waters.
Bound up it’s easy to transform the self we receive.

Depending upon the temperature and numberless other factors, water changes its form as vapor, dew, or ice. Our mind is the same. Unfortunately, in our case as immature bodhisattvas, the transformation from “ignorance” to “true form” is not thorough and decisive. Depending upon the conditions inside and outside of ourselves, our mind is rapidly changing its form, as vapor, dew, or ice. Our minds are like a rushing of waters. It is really hard to see what is at the bottom of our ever-changing mind conditions. Sometimes we feel we are free from the five aggregates of attachment (panca upadana skandha) by seeing their emptiness, but the next moment, our body and mind function in variety of self-centered ways as the five aggregates of attachment. The body and mind we received when we were born very easily transforms back and forth between self-centeredness and selflessness. That is the reason we need to practice mindfully and continuously, moment by moment. If we think that we are permanently free from ignorance because we had some sort of “enlightenment experience,” such an attitude can be the worst form of self-clinging.

— • —

[1] (Dogen’s Extensive Record 10-57, p.624) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., www.wisdompubs.org.

[2] The Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti: A Mahayana Scripture (translation by Robert A. F. Thurman, The Pennsylvania State University Press), p.74.

[3] Heart of Zen: Practice without Gaining-mind (Sotoshu Shumucho,1988), p.12.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

> More of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese Poems

Copyright 2019 Sanshin Zen Community

“My” story

Los Angeles County Museum of Art [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

However, do not measure it with your mind or speak about it using words.
Just cast aside and forget your body and mind and throw them into the house of
Buddha; then all is done by Buddha. When we go on following this [practice] we are
released from life-and-death and become buddhas without using our strength or
consuming our mind. Who then continues to stagnate within mind?

– from Shōbōgenzō Shōji

The first thing Dōgen says in this passage is that this life-and-death is not within the realm of thinking, or within the story we create in our mind. Even though it’s necessary to keep creating the story to live, it’s important to know that it is a story, a product of our mind.

Actual life-and-death is happening on the ground of real reality. That real reality is called “zenki” in Dogen’s writings, or here, “the house of Buddha.” Instead of throwing our body and mind into “my” story, we place this entire body and mind on the ground of true reality, by letting go of my story. To me, that is what Dōgen means here. When we do this, Dōgen says, “then all is done by Buddha.”

I don’t think “Buddha” is a person; I don’t think the Buddha referred to is Amitabha Buddha or the other-power. This “all is done by Buddha” means, as Dogen wrote in Zenki, that when we are alive, we are sailing on a boat, and the boat cannot move by itself. The boat needs water, wind, and all the other things. The person sailing on the boat, and the boat, and the ocean, and the other things are working together. I think that is what “all is done by Buddha” means.

My thinking, my expectation, my ability to make stories – where I came from and where I am going – that is what I created in my mind, that is a story. When I was the high-school teenager, I wanted to find the real thing, the thing which was not created by me. I have found that there is no such thing. What I am doing here is based on my story, my vision, or dream. When I went back to Kyoto from Valley Zendo, Uchiyama Roshi encouraged me to create a place where I can study and practice zazen and Dogen’s teachings with people from outside Japan. I started to work on it, and my translation work is part of that plan. The first twelve years, I worked in Japan but somehow it didn’t work, so I came back to this country again. This is all my plan and a dream or vision; that is my story. To me, without this story, made up in my mind, I cannot do anything. So for me, this vision or plan or idea or vow is important. Without the story, we cannot do anything. But at the same time, this is a vision, “my story.”

The story can be interrupted any time, depending on the weather of the ocean. Even if I try to do my best, this boat could be wrecked at any time depending upon the overall conditions of the world, depending upon the condition of this total function. Yet my story is a driving force of my sailing, and it gives me the direction of which way I should go.

It’s important to understand this is a production of my mind. Even though this vow is not for my personal profit, still, this is my personal vow or vision. We need our personal view or creation, or history, and yet this history should not be self-centered, if we are bodhisattvas. So, at any time, I need to be able to give it up. But if I try to do this, and this is meaningful not only for this person but for other people, then I have trust or faith that those people would continue. Even if my boat disappears, some people might continue going in the same direction. I think that is my faith.

