Tag Archives: Menzan

Transience Within Boundless Nature

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



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.

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

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Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

> Other Waka by Dōgen

Copyright 2020 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

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Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

> More of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese Poems

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

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Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

> More of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese Poems

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

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Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

> More of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese Poems

Copyright 2018 Sanshin Zen Community