Tag Archives: Impermanence

False and true, good and bad


Photo copyright©David S. Thompson

Dogen’s Chinese Poem (10)



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:

In our life time, regarding each and every affair, good and bad are confused.

And the second line is quite different:
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)


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


(c) Can Stock Photo / eskaylim

Dogen’s Chinese Poems (5)


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

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

Waka by Dōgen

Copyright 2018 Sanshin Zen Community

With wholehearted vigor

(c) Can Stock Photo / romvo

Dogen’s Chinese Poem (4)


Mountain Dwelling (2)


幾悦山居尤寂莫 (幾くか悦ぶ山居尤も寂莫たるを、) How delightful, mountain dwelling so solitary and tranquil.
因斯常讀法華經 (斯れに因って常に讀む法華經、) Because of this I always read the Lotus Blossom Sutra.
專精樹下何憎愛 (專精樹下何ぞ憎愛せん、) With wholehearted vigor under trees, what is there to love or hate?[1]
妬矣秋深夜雨声 (妬ましきかな秋深き夜雨の声) How enviable; sound of evening rains in deep mountain.[2]

This is verse 4 in Kuchugen and verse 99 of vol. 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dogen’s Extensive Record, p.638), one of the verses about mountain dwelling. Line 4 in Manzan’s version is different:

月色可看雨可聽  (月色は看るべし雨は聽くべし)
The moonlight is seen and the sound of raindrops is heard.

Dogen is delighted to live in a deep mountain in Echizen in order to practice with his sangha without interruption from mundane affairs. It is peaceful and quiet. They only hear the sounds of raindrops in the evening.

“Reading the Lotus Blossom Sutra” does not necessarily mean to read or recite the written text of the Mahayana scripture. Just living, practicing zazen, and doing daily activities mindfully in the mountain is itself hearing and reciting the Lotus Sutra. Dogen says in his waka poems on the Lotus Sutra:

Throughout night, /All day long, / Everything we do following the way of Dharma, / Is the sound and the heart of this Sutra.

In the valley, vibrating sounds, / On the peak, monkeys’ intermittent chattering, / I hear them as they are / exquisitely expounding this sutra.

Colors of the mountain peak / and echoes of the valley stream / all of them as they are / are nothing other than / our Shakyamuni’s / voice and appearance.

The third line of this poem: “With wholehearted vigor under trees, what is there to love or hate?” refers to a verse from the 19th chapter of the Lotus Sutra, The Blessing of the Dharma Teacher (法師功徳品):

The whole group of monks
Always persevering for the Dharma,
Whether sitting or walking around,
Reading or reciting a sutra,
Or devoting their energies to Meditation
Beneath trees in the forest…[3]

In this chapter, the merits of dharma teachers, either monks or lay people, who receive and maintain, read, recite, explain to others, or copy the Sutra, are expounded. The Sutra says that when dharma teachers practice in such a way, their six sense organs will become pure and clear. In the case of the eye,

“Such good sons or good daughters, with the pure physical eyes received from their parents at birth, will see what ever exists, whether exposed or hidden, in the three-thousand great thousandfold world – the mountains, forests, rivers, and seas down to the deepest purgatory and up to the highest heaven.”[4]

Those dharma teachers’ eyes can function as the heavenly eye, that is, one of the six divine powers. When they see with purified eyes, the objects of their eyes can be seen as they are, pure and clear. The practitioners and things outside are working together to purify their entire ten direction world. I think this is the same rhetoric as when Dogen writes about his zazen as jijuyu-zanmai in Bendowa:

When one displays the Buddha mudra with one’s whole body and mind, sitting upright in this samadhi even for a short time, everything in the entire dharma world becomes Buddha mudra, and all space in the universe completely becomes enlightenment.[5]

The person’s zazen influences all beings including Buddha-tathagatas. Their dharma joy will be increased and the adornment of the way of awakening will be renewed. All beings in the entire world will become clear and pure in body and mind, realize great emancipation, and their own original face appears. And they begin to turn the dharma wheel and express the ultimate prajna. Then their awakening returns to the person sitting, and the zazen person and the enlightenment of all things assist each other. At this time, earth, grasses and trees, fences and walls, tiles and pebbles, all things in the dharma realm in ten directions carry out buddha work.

Dogen says one person’s zazen influences all beings in the entire world; the zazen person’s entire world will be transformed. And the transformed world influences  the zazen person.

“Reading the Lotus Blossom Sutra” can mean practicing zazen and other activities wholeheartedly; then all things including themselves begin to expound the Dharma. The zazen people will be released from any dichotomies such as love and hate.

