Tag Archives: Impermanence

Transience Within Boundless Nature

Today, we repost a commentary by Okumura Roshi as one possible way to reflect on recent events.

 

無常
Impermanence

世中は Yononaka wa To what can this world
何にたとへん nani ni tatoen be compared?
水鳥の mizudori no The moonlight
はしふる露に hashi furu tsuyu ni reflected in water drops
やどる月影 yadoru tsukikage splashed from a waterfowl’s beak.

 

This is the tenth waka in the 13 addendum waka in the Shunjusha text. It appears only Menzan’s Sanshodoei collection. It is not certain where Menzan found this verse; if it was composed by Dōgen, he expressed the beauty of impermanence and his insight regarding the interpenetration of impermanence and eternity.

A waterfowl dives into the water of a pond and comes up to the surface. It shakes its bill; water drops are splashed. In each and every one of the droplets, the boundless moonlight is reflected. The water drops stay in the air less than a moment before returning to the pond. Each of them is as bright as the moon itself.

Dōgen sees the scenery in the moment a waterfowl shakes its beak and water drops are splashed. Each and every droplet reflects the boundless moonlight. He thinks our lives in this world is the same. Our lives are as impermanent as the water drops, and yet, as he wrote in Genjōkōan, the boundless moonlight is reflected. In Shōbōgenzō Hotsubodaishin (Arousing Bodhi-mind), Dōgen wrote:

Our lives arise and perish within each ksana. Their swiftness is like this. Moment after moment, practitioners should not forget this principle. While being within this swiftness of the arising and perishing of transmigration in each ksana, if we arouse one single thought of ferrying others before ourselves, the eternal longevity [of the Tathagata] immediately manifests itself.

From the end of the Heian Era (794 – 1192) to the beginning of the Kamakura era (1192 – 1333), Japan experienced a transition in social structure and political power. The emperor’s court had been losing its power and the warrior (samurai) class had been getting more and more powerful. In the process of the growth of the warrior class, there were numberless civil wars between the Taira clan and the Minamoto clan, even in the capital, Kyōto. Finally in the end of twelfth century, the Shogunate government was established in Kamakura by Minamoto Yoritomo. Concurrent with this transition in society were lots of natural disasters. People saw piles of dead bodies on the bank of Kamo River in Kyōto. They believed that the age of final-dharma (mappo) had begun in 1052. They saw the impermanence of society and also people’s lives.

In the very beginning of the famous Tale of the Heike it is said:

The sound of the Gion Shoja bells echoes the impermanence of all things; the color of the sala flowers reveals the truth that the prosperous must decline. The proud do not endure, they are like a dream on a spring night; the mighty fall at last, they are as dust before the wind.[1]

“Gion Shoja” refers to the Buddhist monastery in India and “sala flower” refers to the flower of the sala tree in Kushinagara where Shakyamuni passed away. It is said that when Shakyamuni passed away, the sala trees gave forth flowers in full bloom out of season.

Dōgen’s contemporary, Kamo no Chomei (1153 – 1216), wrote an essay entitled Hojoki (My Ten-Foot Hut) in 1212, one year before Dogen became a monk at Enryakuji in Mt. Hiei. Chomei wrote about the situation in the capital, Kyōto. He recorded that they had many natural disasters such as great fires, whirlwinds, typhoons, earth quakes, etc. beside the destruction caused by the civil wars between Heike and Genji clans. In the beginning of Hojoki he wrote:

[1] Though the river’s current never fails, the water passing, moment by moment, is never the same. Where the current pools, bubbles form on the surface, bursting and disappearing as others rise to replace them, none lasting long. In this world, people and their dwelling places are like that, always changing.

