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Where chrysanthemums bloom

enrei-ka           Copyright©2019 Misaki C. Kido

Dōgen’s Chinese Poem (20)


Speaking of Aspiration with Brother Monks on the Ninth Day of the Ninth Month

Last year on the ninth month, leaving this place.
This year on the ninth month, coming from this place.
Stop dwelling on passing days, months, and years.
Look with delight in the undergrowth where chrysanthemums bloom.

去年九月此中去 (去年九月此の中より去り、)
九月今年自此來 (九月今年此れ自り來る)
休憶去來年月日 (去來の年月日を憶うこと休みね、)
懽看叢裡菊花開 (懽び看る叢裡菊花開けたり。)

This is verse 20 in Kuchugen and verse 75 of volume 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dogen’s Extensive Record). There are differences in the title, the third, and the fourth lines of this poem in Manzan’s version.

Meeting again with Brother Monks on the Ninth Day of the Ninth Month

去年九月此中去 (去年九月此の中より去り)
[You] left here in the ninth month of last year.
九月今年自此來  (九月今年自ら此に來る)
[You] come here in the ninth month of this year.
拈卻古來年月日 (來の年月日を拈卻し)
Taking up the days, months, and years that have gone,
凭欄一笑菊花開  (欄に凭って一笑すれば菊花開く)
Leaning on the handrail and laughing with each other, chrysanthemums bloom.


Last year on the ninth month, leaving this place.
This year on the ninth month, coming from this place.

“The ninth day of the ninth month” is called choyo (重陽, Ch. chongyan), one of the five seasonal festivals called sekku (節句): the seventh day of the first month (人日, jinjitu), the third day of the third month (上巳, joshi / jomi), the fifth day of the fifth month (端午, tango), the seventh day of the seventh month (七夕, tanabata), and the ninth day of the ninth month (重陽, choyo). These were considered days marking changes in the seasons. The dates and names came from China, but Japanese people had developed these festivals for praying for the well-being of people during each season. On each occasion people offered certain seasonal flowers and foods. March 3rd (Girls’ Festival / Dolls’ Festival), May 5th(Boys’ Festival / Iris Festival), and July 7th (Star Festival) are still observed today.

Choyo (重陽) literally means “double yan” because 9 is the largest odd number that is considered yan (陽). Even numbers are considered as yin (陰). This day is called the Double Ninth Festival or the Chrysanthemum Festival. In the ancient Japanese imperial court, they held a party for viewing chrysanthemum flowers on this day. It seems Dogen Zenji has some kind of gathering with his assembly monks on this occasion for viewing chrysanthemum flowers and asks them to compose a poem on their aspirations.

Dogen is saying that the last year’s ninth day of ninth month left this place, and this year’s ninth day of the ninth month came from this place. The subject of these two lines is the time, the ninth day of the ninth month. “This place” does not refer to some particular place on the earth, but to the entirety of the network of interdependent origination. Time is coming and going within this network the same as each and every being, including ourselves.


Stop dwelling on passing days, months, and years.
Look with delight in the undergrowth where chrysanthemums bloom.

In the third line, Dogen says that we should stop dwelling on or thinking about time (days, months, and years) that is flowing within the linear stream from the past to the future through the present. Commonly we think of time in this way. Dogen does not negate this way of viewing time, but he says that is not only way to think about time. His insight about time is very unique, as many people have discussed.

Studying Dogen’s writings, I think he considered time in three ways. The first is the common way: time flows from the past to the future through the present. The second is the time that is the absolute present. The past has gone; therefore, it does not exist anymore. The future has not yet come; therefore, it does not exist yet. The only actual time is the present. In Genjokoan, he says:

Firewood becomes ash. Ash cannot become firewood again. However, we should not view ash as after and firewood as before. We should know that firewood dwells in the dharma position of firewood and has its own before and after. Although before and after exist, past and future are cut off. Ash stays at the position of ash, with its own before and after.[2]

At this present moment, firewood is completely dwelling in the dharma position of firewood. In the past it was a live tree, but the time of a live tree has already gone. There is no live tree anymore. In the future, after the firewood is burned, the firewood will be completely gone and only ash will be there. And yet, ash is not here and now at all. The past is not reality anymore and the future is not reality yet. Only this present moment is actual. That is what “past and future are cut off” means.