— • —

Commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

— • —

For further study:

    • For another article on Shōbōgenzō Shōji, covering the famous Alive or Dead koan, see this article.
    • You’ll find the entire digital album Life & Death: 9 lectures on Shōbōgenzō Zenki and Shōji for sale here.

Copyright 2019 Sanshin Zen Community

Dōgen’s question

© Nevit Dilmen [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Dogen’s Chinese Poem (14)


Given to a Zen Person

Essence and expression are penetrating, before we glimpse the ground.
Arriving at this, who can be at peace?
Too bad the echo of wind in the pines doesn’t reach a deaf ear.
Dew from bamboo is repeatedly dropping in front of the moon.[1]

宗説倶通瞥地先 (宗説倶に通ず瞥地の先)
誰人到此可安然 (誰人か此に到って安然たるべき)
松風愧響聾人耳 (松風響きに愧ず聾人の耳)
竹露屡零納月邊 (竹露屡零ちて月邊に納る)

This is verse 14 in Kuchugen and verse 55 of volume 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dogen’s Extensive Record). This is one of the 3 poems titled “Given to a Zen Person” in Kuchugen. This poem in Menzan’s version has slight differences in lines 2, 3, and 4:

到此解參玄  (誰か能く此に到って參玄を解す):
Arriving at this, who can understand attending the profundity.
松風響聾人耳 (松風空しく響く聾人の耳):
The echo of wind in the pines is in vain to a deaf ear
竹露屡零月邊  (竹露屡かに零つ月の邊):
Dew from bamboo is repeatedly dropping by the cool moon.


Essence and expression are penetrating, before we glimpse the ground.
Arriving at this, who can be at peace?

“Essence and expression” is a translation of 宗説 (shu-setsu). 宗 (shu) is the original truth or reality beyond thinking, discriminating, conceptualizing, to which buddhas and ancestors awaken. 説 (setsu) is talking, expressing, explaining, teaching, or expounding the original reality.

When Shakyamuni Buddha completed awakening, he discovered the original reality, the Dharma, but he hesitated to share it with others. He thought it was too subtle, profound, fine, and difficult to perceive for people who are lost in desire, cloaked in darkness. But after being requested three times by the God Brahma, he made up his mind to teach. He said, “The gateway of ambrosia [deathlessness] is thrown open for those who have ears to hear.” What the Buddha taught using language to the five monks was the first turning of the dharma wheel. The Buddha’s act of teaching to lead others to the truth is 説 (setsu).

“To glimpse the ground” is a translation of 瞥地 (becchi) which means to take a glance at the truth. 瞥 (betsu) means to get a glance; that is, to see with half an eye, not thoroughly seeing. Dogen Zenji uses this expression in the beginning of Fukanzazengi (Universal Recommendation of Zazen):

Even if you are proud of your understanding, are enlightened in abundance, and obtain the power of wisdom to glimpse the ground of buddhahood; even if you gain the Way, clarify the mind, resolve to pierce heaven, that is only strolling on the border of the buddha way. You are still, almost always, lacking the vivid path of emancipation.

As the result of our personal efforts, we understand and feel, “I have some awakening experience to the truth,” but according to Dogen, such a result is just strolling on the border of the buddha way. It is not really entering the buddha way; something is still lacking.

In Genjokoan, Dogen Zenji says,

When the Dharma has not yet fully penetrated into body and mind, one thinks that one is already filled with the dharma. When the dharma fills the body and mind, one thinks that something is [still] lacking.

Here in this poem, Dogen is saying that even prior to such a small result of personal efforts, the essence and its expressions are always penetrating. Basically, what he is saying is the same with the several lines in the very beginning of Fukanzazengi:

Originally, the Way is complete and universal. How can we distinguish practice from enlightenment? The Vehicle of Reality is in the Self. Why should we waste our efforts trying to attain it? Still more, the Whole Body is free from dust. Why should we believe in a means to sweep it away? On the whole, the Way is never separated from where we are now. Why should we wander here and there to practice?

However, this does not mean we can be relaxed and at peace without making any effort. In the next paragraph of the Fukanzazengi, Dogen says we should continue to practice following the examples of Shakyamuni Buddha and Bodhidharma. Their practice is not for the purpose of gaining something.

