Tag Archives: Dharma

The Meaning of Not Spending 12 Hours in Vain

詠十二時中不空過之意

人しれず Hito shirezu Without telling others,
めでし心は medeshi kokoro wa I have been appreciating in my mind,
世の中の yononaka no nothing other than the mountains
and rivers,
ただ山川の tada yama kawa no in the autumn twilight
秋の夕暮れ aki no yugure in the world.

This is the third waka of the 13 addendum waka in the Shunjusha text. Dogen’s father, Minamoto Michitomo (1171 – 1227) was a well-known waka poet of the time and he was on the editorial board of compilation of the Shinkokin Waka-shu directed by Emperor Gotoba. The collection was once completed in 1020, but the selection was continued by the Emperor. Until Dogen was ten years old, his father was working on the selection of the almost two thousand poems. Another famous poet working on the Board was Michitomo’s friend Fujiwara Sadaie (Teika, 1162 – 1241).

In the Shinkokin Waka-shu, three famous waka about the beauty of the subtle profundity of autumn twilight (aki no yugure) are included. One of them was composed by Sadaie:

見わたせは / 花も紅葉も / なかりけり / 浦のとまやの / 秋のゆふくれ
miwataseba / hana mo momiji mo / nakarikeri / ura no tomaya no / aki no yugure

Looking over,
There are neither flowers nor tinted leaves,
[the only thing seen is] the rush-thatched cottage in the inlet
in the autumn twilight

It is said that appreciation of such serene beauty of the scenery in the late autumn, without any colorful decoration such as spring flowers or the tinted leaves of mid-autumn, was not found in Japanese poetry before the Shinkokin Waka-shu. This waka by Fujiwara Sadaie in particular has been widely appreciated as a typical expression of subtle profundity (幽玄yugen), or wabi(侘び) sabi(寂び)in later Japanese arts such as Noh theater, tea ceremony, renga (linked poem), and haikai (haiku).

In the season of spring, when there are flowers such as the cherry blossom, or in the mid-autumn with the spectacular mountains with autumn tints, many people go to see the luxurious beauty and enjoy the season. Often, they have parties to enjoy a day in nature and many poems are composed. After all such colorful and exciting beauty has gone, in the late autumn when people expect cold snowy winter to begin at any time, no one goes to see and enjoy such scenery. But in such serene, quiet, or rather lonely surroundings in the late autumn twilight, people found much more profound beauty. This beauty is not something we talk about it a loud excited voice in order to share it with other people. We quietly appreciate it within ourselves.

If this waka was composed by Dogen, what he wanted to express is not simply the appreciation of such sense of serene beauty. I think this waka expresses eko-hensho (回向返照). This expression is used in Fukanzazengi (Universal Recommendation of Zazen) and translated as “turning the light inward and illuminate the self.”

Although the meaning is fine in the context of Fukanzazengi, this is not a literal translation. A more literal translation is “turning the light and returning the illumination;” that is the description of the beauty of the sky after the sunset.

The sun has already set underneath the horizon, but the sunlight returns and illuminates the entire sky and makes it bright and beautiful. This is the time of transition between the daytime when people think and engage in various activities and the nighttime when people rest and sleep in the dark.

Zazen is like the evening twilight; the time of thinking is already gone but it is not complete darkness of non-thinking. Evening twilight in the late autumn expresses the beauty of zazen. Being settled down at such a serene time and illuminating the self is the way in which we don’t spend time wastefully.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura-roshi

> Other Waka by Dōgen


Copyright 2017 Sanshin Zen Community

Certain to Attain the Way

As Practice and Realization Are One

植て見よ Uete miyo Plant the tree!
花のそだたぬ Hana no sodatanu There is no village
里もなし Sato mo nashi where no flower grows.
心かようぞ Kokoro kayou zo The [bodhi-]mind will be penetrated
[with the buddhas’ minds],
身はいやしけれ Mi wa iyashi kere even though we are of humble birth.

This is the second of the 13 addendum waka in the Shunjusha text. This waka is included only in the Ryugenji version and the source is unknown. There is a verse almost the same in a collection of Ryokan’s waka compiled by Toyoharu Togo and published by Tokyo Sogensha in 1959 (waka number 638, p.108). This waka is widely known as Ryokan’s and is included in Great Fool : Zen Master Ryokan, Poems, Letters, and Other Writings by Ryuichi Abe and Peter Haskel. The waka in Ryokan’s collection is:

植えて見よ  /  花の育たぬ  /  里もなし  /  心からこそ  /  身はいやしけれ
uetemiyo / hana no sodatanu / sato mo nashi / kokoro kara koso / mi wa iyashikere

Go ahead, plant the seed!
There isn’t a village
Where flowers won’t grow.
The very notion of being “lowborn”
only comes from people’s minds.1

As you see, only the third line is slightly different (kokoro kayou zo / kokoro karakoso).