Uchiyama Roshi said that this present has no length. If there is the slightest length, we can still cut it into half and one part is in the past and another part is in the future. For example, consider 10:00 a.m. 9:59 a.m. is not yet 10:00 a.m.; 10:01 a.m. is already not 10:00 a.m. When we take a closer look at this, no matter how many 9’s after 9:59 we add (9:59999…), it will never become 10:00a.m. No matter how many zeros we add, if we had a 1, (10:0000…1), it is already not 10:00 a.m. The present of 10:00 a.m. has no length. That means all there is is the past that has already gone, and the future that has not yet come. The present is only a boundary between the not-existing past and the not-existing future. The present is 0. Time disappears when we look at in this way.

The third way of considering is time that does not flow. In Bendowa Dogen says:

Therefore, even if only one person sits for a short time, because this zazen is one with all existence and completely permeates all times, it performs everlasting buddha guidance within the inexhaustible dharma world in the past, present, and future.[3]

In our zazen, we sit at this absolute present, then, we are one with all the time and all beings. This is the time that does not flow. From the moment of big bang until the present, time does not flow, there is only one whole moment without any segments. Segments such as a second, an hour, a day, a month, a year, a century, and so on are only the production of human thinking. Beyond observation and measurement by human beings, time is one whole moment without any segments.

In the third line, Dogen says we should stop thinking of times grasped in the conventional way, in which we make a story of our karmic life. In zazen, we settle in the absolute present of here and now, then the time that does not flow appears. I call it eternity.

When we are completely being here and now, it is delightful to see the chrysanthemums. In his teisho on this poem, Sawaki Roshi mentioned that the chrysanthemum is called enrei-ka (延齢花), which means present “the flower which prolongs one’s longevity.” When we sit in zazen, and when we do things dwelling right here and now, being free from a self-made karmic story, the buddha’s eternal life is revealed right there. This is what Sawaki Roshi meant when he said, “It’s pointless for human beings merely to live a life that lasts seventy or eighty years.”[4]

In Manzan’s version, this is not a philosophical poem about time but a very straightforward expression of Dogen’s joy at meeting his brother monks again. The title is, “Meeting again with Brother Monks on the Ninth Day of the Ninth Month.” The subject of the first two lines is his brother monks. “This place” refers to Eiheiji. His brother monks left Eiheiji on the ninth day of the ninth month the previous year, and they returned on the same day of the current year. Dogen express his joy at meeting them again. They talk about what happened to them during the year in which they did not see each other. When they laugh with each other leaning on the handrail, they find beautiful chrysanthemums blooming.

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[1] (Dogen’s Extensive Record 10-75, p.629) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., www.wisdompubs.org.

[2] Realizing Genjokoan: The key to Dogen’s Shobogenzo (Shohaku Okumura, Wisdom Publications, 2010) p.2.

[3] The Wholehearted Way: A Translation of Eihei Dogen’s Bendowa with Commentary by Kosho Uchiyama roshi (translated by Shohaku Okumura and Taigen Daniel Leighton, Tuttle Publishing, 1997) p.23.

[4] The Zen Teaching of Homeless Kodo (Wisdom) p.205.

