Tag Archives: Bodhidharma

Gautama’s eyes

Photo copyright David S. Thompson

Dogen’s Chinese Poem (12)

「雪」

Snow

The five-petal flower opens; a sixth [snowflake] petal’s added.
Though daytime with blue sky, it’s as if there were no light.
If someone asks what color I see,
These are Gautama’s old eyes.[1]

五葉華開重六葉、 (五葉華開いて六葉を重ぬ、)
青天白日似無明、 (青天白日明無きに似たり、)
若人問我看何色、 (若し人我に何なる色をか看ると問わば、)
此是瞿曇老眼睛 (此れは是れ瞿曇の老眼睛。)

This is verse 12 in Kuchugen and verse 88 of volume 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dogen’s Extensive Record). This is one of the 4 poems about “snow” in Kuchugen. In Manzan’s version, there is a little difference in the first line:

五葉花開重一葉(五葉華開いて一葉を重ぬ、)
The five-petal flower opens; one petal is added.

And the second line is completely different:

風飄六出轉鮮明(風六出を飄えして轉た鮮明、):
Being blown by a clear wind, snowflakes are fluttering

The five-petal flower opens; a sixth [snowflake] petal’s added.
Though daytime with blue sky, it’s as if there were no light.

The five-petal flower (五葉華) refers to a plum blossom, which has five petals. Plum blossoms bloom in mid-winter to early spring, typically around January until late February. It is highly regarded as a symbol of winter and a forerunner of spring. The blossoms are so beloved because they are blooming lively in the winter snow, radiating with a subtle elegance. They are the symbol of perseverance and hope, as well as beauty, purity, and the brevity of life.

This expression “five petals” has also a connection with the transmission verse of Bodhidharma:

吾本來茲土傳法救迷情。
一花開五葉結果自然成。

I originally came to this country
To transmit the Dharma and save deluded beings.
When the single flower opens into five petals
Then the fruit will ripen naturally of itself.

“A sixth [snowflake] petal’s added (重六葉)” can be translated as “six-petal flowers are added.” Because a snow crystal is hexagonal, in Chinese literature snow is sometimes called a six-petal flower. This line describes the scenery of midwinter to early spring. The entire earth is covered in snow, but plum blossoms— the earliest flower— are already blooming on a branch. It is continually snowing on the blossoms.

Even though it was a fine day with blue sky, when it begins to snow, the brightness of the sky disappears. It is still cold and gloomy winter. In the phrase, “It’s as if there were no light,” “no light” (無明) can mean, “lacking wisdom,” or “ignorance.”  Even though the flower of buddha’s awakening is already open through our practice, we still feel we are in the darkness of ignorance.

If someone asks what color I see,
These are Gautama’s old eyes.

In these two lines, “old eyes” and “color” of the blossoms have a relationship with each other. “Color” is the object of “eyes.” However, Dogen says that the plum blossoms he is seeing are Buddha’s eyes. This refers to Tiantong Rujing’s poem on the occasion of Buddha’s Enlightenment Day. In Shobogenzo Baika (Plum Blossom), Dogen Zenji quotes this poem from his teacher Tiantong Rujing’s Dharma Hall discourse:

瞿曇打失眼睛時、
雪裏梅華只一枝。
而今到処成荊棘、
却笑春風繚亂吹。

At that time when Gautama lost his eyeball,
In the snow, there was only single branch of plum blossoms.
Right now, thorns are growing everywhere.
Rather I laugh at the spring wind blowing lively.[2]

Rujing says that when Shakyamuni Buddha attained awakening while sitting under the bodhitree, the Buddha lost his eyes, that is, when he saw the reality of no-self (anatman), the dichotomy between subject (eyes) and object (bright star) is dropped off. He found interdependent origination with all beings. That is the meaning of the famous expression, “I, together with the great earth and sentient beings, simultaneously attain the Way.”

In the same manner, in Dogen’s Chinese poem, the dichotomy of subject (eyes) and object (plum blossoms) is dropped off. Dogen says that the Buddha’s lost eyes appear as the plum blossoms in front of his own eyes. The plum blossoms in the snow are the Buddha’s lost eyes.