However, in the newer collection of Ryokan’s waka compiled by Toshiro Tanigawa and published by Shunjusha in 1996, this verse is not considered to be Ryokan’s own waka.2 It might be possible. Ryokan might have written a calligraphy of someone else’s waka but the owners of the piece thought that the verse was composed by Ryokan himself. There are many such examples. However, according to the Tanigawa’s collection, the source of this waka is not Dogen but the Mandai-waka-shu, one of the large collections of waka compiled in 1249 while Dogen was still alive. I tried to find this waka among the almost four thousand verses in the Mandai-waka-shu, but I gave it up.

It’s possible that this waka is neither Dogen’s nor Ryokan’s work However, if it was composed by Dogen, he wanted to say that there is no way that people cannot attain the Way if they practice. In Dogen’s time, the idea of mappo (the age of the Last Dharma) was very popular; people widely believed that because they lived in the degenerate age of the Last Dharma, even if they practiced it was not possible to attain the Way. That was one of the reasons Pure Land Buddhism became popular in medieval Japan. People believed the age of the Last Dharma began in 1052. However, Dogen did not agree with this theory.

In Shobogenzo Zuimonki, he acknowledged that many people believed in the age of the Last Dharma, saying, “Many people in the secular world say, ‘Although I have aspiration to study the Way, the world is in the age of the Last Dharma. People’s quality has been declining and I have only inferior capabilities. I cannot bear to practice being in accordance with the Dharma. I would like to follow an easier way which is suitable to me, to just make a connection [with the Buddha], and expect to attain realization in a future lifetime.’”

And Dogen expressed his counter-argument:

“Now, I say that this saying is totally wrong. In the Buddha Dharma, distinguishing the three periods of time — the age of True Dharma, Semblance Dharma, and Last Dharma — is only a temporary expedient. The genuine teaching of the Way is not like this. When we practice [following the teaching], all of us should be able to attain [the Way]. Monks while [Shakyamuni] was alive were not necessarily superior. There were some monks who had incredibly despicable minds and who were inferior in capacity. The Buddha set forth various kinds of precepts for the sake of bad people and inferior people. Each and every human being has the possibility [to clarify] the Dharma. Do not think that you are not a vessel. When we practice in accordance [with the Dharma], all of us should be able to attain [the Way]. Since we already have a mind, we can distinguish between good and bad. Since we have hands and feet, we don’t lack anything for doing gassho and walking. In practicing the Buddha Dharma, we should not be concerned with the quality [of people]. All beings within the human realm are all vessels [of the Buddha Dharma].3

Dogen’s opinion expressed as in this waka is that if we arouse bodhi-mind and study and practice the teaching, we are certainly able to attain the Way. This is one of the reasons he emphasized the identity of practice and realization. When we practice, realization is manifested right there. His saying about the mind agrees with what the Buddha said in the first two verses in Dhammapada:

(1) What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: our life is the creation of our mind.
If a man speaks or acts with an impure mind, suffering follows him as the wheel of the cart follows the beast that draws the cart.

(2) What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: our life is the creation of our mind.
If a man speaks or acts with a pure mind, joy follows him as his own shadow.4

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura-roshi

1 This is the translation in Great Fool: Zen Master Ryokan (translated with essays by Ryuichi Abe and Peter Haskel, University of Hawaii Press, 1996), p.211.
2 Ryokan Zenwakashu (The Complete Collection of Ryokan’s Waka, Toshiro Tanigawa, Shunjusha, Tokyo, 1996) p.409.
3 This is Okumura’s unpublished translation from the Choenji-version of the Zuimonki. Okumura’s translation of the same section in Menzan’s version is in Shobogenzo Zuimonk: Saying of Eihei Dogen Zenji recorded by Koun Ejo (Sotoshu Shumucho, 1988) p.154.
4 This is translation by Juan Mascaro (Penguin Books, 1973).

> Other Waka by Dōgen


Copyright 2017 Sanshin Zen Community

Nothing But the True Way

No Hindrance En Route to Samsara

たちよりて Tachiyorite I won’t stop by
かげもうつさじ kage mo utsusaji at [the bank] of Kamo river,
かも川に kamogawa ni so that my appearance is not reflected on it
みやこにいづる miyako ni izuru because I think
水とおもへば mizu to omoeba the water will flow into the capital.

