Tag Archives: Compassion

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

Misspent Time

Poem on “Squandering Our One Life”

Bored man at desk

徒らに Itazura ni
過す月日は Sugosu tsukihi wa Though we dawdle away
多けれど Okeredo many of nights and days,
道をもとむる Michi wo motomuru the time we seek the way
時ぞすくなき Toki zo sukunaki is so rare.

In the waka posted Oct. 9, Roshi introduced the three aspects of arousing Bodhi-mind:
1. Wisdom: Seeing impermanence and not spending time wastefully.
2. Compassion: Helping all living beings to arouse bodhi-mind.
3. Maintaining the Tradition: Esteeming and protecting daily activities according to the buddha-ancestors’ great Way.

Even though we have aroused Bodhi-mind by witnessing the sickness, aging, or dying of our loved ones, or by our own experience of facing the reality of impermanence, we often lose sight of it and engage in so many miscellaneous things attractive to us. Although we understand that we have no time to waste, we often want to escape from facing impermanence and seek something that gives us temporary excitement and joy even though we know such things will not give us the stable foundation of our lives. Or, we find ourselves with so many responsibilities and obligations in our family lives, related to our work, and as members of the larger society. We forget the Way and make ourselves too busy, or conversely we become too lazy to do anything.

We need to think how we can keep the stable foundation of our lives. In Shobogenzo Zuimonki, 3-14, Dogen instructs:

“It goes without saying that you must consider the inevitability of death. This principle goes without saying. Even if we don’t consider this [right now], we should be resolved not to waste time and refrain from doing meaningless things. We should spend our time carrying out what is worth doing. Among the things we should do, what is the most important one? We should understand that all deeds other than what the buddhas and ancestors have done are useless.”

What Dogen talks about here is the third aspect of bodhi-mind. This is his admonition to the monks practicing at his monastery. Monastic practice is designed to maintain the traditional way of life. Some of these traditions originated from Indian Buddhist monastic practice, others are from the customs in Chinese or Japanese Zen monasteries. Zazen, doing various services or ceremonies, community work called samu to support the community life, studying Dharma teachings, etc. Dogen encourages monks to maintain these traditional practices without being pulled by personal desires or bonds with the mundane world.

Most of American Zen practitioners are not living in monasteries. We need to consider how can we spend our day-to-day lives without wasting time. Although “not wasting time” sounds like always working hard pursuing efficiency more and more like a workaholic, to be most intimate with the Way means to be mindful and peaceful, here and now, with what we are doing.

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Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

> Other Waka by Dōgen

Copyright 2016 Sanshin Zen Community