Rujing also says that when the Buddha had awakening under the bodhi tree, there was only one awakened person in the world, but later in the history of Buddhism, when the spring wind blew, many branches grew everywhere. Here is Dogen’s comment on Rujing’s poem:

The plum blossom in the snow is the emergence of an udumbara flower. How often do we see our Buddha Tathagata’s eyeball of the true dharma, and yet we miss his blink and we fail to smile? Right now, we have authentically transmitted and accepted that the plum blossom in the snow is truly the Tathagata’s eyeball. We take it up and hold it as the eye at the top of the head, as the pupil within the eye. When we further go into the plum blossom and penetrate into them, there is no reason for doubting it. It is already the eyeball of “above and below the heavens, I alone am the honored one,” and it is “the most honored one within the dharma world.

In this passage, “an udumbara” is a name of a tree that is said to bloom only once every three thousand years. Because it blooms so rarely, this flower is used in similes to indicate something extremely rare and precious, such as the appearance of a buddha in the world or the chance of encountering the buddhadharma during one’s lifetime. Dogen is saying here that each time we see plum blossoms is the only time we can see them. If we miss it now, we cannot see it again. Next year’s plum blossoms are not this year’s blossoms. Even though we encounter such precious Dharma here and now, we almost always fail to smile and accept it as buddhadharma. If we can see the blossoms in the snow as buddha’s eyes, we must be very grateful. This is what Dogen expresses in this Chinese poem.

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[1] (Dogen’s Extensive Record 10-87, p.635) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., www.wisdompubs.org.

[2] This poem and the following comment by Dogen are Okumura’s unpublished translation.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.


Copyright 2018 Sanshin Zen Community

Practicing determination

Public Domain PD-1923

Dogen’s Chinese Poem (11)

「雪」

Snow

Deepening dusk in early winter, dense snow keeps falling.
On mountains in all directions, [we see] no cypress or pines.
Stop discussing snow depths, and the sinking gloom.
I want this to be like Caoxi Peak on Mount Song.[1]

将暮孟冬降密雪、 (暮れなんと将て孟冬密雪降る、)
四山無柏亦無松、 (四山柏無く亦た松無し、)
休論寸尺将陰気、 (論ずること休みね寸尺と陰気と、)
欲似嵩山少室峰。 (嵩山少室峰に似たらんと欲う。)

This is verse 11 in Kuchugen and verse 87 of volume 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dogen’s Extensive Record). It is one of the four poems about “snow” in Kuchugen. In Manzan’s version, there is a difference in the third line:

將委積論多少 (委積を將て多少を論ずることを休めよ)。
Stop discussing the amount of snow whether it is much or not so much.

There is also a slight difference in the 4th line:

欲似嵩少室峰
I wish [this scenery] is like the Caoxi peak of the high mountain, Song.

Deepening dusk in early winter, dense snow keeps falling.
On mountains in all directions, [we see] no cypress or pines.

Moto (孟冬) refers to the beginning of the winter, that is, 10th month in lunar calendar; November to December in solar calendar. Missetu (密雪) refers to heavy snow falling continuously without making any sound. When winter comes to the Hokuriku district where Dogen lived, the north wind from Siberia brings humid air from Japan sea. The wind hits the high mountains, goes up, freezes, and comes down as snow. Each winter, people in this region have huge amount of snow. Sometimes they have more than ten feet of snow which may cover the entire village unless people continuously remove the snow on the roofs and streets.

In the second line, Dogen describes the mountain scenery completely covered with white snow. The differences among various kinds of trees such as cypress, pine, and many others cannot be seen.

Stop discussing snow depths, and the sinking gloom.
I want this to be like Caoxi Peak on Mount Song.

In the third line, Dogen asks his monks not to discuss and complain about how much snow they have and how cold, humid, and gloomy the world has become. Inki (陰気) is yin-energy (as opposed to yang-energy) which makes the world cold, dark, humid, and living beings inactive, gloomy, and even depressed. Ancient Chinese and Japanese people thought that from autumn to winter, yin-energy becomes stronger, and from spring to the summer yang-energy becomes stronger. In Chinese philosophy, yin and yang (dark-bright, negative-positive) describe how seemingly opposite or contrary energy may actually be complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world, and how they may give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another.