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Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

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For further study:

> More of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese Poems

Copyright 2019 Sanshin Zen Community

Brush and inkstone already discarded

Dogen’s Chinese Poems (6)


Mountain Dwelling (4)

For a long while I’ve abandoned human realms,
     beyond attachments,
Writing with brush and inkstone already discarded.
Seeing flowers and hearing birdsong brings little attraction.
Though dwelling in mountains, I’m still ashamed
     at my lack of talent.[1]

久舎人間無愛惜 (久しく人間を舎てて愛惜無し、)
文章筆硯既抛來 (文章筆硯既に抛て來る)
見花聞鳥風情少 (花を見鳥を聞くに風情少なし、)
乍在山猶愧不才 (山にあり乍ら猶を不才を愧ず。)

This is verse 6 in Kuchugen and verse 105 of Volume 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dogen’s Extensive Record, p.639). This is one of the poems about mountain dwelling. In Manzan’s version, the first line is:

Although I’ve been abiding in the human world for a long time, I am without attachments.

And the fourth line is:

I completely leave to it the people of this time if they laugh at my lack of talent.

In Shobogenzo Zuimonki, Dogen said:

Zen monks these days are fond of studying literature as grounding to compose verses or write dharma-words. This is wrong. Even if you cannot compose verses, just write what you think in your mind. Even if your style [of either rhyme or prose] is not sophisticated, write down the dharma-gates. People without bodhi-mind will not read it if your writing style is not well polished. Even if the style were embellished and there were excellent phrases in it, [however,] such people would only play with the words without grasping the principle [behind them]. I have been fond of studying [literature] since my childhood, and even now I have a tendency to contemplate the beauty in the words of non-Buddhist texts. Sometimes I even refer to Wenxuan (Monzen) or other classic texts. Still, I think it is meaningless, and should be completely discontinued.[2]

This poem is in accord with what Dōgen said while he was staying at Koshoji in Fukakusa. According to his biography, Kenzeiki, Dogen read a collection of Chinese poems when he was four years old. From that point, he received the best possible education available at that time. His father, Minamoto Michitomo and his grandfather, Minamoto Michichika were both well-known waka poets. Aristocrats were not only politicians or government officers, but also had to be scholars and poets. And yet, after becoming a Buddhist monk, Dogen gave up studying and writing poetry and thinking of literary techniques and styles in his writing. Even so, he wrote some Japanese waka poems and more than 400 Chinese poems.

In the Monkaku version, even though he has abandoned the desire to write with sophisticated literary techniques, he is still ashamed his poems are not good enough in comparison with his idea what poetry should be like. It seems he is also ashamed of having such a feeling, because it shows that he is not completely free from his karmic consciousness as a well-educated, aristocratic person. But in Manzan’s version, he did not express such complicated feeling of shamefulness. To me, the Monkaku version expresses his sentiment honestly.

Steven Heine’s translation of this poem is as follows:

Another mountain retreat verse:

For so long here without worldly attachments,
I have renounced literature and writing;
I may be a monk in a mountain temple,
Yet still I am moved in seeing gorgeous blossoms
Scattered by the spring breeze,
And hearing the warbler’s lovely song –
Let others judge my meager efforts.[3]

This is a translation of Manzan’s version. But the third to the sixth lines in this translation are not literal. The beginning of the third line of original poem (見花聞鳥) only says “seeing flowers,” and “hearing birds.” Dogen does not mention anything about “gorgeous blossoms scattered by the spring breeze,” and “the warbler’s lovely song.” At the end of the third line of the original poem (風情少) fuzei, (literally, wind sentiment 風情) is something like “feeling a sense or a taste of elegance” that makes a person to write a poem. Sukunashi (少) means “little.” All of the commentaries I have at hand interpret this line as, “I have little taste for elegance that urges me to write a poem of beauty about the flowers and birds.” I think that this is not, “Yet still I am moved,” as in Heine’s translation but rather, “I am hardly moved.”

Dogen Zenji also wrote these waka in the same vein:

By the spring wind / My words are blown and scattered / People may see them / The song of flowers

Although seeing the moon of the mind, / in the great sky, / being deluded in the darkness, / I praise it for its shape and color.

Seeing flowers in spring, / crimson leaves in autumn, / and white snow in winter,
I am regretful for / that I have appreciated them as the objects / [that entertain my feeling].

