Tag Archives: bodhisattva

Bodhisattva Cricket Chirping


Naturalis [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Dogen’s Chinese Poem (9)

「同(山居)」

Mountain Dwelling (7)

Grasshopper thinking and insect chirping; how earnest.
Soft breeze and hazy moon are both calm.
Clouds envelop pines and cedars round the old hall by the pond.
By the mountain temple autumn raindrops fall on the empress tree.[1]

蛬思声何切切 (蛬の思い虫の声何ぞ切切たる、)
微風朧月両悠悠 (微風朧月両ら悠悠たり、)
雲封松柏池臺舊 (雲は松柏を封じて池臺舊りたり、)
雨滴梧桐山寺秋 (雨は梧桐に滴って山寺秋なり)

This is verse 9 in Kuchugen and verse 111 of volume 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dogen’s Extensive Record). This is one of the poems about mountain dwelling. In Manzan’s version, there is only one difference, in the first sentence:

蛬思聲何切切: Grasshopper thinking and cicada chirping; how earnest.

 

Grasshopper thinking and insect chirping; how earnest.

In modern Japanese, kyo or kirigirisu (蛬, gong in Chinese) is grasshopper. According to a dictionary however, in medieval Japan this word referred to any insect that chirps, particularly korogi (crickets). English Wikipedia says, “Grasshoppers are insects of the suborder Caelifera within the order Orthoptera, which includes crickets and their allies in the other suborder Ensifera.”

One of the differences between kirigirisu (grasshoppers) and korogi (crickets) is the time when they chirp. Kirigirisu are active in the daytime, korogi are nocturnal so they chirp in the night. In this poem, Dogen writes about an autumn evening, so I think cricket is more suitable than grasshopper. Crickets and other insects are incessantly chirping in the autumn evening. Dogen says their thoughts and voices are earnest and fervent— as if they know their life is short and impermanent. Human beings are the same. Dogen and his monks are practicing the Dharma wholeheartedly with ardent bodhi-mind because of their awakening to the impermanence of their lives.

Soft breeze and hazy moon are both calm.

In contrast, the cool, soft autumn breeze and the hazy moon in the rainy sky are calm and peaceful. In Japanese there is an expression, ugetsu (雨月), the moonlight on a rainy night. This expression is used particularly when it is raining on the full moon night of the eight month, the day of harvest moon; it is dark but the hazy moon is slightly visible. There is a well-known collection of supernatural stories written by Ueda Akinari (1734 – 1809) entitled Ugetsu Monogatari. The famous director, Mizoguchi Kenji (1898 – 1956) made a movie based on a few stories from this book. I don’t think Dogen intends to show us such mystery stories, but it is also true that this expression indicates the realm beyond the ordinary day-to-day lives where people are working hard and struggling for fame and profit.

Dogen describes the difference between living beings such as crickets, other insects, and humans who live in a limited time frame, and the things in nature such as wind, clouds, mountains, rivers, and the moon. Human beings particularly know the impermanence of their lives and yet they have desires, or wish to accomplish something within their life time, and so are always trying not to waste a single moment. This is the reason their thoughts and voices are so earnest. But these earnest activities are together with the soft breeze and hazy moon which is calm and peaceful. It seems to me that Dogen is describing the world of Bodhisattva practice in which practitioners work earnestly within peace and harmony.

Clouds envelop pines and cedars round the old hall by the pond.

By the pond, there is a tall temple building surrounded by trees such as pine and cedar. In the misty evening darkness, all these things are enveloped by the clouds and mist. In their practice, the differences of forms such as pines and cedars are concealed by the clouds and mist; they are in oneness. The old hall in which eternal Buddha is enshrined silently stands by the old pond. This is the scenery of the world of Bodhisattva vows.

By the mountain temple autumn raindrops fall on the empress tree.

Although we translated it as “the empress tree” in Dogen’s Extensive Record, according to dictionaries, this could be a mistake. The empress tree is paulownia; in Japanese, the paulownia tree is called kiri (桐). However, Dogen’s poem says aogiri (梧桐, wutong in Chinese). Kiri and aogiri are two different kinds of tree. Aogiri (Firmiana simplex) is called the Chinese parasol tree or phoenix tree in English. It is called phoenix tree because in ancient China, it was said that this is the only tree upon which a phoenix (鳳凰, fenghuang in Chinese, hoo in Japanese), the mythological king of birds, will rest. The phoenix (a bird) has been considered a symbol of union of yin and yang energy. The leaves on phoenix trees being tinged with yellow is used in Chinese poetry as the typical scenery of autumn.“Phoenix tree” is probably more suitable in this poem describing the scenery of a mountain temple in autumn. The raindrops are still falling on the leaves of the phoenix tree, making subtle sounds.

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[1] (Dogen’s Extensive Record 10-111, 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

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New books from the Dōgen Institute

We are proud to announce the availability of two new books published by the Dōgen Institute:

Boundless Vows, Endless Practice

In honor of Sanshin Zen Community’s 15th anniversary, Shohaku Okumura and ten of his dharma descendants from around the world present a series of writings on making and carrying out bodhisattva vows in the 21st century. The book includes new translations by Okumura Roshi of material never before published in English.

— • —

Life-and-Death: Selected Dharma Poems from Kosho Uchiyama

A translation of selected Dharma poems by Okumura Roshi’s teacher Uchiyama Roshi, with notes.

