A monk in zazen

Dogen’s Chinese Poems (8)


Mountain Dwelling (6)

Towers in front and pavilions behind stand splendid.
On the peak is a stupa of five or six levels.
Under the moon in cool autumn wind, a crane sleeps standing.
The robe is transmitted at midnight to a monk in zazen.[1]

前楼後閣玲瓏起 (前楼後閣玲瓏として起つ、)
峰頭塔婆五六層 (峰頭の塔婆五六層、)
月冷風秋立睡鶴 (月冷じく風秋にして睡鶴を立たしむ、)
衣伝半夜坐禅僧 (衣は伝う半夜の坐禅僧)

This is verse 8 in Kuchugen and verse 109 of volume 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dogen’s Extensive Record). This is one of the poems about mountain dwelling. In Manzan’s version of this poem, there is slight difference in the third line:

月冷風高箇時節: the moon light is cool, the wind is high at this time of the year

Traditional commentaries interpret the first three lines as a description of Eiheiji while the assembly of monks is sitting in the monks’ hall. In the short-range view, someone sees large temple buildings, and in the distant view, the stupa (a five storied-pagoda) on the mountain. Then he describes the moon in the sky and a crane sleeping calmly. This is not simply the scenery of a mountain temple, but the world of zazen in serenity.

The modern scholar Prof. Teppu Otani questions if there were so many large buildings and a five-storied pagoda on the peak of the mountain at Eiheiji during the time of Dogen Zenji. He suggests that this poem might be about Dogen’s memory of Tiantong monastery in China. The first line of the poem is actually taken from Tiantong Rujing’s own dharma words, presented at the mountain gate on the occasion of his mountain seat ceremony, when he became the abbot of Tiantong monastery. In this interpretation, this monk sitting until midnight refers to Dogen himself: the Dharma and the robe were transmitted to Dogen from Rujing.

Kodo Sawaki Roshi says that this is the scenery at Eiheiji, but in this poem I think Dogen Zenji is saying that in the world of zazen, in the beautiful scenery of a crane sleeping-standing peacefully underneath the cool moonlight in the autumn wind, Eiheiji and the Fifth Ancestor’s monastery are interpenetrating. Dogen wrote in Bendowa,

“Therefore, even if only one person sits for a short time, because this zazen is one with all existence and completely permeates all times, it performs everlasting buddha guidance within the inexhaustible dharma world in the past, present, and future. [Zazen] is equally the same practice and the same enlightenment for both the person sitting and for all dharmas.”

In his zazen, there is no separation between the night at Eiheiji and the night at the monastery when Huineng received the robe. The practice at Eiheiji and the Sixth Ancestor’s dharma transmission are taking place at the same time. In this case, the “monk in zazen” who received the robe refers to Huineng. However, this interpretation does not make as much sense to me because when he received the Dhamrma transmission, Huineng was not yet an ordained monk, but a lay worker.

I suppose that as Dogen writes this poem, the scenery at Eiheiji and at Tiangong monastery overlap. Dogen’s zazen and his assembled monks’ zazen is not separate from the zazen Dogen practiced with Rujing many years before in China.

During sesshin, I sometimes feel that my zazen at Sanshinji and my zazen at Antaiji in Kyoto, or at Valley Zendo in Massachusetts, and at many other places, are the same zazen. I still feel I am sitting together with my teacher, Uchiyama Roshi. When we sit facing the wall, we are simply facing the wall, facing the buddha, and facing the self. Sometimes, I feel like all of time and all of space are within this single period of zazen here and now.

Dogen might be remembering the vow he made when he saw Chinese monks reciting the robe-chant every day after morning zazen. Now at Eiheiji, all the monks are sitting wearing okesa together with him. I think the “monk in zazen” in this poem refers to each and every monk at Eiheiji who is sitting wearing the authentic okesa Dogen transmitted from China.

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[1] (Dogen’s Extensive Record 10-109, p.641) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., http://www.wisdompubs.org.

