Tag Archives: Eihei Koroku

Visiting teachers to ask about the way

Herbythyme [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Dōgen’s Chinese Poem (17)

「與禪人求頌」 (「禪人の頌を求むるに與う」)

Given to a Zen Person Asking for a Verse

Visiting teachers to ask about the way is practicing Zen.
This state of fine simplicity is transmitted from the ancients.
Who would begrudge [crossing] many thousands of rivers and mountains?
Returning home, the ground beneath your feet is always good.[1]

尋師訪道是參禪、 (尋師訪道是れ參禪、)
此段風流自古傳、 (此の段の風流古より傳わる、)
誰恨江山千萬疊、 (誰か恨みん江山千萬疊、)
還郷脚下悉良縁。 (郷に還れば脚下悉く良縁。)

This is verse 17 in Kuchugen and verse 64 of volume 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dōgen’s Extensive Record). This poem in Menzan’s version is quite different:

瞻風撥草要參禪 (瞻風撥草、參禪を要す
For yearning after [the ancestors’] wind and clearing away the weeds [of our minds], we need to practice Zen.
祖意明明妙不傳 (祖意明明なり妙不傳
The intention of the ancestral master is clear and wonderous, but not-transmitted
恨江山千萬疊 (恨むこと莫れ、江山千萬疊)
Do not regret [crossing] many thousands of rivers and mountains.
頭頭爲汝闢玄門 頭頭汝が爲に玄門を闢く
Each and every one of them opens the gate of profound [truth] for you.

 

Visiting teachers to ask about the way is practicing Zen.
This state of fine simplicity is transmitted from the ancients.

From the beginning of the history of Buddhism, Shakyamuni Buddha and his disciples were great travelers. They held a three-month practice period during rainy season. The rest of the year, they did not stay in any one place but travelled around. The Buddha encouraged his disciples to travel, saying:

“Go forth for the good of the many, the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the people of the world, for the good and happiness of gods and human beings. Let not two of you take the same road [so that the greatest number of people will be exposed to the teaching]. …There are in the world those whose eyes are covered by little dust, yet because they do not hear the teaching they are far from the Truth. [If they hear it] they will thoroughly understand the Truth. And I too will go to the village of Sena in Uruvela, there to preach the teaching.”[2]

Shakyamuni lived traveling in this way for about forty years, until the very end of his life. Even after monasteries were established, travelling was a very important part of the practice and teaching activities of Buddhist monks.

In the Chinese Zen tradition, the custom of the three-month summer practice period was maintained. Zen monks stayed at a monastery during the summer practice period, but the rest of the year they could travel. In the 8th century, Mazu (Baso) lived in Jiangxi (江西, Jp. Kosei) and Shitou (Sekito) lived in Hunan (湖南, Jp. Konan). These two were considered the two greatest masters of that period. Many monks traveled between their monasteries to attend their practice periods. Even today, practice period is called Goko-e (江湖会), after the names of where they lived. Since then, it is a common practice for Zen monks to travel seeking a teacher best for them. Many Zen koan stories are about making pilgrimage searching for a true teacher.

“This state of fine simplicity” is a translation of 風流 (Ch. fengliu; Jp. furyu) commonly translated as “artistic,” “tasteful,” “distinguished,” or “refined.” In this case, the word means the beyond-worldly, undefiled way of life transmitted from ancient times. Monks traveled only for the sake of searching out authentic teachers with whom to study the Dharma.

Who would begrudge [crossing] many thousands of rivers and mountains?
Returning home, the ground beneath your feet is always good.

Dōgen Zenji’s first trip seeking the Way was his walk in 1212 from Kohata, Uji to the temple his maternal uncle lived in near Mt. Hiei. According to Dōgen’s biography, Fujiwara Motofusa (his maternal grandfather) wished to adopt him, and was planning for the ceremony to celebrate his coming of age. But Dōgen secretly left home and visited his uncle Ryokan, who was a Tendai monk and lived at the foot of Mt. Hiei. Probably it took Dōgen less than half a day to walk there.