Shōhaku Okumura has been translating Dōgen Zenji’s waka based on the text Dōgen Zenji Wakashu (A Collection of Dōgen Zenji’s Waka) included in Volume 17 of Dōgen Zenji Zenshu (The Complete works of Dōgen Zenji), Shunjusha, Tokyo, 2010). There are fifty-three waka poems in the main part of the text that were taken from Kenzeiki, a biography of Dōgen Zenji written by Kenzei (1415 – 1474). He was the fourteenth abbot of Eiheiji.

Among these poems, two composed close to his death are in the main text of Dōgen’s biography and other fifty-one waka are placed after the biography as an appendix. According to the postscript of the waka collection, these poems were collected and copied by the monk Kishun, the eighth abbot of Hokyoji, and presented to Kenzei’s master Kenko, the thirteenth abbot of Eiheiji, in 1420. When Kenko asked Kenzei to write Dōgen Zenji’s biography, probably he instructed Kenzei to include Dōgen’s waka.

In the Dōgen Zenji Zenshu, another thirteen waka are included as addendum. These thirteen waka were added by later people who made their own versions of the collection of Dōgen’s waka in the Tokugawa period (1603-1868). Even Kenzeiki was written about two hundred years after Dōgen’s death. We cannot find any information about Dōgen’s waka earlier than the Kenzeiki except that Keizan quoted one waka in his Dharma Words.

Modern scholars question whether these waka were truly composed by Dōgen. For example, Yoko Funazu, a scholar of Japanese literature, wrote, “There are no waka at all that we can prove were truly composed by Dōgen himself.”1 However, neither is there information available from which we can decide these waka were not truly written by Dōgen.

Okumura-roshi’s translations and comments on these waka attributed to Dōgen have assumed they were, indeed, Dōgen’s work. But since Roshi isn’t a specialist, he sometimes can’t determine which are truly Dōgen’s and which are not. Should evidence surface indicating that any of these are not Dōgen’s, then removing them from the collection won’t be an issue.

Beyond matters of authenticity, difficulty can also arise as to why Dōgen may have written a particular poem. Hojo-san says this waka is thorny in that way.

This one is the first of the thirteen additional waka in the Shunjusha text. It’s one of the two waka added in the Ryugenji version of the collection of Dōgen’s waka. We don’t know who made the collection and from where this waka was taken.

In this waka, Dōgen says that he does not want to even reflect his face in the river water because it will go into, or it came from, the capital city, Kyoto.

Bunji Takahashi, a scholar of Japanese literature who made the rendering to modern Japanese in the Shunjusha text, interprets “miyako ni izuru” as “came out of the capital.”2 In this case, Takahashi thought this poem was written while Dōgen was living at Koshoji in Fukakusa, which is south of Kyoto. However, Okumura does not think that’s the case.

If this waka was written by Dōgen, we suppose he composed it shortly after his ordination. He would have been 13-years old and living on Mt. Hiei. The mountain is located northeast of Kyoto. If this assumption is correct, the translation should be “will flow into the capital.”

The Kamo River flows from the northwest of Kyoto, merges with Takano River coming from northeast, and flows near the foot of Mt. Hiei, at the location of Shimogamo Shrine in the city of Kyoto. Then it goes to the south through the city of Kyoto and eventually merges with the Katsura River and Uji River and finally becomes Yodo River that flows to Osaka Bay.

If Dōgen lived north of the city as Mt. Hiei is, the water would go into the capital. And if he lived at Koshoji in Fukakusa, the water would come out of the capital.

While at Koshoji, would Dōgen have had such negative feelings about Kyoto that he’d think people there defiled the Kamo River — so much that he wouldn’t even reflect his face on its water? Roshi doesn’t think so. In Volume 8 of Eiheikoroku, there’s a section in which he wrote:

“However, I do not yearn for mountains and forests, and do not depart from the neighborhoods of people. Lotus flowers blossom within the red furnace; above the blue sky there is a white elm… Don’t you see that the morning marketplace and battlefield are the original place of awakening for complete penetration of freedom? Why aren’t taverns and houses of prostitution the classrooms of naturally real tathagatas? This is exactly the significance of the ancient wise one [Sakyamuni] departing from Bodhgaya, and previous worthies traveling to Chang’an.”3

This is probably what Dōgen thought when he established his first monastery, Koshoji, in the southern suburbs of Kyoto. He did not have such a negative feeling about the capital and the people who lived there. Rather, he wanted to practice right there with people who lived in samsara. Probably, he had some hope that if he offered genuine Dharma and its practice to the people in Kyoto, he would be accepted and supported. Unfortunately, later he was disillusioned and had to move to Echizen.