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Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

Copyright 2018 Sanshin Zen Community


New articles 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 latest two articles on Ikka Myoju: One Bright Jewel, please see our DI page dedicated to these articles.

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Copyright 2018 Sanshin Zen Community

A butterfly dreams of Zhuangzi

“I think you know this story.

“Once Chuang Chou dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn’t know he was Chuang Chou. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Chuang Chou. But he didn’t know if he was Chuang Chou who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Chuang Chou. Between Chuang Chou and a butterfly there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things.”[1]

Things are transforming, changing. Not only in this kind of story, but when we see the emptiness of our lives, when I think of what I did when I was young— it was like a dream. I could do much hard work. I could sit much more than I can sit now. Now, I can’t sit on the floor. I have to sit on a chair. I started to sit when I was nineteen, and until I became sixty, I could sit without much pain. Sitting was most comfortable posture and I could sit sesshin (retreat) without much pain. But after I became sixty, the pain in my knees became a problem. When I became sixty-three, I decided to sit on a chair because sitting on the floor with knee pain was like torture. When I think of that forty years, when I could sit without pain— that was like a dream. Now I think I have to sit on the chair, and I think this is like a dream. Which is reality? It’s really difficult to tell.

It depends on my self-image, I think. If I think I am a zazen practitioner and sitting is the most important thing, then Shohaku is a person who sits in a proper posture, a certain posture described in our case by Dōgen in Fukanzazengi. That is the real thing. When I cannot sit in that way, that is not the real thing. That is one of the ways in which I think. Or I can think in the opposite way: this five skandhas which cannot sit in the cross-legged psoture is the real thing, and the person whose name was Shohaku who sits on the floor is already gone. That was like a dream. This is reality.

Which is the real, correct way of thinking?

When we think in this way, the boundary between dreaming and reality is not so clear.[2]

Listen to the full track:

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Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

[1] translation by Burton Watson from Zhuangzi: Basic Writings (3rd ed.). New York: Columbia University Press. (2003).

[2] This is an edited extract from the new recording, “Expounding a Dream within a Dream,” available for sale on the Dōgen Institute’s bandcamp site. Please note that other free tracks from this album will automatically play after this lecture.

> Other Audio

Copyright 2018 Sanshin Zen Community

Expounding a Dream within a Dream

Nine lectures on Shobogenzo Muchu-setsumu


“When Dogen uses the word “dream,” I think he is talking about this reality as neither being (u, 有) nor non-being (mu, 無). Whatever way we may say something, we always make a mistake, and yet we have to use words or language in order to express this reality. When we are completely free from the limitations of ‘words’ and ‘concepts’ and ‘logic,’ we’re able to use ‘words’ and ‘concepts’ and ‘logic’ very freely.

Shakyamuni didn’t negate the fact that we have views of being and non-being, but by seeing things clearly we become free from those views instead of clinging to them; that is the difference. I think Dogen is talking about this reality, neither being nor non-being, as ‘like a dream.’ Whatever we say may be a mistake, nevertheless we have to say something. If we understand whatever is said as a mistake, then whatever is said can be the expression of this ‘dream.’

Does that make sense? … Maybe not?

This is my current understanding of Dogen’s ‘dream.’”

Listen to the full track:

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Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

This is an edited extract from the new recording, “Expounding a Dream within a Dream,” available for sale on the Dōgen Institute’s bandcamp site.

> Other Audio

Copyright 2018 Sanshin Zen Community

Are sentient beings already Buddhas?

Free audio extract from: Bendowa 3: nine lectures on Shobogenzo Bendowa

“As I talked about this morning [in the previous lecture], whether we attain the way or not does not depend on the condition of the world, or the [present] age. We only use our treasure. And as Dōgen said, whether we attain it or not can only be known by the person who practices. Like when we drink water, we know whether it’s cold or warm. It only depends on the self, not the condition of this world. Then, what is this self? That is the next natural question.