Too bad the echo of wind in the pines doesn’t reach a deaf ear.
Dew from bamboo is repeatedly dropping in front of the moon.

松風 (shofu, or matsu-kaze) refers to soughing of the wind through pine trees. In Japanese poetry this expression was often used to express the solitary and serene scenery of a seashore. The sounds of the wind through the pine trees is the Buddha’s voice. However, unless our ears are open, we don’t hear the message from the Buddha.

竹露 (chikura, or take no tsuyu) is a drop of dew on a blade of bamboo leaves. When the temperature goes down below the dew point, water vapor in the air condenses to form droplets on the surface of the bamboo leaves. On each and every drop of dew, the moonlight is reflected. However, when sun rises and the temperature goes up, the dew drops will evaporate and disappear. Within a tiny drop of dew, boundless moon light is reflected, and yet it does not last long. As Dogen writes in Genjokoan, this is the expression of each and every phenomenal being including ourselves. This is the way all things are existing, not only for special enlightened people as the result of their personal efforts. However, if our eyes are not open, we don’t see the significance of Buddha’s radiant light.

According to Dogen’s biography, Kenzeiki, while he was studying at the Tendai monastery on Mt. Hiei as a novice monk, he had a question, “Both the exoteric and esoteric teachings say that, from the beginning [human beings are endowed with] dharma-nature. [We are] naturally the self-nature [buddha-]body. If so, why did all buddhas in the three times have to arouse [bodhi-]mind to seek awakening?” I think what he is saying in this poem is the answer to that question. We need to continue to study and practice and keep our eyes and ears open to see and hear the Buddha’s voice and body expressed in each and every phenomenal thing. By doing so, we don’t get anything, but we put ourselves on the ground of original reality.

— • —

[1] (Dogen’s Extensive Record 10-55, p.624) © 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.

> More of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese Poems

Copyright 2019 Sanshin Zen Community

Is “Buddha’s Life” the same as Buddha-nature?


Is “Buddha’s Life” the same as Buddha-nature?

If we think of Buddha-nature as a certain part of our life, not our entire life or not the entire network, but something that is fixed and stored and hidden in our individual life, then that is different from Buddha’s Life. What Dogen is discussing in Shobogenzo Buddha-nature is the same thing as Buddha’s Life in the following passage from Shobogenzo Shoji:

This present life-and-death is the Life of Buddha. If we dislike it and try to get rid of it, we would lose the Life of Buddha. If we desire to remain [in life-and-death] and attach ourselves to it, we would also lose the Life of Buddha. What would be retained is simply the appearance of Buddha. Only when we don’t dislike life-and-death and don’t desire life-and-death do we first enter the mind of Buddha.

The first sentence of this paragraph is a well-known saying of Dogen. I think Dogen was the first Buddhist master who said such a thing so clearly: “This present life-and-death is the Life of Buddha.” Of course, within Mahayana Buddhism that teaching and its meaning was already there, but I think Dogen was the first who clearly mentions that this life-and-death is Buddha’s Life.

Usually “life” in Japanese is seimei, which is a scientific or medical word. The Japanese word Dōgen used is on-inochi (御いのち). Inochi is life and on makes the word polite, using the word in a respectful way. In Japanese we sometimes put “o” or “on” or “go” before nouns or verbs for that reason. For example, mizu is water, but we call it o-mizu to show our respect for this thing. We call this robe I am wearing o-kesa. Rice is kome but we call it o-kome, we almost never say kome. We say o-kome or o-misu to express our respect to each and every being, because all beings are Buddha-dharma. In this passage, I translate this on by making the ‘L’ (of life) a capital letter.

This life is Buddha’s Life. Our life and death is Buddha’s Life. We need to appreciate and venerate our life and everything which keeps our life continuing. That means everything. Without water or air or food and other people’s and other beings’ support, we cannot keep this life. So, we venerate our life and all beings as a part of our life, as Buddha’s Life, not as my personal life as an individual. Of course, this personal life as an individual is also part of Buddha’s Life.