To me, it is difficult to understand line 4, particularly the word “enviable,” because being enviable belongs to the realm of love and hatred. Manzan’s version makes more sense to me. The moonlight is just seen and the sound of raindrops is simply heard without being influenced by love or hate. However, in this case, since seeing the moonlight and hearing the sound of raindrops cannot be done at the same time, this poem becomes the expression of his “thinking” about the mountain dwelling, instead of the description of things happening at that very moment.


[1] “With wholehearted vigor under trees” is a quote from the Lotus Sutra chap. 19, “The Merit of Dharma Teachers”: “At the foot of trees in a forest, with single-minded vigor sitting in dhyana.” See Hurvits, Scripture of the Lotus Blossom of the Fine Dharma, p.272.
[2] (Dogen’s Extensive Record 10-99, p.638) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., www.wisdompubs.org.
[3] Translation by Gene Reeves in The Lotus Sutra (Wisdom, 2008) p.329
[4] The Lotus Sutra p.321
[5] Translation by Shohaku Okumura and Taigen Daniel Leighton in The Wholeherted Way (Tuttle, 1997) p.23

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

Waka by Dōgen

Copyright 2018 Sanshin Zen Community

Polishing the moon, cultivating clouds

photo (c) David S. Thompson

Dogen’s Chinese Poem


「山居」(門鶴本 10−100)

Mountain Dwelling

西來祖道我傳東 (西來の祖道我東に傳う、) The ancestral way come from the west I transmit east.
瑩月耕雲慕古風 (月を瑩き雲を耕して古風を慕う、) Polishing the moon, cultivating clouds,
I long for the ancient wind.
世俗紅塵飛 (世俗の紅塵飛んで豈に到らんや、) How could red dusts from the mundane world fly up to here?
深山雪夜草庵中 (深山の雪夜草庵の中。) Snowy night in the deep mountains in my grass hut.[1]

This is verse 3 in Kuchugen and verse 100 of vol. 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dogen’s Extensive Record).

There is an important difference in the first word of line 2 of Manzan’s version.

月耕雲 (月に釣り雲に耕す)
Fishing for the moon, cultivating the clouds,

This is the same in verse 12 of Dogen Zenjji Goroku, selected sayings from Eihei Koroku.

Since Manzan’s version of Eihei Kouroku was published as a woodblock printing, and Kuchugen spread Manzan’s version of Dogen’s Chinese poems, this phrase, “Fishing for the moon, cultivating the clouds” (月耕雲, chogetsu koun) has been widely known as Dogen Zenji’s expression. This phrase has been often quoted and also many people made calligraphies of this phrase. Dainin Katagiri Roshi used these phrases in the names of his two temples in Minnesota; Koun-zan Ganshoji and Chogetsu-zan Hokyoji.

However, this is not Dogen’s original expression. The important Chinese Soto Zen master Hongzhi Zhengjue (Wanshi Shogaku, 1091–1157) used this expression in his verse included in vol. 8 of Wanshi Zenji Koroku (宏智禅師広録, Hongzhi’s Extensive Record).

Hongzhi also used the similar expression 耕雲種月 (koun shugetsu), cultivating underneath the clouds, planting seeds in the moon light. This expression is also well known in the Japanese Soto Zen community because it was used by the famous monk poet Daichi Sokei (1290-1366) in his poem.

In the Monkaku version of Eihei Koroku, the first kanji in the phrase is different. 月耕雲 (keigetsu koun) instead of 月耕雲. A question is which was Dogen’s intention? Did Dogen use Hongzhi’s phrase without any changes or with a slight twist? Another question is: what do these phases mean?

The meaning of 耕雲種月 (koun shugetsu) is clear. 種 (shu) means “seeds” or “to sow seeds.” This phrase describes a farmer’s diligent hard work. The farmer cultivates the field during the daytime underneath the clouds, and sows seeds in the moonlight. He works all day until evening. This phrase describes monks’ diligent, continuous practice.

月耕雲 (chogetsu koun) can be interpreted in two ways. The first is the same as the above. A fisherman is fishing in the moonlight and a farmer is cultivating the field underneath the clouds. This means the monks are practicing diligently day and night, the same as the fisherman and the farmer working in their respective places.

The second possible meaning is “Fishing for the moon and cultivating the clouds.” Both the moon and clouds are objects of the verbs, fishing and cultivating. In this case, monks are doing different kinds of work from that of the fisherman and the farmer. The monks are fishing for the moon, the true reality of all things or the universal truth; and cultivating clouds, the field of emptiness.

In the case of 月耕雲 (keigetsu koun), obviously the moon and clouds are the objects of the verbs. means “clear,’” “bright,” “shine,” or as a verb, “to polish.” The monks’ practice is polishing the full moon that is already perfectly clear and bright, and cultivating the field of emptiness. I think this expression is suitable to Dogen’s insight about the identity of practice and verification.