While Dōgen was studying as a novice at the Tendai monastery on Mt. Hiei, it is said that he had a serious question: If all living beings are inherently enlightened, why did buddhas and ancestors have to go through difficult study and practice? In Bendowa, he wrote,

“After arousing bodhi mind and beginning to seek the dharma, I traveled throughout this country and visited various teachers.”

Probably he visited teachers at the various temples on Mt. Hiei, teachers at Kojōin within Onjōji (Miidera), another main monastery of the Tendai school, located by Lake Biwa and near Mt. Hiei, and some teachers in Kyoto area, possibly including Eisai at Kenninji. Since Dōgen practiced at Mt. Hiei until he was seventeen years old, it is difficult for me to think that he could have traveled extensively outside of the Kyoto area. All of the above places are within the distance of a one-day walk.

When Dōgen writes, “travelling [crossing] many thousands of rivers and mountains,” he may be writing about his own experiences. In other works, he writes about his travel from Japan to China and about making pilgrimage in China. By the time he met his teacher Tiantong Rujing in the fifth month of 1225, he had traveled quite extensively – probably from the end of the summer practice period in the seventh month of 1224 until the beginning of the practice period in the fourth month of 1225. He visited many Zen monasteries and at least seven Zen masters. It seems he was disappointed because he did not find a true teacher for himself. But when he returned to Tiantong monastery, he found that a great teacher was waiting for him, the new abbot of the monastery, Rujing (Nyojo).

However, in this poem, he writes that all of the experiences he had during this pilgrimage were meaningful and appreciated. Traveling through many mountains and rivers, visiting many villages, towns, and cities, meeting with various people, and experiencing hard times and good times must have been a wonderful way of studying the Dharma in a very concrete way. The process of travelling was equally important and educational as achieving the goal, finding a true teacher.

I did not need to travel to find my teacher. A classmate at my high school allowed me to read Uchiyama Roshi’s book, and Roshi lived in Kyoto not far from where I lived in Osaka. After coming to the USA in 1975, I travelled from California to Massachusetts twice – once by car with several friends, and another time alone by Greyhound bus. I also travelled from Valley Zendo to New York City regularly to do sesshin there for a few years around 1980, sometimes by bus and other times by hitch-hiking. I studied many things about American people from those travel experiences.

From 1997 to 2010, I travelled much more extensively by airplane to visit many Zen centers in the USA from the West coast to the East coast, from Alaska to Florida. But traveling in the air is different than traveling on the earth. Sitting on a small seat in an airplane is not interesting at all. The only meaningful way to spend the time is reading a book or working on a laptop computer. I could do such things at my home much more comfortably.

— • —

[1] (Dōgen’s Extensive Record 10-64, p.626) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., www.wisdompubs.org.

[2] Gotama Buddha: A Biography Based on the Most Reliable Texts volume 1 (Hajime Nakamura, Kosei, 2000) p.285-286.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

> More of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese Poems


Copyright 2019 Sanshin Zen Community

Taking another step

(c) Can Stock Photo / flamiaki8

Dogen’s Chinese Poem (16)

「與禅人」

Given to a Zen Person

Clouds disappearing in the blue sky, a crane’s mind at ease;
Waves constant on the ancient shore, a fish swims slowly.
Who can focus their eyes on this vague edge?
From the hundred-foot pole, take another step.[1]

雲斷青天鶴意閑 (雲青天に斷えて鶴の意閑かなり、)
浪連古岸魚行漫 (浪は古岸に連なって魚の行くや漫なり、)
誰人眼著此参際 (誰人か眼を此の参際に著けん)
百尺竿頭一進間 (百尺も竿頭一進の間)

This is verse 16 in Kuchugen and verse 59 of volume 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dogen’s Extensive Record). This is the last poem titled “Given to a Zen Person” in Kuchugen. In Menzan’s version there is a slight difference in line 3:

設人著眼及斯際 (設し人眼を著けて斯の際に及ばば)
If someone focuses one’s eyes and reaches this boundary,

Clouds disappearing in the blue sky, a crane’s mind at ease;
Waves constant on the ancient shore, a fish swims slowly.