As Uchiyama Roshi said, “We bow to all beings.” When I receive water before I give a lecture, I bow and receive it. When the Jisha brings these texts, I bow and receive it. When we receive food during meals, we bow each time we receive. This bow is an expression of our appreciation and gratitude— not just to the person who is serving, but also to the tenzo for preparing the food and to all the farmers who worked to produce the food and to all the support from nature such as sunlight, and water. Within this bow, our gratitude toward all beings is included. Often, we just bow without thinking, or without thinking what this means, but this has a very important meaning, if we are aware, if we have the eye and ear to appreciate it. Our life and death is Buddha’s Life, this is the basis of Dogen’s teaching and our practice.

So even though the Buddha taught that life is marked by suffering, he also prohibited killing, in the Vinaya precepts. To monks, killing other beings is like killing ourselves. We always have to say “yes” to life, and appreciate life. That is the Precept of “Not Killing.” When people sometimes think that Buddhism is a kind of negative religion which does not appreciate life, that is not true. The Buddha taught that we need to appreciate life, and that we can transform our life from samsara to nirvana, from suffering to the cessation of suffering. The Buddha taught that this is possible, and yet, we should not cling to life, because when we cling to life, then we create samsara. If we dislike or hate or negate this life, then we negate Buddha’s Life.

— • —

Commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

The Dōgen Institute hopes to offer 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:

    • For another article on Shobogenzo Shoji, covering the famous Alive or Dead koan, see this article.
    • You’ll find the entire digital album Life & Death: 9 lectures on Shōbōgenzō Zenki and Shōji for sale here.

> Other Questions and responses

Copyright 2019 Sanshin Zen Community

Birds suffering in the cold

Ohara Koson [Public domain]

Dogen’s Chinese Poem (13)



How can the three realms and ten directions be all one color?
Who would discuss the difference between human and heavenly beings?
Do not convey talk of birds suffering in the cold.
The lake with no heat of anxiety is on the snowy mountain.[1]

三界十方何一色 (三界十方何ぞ一色なる)
誰論天上及人間 (誰か論ぜん天上及び人間)
莫傳寒苦鳥言語 (傳うることなかれ寒苦鳥の言語)
無熱惱池在雪山 (無熱惱池は雪山に在り)


This is verse 13 in Kuchugen and verse 91 of volume 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dogen’s Extensive Record). This is the last of the four poems about “snow” in Kuchugen. Monkaku’s version and Menzan’s version of this poem are exactly the same.

How can the three realms and ten directions be all one color?
Who would discuss the difference between human and heavenly beings?

“The three realms” is a translation of tri-loka in Sanskrit. The three realms refer to the realm of desire (kama-dhatu), the realm of material (rupa-dhatu), and the realm without material (arupa-dhatu). In the first realm (desire) people are transmigrating within six realms, or divisions (hell, the realms of hungry ghosts, of animals, asura, humans, and the six kinds of heavenly beings) depending on the karma they made in the previous lifetime. Beyond the six realms composing kama-dhatu, there are two more realms— realms of meditation with and without material things. Together, the three realms are samsara, in which living beings are transmigrating. “The three realms” is also used as a common Buddhist term for “everywhere” or “the whole world.”

“The ten directions” is a translation of the Sanskrit word, dasadis, that is, the four cardinal directions (north, east, south, west), the four intermediate directions (northeast, southeast, southwest, northwest), and the zenith and nadir. This also refers to the entire world. However, this expression is often used to refer to all buddhas or all buddha-lands in the entire ten-direction world.

Here, Dogen uses “the three realms” for the entire world in which all living beings are transmigrating in samsara, and “ten directions” for the entire world as buddha-land. In the very beginning of Shobogenzo Hokke-ten-hokke (The Dharma-flower Turns the Dharma-flower), Dogen writes, “‘Within the buddha-lands in the ten-directions’ is ‘only being’ of the Dharma-flower. (十方佛土中者、法華の唯有なり。)” Both “the three realms” (samsara) and “the ten directions” (buddha-lands) are the entire world. It is not a matter of there being two entire, different worlds separate from each other. Yet, samsara and buddha-lands are different depending upon our attitudes toward our lives.

During the winter in Echizen where Dogen lived, the entire world is covered completely with white snow. It becomes a world of “one color,” non-discrimination. There is no distinction between samsara and nirvana. It is without question that there is no separation between the realms of human and heavenly beings. Depending upon how we live, the entire world becomes the world of suffering and transmigration in samsara, or the buddha-land. These are not two separate places and yet they are different.