This is a very subtle point. Dogen says our practice and verification has nothing to do with the world, it’s only up to our determination or aspiration, whether or not we practice. It’s totally up to us, up to the self. When we practice, we ourselves know whether enlightenment/verification is there or not. So it totally depends upon us, not the outside situation. Then [we have] this teaching of the self, and another understanding of the same word ‘self’. It’s almost the same, but very subtly different. And this small difference makes a big difference. I think that’s the point of this question.”

Dōgen himself asked his own teacher, Tiantong Rujing (Tendo Nyojo) about awakening, the role of the self, and what the self knows.

Listen to the talk:

Please follow this link to Sanshin’s bandcamp page for the entire digital album.

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Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Rōshi

> Other albums by Shōhaku Okumura

Copyright 2018 Sanshin Zen Community

The evening bell

Photo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Dogen’s Chinese Poems (7)


Mountain Dwelling (5)

The evening bell rings in moonlight and lanterns are raised.
Training monks sit in the hall and quietly observe emptiness.
Having fortunately attained the three robes, now they plant seeds.
How heartwarming, their ripening liberation in the one mind.[1]

晩鐘鳴月上燈籠 (晩鐘月に鳴らして燈籠を上ぐ、)
雲衲坐堂靜觀空 (雲衲、堂に坐して靜かに空を觀ず、)
幸得三田今下種 (幸いに三田を得て今種を下す、)
快哉熟脱一心中 (快きかな熟脱一心の中。)

This is verse 7 in Kuchugen and verse 110 of volume 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dogen’s Extensive Record). This is one of the poems about mountain dwelling. Manzan’s version is exactly the same as the Monkaku version.

The evening bell rings in moonlight and lanterns are raised.
Training monks sit in the hall and quietly observe emptiness.

The first two lines are the description of an evening practice at Eiheiji (or Daibutsuji). According to The Model for Engaging the Way (Bendoho), the daily practice schedule at the monks’ hall begins with evening zazen, not with the wake-up bell in the morning. Traditionally this has been interpreted to mean that even the time of sleeping in the night is not a break from monks’ practice.

While the monk in charge (鐘司, shosu or bell manager) strikes the evening bell one hundred and eight times, it is getting dark, the moon rises, the candles are lit, and the lanterns are raised in the monks’ hall and the walkways. In the monks’ hall, training monks sit evening zazen in silence. The sublime sound of the big temple bell (梵鐘, bonsho), boundless bright moon, the small light of the lanterns, and the monks are all within calmness, peace, and harmony.

Although it says the monks quietly “observe” emptiness (靜觀空), it is not possible for monks to “observe” or “contemplate” emptiness as the object of their minds. Just sitting is itself contemplating emptiness. This is the same as is said in the first sentence of the Heart Sutra, “Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva, when deeply practicing prajna paramita, clearly saw that all five aggregates are empty and thus relieved all suffering.” There is no such person named Avalokiteshvara beside the five aggregates. This “clear seeing” means that the five aggregates of Avalokiteshvara are simply being the five aggregates; there is no subject-object separation and relation. Five aggregates just being the five aggregates is itself clear seeing of emptiness. Within the practice of prajna paramita, or just sitting, emptiness is revealed. The boundless moonlight and small lights of lanterns, the monks’ five aggregates, and emptiness are corresponding with and interpenetrating each other. In Shobogenzo Zanmai-o-zanmai (The Samadhi that is king of samadhis), Dogen Zenji said, “Now we sit in full-lotus with this human skin, flesh, bones, and marrow, we sit zanmai-o-zanmai (the samadhi that is the king of samadhis) in full-lotus… This is the time when buddhas see buddhas. This is the very moment of living beings’ becoming buddha.”

Having fortunately attained the three robes, now they plant seeds.
How heartwarming, their ripening liberation in the one mind.

In the third and fourth lines, Dogen expresses the profound meaning of this practice in the peaceful mountains. “Three robes” translates the Chinese characters for sanden (三田, literally, three rice fields). According to Dr. Genryu Kagamishima,[2]sanden refers to the three robes (kasyaya with 5, 7, and 9 or more stripes) which are collectively called fukuden-e (福田衣, the robe of the field of happiness). Zen monks receive these three robes as part of shukke tokudo (monk ordination). Attaining the three robes means becoming Buddha’s disciples.