On reading this poem, I imagine Dogen Zenji standing on the rocky, coastal cliff facing the Japan Sea not far from Eiheiji. Clouds are disappearing and the entire sky is becoming completely blue. Only one white crane is flying in the clear sky. The coast seems as solid as if it has been existing there from ancient times without any change, and waves are incessantly breaking on the shore and retreating one by one. A fish is slowly and freely swimming underneath peaceful blue waves. The sky and the ocean are entirely blue, and only the crane and the waves breaking at the foot of the cliff are white. The entire world is beautiful and peaceful. Within the infinite sky and ocean, a crane and a fish – tiny living beings – are also peacefully and joyfully flying and swimming. Infinity and eternity and restless coming and going in impermanence are both there.

In Japan, traditionally the crane is a symbol of happiness and longevity. It is said a crane’s life span is a thousand years. Today, the origami (paper folding) crane is well known as a symbol of peace.

In Shobogenzo Zazenshin (Acupuncture Needle of Zazen), Dogen Zenji quoted the poem by Hongzhi Zhengjue[2] entitled Zazenshin and composed his own poem with the same title. At the end of his poem, Hongzhi wrote:

The water is clear to the bottom, a fish is swimming slowly.
The sky is infinitely vast, a bird is flying far away.[3]

The final part of Dogen’s Zazenshin is:

The water is clear to the earth, a fish is swimming like a fish.
The sky is vast and extends to the heavens, a bird is flying like a bird.[4]

It is clear that the motif of the first two lines of the poem to a Zen person derive from these other poems on zazen. They are a depiction of the scenery of our zazen. In his comments on Hongzhi’s Zazenshin, Dogen says that the water in which the fish swims is not the water in the external world. The water has no boundary, no bank or shore. A fish is swimming but we cannot measure how far is it moving, because there is no bank from which we survey it. The sky in which the bird is flying is not the space suspended in the firmament. The sky is never concealed or revealed and it has neither outside nor inside. When the bird is flying through the sky, it is flying the entire universe. When the bird is flying, the entire sky is also flying. In zazen, even though we are simply sitting immovably, right here and now, we are flying or swimming together with the entire universe. In this flying and swimming, there is no goal, no purpose, no task, therefore the crane’s mind is at ease, and the fish swims slowly in a relaxed manner.

It is true not only in zazen – in our daily lives we also live together with all beings in the entire world. Dogen Zenji writes in Genjokoan:

When a fish swims, no matter how far it swims, it doesn’t reach the end of the water. When a bird flies, no matter how high it flies, it cannot reach the end of the sky. When the bird’s need or the fish’s need is great, the range is large. When the need is small, the range is small. In this way, each fish and each bird uses the whole space and vigorously acts in every place. However, if a bird departs from the sky, or a fish leaves the water, it immediately dies. We should know that [for a fish] water is life, [for a bird] sky is life. A bird is life; a fish is life. Life is a bird; life is a fish.[5]

Kodo Sawaki Roshi said the same thing using modern colloquial expressions:

It’s impossible for a fish to say, “I’ve swum the whole ocean,” or for a bird to say, “I’ve flown the entire sky.” But fish do swim the whole ocean, and birds do fly the entire sky. Both killifish and whales swim the whole river and ocean. This isn’t a matter of quantity, but quality. We work with our bodies within only three square feet, but we work the whole heaven and earth.[6]

Who can focus their eyes on this vague edge?
From the hundred-foot pole, take another step.

“This vague edge” refers to the boundary between the fish and the ocean, between the bird and the sky, and between the ocean and the sky. We see the boundary but it is not clear, and actually there is no such definite boundary. All beings in the entire universe are living together with others at the intersection of absolute oneness and phenomenal multiplicity in the network of interdependent origination.

To see the emptiness of all beings, particularly ourselves, to be free from self-clinging, and to vow to live harmoniously together with all beings and the entire world is called dropping off body and mind. To do so, we need to take one more step at the top of the hundred-foot pole.

Unfortunately, because of our self-clinging, when we feel we have such a peaceful insight or experience, almost always, we think that “I” am able to see and experience such a great, beautiful, and peaceful reality. No other people can see the Dharma as clearly as “I” can. Or more commonly, we think that “I” am no good, “I” cannot reach and experience such a state. This is how we lose body and mind that is dropped off, and cling hard to the top of the hundred-foot pole. This is a caution from Dogen Zenji to a Zen person like us.