Sawaki Roshi said, “Unfortunately, I read Zuimonki first where Dogen Zenji said it is fine not writing beautiful prose or poetry. I felt that’s it! It was easier to speak what I thought than writing poems. … This is also a quality of ‘mountain dwelling.’ If worldly people laugh at me, that is fine.” I also read Zuimonki first and quit writing poems when I began to practice zazen. I feel I was lucky.


[1] (Dogen’s Extensive Record 10-105, p.639) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., http://www.wisdompubs.org.

[2] Choenji version Zuimonki 3-6. This is Okumura’s unpublished translation. Wenxuan (文選、Monzen) is a collection of about 700 well-known poetry and prose writings by about 130 important writers compiled in China in 6th century. In Japan this collection was studied as a text of Chinese literature.

[3] The Zen Poetry of Dogen: Verses from the Mountian of Eternal Peace (Steven Heine, Dharma Communications,1997) p.148

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Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.
Image attribution: Walters Art Museum [Public domain, CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

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

Leisurely seclusion

With this post, we are excited to bring you a new series on Dōgen by Okumura Roshi.

Dogen Zenji’s Chinese Poems

In Dogen’s Extensive Record (Eihei Koroku), more than 400 Chinese poems are included. Menzan Zuiho (1683 -1769) selected 150 poems from the text and made a collection of Dogen’s Chinese poems entitled Kuchugen (句中玄;Profundity within Phrases) published in 1759. This became a popular collection of Dogen Zenji’s Chinese poems among Soto Zen practitioners in Japan. Menzan used the Eihei Koroku text revised by Manzan Dohaku (1636-1715). Rev. Taigen Dan Leighton and I translated Monkaku-bon version of Eihei Koroku, which is older than Manzan’s version. I will select the poems from Kuchugen but use our translation of the Monkaku version. When there are important differences between the Monkaku version and Manzan’s version, I will point them out.

In the introduction of Kuchugen, Menzan said:

Our ancestor Eihei [Dogen] visited to the South [part of China] and returned to the East (Japan) and composed numerous verses. However, because those verses are included here and there in his Extensive Record (Eihei Koroku), unless they are old and well-educated masters, people seldom hear of [Dogen’s verses]. Young students most rarely memorize them. I, a stubborn old man, using some free time from Zen practice, have selected some of them and allowed the novices in my assembly to recite the poems [by Dogen]… Now, I wish to circulate [Dogen’s poems] by publicizing [this collection] with wood-block printing. I sincerely wish that young novices of our school read this collection, recite them, and memorize them in their mind, [then] they will receive the unseen blessing from the Buddha-ancestors. Their capability to carry on the great Dharma in the future will be naturally strengthened.

In Japan, since the time of Menzan, Soto Zen novices have been reciting and memorizing these poems; doing so, they become familiar with Dogen Zenji’s expressions. Since Eihei Koroku is a massive text written in Chinese, it is not possible for young students to read it without much study.

Beginning this month, I will introduce some of his Chinese poems from Kuchugen using the translation in Dogen’s Extensive Record (Wisdom Publications, Boston, 2004) with my short comments. The original Chinese poems and Japanese way of reading them (yomikudashi) is from Dogen Zenji Zenshu (Complete Collection of Dogen) vol.13 (Kagamishima Genryu, Shunjusha, Tokyo, 2000). Kodo Sawaki Roshi gave teisho on some of the poems from Kuchugen. The transcriptions of his teisho are included vol. 5 and vol. 7 of Sawaki Kodo Zenshu (Complete Collection of Sawaki Kodo, Daihorinkaku, Tokyo, 1962). I will mention what Sawaki Roshi said when it is helpful to appreciate the poem.

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An impromptu work during the time of leisurely seclusion¹

阿誰取舎雖悄然、 阿誰か取舎せん悄然なりと雖ども、 Though settled, no longer picking up or discarding,²
万物同時現在前、 萬物同時に現在前す、 At the same time before me myriad things appear.
仏法従今心既尽、 佛法今從り心既に盡きぬ、 [Within] Buddha Dharma, from now on
[seeking] mind’s abandoned.
身儀向後且随縁。 身儀向後且た縁に隨う。 After this my activity will just follow conditions.

