Tag Archives: Bodhidharma

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

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Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.


Copyright 2018 Sanshin Zen Community

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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