— • —

[1] (Dogen’s Extensive Record 10-57, p.624) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., www.wisdompubs.org.
[2] Jp. Wanshi Shokaku, 1091-1157
[3] Okumura’s unpublished translation.
[4] Okumura’s unpublished translation.
[5] Okumura’s translation (Realizing Genjokoan, Wisdom Publications, 2010) p.4.
[6] Okumura’s translation (Zen Teaching of Homeless Kodo, Wisdom Publication, 2014)

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

> More of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese Poems


Copyright 2019 Sanshin Zen Community

A dewdrop splashed.

Okumura Roshi has translated many of Dogen’s poems. This post originally appeared in 2013 and was one of the most-read posts of that year.

canstockphoto10777529

In the year he passed away, in the evening of the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month, Dogen composed the following poem.

又見んと   思ひし時の   秋だにも   今夜の月に    ねられやはする
mata min to / omishi toki no / aki da nimo / koyoi no tsuki ni / nerare yawasuru

I [was not sure] if I could expect to see the autumn again,
[Gratefully I can see] the full moon of this night,
How is it possible for me to sleep?

About ten days after arriving in Kyoto, on the night of 15th, he saw the beautiful full moon.

The 15th day of the 8th lunar month is called the mid-autumn, the center of the three months of autumn– that is, around the day of the autumnal equinox. In East Asian countries including China, Korea, Vietnam, and Japan, people celebrate the mid-autumn harvest moon festival.

At Eiheiji, Dogen gave formal dharma discourse on this day each year. He also had a gathering with his disciples for composing poems on this day. We can find one Chinese poem included in the Eiheikoroku:

The fifteenth night [full moon] of the eight month, facing the moon each person [in the assembly] composed a verse about the moon. This moon is not the moon of the heart, not the moon in the sky, not yesterday’s moon, not the night moon, not the round moon, and not the crescent moon. I suppose it is the autumn moon. How is it?

Although golden waves are not calm,
[the moon] lodges in the river.
In refreshing air it shines on high, and all the ground is autumn.
Reed flowers on the Wei River, snow on song Peak,
Who would resent the endlessness of the long night? ¹

In this year, he was not sure if he could live until the autumn. Because he could see the full moon in Kyoto where he was born and had grown up, he was very delighted and wanted to see the moon all night.

The moon was one of the important metaphors of the dharma he often used, such as moon in the dewdrop in Genjokoan. In one of his waka poems he wrote that this world is like a dewdrop splashed from a waterfowl’s beak staying in the air only for a few seconds and yet the boundless moonlight is reflected on it and it is shining like the moon itself.

Dogen passed away on 28th of that month in 1253.

¹Dogen’s Extensive Record, vol. 10, p. 629

Copyright 2019 Sanshin Zen Community

At the bottom of rushing waters

photo ©David S. Thompson

Dogen’s Chinese Poem (15)

「與禅人」

Given to a Zen Person

Who hates ignorance, which is simply the autumn dew?
From the beginning, true form is actually within this.
Its remains are hard to see at the bottom of rushing waters.
Bound up it’s easy to transform the self we receive.
[1]

無明誰惡唯秋露 (無明誰か惡まん唯だ秋の露、)
實相元來此裡眞 (實相元來此の裡に眞なり、)
留而難知流水底 (留めて知り難し流水の底)
結來變易承當身 (結び來ては變じ易し承當の身)

This is verse 15 in Kuchugen and verse 57 of volume 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dogen’s Extensive Record). This is the second of three poems titled, “Given to a Zen Person” in Kuchugen. This poem in Menzan’s version has slight differences in lines 1 and 3:

無明誰惡艸頭露 (無明誰か惡まん艸頭の露)
Who hates ignorance, which is dew on a blade of grass?

難知流水底(留め得て知り難し流水の底)
Even if possible to remain, it is hard to know what there is at the bottom of rushing water.

Who hates ignorance, which is simply the autumn dew?
From the beginning, true form is actually within this.