This is one of Dogen’s 15 poems about mountain dwelling (山居, sankyo), written after moving to Echizen. Dogen describes his practice with his sangha in the deep mountains during a cold, snowy winter night. He and his monks quietly practice the ancestral way transmitted from the west by Bodhidharma and further transmitted to Japan by Dogen himself. Their practice is like polishing the full moon that is already perfectly bright and clear, not like polishing a mirror to take off the dust. Their practice is also like cultivating the field of emptiness that is like clouds. This is the practice following the ancient ancestor Bodhidharma’s style of practice, no-gaining. “Ancient wind” here means ancient style of practice. Within this practice, there is no way the dust of the mundane world can sneak in. In the deep mountains, it is snowing quietly. Since the poem includes the phrase “in my grass hut,” this poem might have been composed within their first winter in Echizen in 1243 before the new monastery building was constructed.

When I practiced with two dharma brothers at Valley Zendo in the woods in Western Massachusetts, I often remembered this poem. Especially in the quiet evening in the winter, when the ground was covered by deep snow and illuminated by the bright full moon, I felt I did not belong to any man-made system or organization, but practiced together only with the moon, snow, mountains and trees.

[1] Dogen’s Extensive Record 10-100, p.638 © 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.

Waka by Dōgen

Copyright 2018 Sanshin Zen Community


(c) Can Stock Photo / glopphy

Dogen’s Chinese Poem

生死可憐休又起、 生死憐れむべし休して又た起こる、 In birth and death we sympathize with ceasing then arising.
迷途覚路夢中行、 迷途覚路夢中に行く、 Both deluded and awakened paths proceed within a dream.
雖然尚有難忘事、 然りといえどもなお忘れがたき事有り、 And yet there’s something difficult to forget,
深草閑居夜雨声。 深草の閑居夜雨の声。 In leisurely seclusion at Fukakusa, sound of evening rain.[1]

This is verse 2 in Kuchugen and verse 69 of vol. 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dogen’s Extensive Record, p.627). There are some differences in lines 1 and 3 in Manzan’s version in Kuchugen:

The first line is:
生死可憐雲變更 (生死可憐れむべし雲の變更)
[Living in] birth and death is pitiful, [everything is] like [always] changing clouds.

The third line is:
唯留一事醒猶記 (唯一事を留めて醒めてなお記す)
Even in awakening, [there is] one single thing inscribed [in my mind].

In the first line of the poem, Dogen mentions the impermanence of human life, in which everything is always changing. We feel pity or sympathy for all living beings, including others and ourselves, who all experience rapid change and the reality that nothing can stay without changing. There is nothing we can rely on. The original word for “pitiful” or “sympathy” is “aware 憐れ” in Japanese, which was an important word for ancient Japanese poetry and aesthetic sense. “Aware” or “monono aware” refers to the “appreciation of the fleeting nature of beauty.” Just so, in this poem, Dogen is not simply expressing the pessimistic feeling about impermanence. In Dogen’s teachings, “seeing impermanence” is not negative. In the first section of Gakudo-Yojinshu (Points to Watch in Studying the Way), he said,

“The Ancestral Master Nagarjuna said that the mind that solely sees the impermanence of this world of constant appearance and disappearance is called bodhi-mind. …. Truly, when you see impermanence, egocentric mind does not arise, neither does desire for fame and profit. Out of fear of time slipping away too swiftly, practice the Way as if you are trying to extinguish a fire enveloping your head. Reflecting on the transiency of your bodily life, practice as diligently as the Buddha did when he stood on tiptoe for seven days.[2]

The second line says, whether we are walking in the samsara that is the path of delusion, or the bodhisattva path of awakening, our life is like walking in a dream. In Buddhist texts, ‘dream” is used with at least two meanings. One is “sleeping and dreaming,” in opposition to awakening. When we are deluded, we feel that everything we think or experience is really happening. But when we awake, we see the emptiness of all things, that is, we see everything is like a dream. At the end of the Diamond Sutra, there is a verse that says:

“As a lamp, a cataract, a star in space
an illusion, a dewdrop, a bubble
a dream, a cloud, a flash of lightning
view all created things like this.”[3]

Whether we are deluded or awakened, our life is like a dream. Dogen Zenji wrote the following in Shobogenzo Muchu-setsumu (Expounding a Dream within a Dream):

“Because the wondrous Dharma of all buddhas is simply “only buddha together with buddha,” all things either in the dream or in awakening are true reality. Within awakening there are arousing bodhi-mind, practice, awakening, and nirvana; within dreaming there are arousing bodhi-mind, practice, awakening, and nirvana. Both dreaming and awakening are true reality.”

In the third line of this poem, Dogen says that in the bodhisattva way—  practicing with all beings both in samsara and in nirvana in which everything is like a dream— there is “something” difficult to forget (Monkaku-version) or “one thing” we should remember (Manzan-verson). There are three opinions in the commentaries regarding this “one thing (ichiji, 一事).”