Accompanied by beautiful photographs from Jisho Takahashi.

“As human beings who cannot avoid physical life and death, all of us wish to see clearly exactly what life-and-death is, and to settle on our attitude toward it. Even though there may be no way to avoid the physical pain, we would all at least like to face death without the mental torment as though having fallen into hell. What is important here is how to live having settled on our attitude towards life-and-death. These poems are on life-and-death.” — Kosho Uchiyama

“After giving his last teachings to his disciples and talking about impermanence, the Buddha said, ‘From now on all of my disciples must continuously practice. Then the Thus Come One’s dharma body will always be present and indestructible.’ This ‘indestructible dharma body’ is the Buddha’s eternal life in the Lotus Sutra. I think the interpenetration of impermanence and the eternal life of Buddha is what Uchiyama Roshi is teaching us about in this collection of his poems. ” — Shohaku Okumura

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See our publications page for a complete listing.


Copyright 2018 Sanshin Zen Community

May We Together . . .

Poem on “Practicing With All Living Beings”

いただきに Itadaki ni
鵲巣をや Kasasagi su wo ya On his head,
つくるらん Tsukuru ran a magpie might make its nest,
眉にかかれり Mayu ni kakareri a spider’s web is
蜘蛛のいと Sasagani no ito hanging from his eyebrows.

Itadaki” means “crown of head” or “summit of mountain.” Here it refers to the crown of the head of a person who is sitting in zazen. “Kasasagi” is a black bird similar to a crow. Its English name is magpie.

In Europe, a magpie generally has a negative association, and has been demonized in some countries. However, in China and Korea, magpies are considered a bird of good fortune. In Japan, it is said that magpies were imported from Korea in the 16th century. Since then magpies live in various places in western parts of Japan.

Probably Dogen did not have a chance to see this bird with his own eyes except while he stayed in China, but he used the name of this bird which appears in Buddhist texts.

Ran” is an auxiliary verb to show conjecture. Also, in this waka Dogen actually did not see the bird making a nest. “Sasagani” literally means a little crab, but here it refers to a spider. A spider is called a little crab, probably because it has many legs and walks like a crab. “Ito” is a thread or web. “Kakareri” is a statement, not conjecture. Dogen actually sees the spider’s web hanging from the eyebrow of the person sitting.

In the Denkoroku (the Record of Transmitting the Light), Keizan Jokin wrote about Shakyamuni Buddha’s practice after he left his father’s palace as follows:

“Shakyamuni Buddha was of the Sun Race in India. At the age of nineteen he leaped over the palace walls in the dead of night, and at Mount Dantaloka, he cut off his hair. Subsequently, he practiced austerities for six years. Later, he sat on the Adamantine Seat, where spiders spun webs in his eyebrows and magpies built a nest on top of his head. Reeds grew up between his legs as he sat tranquilly and erect without movement for six years. At the age of thirty, on the eighth day of the twelfth month, as the morning star appeared, he was suddenly enlightened.”

In the Hokyoki, Dogen recorded his master Rujing’s saying about zazen and dropping off body and mind:

“The zazen of arhats and pratyekabuddhas is free of attachment yet it lacks great compassion. Their zazen is therefore different from the zazen of the buddhas and ancestors; the zazen of buddhas and ancestors places primary importance on great compassion and the vow to save all living beings. … In buddhas’ and ancestors’ zazen, they wish to gather all Buddha Dharma from the time they first arouse bodhi-mind. Buddhas and ancestors do not forget or abandon living beings in their zazen; they offer a heart of compassion even to an insect. Buddhas and ancestors vow to save all living beings and dedicate all the merit of their practice to all living beings.”

The source of both Keizan’s description of Shakyamuni’s practice at Mount Dantaloka and Rujing’s statement about compassion in buddhas’ and ancestors’ zazen seems to be Nagarjuna’s Daichidoron, his commentary on the MahaPrajna Paramita Sutra. In this text, right after Rujing says that buddhas and ancestors do not forget compassion toward all living beings including insects, Nagarjuna refers to a story about a mountain sage who was Shakyamuni in one of his past lives. Shakyamuni was then called Rakei Sennin, the mountain sage whose hair looked like a conch-shell. While he was sitting immovably in upright posture like a tree, a magpie made a nest on his head and laid eggs. The sage thought that if he stopped sitting and moved, the mother bird would be frightened and not return, then the baby birds would die. Therefore he continued to sit without moving until the mother and the baby birds flew away. I cannot find any source about the spider’s web in the older texts.

This story tells that the bodhisattva practiced with all living beings including birds and insects and tried not to frighten or harm them. Even while he was sitting, he considered living beings as part of his life.

A modern commentator, Rev. Nanboku Oba, in his commentary on this waka, suggested that Dogen wrote this waka when he saw an old Buddha statue in an old shrine hall, probably by the roadside. Since the shrine was not cleaned for a long time, the statue was covered with dust and Dogen found a spider’s web on its face. Then he remembered the story of Rakei Sennin and imagined a magpie making a nest on the crown of the Buddha’s head.

Since a waka is a short poem, it is not possible to describe the situation in detail within the poem. Readers need to or can use their imagination to interpret a waka poem like this.

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Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

> Other Waka by Dōgen


Copyright 2016 Sanshin Zen Community