Ignorance is a translation of mumyo (無明), literally “lack of brightness (knowledge).” In Sanskrit, this is avidya. Avidya is the first of the twelve links of causation, and the root cause of suffering and transmigration within samsara. Because of ignorance, we cannot see reality as it is. We take action with distorted visions of things inside and outside of ourselves. In Yogacara teachings, it is like a person in the dark seeing a piece of rope as a poisonous snake and becoming frightened. In an opposite case, we might see something dangerous, and yet, because of a lack of knowledge or attentiveness, we ignore it. Influenced by such distorted views, we have desires to make things our possession or to escape from them. We take actions to fulfill such desires and our lives become chasing after some things which are desirable and escaping from other things we dislike. These are the functions of the three poisonous minds: greed, hanger/hatred, and ignorance. As a result, we make mistake after mistake and we lose the sight of the peaceful foundation of our lives.

“True form” is a translation of jisso (実相), which is an abbreviation of shoho jisso (諸法実相), true reality of all things, which comes from the second chapter of the Lotus Sutra. In my understanding, shoho jisso is the teaching that each and every unique, individual thing can exist as it is only in the relation with all other things throughout time and space. In the case of seeing a piece of rope as a snake and becoming frightened, by seeing it more carefully and mindfully, we may find it is not a snake but a rope, and further, we may discover the rope as a collection of some kind of fiber, therefore it is also empty.

This is a common understanding of “ignorance” and “true form” in Mahayana Buddhism. We need to become free from ignorance and see the true reality by attaining wisdom (prajna). Here Dogen is saying something one step further. For example, in Chapter 7 of the Vimalakirti Sutra, The Dharma-door of Nonduality, the bodhisattva Vidyuddeva declared, “‘Knowledge (vidya)’ and ‘ignorance (avidya)’ are dualistic. The natures of ignorance and knowledge are the same, for ignorance is undefiled, incalculable, and beyond the sphere of thought. The realization of this is the entrance into nonduality.”[2]

A bodhisattva has made a vow not to enter nirvana but to stay in samsara to walk with all living beings. For a bodhisattva to hate and escape from “ignorance” and to seek after “true form” is another duality, which creates another samsara within our practice. A bodhisattva who sees non-duality does not hate “ignorance,” because ignorance does not have self-nature, it is impermanent like dew on a blade of a grass in autumn. In the same way, a bodhisattva does not chase after “true form” to make it their personal possession. As Dōgen’s poem implies, when the sun rises, dew-like ignorance will disappear into the air. Water vapor in the air becomes dew on the grass and then returns to the air depending upon the temperature. “Ignorance” is empty, that is why the transformation from taking action based on ignorance to seeing true form is possible. Even when we see a rope as a poisonous snake, the poisonous snake does not really exist. We can see that both the snake and the rope are empty. We don’t need to be afraid of and escape from delusions caused by ignorance. In Gakudo-yojinshu (Points to Watch in Practicing the Way), Dogen Zenji says:

You must understand that we practice within delusions and attain realization before enlightenment. At that moment, you will comprehend that boats and rafts are merely yesterday’s dream and will be able to cut off your previous views based on words which bind you like a vine or a snake.[3]

Its remains are hard to see at the bottom of rushing waters.
Bound up it’s easy to transform the self we receive.

Depending upon the temperature and numberless other factors, water changes its form as vapor, dew, or ice. Our mind is the same. Unfortunately, in our case as immature bodhisattvas, the transformation from “ignorance” to “true form” is not thorough and decisive. Depending upon the conditions inside and outside of ourselves, our mind is rapidly changing its form, as vapor, dew, or ice. Our minds are like a rushing of waters. It is really hard to see what is at the bottom of our ever-changing mind conditions. Sometimes we feel we are free from the five aggregates of attachment (panca upadana skandha) by seeing their emptiness, but the next moment, our body and mind function in variety of self-centered ways as the five aggregates of attachment. The body and mind we received when we were born very easily transforms back and forth between self-centeredness and selflessness. That is the reason we need to practice mindfully and continuously, moment by moment. If we think that we are permanently free from ignorance because we had some sort of “enlightenment experience,” such an attitude can be the worst form of self-clinging.