[3] Nor is it clear to me, as people are born and die, where they are coming from and where they are going. Nor why, being so ephemeral in this world, they take such pains to make their houses pleasing to the eye. The master and the dwelling are competing in their transience. Both will perish from this world like the morning glory that blooms in the morning dew. In some cases, the dew may evaporate first, while the flower remains—but only to be withered by the morning sun. In others, the flower may wither even before the dew is gone, but no one expects the dew to last until evening.[2]

These are the well-known examples of people’s sense of transience and the vanity of life in the mundane world at the time of Dōgen. Dōgen’s insight into impermanence is very different from those pessimistic views of fleeting world. As he expresses in this waka, although seeing impermanence is sad and painful, still, that is the way we can arouse bodhi-citta (way-seeking mind) and also see the eternity within impermanence.

— • —

[1] Chapter 1.1, Helen Craig McCullough’s translation
[2] Translation by Robert N. Lawson, on Washburn University website

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

> Other Waka by Dōgen


Copyright 2020 Sanshin Zen Community

False and true, good and bad

  

Photo copyright©David S. Thompson

Dogen’s Chinese Poem (10)

「雪」

Snow

In our lifetime, false and true, good and bad are confused.
While playing with the moon, scorning winds, and listening to birds,
For many years I merely saw that mountains had snow.
This winter, suddenly I realize that snow completes mountains.[1]

生涯虚実是非乱 (生涯虚実是非乱りがわし、)
弄月嘲風聴鳥間 (月を弄び風を嘲り鳥を聴く間、)
多歳徒看山有雪 (多歳徒らに看る山に雪ありと、)
今冬忽覚雪成山 (今冬忽ちに覚る雪山を成すを。)

This is verse 10 in Kuchugen and verse 90 of volume 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dogen’s Extensive Record). It is the first of four poems about “snow” in Kuchugen. In Manzan’s version of this poem, there is one small difference in the first line:

生涯事事是非乱
In our life time, regarding each and every affair, good and bad are confused.

And the second line is quite different:
對物失眞虚實
Facing things, we [sometimes] lose true [principle] between false and genuine.

In our lifetime, false and true, good and bad are confused.

In Yogacara teachings, all of the experiences we had in the past have been stored as seeds in the 8th and deepest layer of our consciousness, called alaya. Alaya means storehouse; this is translated into English as storehouse consciousness. The 7th layer is called manas, which means discrimination, and sometimes is translated into English as ego consciousness. The 7th consciousness grasps the stored seeds in the 8th consciousness as “I.” This influences the first six layers of consciousness; the first five are consciousness caused by the mutual encountering of the five sense organs (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and body) and their objects (color, sound, smell, taste, and touch), and the 6th layer is the ordinary thinking mind. This is an explanation of how each of us, with our karmic consciousness, sees things in different ways, thinks differently, and makes different evaluations or judgements about things.

For example, in Shobogenzo Genjokoan, and also Shobogenzo Sansuikyo (Mountains and Waters Sutra), Dogen mentions that four different kinds of beings see the same water in different ways. Heavenly beings see water as jewels, human beings see water as water, fish see water as a palace, and hungry ghosts see water as raging flames or as pus and blood.

Even among people living in the same human realm, the same thing can be seen in very different ways, depending upon the person’s karmic conditions. When we are burning with thirst, water can be more valuable than any material treasure. In the East Asian countries where rice is grown as the main grain, having enough water in the summer is the most important element to get a good harvest. In ancient times, when the rice fields dried up during a long drought, farmers had to fight with others to get more water to their own fields. But when we have more than enough water, such as during a rainy season or when we are hit by a typhoon accompanied by heavy rain, or when we are struck by a tsunami after big earthquakes, we feel water is like a demon. About such happenings in nature, most people in the human realm share quite the same feelings.