種 (shu, planting seeds), 熟 (juku, process of growing and maturing), 脱 (datsu, liberation as the result, or harvesting) are used in Tendai teachings as the process of arousing bodhi-mind, practice, and attaining liberation. Dogen used these in Shobogenzo Kuge:

“They only know that flowers of emptiness (kuge) are something to be discarded; they don’t know the great matter after [seeing] flowers of emptiness. They don’t know planting seeds, ripening, and coming out of the husk of flowers of emptiness (kuge).”

Here Dogen is saying that it is not that there is no process of growing and maturing, blooming, and bearing fruit, but that the entire process is within the practice of this moment.

In Dogen’s teaching, “the one mind” is as he says in Shobogenzo Sokushin-zebutsu (The Mind is Itself Buddha), “The mind that has been authentically transmitted is ‘one mind is all dharmas; all dharmas are one mind.’” The monks’ practicing zazen, seeing emptiness, is “dropping off body and mind of the self and others.”

There is an alternate interpretation of the final lines of Dōgen’s poem. According to Sawaki Roshi and other scholars, “three fields” refers to a saying from the Mahayana Parinirvana Sutra categorizing the three types of people’s quality, corresponding to the bodhisattva, the shravaka, and the icchantika. Icchantika are people who have no potential to become a buddha.

The Mahayana Mahaparnirvana Sutra Chapter Forty: On Bodhisattva Kasyapa (a)[3]  says:

“It is like three kinds of field. One is easy to irrigate. There is no sand there, no salt, no gravel, and no stones, and no thorns. Plant one, and one gains 100. The second also has no sand, no salt, no gravel, no stones, and no thorns. But irrigation is difficult, and the harvest is down by half. The third gives difficulties with irrigation, and it is full of sand, gravel, stones, and thorns. Plant one, and one gains one, due to the straw and grass. O good man! In the spring months, where will the farmer plant first?”

“O World-Honored One! First, the first field, second, the second field, and third, the third field.”

“The first can be likened to the Bodhisattva, the second to the sravaka, and the third to the icchantika.”

If we interpret the third and four lines in this way, what Dogen means is that even though there are monks who have various qualities, some who are sincere and capable, and others who are mediocre or even low quality, in their zazen here and now, they are all equally expressing emptiness and their buddha-seeds are all ripening.

I think the first interpretation is better. It is difficult to me to think that Dogen is watching and categorizing his disciples depending on their ability.

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[1] (Dogen’s Extensive Record 10-110, p.641) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., http://www.wisdompubs.org.
[2] The editor of Dogen Zenji Zenshu (The Complete Collection of Dogen Zenji’s Writings) published by Shunjusha.
[3] Translation by Kosho Yamamoto, edited, revised and copyright by Dr. Tony Page, 2007).

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Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

Copyright 2018 Sanshin Zen Community

The entire world studies itself through this person

Photo © David S. Thompson

The entire world studies itself through this person

Today we feature the third of three excerpts from Okumura Roshi’s new book, The Mountains and Waters Sutra: A Practitioner’s Guide to Dogen’s Sansuikyo, edited by Shodo Spring (Wisdom Publications). Okumura Roshi begins by quoting from Dōgen’s Sansuikyo, paragraph seven:

The blue mountains devote themselves to the investigation of walking; the East Mountain studies “moving over the water.”

Here Dogen identifies the subject who does this walking, this studying about mountains and waters. Usually when we read this we think that we are studying Dogen’s teaching about mountains and waters, so the subject is me. Whenever we study Dharma or practice zazen, we think “This person is studying the Dharma,” or “This person is trying to find the meaning of our life.” But Dogen says here that a person’s inquiry is not simply one’s own inquiry: it is mountains studying mountains, and this entire world studying itself through this person’s inquiry.