— • —

[1] (Dogen’s Extensive Record 10-57, p.624) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., www.wisdompubs.org.

[2] The Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti: A Mahayana Scripture (translation by Robert A. F. Thurman, The Pennsylvania State University Press), p.74.

[3] Heart of Zen: Practice without Gaining-mind (Sotoshu Shumucho,1988), p.12.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

> More of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese Poems


Copyright 2019 Sanshin Zen Community

Dōgen’s question

© Nevit Dilmen [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Dogen’s Chinese Poem (14)

「與禅人」

Given to a Zen Person

Essence and expression are penetrating, before we glimpse the ground.
Arriving at this, who can be at peace?
Too bad the echo of wind in the pines doesn’t reach a deaf ear.
Dew from bamboo is repeatedly dropping in front of the moon.[1]

宗説倶通瞥地先 (宗説倶に通ず瞥地の先)
誰人到此可安然 (誰人か此に到って安然たるべき)
松風愧響聾人耳 (松風響きに愧ず聾人の耳)
竹露屡零納月邊 (竹露屡零ちて月邊に納る)

This is verse 14 in Kuchugen and verse 55 of volume 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dogen’s Extensive Record). This is one of the 3 poems titled “Given to a Zen Person” in Kuchugen. This poem in Menzan’s version has slight differences in lines 2, 3, and 4:

到此解參玄  (誰か能く此に到って參玄を解す):
Arriving at this, who can understand attending the profundity.
松風響聾人耳 (松風空しく響く聾人の耳):
The echo of wind in the pines is in vain to a deaf ear
竹露屡零月邊  (竹露屡かに零つ月の邊):
Dew from bamboo is repeatedly dropping by the cool moon.

 

Essence and expression are penetrating, before we glimpse the ground.
Arriving at this, who can be at peace?

“Essence and expression” is a translation of 宗説 (shu-setsu). 宗 (shu) is the original truth or reality beyond thinking, discriminating, conceptualizing, to which buddhas and ancestors awaken. 説 (setsu) is talking, expressing, explaining, teaching, or expounding the original reality.

When Shakyamuni Buddha completed awakening, he discovered the original reality, the Dharma, but he hesitated to share it with others. He thought it was too subtle, profound, fine, and difficult to perceive for people who are lost in desire, cloaked in darkness. But after being requested three times by the God Brahma, he made up his mind to teach. He said, “The gateway of ambrosia [deathlessness] is thrown open for those who have ears to hear.” What the Buddha taught using language to the five monks was the first turning of the dharma wheel. The Buddha’s act of teaching to lead others to the truth is 説 (setsu).

“To glimpse the ground” is a translation of 瞥地 (becchi) which means to take a glance at the truth. 瞥 (betsu) means to get a glance; that is, to see with half an eye, not thoroughly seeing. Dogen Zenji uses this expression in the beginning of Fukanzazengi (Universal Recommendation of Zazen):

Even if you are proud of your understanding, are enlightened in abundance, and obtain the power of wisdom to glimpse the ground of buddhahood; even if you gain the Way, clarify the mind, resolve to pierce heaven, that is only strolling on the border of the buddha way. You are still, almost always, lacking the vivid path of emancipation.

As the result of our personal efforts, we understand and feel, “I have some awakening experience to the truth,” but according to Dogen, such a result is just strolling on the border of the buddha way. It is not really entering the buddha way; something is still lacking.

In Genjokoan, Dogen Zenji says,

When the Dharma has not yet fully penetrated into body and mind, one thinks that one is already filled with the dharma. When the dharma fills the body and mind, one thinks that something is [still] lacking.

Here in this poem, Dogen is saying that even prior to such a small result of personal efforts, the essence and its expressions are always penetrating. Basically, what he is saying is the same with the several lines in the very beginning of Fukanzazengi:

Originally, the Way is complete and universal. How can we distinguish practice from enlightenment? The Vehicle of Reality is in the Self. Why should we waste our efforts trying to attain it? Still more, the Whole Body is free from dust. Why should we believe in a means to sweep it away? On the whole, the Way is never separated from where we are now. Why should we wander here and there to practice?