However, in the case of subtler and more complicated situations, like incidents between people, each person sees things from their individual point of view, evaluates them differently, and even makes various stories, like people in Kurosawa’s movie, Rashomon. In this movie, a samurai was killed in the forest by a bandit. But the bandit, the samurai, and his wife tell very different stories about what happened. Not only those three people – even the woodcutter who finds the dead samurai and reports it to the police makes up his own story. In their made-up stories, each one of them is the hero or heroine. They make up their stories in such a way that they can be considered good or honorable people. According to the Yogacara teaching, that is the function of the seventh, the ego consciousness. This is how we see things in self-centered ways. Among people and even within ourselves, what is false or true, right or wrong is not always obvious. Still, we tend to consider the way we see things as absolutely right and others’ views as always wrong or distorted. It seems this kind of thing is happening many places in the world every day.

Religions used to be powerful systems that made their believers blindly believe in things according to their doctrines and judge other people as wrong or evil. However, it seems the same kinds of things are happening in the world of politics today. I think it is dangerous. People don’t trust others, don’t listen to other people who have different opinions, and simply call their voices fake.

While playing with the moon, scorning winds, and listening to birds,

We see the moon with different feelings depending upon the seasons and the situations in our lives. When we see the beautiful harvest moon and the clouds blown by the wind hide it, we want to scorn the wind. Listening to birds singing is the same; sometimes we feel cheered up, and sometimes we become saddened by them.

This is how our minds change depending upon the objects and the situation. We also see  external objects differently depending upon our psychological condition. Internal conditions and external views are working together. Our minds go up and down depending upon the stories we are making. When we study Buddhism, we may come to think that the views we have on each occasion change depending upon our karmic consciousness and the situation.

For many years I merely saw that mountains had snow.
This winter, suddenly I realize that snow completes mountains.

Thinking in the way I have just described above, we understand that external things and our psychological conditions are ever-changing, delusive, and impermanent. They are always floating and changing and therefore we cannot rely on them. The sceneries of the mountains – flowers in the spring, green leaves in the summer, tinged leaves in the autumn, and desolate bare trees covered by white snow – are the same as our delusive feelings influenced by the change of the situation. To be free from such impermanent and unreliable conditions, we might think we should see the mountain itself, before or beyond such transitory phenomenal conditions. We may pursue awakening to the reality beyond external impermanent things and beyond temporal mental conditions.

However, in this poem, Dogen says that he realized that there is no such substantial mountain which does not change in the process of the turning of the seasons. Rather the different sceneries of each season – flowers in the spring, the song of cuckoo in the summer, the shining moon in the autumn, and the snowy mountain in the winter – are themselves the true reality of mountains. And our mental conditions caused by these changes are the true reality of our lives at the moment, if we are not deceived and pulled by them. This is the meaning of Dogen’s waka poem entitled the Original Face:[2]

春は花    夏ほととぎす  秋は月   冬雪きえで  すずしかりけり
Haru wa hana / natsu hototogisu / aki wa tsuki / fuyu yuki kiede / suzushi kari keri

Spring, flowers
Summer, cuckoos
Autumn, the moon
Winter, snow does not melt
all seasons pure and upright

— • —

[1] Dogen’s Extensive Record 10-90, 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] See more about the poem Original Face here.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.


Copyright 2018 Sanshin Zen Community

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.

— • —

[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.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.


Copyright 2018 Sanshin Zen Community

Other than this, not a thought’s in my mind

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(c) Can Stock Photo / eskaylim

Dogen’s Chinese Poems (5)

「同(山居)」

Mountain Dwelling (3)

Sitting as the night gets late, sleep not yet arrived,
Even more I realize engaging the way is best in mountain forest.
Sound of valley streams enters my ears; moonlight pierces my eyes.
Other than this, not a thought’s in my mind.[1]

夜坐更闌眠未至 (夜坐更闌けて眠り未だ至らず、)
彌知辨道可山林 (彌いよ知る辨道は山林なるべし、)
溪聲入耳月穿眼 (溪聲耳に入り月眼を穿つ)
此外更無一念心 (此の外更に一念の心無し)

This is verse 5 in Kuchugen and verse 101 of vol. 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dogen’s Extensive Record, p.638), one of the poems about mountain dwelling. Line 4 in Manzan’s version is:

此外更須何用心  (此の外更に何の用心をか須いん。)

Beside this, nothing to pay attention in my mind.