Kankyo (閑居) means a quiet and secluded life in a hermitage. When used in negative sense, it can mean idle or lazy life without working for the society. There is a proverb that says: When pipsqueaks live leisurely (kankyo) they do evil things. (Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.)  In Buddhism, this is almost always used in a positive way as a retreat in a secluded hermitage. In Dogen Zenji’s life, the period after he moved from Kenninji to Fukakusa in 1230 until he founded his own monastery, Koshoji in or around the same place in 1233, is called Fukakusa kankyo. In this case, kankyo means living quietly in a hermitage without many followers as a sangha. This verse is considered to be made during that period.

Sawaki Roshi said that kankyo does not necessarily means to live by oneself at a quiet place without much actions. Even when we live alone in a quiet place, same as the proverb, if we are controlled and moved by some mistaken views or our personal desires for fame and profit, it is not kankyo at all. Ultimately speaking, kankyo means sitting in zazen letting go of all thoughts and quietly and peacefully abiding within beyond-thinking (非思量, hishiryo).

Even when we are living in a busy life with so many things to do, if we clarify and settle down within our self, being free from our self-centered desires and competition with others, our life is in serenity. We are not controlled by causes and conditions, but we are able to work with causes and conditions in a healthy and harmonious way. This is what Dogen Zenji is saying in this poem. He expresses his determination to live in such a way. Therefore, even after he established his monastery, and working hard to teach and practice the Dharma with his assembly and to protect his sangha within society, he did not stop doing kankyo.


¹ This is verse 65 in volume 10 (p. 626) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., wisdompubs.org.
² In Manzan’s version, the first line is a little different: 雙忘取捨思翛然 (Forgetting both picking up and discarding, my thoughts are settled.)

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Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

Waka by Dōgen

Copyright 2018 Sanshin Zen Community

Bendōwa, Part One

The Interconnectedness of Genzō-e

Bendōwa, Part One

Our practice involves awareness of what arises — on and off the cushion. This is especially so when our teacher speaks. His words bear more than low-hanging fruit. They carry meaning straight from the root.

Consider how Shōhaku Okumura begins his talks on Bendōwa.

We learn that before the Meiji restoration, the shōgun’s government protected and supported Japanese Buddhism. But that all stopped when rule was restored to the emperor. The new government declared Buddhist orders should be independent.

In a movie script, this is called the inciting incident. In Mahayana Buddhism, it’s the cause that spawns a condition.

Buddhist monks discovered they’d have to support themselves. These would include the “lazy, feckless monks” 1 Sawaki-rōshi calls out in The Zen Teaching of Homeless Kōdō.

Okumura-rōshi tells us this new circumstance forced monks and priests to start teaching and sharing practice with common people.

We know from our own experience Dōgen Zenji’s Shōbōgenzō isn’t light reading. So at Eiheiji they started Genzō-e to share Shōbōgenzō with monks or priests and also, lay people.

Click or tap play to get the whole story . . .

Rōshi shared an anecdote that tells us what’s special about these recordings. He revealed the writing in The Wholehearted Way — his book on Bendōwa — is based on his understanding of what Uchiyama-rōshi taught. And so, in speaking to people who may have read the book, he said, “My challenge is to talk about the same thing in a different way.”

The low-hanging fruit here seems about events that took place at a particular time and at a particular place, involving particular people. But from the root level, Hōjō-san illustrates the interdependent origination that unifies our lives through time and space. But he never uses those words.

We and those on retreat at Sanshinji find prajna in the silence between the words. It’s in silence that we engage in our core practice, where we lose the gap between self and other. That’s where those who gather today join those who met for the first Genzō-e. But, perhaps, we leak too much.

If you’ve found this offering rewarding, please consider following this link to Sanshin’s bandcamp page for the entire digital album.