Do not convey talk of birds suffering in the cold.
The lake with no heat of anxiety is on the snowy mountain.

“Birds suffering in the cold” is a translation of kankucho (寒苦鳥). It is said there is an imaginary bird with such a name in the Himalaya (雪山, Snowy Mountain), although I don’t find any reference to the Sanskrit name of this bird in the scriptures. In Japanese Buddhist texts, this bird is mentioned. There is a pair of these birds living in the high snowy mountains in the Himalaya region. In the night, when it is extremely cold, the female bird repeatedly says, “Cold is killing me. Cold is killing me.” Then the male bird says, “Let’s make a nest tomorrow. Let’s make a next tomorrow.” However, when the sun rises and it becomes warm, they forget the plan of making a nest, and just enjoy the daytime. When night comes again, they complain in the same way. They repeat this every day and every night though their entire lifetime. When they suffer with cold, they complain and make up their minds to make a nest where they can sleep comfortably, but when the sun rises and it becomes warm, they forget about the cold night, and their plan to make a nest is never carried out.

The way these birds live refers to the life of samsara. When we have sad or painful experiences, we make a resolution to study and practice the Dharma to find a path for liberation. But when the difficult time is over, we forget such a resolution. And we repeat this again and again. That is why Dogen says we should not convey the birds’ message; once you arouse bodhi-mind, we should make a determination to study and practice single-mindedly.

“The lake with no heat of anxiety” (無熱惱池) is a translation of Anavatapta, which means “no heat or fever.” In Indian cosmology, there is a huge lake on the northern side of Himalaya mountains named Anavatapta, which is the source of the four great rivers in India: the Ganges, Indus, Oxus, and Sita. It is said that in the lake a dragon king whose name is Anavatapta is living. “No heat of anxiety” means no suffering. What Dogen is saying here is that the place where the birds are suffering in the cold and the lake of no suffering are both in the same place, the Himalaya. Probably this poem has something to do with the koan Dogen discusses in Shobogenzao Shunjuu (Spring and Autumn):

Once, a monk asked Great Master Dongshan Wuben, “When cold or heat comes, how should we avoid it?”
The master said, “Why don’t you go to the place without cold and heat?”
The monk said, “What is the place without cold and heat like?”
The master said, “When it’s cold, kill the acarya with cold. When it’s hot, kill the acarya with heat.”[2]

I suppose Dogen composed this poem to admonish and encourage the monks in his assembly and himself during the cold and gloomy winter in Echizen. Once we begin to complain about the conditions we are practicing in, our life becomes samsara and we want to escape. However, when we settle down right there and find something interesting and meaningful, the same place can be the buddha-land.

I studied this when I lived in Massachusetts. The winter in western Massachusetts is much colder and longer than winter in the Osaka and Kyoto area in Japan, where I grew up and had lived most of my life. In Massachusetts, during the transition between winter and spring, we had some warmer days like a sign of spring but then we had snow and ice on the road, again and again. In the first few years, I felt depressed and had some difficulty enjoying that time of the year. The only thing I could do was keep sitting until the real spring wind began to blow.

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[1] (Dogen’s Extensive Record 10-91, p.636) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., www.wisdompubs.org.

[2] Okumura’s unpublished translation.

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Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

Copyright 2019 Sanshin Zen Community

Is everything perfect the way it is?

Photo by James Steakley [CC BY-SA 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons

Is everything perfect the way it is?

In Buddhism, we talk about the three treasures: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. Traditionally in Mahayana Buddhism it is said that there are three kinds of Three Treasures. In my translation, the first kind of Three Treasures is the Absolute Three Treasures, but I don’t know if “absolute” is the correct English word for this. In Japanese it is ittai sanbo (一體三寶). Ittai literally means “one body,” and sanbo is Three Treasures; so this refers to the Three Treasures as one body, not three separate things as one body. However, ittai refers to more than those three treasures. This “one body” means seamless, no separation: within the network of interdependent origination everything is interconnected. In the analogy of Indra’s net, although we only see the knot, the thread is transparent, so we see each knot as an individual or independent being, yet everything is connected. This is “one body,” not only within space, but within time. Everything is interconnected within the present moment, within space and time; from beginningless beginning until endless end is one seamless moment. We separate time using seconds or hours or days, one week, one year, one century or one light year. This separation is made by us to make it more understandable, graspable, comprehensible, and convenient, but within time itself there is no such division. This seamless reality has three virtues: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. That is what ittai sanbo means. Another way to say it is the body of reality. When we see this one seamless body including space and time, we call these the Three Treasures.