However, this does not mean we can be relaxed and at peace without making any effort. In the next paragraph of the Fukanzazengi, Dogen says we should continue to practice following the examples of Shakyamuni Buddha and Bodhidharma. Their practice is not for the purpose of gaining something.

Too bad the echo of wind in the pines doesn’t reach a deaf ear.
Dew from bamboo is repeatedly dropping in front of the moon.

松風 (shofu, or matsu-kaze) refers to soughing of the wind through pine trees. In Japanese poetry this expression was often used to express the solitary and serene scenery of a seashore. The sounds of the wind through the pine trees is the Buddha’s voice. However, unless our ears are open, we don’t hear the message from the Buddha.

竹露 (chikura, or take no tsuyu) is a drop of dew on a blade of bamboo leaves. When the temperature goes down below the dew point, water vapor in the air condenses to form droplets on the surface of the bamboo leaves. On each and every drop of dew, the moonlight is reflected. However, when sun rises and the temperature goes up, the dew drops will evaporate and disappear. Within a tiny drop of dew, boundless moon light is reflected, and yet it does not last long. As Dogen writes in Genjokoan, this is the expression of each and every phenomenal being including ourselves. This is the way all things are existing, not only for special enlightened people as the result of their personal efforts. However, if our eyes are not open, we don’t see the significance of Buddha’s radiant light.

According to Dogen’s biography, Kenzeiki, while he was studying at the Tendai monastery on Mt. Hiei as a novice monk, he had a question, “Both the exoteric and esoteric teachings say that, from the beginning [human beings are endowed with] dharma-nature. [We are] naturally the self-nature [buddha-]body. If so, why did all buddhas in the three times have to arouse [bodhi-]mind to seek awakening?” I think what he is saying in this poem is the answer to that question. We need to continue to study and practice and keep our eyes and ears open to see and hear the Buddha’s voice and body expressed in each and every phenomenal thing. By doing so, we don’t get anything, but we put ourselves on the ground of original reality.

— • —

[1] (Dogen’s Extensive Record 10-55, p.624) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., www.wisdompubs.org.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

> More of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese Poems


Copyright 2019 Sanshin Zen Community

Birds suffering in the cold

Ohara Koson [Public domain]

Dogen’s Chinese Poem (13)

「雪」

Snow

How can the three realms and ten directions be all one color?
Who would discuss the difference between human and heavenly beings?
Do not convey talk of birds suffering in the cold.
The lake with no heat of anxiety is on the snowy mountain.[1]

三界十方何一色 (三界十方何ぞ一色なる)
誰論天上及人間 (誰か論ぜん天上及び人間)
莫傳寒苦鳥言語 (傳うることなかれ寒苦鳥の言語)
無熱惱池在雪山 (無熱惱池は雪山に在り)

 

This is verse 13 in Kuchugen and verse 91 of volume 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dogen’s Extensive Record). This is the last of the four poems about “snow” in Kuchugen. Monkaku’s version and Menzan’s version of this poem are exactly the same.

How can the three realms and ten directions be all one color?
Who would discuss the difference between human and heavenly beings?

“The three realms” is a translation of tri-loka in Sanskrit. The three realms refer to the realm of desire (kama-dhatu), the realm of material (rupa-dhatu), and the realm without material (arupa-dhatu). In the first realm (desire) people are transmigrating within six realms, or divisions (hell, the realms of hungry ghosts, of animals, asura, humans, and the six kinds of heavenly beings) depending on the karma they made in the previous lifetime. Beyond the six realms composing kama-dhatu, there are two more realms— realms of meditation with and without material things. Together, the three realms are samsara, in which living beings are transmigrating. “The three realms” is also used as a common Buddhist term for “everywhere” or “the whole world.”

“The ten directions” is a translation of the Sanskrit word, dasadis, that is, the four cardinal directions (north, east, south, west), the four intermediate directions (northeast, southeast, southwest, northwest), and the zenith and nadir. This also refers to the entire world. However, this expression is often used to refer to all buddhas or all buddha-lands in the entire ten-direction world.