[1] Uchiyama, Kōshō, Okumura, Shōhaku, Molly Delight Whitehead, ed. The Zen Teaching of Homeless Kōdō (pp 44-45). Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2014.

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Recorded translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura-rōshi

> Other albums by Shōhaku Okumura

Copyright 2017 Sanshin Zen Community

The Dharma of Impermanence

Transience Can Spawn Bodhi-Mind


© Can Stock Photo / lilkar

心なき Kokoro naki Even insentient beings
草木も今日は kusaki mo kyo wa such as grasses and trees
しぼむなり shibomu nari wither today.
目に見たる人 meni mitaru hito Seeing them in front of their eyes,
愁へざらめや ure-e zarameya how can people be without grieving?

In his teisho on this waka, Kōdō Sawaki Roshi emphasized the quality of our eyes, whether they are open to see impermanence and whether we can feel grief about the plants’ and our own lives. He compared himself with Dōgen Zenji who deeply realized impermanence by experiencing his mother’s death when he was seven years old.

Seeing the incense smoke at his mother’s funeral, Dōgen aspired to become a Buddhist monk. Sawaki Roshi’s mother died when he was five years old and his father died when he was seven; he was adopted by his aunt, but soon her husband died from a stroke in front of Sawaki Roshi’s eyes in the same year. Then he was adopted by Bunkichi Sawaki.

Though he had such painful experiences, Sawaki Roshi said that he did not really see impermanence; rather, he only worried about who would feed and raise him.

His adopted father Bunkichi was a gambler living in a red-light district. When Sawaki Roshi was eight years old, a middle-aged man died of a stroke in a prostitute’s room nearby. Sawaki Roshi saw the dead man in bed with his wife beside him, crying, “Why did you die in a place like this, of all places?”

Sawaki Roshi was stunned by this miserable scene, and this time impermanence and the impossibility of keeping secrets were inscribed deep in his mind.1 After all, Sawaki Roshi said, “Dōgen Zenji was sharp witted so that he could deeply see impermanence and aroused bodhi-mind by simply seeing the smoke of incense, or withering trees and grasses, but a dull-witted person like me could not feel the same thing until I had much more intense experiences.”

Even though Sawaki Roshi said he was dull-witted compared with Dōgen Zenji, I think he was the only person who had the eyes to see the spiritual meaning of impermanence among the many people who witnessed what happened at the brothel.

All plants — either grasses or trees — know when they sprout, grow, bloom flowers, bear fruits, and wither. Each plant has its own time and season.

If we are mindful, we can see that all things in nature are expressing the Dharma of impermanence. Particularly when we see plants withering, we cannot help but see the transience of our own lives if our eyes are open. We all see that our lives are not at all different from the lives of plants.

Seeing impermanence and feeling grief is a good chance to arouse bodhi-mind. This way of seeing impermanence is essentially different from the common sense of the fragility of life expressed by many Japanese poets. Seeing impermanence and feeling grief is not necessarily negative in Buddhism, especially in Dōgen’s teachings.

Dōgen Zenji says in Shōbōgenzō Hotsu bodaishin (Arousing Bodhicitta):

In general, arousing [bodhi-]mind and attaining the Way both depend on the instantaneous arising and perishing [of all things]. … In this way, whether we wish in our minds or not, being pulled by our past karma, the transmigration within the cycle of life and death continues without stopping for a single ksana *. With the body-mind that is transmigrating in this manner through the cycle of life and death, we should without fail arouse the bodhi-mind of ferrying others before ourselves. Even if, on the way of arousing the bodhi-mind, we hold our body-mind dear, it is born, grows old, becomes sick, and dies; after all, it cannot be our own personal possession. … 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 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.2

Seeing impermanence is not a negative thing in Buddhism even though we feel sad. It is a good chance to arouse bodhi-mind and aspire to practice what the Buddha taught. As Shakyamuni Buddha said in the Sutra on the Buddha’s Bequeathed Teaching, within the practice, the Buddha’s indestructible Dharma Body is actualized.