One part of Kyōjukaimon, which reflects Dōgen’s teachings about the precepts, discusses the Three Treasures. In Kyōjukaimon, Dogen first says this about the Absolute Three Treasures: “The unsurpassable true awakening is the Buddha Treasure.” This unsurpassable true awakening is anuttara-samyak-sambodhi— reality itself. There is no such thing that awakened to what is this reality. Within reality there is no observer, no person who sees the truth. Because everything is inside, because everything is a part of the network of interdependent origination, there is no observer, nothing outside of the network. So, there is no one who awakened to reality. When we say unsurpassable true awakening, reality itself is awakening; no one and nothing is deluded, nothing has illusion. One of the knots, one of us, has illusion or delusion or delusive perceptions, and we all have it, but that kind of illusion is part of anuttara-samyak-sambodhi. Everything is included, nothing is excluded.

We cannot say reality is perfect, because perfect is a relative to imperfect. There is no such comparison we can make. This is just as it is. We cannot say it is perfect or the more perfect thing or not, because reality includes everything and there is nothing to compare with reality itself, and no way to judge it. There is no one who can judge it because everyone who is thinking is inside of reality. In my understanding, that is what “absolute” means. No one can judge reality, no one can praise reality, and everything is included within. That is what “beyond discrimination” means. Beyond discrimination is not a condition of our psychology in which we try not to make discriminations. Reality itself is beyond discrimination, and yet within reality all of us are making discriminations, and yet reality itself cannot be seen, cannot be evaluated. We cannot do anything about this. We cannot say this is a good thing or a bad thing or perfect or imperfect. There is no way to evaluate this reality. That is what ittai or absolute means.

When Dogen Zenji says the “unsurpassable true awakening,” it means reality itself, the one body reality itself, is Buddha Treasure. That is what Dharmakaya means. Buddha and awakening is one thing. We may believe that when Shakyamuni awakened, he started to see reality as an object, but if we think in that way it is not a correct understanding. When Buddha awakened to reality, he and things— reality, awakening, and wisdom— is really one thing. That is what ittai, “One Body, Three Treasures” means.

In Kyōjukaimon, Dōgen next says, “The reality that is pure and free from defilement is Dharma.” Being free from defilement means being free from clinging or delusion or desires. Finally, Dōgen says that “The virtue of peace and harmony is the Sangha treasure.” Each and everything within this one seamless reality is the Sangha treasure. All beings are Sangha treasure as One Body or Absolute Three Treasures. They are within peace and harmony. So, as Absolute-One Body-Three Treasures this seamless reality as one body including entire time and space is Buddha, and is Dharma, and is Sangha. There is no separation.

We must be careful. When I talk in this way, this is not reality itself. This is my understanding or my thought of One Body reality. Don’t think that what I am saying is reality. Reality itself is beyond what I am saying now. None of us can perceive this one seamless reality. If we perceive it, that is an illusion. So we cannot see it, but as Dogen says in Jijuyū Zanmai, somehow it is there.

This reality is what we take refuge in. This is the shelter, this is home. Home means wherever we go, we return to reality. We are born within reality, we are living within reality; we are dying within reality. This is a shelter, this is a home, this where we live, and nothing else. This absolute reality is Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, and we take refuge within this absolute reality.

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Commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

The Dōgen Institute hopes to offer 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:

    • The Three Treasures, and “The Verse of the Three Refuges” are discussed in this book: Living by Vow: A Practical Introduction to Eight Essential Zen Chants and Texts, by Shohaku Okumura, Wisdom Publications, 2012. Paperback, 220 pages, $19.95.

      This immensely useful book explores Zen’s rich tradition of chanted liturgy and the powerful ways that such chants support meditation, expressing and helping us truly uphold our heartfelt vows to live a life of freedom and compassion. Also in Italian from Ubaldini Editore (Introduzione in Italiano qui), and in German from  Werner Kristkeitz Verlag.

> Other Questions and responses

Copyright 2018 Sanshin Zen Community