更 (kou) is the word to measure the length of nighttime between sunset and sunrise. One night is divided into 5 kou. Therefore, the length of one kou varies depending upon the season. For example, when the nighttime is 10 hours long from 7pm to 5 am, one kou is two hours. The first kou is 7 – 9 pm; the second kou is 9-11 pm; the third kou is 11 pm – 1 am; the fourth kou is 1-3 am, and the fifth kou is 3-5 am.

In Bendoho (The Model for Engaging the Way), Dogen described how they practiced throughout day and night in the monks’ hall at Daibutsuji (later renamed as Eiheiji). A day of practice in the monks’ hall began with the evening zazen. Dogen wrote, “When evening zazen is supposed to end, during the second or third watch [kou] at either the first, second, or third portion according to the abbot’s direction, the han (a hanging wooden block) is sounded.”[2] It seems they sat until 11 pm or midnight.

Regarding the time when they woke up Dogen wrote, “Toward the end of night, hearing the sound of the han in front of the head monk’s office (which is sounded at the fourth or fifth part of the third watch [kou] or the first, second, or third part of the fourth watch [kou] according to the abbot’s decision), the assembly gets up gently, not rising precipitously.”[3] If it was the third part of the fourth watch [kou] – that is, the latest – they woke up a little before 3 am.

Sitting as the night gets late, sleep not yet arrived.” They are sitting until around midnight; Dogen says he is not yet disturbed by sleepiness. Rather, he feels that remote mountain dwelling in the forest is the best place to practice. He and his monks do not need to think or worry about any mundane affairs, but can really just be there and sit.

Sound of valley streams enters my ears; moonlight pierces my eyes.” Sound of valley stream – Buddha’s voice of teaching – comes into his ears, and boundless moonlight – Buddha’s bright and boundless wisdom – pierces his eyes. They are not the objects of his sense organs; he does not hear or see them. Separation between subject and object and interactions between them are not there. He is just sitting, the valley stream is just flowing, expounding the teaching without thinking, and the moon is simply shining in the sky without making discrimination between monks sitting and other people in the world.

Other than this, not a thought’s in my mind.” I practiced at Valley Zendo in the woods of western Massachusetts for about five years. Not many people knew the small Zendo. We did not have TV or radio, and we did not read the newspaper. We did not hear any news of the world unless visitors told us. We only thought of how we could make the land livable and how we can continue to practice zazen with five-day sesshin each month. I knew nothing about what happened in the world during those five years.

Our life there might have been similar to Dogen Zenji’s life at the newly built temple in the deep mountains in Echizen. While he lived at Koshoji in Fukakusa, even if he was not interested, I suppose that many people visited him, and talked about various things happening in the political world of the emperor’s court, or about the relations between the emperor’s court and the Kamakura Shogunate government. His family and relatives were right within such a mundane world. When he heard such things related to his family, I suppose he could not avoid thinking about such affairs. He might also need to think about the relations between his sangha and other Buddhist institutions, particularly the Tendai school.

After I went back to Kyoto from Valley Zendo, I lived alone at a small temple as the caretaker. Each day, after morning zazen, service, and breakfast, I had a cup of tea and read a newspaper. After five years of living without any information about the world, it was my pleasure. However, I found that many Japanese people watch TV for many hours a day, even while eating meals. It seemed that the “big news” happening around the world was much more real and important than people’s own nothing-special day-to-day lives. I thought that was a kind of up-side-down way of viewing things.

[1] (Dogen’s Extensive Record 10-101, p.639) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., wisdompubs.org.

[2] Dogen’s Pure Standards for the Zen Community: A Translation of Eihei Shingi (translated by Taigen Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, (State University of New York Press, 1996) p.64.

[3] Ibid., p.65

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Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

> More of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese Poems


Copyright 2018 Sanshin Zen Community