According to the first interpretation, this “one-thing” is the sound of evening rain in Fukakusa. In this interpretation, the poem was written later, after he founded his own monastery Koshoji or Eiheiji. He is writing about his memory of the secluded life in Fukakusa.

The second interpretation is that this “one-thing” refers to Dogen’s determination to transmit the true dharma to Japan to save living beings. In Bendowa (Talk on the Wholehearted Practice of the Way), he wrote:

“After that, I returned home in the first year of Sheting (1227). To spread this dharma and to free living beings became my vow. I felt as if a heavy burden had been placed on my shoulders. In spite of that, I set aside my vow to propagate this, in order to wait for conditions under which it could flourish.”[4]

Bendowa was written in 1230 when Dogen lived in secluded life (kankyo) in Fukakusa. Although he had set it aside, he could not forget his vow to spread the dharma and save all beings.

The third is Sawaki Roshi’s interpretation. He said “one-thing (ichiji, 一事)” is an abbreviation of ichi-daiji (一大事, one great matter), which comes from the Lotus Sutra. In the Second Chapter of the Sutra, it says, “All buddhas, the world-honored ones, only because of the one great matter, appear in the world.” In this case, “one-thing” refers to teaching the true reality of all beings (shoho jisso, 諸法実相). All buddhas appear in this world to open the gate of the true-reality, show it, and allow all living beings to open their eyes and enter the gate living within the true reality. This true reality is that each and every individual beings are living in their own unique ways only within the network of interdependent origination.

The final line expresses that Dogen himself sitting in the hermitage, and rain falling outside the hermitage are both part of interconnectedness. This poem reminds me of a waka poem of Dogen’s entitled Jingqing’s Sound of Rain Drops:

Just hearing
without extra mind [that grasps them],
the jewel-like raindrops
dripping from the eaves
are myself.


[1] © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., www.wisdompubs.org
[2] Okumura’s translation in Heart of Zen: Practice without Gaining-mind (Sotoshu Shumucho, p.6)
[3] Translation by Red Pine, The Diamond Sutra, Counterpoint, p.27
[4] Okumura and Leighton’s translation in Wholehearted Way, Tuttle, p.20)

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Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

Waka by Dōgen

Copyright 2018 Sanshin Zen Community

Mountain Dwelling

In the mountains, and in samsara

山居 二首
Two poems on Mountain Dwelling

立よりて Tachiyorite I won’t stop by
かげもうつさじ kage mo utsu sa ji at the bank of the valley stream,
溪川の tanigawa no so that my appearance is not reflected on it.
ながれて世にし nagarete yo ni shi Because I think,
出でんとおもへば iden to omoeba the water will flow
into the world [of samsara].


Addenda 11 and 12 of the Shunjusha text of Dogen Zenji Wakashu (Collection of Dogen Zenji’s Waka) are titled “mountain dwelling (sankyo, 山居)” taken from a collection named Ryakugebon made by a monk named Kakugan (覚巖), who was the abbot of Entsuji in Okayama in the 19th century. We don’t know where Kakugan found these poems. Entsuji is the temple where the famous monk poet Ryokan practiced with his master Dainin Kokusen.

This waka is very similar to Addendum 1.

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

The wording is a little different after the third line, but the meaning is the same. I don’t think I need to write a comment on this waka.

Addendum 12 

山ずみの Yama zumi no The moon on the mountain brow
友とはならじ tomo towa naraji does not become a friend
峯の月 mine no tsuki of this mountain dweller,
かれも浮世を karemo ukiyo wo Because it is also moving around
めぐる身なれば meguru mi nareba the floating world [of samsara].


The meaning of this poem seems the same as Addenda 1 and 12. It seems Dogen is saying that he does not want to interact with the valley stream and the moon because they have connection with the mundane world. It is difficult for me to think Dogen has such a negative attitude toward the people in the mundane world. It is true that as a Zen Buddhist monk, Dogen put strong emphasis on renunciation of the fame and profit in the mundane world so that he does not rely on political and economic power. However his practice in the mountain is not an escape from the world. Also, he always loves the sounds of valley stream as Buddha’s voice and the moon as the boundless radiant light of the entirety of interdependent origination. 

If Dogen really composed this waka, I hope we can read it as follows:

The moon on the mountain brow
cannot [always] accompany 
this mountain dweller [alone],
because it needs to move around 
and [illuminate the people in] the world [of samsara also].

The moon and the valley streams illuminate and expound the Dharma, not only for monks practicing in the secluded mountain but also for the people in the mundane world.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

> Other Waka by Dōgen

Copyright 2017 Sanshin Zen Community