Planet Earth is a tiny product of the evolution of this universe. We human beings are a tiny and relatively new part of nature on this small planet. And yet, somehow we have an ability to observe the planet, the solar system, other galaxies and even the entire universe, and we try to understand what they are, what is really happening, what is the origin of this movement of the universe. We even think about the meaning of all this movement. This is our attempt to see reality, to understand the meaning of our lives and this world. But we can look from another direction and say that because we are a part of the universe, the entire world is using human beings to see itself. In this sense the entire universe is studying itself through us.

We usually don’t see it this way. We think we study for the sake of this person. When we see our activity from a broader perspective, we can’t be selfish. We can’t use things around us as resources or materials simply to make this person happy. I think this is an important difference.

I sometimes imagine the universe before human beings appeared on this small planet. That was the universe without any observer. No one sees it, thinks of it, understands it, or evaluates it. No one sees color or hears sound. In this case, is there color or sound at all? To me that is a mysterious world. In the history of the universe from the big bang, the universe was without any observer until recently. Things were just happening, without being considered right or wrong, good or bad, well or poorly done. This is an amazing thought to me.

Who is studying? Who is inquiring? In the case of Buddha Dharma, Buddha studies Buddha’s way through our practice. Or Dharma studies Dharma itself through this person, because this person is part of the Dharma. The term “dharmas” means all beings. Capital Dharma means the way all beings are. Dharma just means how we are, but we usually try to get something from it. That is a kind of distortion. According to Dogen, when I sit, it is not Shohaku sitting; zazen is sitting Shohaku. Studying other subjects can be the same.

This study or practice is part of the walking of blue mountains.

The East Mountain studies ‘moving over the water.’ Hence, this study is the mountains’ own study.

Here Dogen refers to Ummon’s saying, which he quotes later:

The mountains, without altering their own body and mind, with their own mountain countenance, have always been circling back to study [themselves].

Dogen says our practice is the mountains’ study. The mountains do not alter their own body and mind—mountains are just mountains, with their own mountain countenance. Mountains are just mountains, and have always been circling back to study themselves.

“Circling back” is a translation of kai to. Kai means to circle around and to is path, road, or street. This is an unusual expression. I don’t think Dogen used this expression in any other writings. According to commentaries, this kai to means “here and there.” “Here” means this present moment and “there” means the eternal Buddha, prior to anything happening, prior to even the kalpa of emptiness. Nikon, this present moment, is here, and eternity is there. In the first sentence of this writing he says that this present moment is one with eternity. That is the meaning of “These mountains and waters of the present are the expression of the old buddhas.” This expression kai to means turning between this present moment and eternity. Mountains turn back and forth between this moment and eternity.

The meaning of this is the same as Dogen’s saying in Tenzokyokun that when you cook you should invite the Buddha from the Buddha Hall and make the Buddha into the vegetables. He said to invite a sixteen-foot Buddha body and make it into one stalk of greens. In other words, any vegetables that we chop or cook are actually Buddha’s body. Also the person who is cooking and the activity of cooking must manifest the sixteen-foot Buddha body. Even though this moment is one with eternity, also we make it one with eternity by cooking in this way.

This particular person is working with particular things. But this particular action can be the practice of turning between this moment and eternity, or between this person and the world. Oneness of this moment and eternity, oneness of the particular and universal, this is what Dogen is always trying to show us. “Moon in a dewdrop” is an expression of the same reality. We are tiny like a drop of dew, but within this momentary drop the entire universe is reflected. In Mahayana teaching, this is expressed as “within a mustard seed, Mt. Sumeru is stored; or within a pore of the skin, the great ocean is stored.”

This is Dogen’s point. The same point is found in much of Japanese culture: eternity expresses itself within impermanence; the infinite manifests itself within the finite. If you read haiku you can recognize this. A famous example is Matsuo Basho’s

“Old pond,
a frog jumps in,
the sound of water.”

Instead of conducting an abstract philosophical discussion, a haiku shows eternity by describing things in one moment.

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Commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., http://www.wisdompubs.org.

Copyright 2018 Sanshin Zen Community