In the beginning of Shōbōgenzō Genjōkōan Dōgen said, “Therefore, flowers fall even though we love them; weeds grow even though we dislike them.” Then at the end of the same fascicle he wrote, “Since the wind’s nature is ever-present, the wind of the Buddha’s family enables us to realize the gold of the great earth and to transform the [water of] the long river into cream.”3

By seeing the reality beyond our self-centered desire or expectation, we see our lives are connected with all beings. This waka might have a connection with the case 27 of the Blue Cliff Record “Yunmen’s The Body Exposed, The Golden Wind”:

A monk asked Yunmen, “How is it when the tree withers and the leaves fall?”
Yunmen said, “Body exposed in the golden wind.”
. 4

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

1 See The Zen Teaching of Homeless Kōdō (Kōshō Uchiyama, Wisdom Publicatins) p.235.
2 Okumura’s unpublished translation.
3 Okumura’s translation in Realizing Genjōkōan (Wisdom Publications, 2010), p.1, p.5
4 The Blue Cliff Record (Thomas Cleary, Shambhala, 1977) p.176.

* An instant; an infinitesimal unit of time.

> Other Waka by Dōgen

Copyright 2017 Sanshin Zen Community

Ein Einbrecher bricht in ein leeres Haus ein

Extrahiert aus The Zen Teaching of Homeless Kōdō
English version: A Burglar Breaks into an Empty House


Es fragte einmal ein Mönch Meister Longya, “Wie hörte der alte Meister endlich auf zu werken und ließ sich vollkommen nieder?”

Longya antwortete: “Es war wie ein Dieb, der sich in ein leeres Haus stahl.”

Ein Einbrecher bricht in ein leeres Haus ein. Er kann nichts stehlen. Er muss nicht flüchten. Niemand verfolgt ihn. Es ist nichts. Verstehe das: Es ist nichts.

Satori ist wie ein Einbrecher, der in ein leeres Haus einbricht. Obwohl es schwer war hineinzukommen, gibt es nichts zu stehlen. Er muss nicht weglaufen. Niemand ist hinter ihm her. Die ganze Sache ist ein Fehlschlag.

Sawaki Roshi sprach oft von einem Einbrecher, der in ein leeres Haus einbricht. Jemand, der das einmal hörte schrieb, dass Sawaki Roshi gesagt hatte, “Wenn man Zazen übt, dann sollte man es nicht tun wie ein Einbrecher, der in ein leeres Haus einbricht, denn darin liegt kein Gewinn.” Als ich das las, war ich verblüfft. Was für ein unglaubliches Missverständnis. Ich kann mir nicht vorstellen, wie Sawaki Roshi reagieren würde, wenn er am Leben wäre!

Diskussionen über buddhistische Lehren sind ganz anders als gewöhnliche Diskussionen, welche auf gesundem Menschenverstand basieren. Wir müssen aufmerksam einem Lehrer zuhören und die Texte mit ruhigem Geist lesen; ich empfehle es, sie nicht von alleine zu verstehen zu versuchen.

Dieser “Einbrecher, der in ein leeres Haus einbricht” ist Sawaki Roshis Übersetzung von Longyas Spruch, “Es war wie ein Dieb, der in ein leeres Haus schlüpft.” Es ist die Antwort auf die Frage, “Wie können wir uns endlich niederlassen?” oder “Wo ist die wahre Zuflucht in unseren Leben?” Nach all seinen Mühen gelangt der Dieb in ein leeres Haus. Es gibt nichts zu stehlen, er muss vor niemandem davonlaufen. Es gibt nichts als das Selbst, welches nur das Selbst im leeren Haus ist. An dieser Stelle gibt es nichts zu geben oder nehmen, und es gibt keine Beziehung zu anderen. Vielleicht fühlt sich so ein Leben für uns nicht lebenswert an. Aber Satori, der endgültige Ort, an dem man sich in seinem Leben niederlässt, bedeutet, diese grundsätzliche Einstellung anzunehmen: “Das, was mein Leben auslebt, ist nichts als ich selbst.” Satori bedeutet einfach, sich hier und jetzt niederzulassen, wo die Dinge unbefriedigend sind.