In the final line, Dogen asks his monks to remember the incident that happened in the snow when the Second Ancestor, Huike visited the First Ancestor, Bodhidharma. Su-zan Shoshitsu-ho (嵩山少室峰, Caoxi peak on Mt. Song) was where the Shaolin temple was located. The Second Ancestor, Huike (慧可, Eka) visited Bodhidharma wishing to become his disciple. According to the legend, Huike stood in the snow all night while Bodhidharma sat facing the wall. Dogen describes the day of this event in Shobogenzo Gyoji (Continuous Practice, Part Two):

At that time, it was the final month of a year, and a very cold day. It is said that it was the night of the 9th day of the 12th month. Even if it was not heavily snowing, the winter night in the deep mountains is not a place a human being can stand on the outside ground. It was a dreadful time of the year; even a joint of bamboo would be broken [with cold]. Therefore, a huge amount of snow covered the entire earth, both mountains and peaks. He sought the Way in the snow. We cannot imagine how hard it was![2]

Huike was not permitted to enter Bodhidharma’s room (another version says that Bodhidharma was sitting in a cave). Huike kept standing in the snow almost until dawn. During that time, Huike remembered how past bodhisattvas practiced without thinking of their own bodily life, such as the bodhisattva who offered himself to a hungry mother tiger to help her seven cubs, etc. Then Huike thought to himself, “Ancient people with great capability and determination were like that, then who I am?” Huike made his aspiration stronger. Later, when he talked with Bodhidharma, he cut his arm to show his determination.

After introducing this story Dogen writes, “[His descendants] in later times should not forget this saying, ‘Even the ancient people were like that, then who am I?’”

I think this is what Dogen Zenji wants to say in this Chinese poem to his disciples. Even when the entire world is cold, humid, and gloomy, we should think of how ancient bodhisattvas practiced and renew our determination, instead of being overwhelmed and complaining about the weather. Probably Dogen was also encouraging himself.

These days, at some Japanese Soto Zen monasteries, right after Rohatsu sesshin is completed and after performing a ceremony celebrating Buddha’s Enlightenment on December 8th, they hold a Danpi (cutting-arm) sesshin and sit all night until the morning of 9th.

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[1] (Dogen’s Extensive Record 10-87, p.635) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., http://www.wisdompubs.org.

[2] This is Okumura’s unpublished translation

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.


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

What is the meaning of “Bodhidharma came from the west”?

Flower of Emptiness: 9 talks on Shobogenzo Kuge

Dōgen says,

The place where the principle of one flower penetrates is, “I originally came to this land to transmit the Dharma and save deluded living beings.”

As five fingers are a part of one hand, if we see we can exist only as a part of one hand, we see other beings are within this system called one hand.

When we see everything is connected, that awakening of interconnectedness is the foundation of the Buddhist bodhisattva vow to save all beings.

If we think we are separate and if we think, “I am a great person, I am such an enlightened person, and all other beings are deluded, so I have to go to China to teach all those deluded people” — that is arrogance.

So what is the meaning of Bodhidharma coming from the west? The Dharma was already there in China. If that was so, Bodhidharma coming from China was something extra, and Bodhidharma was a deluded and arrogant person. Why did Bodhidharma have to come to China to teach that Dharma which is already in China? Why did he have to transmit something which is already there?

Dōgen’s sentence is his answer to this question. What does this Dharma transmission of saving human beings mean?

It means when we see the interconnectedness, our way of life should be the way we can offer something in order for these five skandhas to benefit. One hand as a collection of five fingers, these are called all living beings. So our practice of bodhisattva vow is not, “I have wealth, and there are many poor people, so I give what I own to those in need.” But the bodhisattva vow is to share everything because I am part of it. To share things with all beings is the motivation not only for Bodhidharma but for the bodhisattva vow. To offer something we can, whatever we have, no matter how small. This vow of offering things to share with all beings came from the awakening of this reality that one hand is five fingers, five fingers is one hand, one flower opens as five petals. We awaken to the basic reality of independent origination.

Listen to the talk:

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

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Rōshi

> Other albums by Shōhaku Okumura


Copyright 2018 Sanshin Zen Community