If this poem was really written by Dōgen, he probably expressed his determination to renounce his aristocratic family and the mundane world and devote himself to studying and practicing Buddha Dharma as a young monk on Mt. Hiei.

Okumura-roshi can see how Dōgen might have had such a rather childish, but extremely pure, resolution right after leaving home. But he doesn’t believe Dōgen continued such a discriminating and negative feeling against people living in Kyoto after returning from China and working to transmit the Dharma to Japan.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura-roshi

1 Sanshodoei no meisho, seiritsu, seikaku (Yoko Funazu, Dogen Shiso taikei vol. 6, Dohosha Shuppan, Kyoto, 1995), p.279
2 Volume 17 of Dogen Zenji Zenshu, Shunjusha, 2010), p.52
3 Dogen’s Extensive Record (Wisdom Publications), p. 498

> Other Waka by Dōgen


Copyright 2017 Sanshin Zen Community

Flowers for Buddhas

Offerings to Ornament the Sky

Flowers offered to the sky

© Can Stock Photo / sadakko

この心 Kono kokoro Together with this [bodhi]-mind,
天つ空にも amatsu sora ni mo [I] embellish the heavenly sky
花そなふ hana sonau with these flowers.
三世の仏に miyo no hotoke ni I respectfully offer them to all the buddhas
奉らなむ tatematsura namu in the three times.

“I embellish the heavenly sky with these flowers.” This sentence refers to a story of a bodhisattva in one of Shakyamuni Buddha’s past lives that appears in the Chinese Vinaya text.

When Dipamkara Buddha was in this world, there was a bodhisattva (the future Shakyamuni Buddha) who lived as a hermit. When he heard Dipamkara Buddha was coming, he wanted to offer flowers. He bought five stalks of lotus flower, spending all the money he had. When he threw the flowers to the Buddha as an offering, they stayed in the sky and were transformed into a flower canopy which covered the Buddha. The canopy continued to cover the Buddha wherever he went.

In Shobogenzo Hotsumujoshin (Arousing Unsurpassable Mind), Dogen refers to this offering of the five stalks of lotus flowers:

Taking it up in this way, we sit a buddha and we make a buddha; this is called arousing bodhi-mind. In general, as the causes and conditions of arousing bodhi-mind, we don’t take it up from somewhere else, rather we take up bodhi-mind itself to arouse this mind. Taking up bodhi-mind means that we hold a single stalk of grass and make it into a Buddha; we hold the rootless tree and making it into a sutra. We offer a handful of sand to a buddha and offer a bowl of drink to a buddha. We offer one ball of food to living beings and offer five stalks of [lotus] flowers to a tathagata.1

This mind (kokoro) refers to bodhi-mind. As bodhisattvas — people who have aroused bodhi-mind — we exchange all of our personal possessions for the lotus (dharma) flowers and throw them into the sky (emptiness) to offer them to the Buddha. Then our offerings stay in the sky as ornaments of the world of Buddha dharma. They don’t fall down to the earth, the ground of human desire.

Ryokan (1758 – 1831) was inspired by this waka of Dogen and composed his own:

鉢の子に Hachinoko ni In my begging bowl,
菫たむぽぽ sumire tampopo putting violets and dandelions
こき混ぜて kokimazete mixing together,
三世の仏に miyo no hotokeni Let’s respectfully offer them
奉りてな tatematsuri tena to all the buddhas in the three times.

While Ryokan was begging (takuhatsu) in a spring day, some children in the village wanted to play with him as usual. Ryokan started to pick violets and dandelions in the spring field with the children. He put the flowers in his begging bowl and told the children, “Let’s offer these pretty flowers to the buddhas.

Possibly on the same occasion, Ryokan composed another waka,

飯乞うと Ii kou to
わが来しかども waga koshi kadomo Although I came [to practice] begging for food,
春の野に haru no no ni I spent the whole day
すみれ摘みつつ sumire tsumitsutsu in a spring field,
時を経にけり toki o henikeri picking violets.

Even though they have no market value, violets and dandelions are pretty flowers in the field. Ryokan and the children picked them and put them in the begging bowl and made them offerings to the buddhas. The begging bowl is made receive offerings from people, but Ryokan used it to make offering to the buddhas. His practice of begging and playing with children were also his offering.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

1 Shōhaku Okumura’s unpublished translation.

> Other Waka by Dōgen


Copyright 2017 Sanshin Zen Community