Here, Dogen uses “the three realms” for the entire world in which all living beings are transmigrating in samsara, and “ten directions” for the entire world as buddha-land. In the very beginning of Shobogenzo Hokke-ten-hokke (The Dharma-flower Turns the Dharma-flower), Dogen writes, “‘Within the buddha-lands in the ten-directions’ is ‘only being’ of the Dharma-flower. (十方佛土中者、法華の唯有なり。)” Both “the three realms” (samsara) and “the ten directions” (buddha-lands) are the entire world. It is not a matter of there being two entire, different worlds separate from each other. Yet, samsara and buddha-lands are different depending upon our attitudes toward our lives.

During the winter in Echizen where Dogen lived, the entire world is covered completely with white snow. It becomes a world of “one color,” non-discrimination. There is no distinction between samsara and nirvana. It is without question that there is no separation between the realms of human and heavenly beings. Depending upon how we live, the entire world becomes the world of suffering and transmigration in samsara, or the buddha-land. These are not two separate places and yet they are different.

Do not convey talk of birds suffering in the cold.
The lake with no heat of anxiety is on the snowy mountain.

“Birds suffering in the cold” is a translation of kankucho (寒苦鳥). It is said there is an imaginary bird with such a name in the Himalaya (雪山, Snowy Mountain), although I don’t find any reference to the Sanskrit name of this bird in the scriptures. In Japanese Buddhist texts, this bird is mentioned. There is a pair of these birds living in the high snowy mountains in the Himalaya region. In the night, when it is extremely cold, the female bird repeatedly says, “Cold is killing me. Cold is killing me.” Then the male bird says, “Let’s make a nest tomorrow. Let’s make a next tomorrow.” However, when the sun rises and it becomes warm, they forget the plan of making a nest, and just enjoy the daytime. When night comes again, they complain in the same way. They repeat this every day and every night though their entire lifetime. When they suffer with cold, they complain and make up their minds to make a nest where they can sleep comfortably, but when the sun rises and it becomes warm, they forget about the cold night, and their plan to make a nest is never carried out.

The way these birds live refers to the life of samsara. When we have sad or painful experiences, we make a resolution to study and practice the Dharma to find a path for liberation. But when the difficult time is over, we forget such a resolution. And we repeat this again and again. That is why Dogen says we should not convey the birds’ message; once you arouse bodhi-mind, we should make a determination to study and practice single-mindedly.

“The lake with no heat of anxiety” (無熱惱池) is a translation of Anavatapta, which means “no heat or fever.” In Indian cosmology, there is a huge lake on the northern side of Himalaya mountains named Anavatapta, which is the source of the four great rivers in India: the Ganges, Indus, Oxus, and Sita. It is said that in the lake a dragon king whose name is Anavatapta is living. “No heat of anxiety” means no suffering. What Dogen is saying here is that the place where the birds are suffering in the cold and the lake of no suffering are both in the same place, the Himalaya. Probably this poem has something to do with the koan Dogen discusses in Shobogenzao Shunjuu (Spring and Autumn):

Once, a monk asked Great Master Dongshan Wuben, “When cold or heat comes, how should we avoid it?”
The master said, “Why don’t you go to the place without cold and heat?”
The monk said, “What is the place without cold and heat like?”
The master said, “When it’s cold, kill the acarya with cold. When it’s hot, kill the acarya with heat.”[2]

I suppose Dogen composed this poem to admonish and encourage the monks in his assembly and himself during the cold and gloomy winter in Echizen. Once we begin to complain about the conditions we are practicing in, our life becomes samsara and we want to escape. However, when we settle down right there and find something interesting and meaningful, the same place can be the buddha-land.

I studied this when I lived in Massachusetts. The winter in western Massachusetts is much colder and longer than winter in the Osaka and Kyoto area in Japan, where I grew up and had lived most of my life. In Massachusetts, during the transition between winter and spring, we had some warmer days like a sign of spring but then we had snow and ice on the road, again and again. In the first few years, I felt depressed and had some difficulty enjoying that time of the year. The only thing I could do was keep sitting until the real spring wind began to blow.

— • —

[1] (Dogen’s Extensive Record 10-91, p.636) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., www.wisdompubs.org.

[2] Okumura’s unpublished translation.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.


Copyright 2019 Sanshin Zen Community

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.

— • —

[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