Longya Judun (835-923), welcher in Japan als Ryuge Koton bekannt ist, war ein Schüler von Dongshan Liangjie (807-69). Dongshan, welcher in Japan als Tozan Ryokai bekannt ist, war der Gründer des Hauses Caodong, das chinesische Haus, welches Dogen Zenji studierte bevor er die Soto-Schule in Japan gründete. Der alte Meister in der Frage des Mönchs ist Shishuang Qingzhu (807-88), oder Sekiso Keisho auf Japanisch. Shishuang war der Dharma Cousin von Dongshan.

Im Fall 96 im Buch der Gelassenheit meinte Shishuang, “Hör auf, zu tun. Beende die Trennung von Subjekt und Objekt. Sei, wie ein Moment zehntausend Jahre ist. Sei wie kalte Asche und tote Bäume. Sei wie ein Streifen weißer Seide.” Wie kalte Asche und tote Bäume zu sein heißt, ohne Urteilsvermögen zu sein; wie ein Streifen weißer Seide zu sein heißt, ohne Verschmutzung zu sein.

Dieses Koan geht weiter. Nach Shishuangs Tod fragte sein Begleiter den obersten Mönch um die Bedeutung dieses Spruchs. Der Mönch antwortete: “Er erklärt die absolute Einheit.” Der Begleiter war anderer Meinung. Dann starb der oberste Mönch im Zazen. Der Begleiter klopfte ihm auf den Rücken und sagte: “Du verstehst den Sinn des verstorbenen Meisters nicht mal im Traum.”

Später wurde Longya von einem Mönch um die Bedeutung von Shishuangs “Hör auf, zu tun” gefragt. Longya sagte: “Es ist wie ein Dieb, der in ein leeres Haus schlüpft.” Dieser Spruch zeigt, dass Longyas Verständnis ganz anders ist als das des obersten Mönchs. Er versteht unter Aufhören das Aufgeben des Kampfs um den auf unseren Sehnsüchten basierenden Gewinn und das Sichniederlassen hier und jetzt. Für den obersten Mönch ist Aufhören dem Tod gleichgestellt. Das ist ein verbreitetes Missverständnis der buddhistischen Lehre der Leere.

Aber wie Sawaki Roshi und Uchiyama Roshi andeuteten, ist unser Zazen keine Verneinung des Lebens; es ist einfach unser Stillewerden hier und jetzt, ohne der Genugtuung nachzujagen. Laut Uchiyama Roshi ist dies die Einstellung, unsere Leben selbst auszuleben, ohne sich auf andere oder auf bestimmte Dogmen zu verlassen.

Der japanische Haiku Dichter Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902) starb mit fünfunddreißig an Tuberkulose. In seinen letzten Tagen hatte er unerträgliche Schmerzen vom Verfall seiner Wirbelsäule. Er konnte sich nicht mal im Bett umlegen. Etwa drei Monate vor seinem Tod schrieb er in einem Aufsatz für eine Zeitung: “Bis jetzt verstand ich Satori im Zen falsch. Ich nahm irrtümlicherweise an, Satori sei, mit Seelenfrieden in jedem Zustand zu sterben. Satori heißt, mit Seelenfrieden in jedem Zustand zu leben.”

Ich denke, das ist der Unterschied zwischen dem Verständnis des obersten Mönchs und Longya. In Shobogenzo Shoji (oder “Leben und Tod”), meinte Dogen: “Verstehe einfach, dass Leben und Tod selbst Nirwana ist, und hege weder Abneigung gegen Leben und Tod, noch begehre Nirwana. Nur dann wird es uns möglich sein, von Leben und Tod erlöst zu werden . . . Dieses gegenwärtige Leben und Tod ist das Leben des Buddha.”

© 2014 Shohaku Okumura. All rights reserved