Tag Archives: mountain dwelling

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

A monk in zazen

Dogen’s Chinese Poems (8)


Mountain Dwelling (6)

Towers in front and pavilions behind stand splendid.
On the peak is a stupa of five or six levels.
Under the moon in cool autumn wind, a crane sleeps standing.
The robe is transmitted at midnight to a monk in zazen.[1]

前楼後閣玲瓏起 (前楼後閣玲瓏として起つ、)
峰頭塔婆五六層 (峰頭の塔婆五六層、)
月冷風秋立睡鶴 (月冷じく風秋にして睡鶴を立たしむ、)
衣伝半夜坐禅僧 (衣は伝う半夜の坐禅僧)

This is verse 8 in Kuchugen and verse 109 of volume 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dogen’s Extensive Record). This is one of the poems about mountain dwelling. In Manzan’s version of this poem, there is slight difference in the third line:

月冷風高箇時節: the moon light is cool, the wind is high at this time of the year

Traditional commentaries interpret the first three lines as a description of Eiheiji while the assembly of monks is sitting in the monks’ hall. In the short-range view, someone sees large temple buildings, and in the distant view, the stupa (a five storied-pagoda) on the mountain. Then he describes the moon in the sky and a crane sleeping calmly. This is not simply the scenery of a mountain temple, but the world of zazen in serenity.

The modern scholar Prof. Teppu Otani questions if there were so many large buildings and a five-storied pagoda on the peak of the mountain at Eiheiji during the time of Dogen Zenji. He suggests that this poem might be about Dogen’s memory of Tiantong monastery in China. The first line of the poem is actually taken from Tiantong Rujing’s own dharma words, presented at the mountain gate on the occasion of his mountain seat ceremony, when he became the abbot of Tiantong monastery. In this interpretation, this monk sitting until midnight refers to Dogen himself: the Dharma and the robe were transmitted to Dogen from Rujing.

Kodo Sawaki Roshi says that this is the scenery at Eiheiji, but in this poem I think Dogen Zenji is saying that in the world of zazen, in the beautiful scenery of a crane sleeping-standing peacefully underneath the cool moonlight in the autumn wind, Eiheiji and the Fifth Ancestor’s monastery are interpenetrating. Dogen wrote in Bendowa,

“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. [Zazen] is equally the same practice and the same enlightenment for both the person sitting and for all dharmas.”

In his zazen, there is no separation between the night at Eiheiji and the night at the monastery when Huineng received the robe. The practice at Eiheiji and the Sixth Ancestor’s dharma transmission are taking place at the same time. In this case, the “monk in zazen” who received the robe refers to Huineng. However, this interpretation does not make as much sense to me because when he received the Dhamrma transmission, Huineng was not yet an ordained monk, but a lay worker.

I suppose that as Dogen writes this poem, the scenery at Eiheiji and at Tiangong monastery overlap. Dogen’s zazen and his assembled monks’ zazen is not separate from the zazen Dogen practiced with Rujing many years before in China.

During sesshin, I sometimes feel that my zazen at Sanshinji and my zazen at Antaiji in Kyoto, or at Valley Zendo in Massachusetts, and at many other places, are the same zazen. I still feel I am sitting together with my teacher, Uchiyama Roshi. When we sit facing the wall, we are simply facing the wall, facing the buddha, and facing the self. Sometimes, I feel like all of time and all of space are within this single period of zazen here and now.

Dogen might be remembering the vow he made when he saw Chinese monks reciting the robe-chant every day after morning zazen. Now at Eiheiji, all the monks are sitting wearing okesa together with him. I think the “monk in zazen” in this poem refers to each and every monk at Eiheiji who is sitting wearing the authentic okesa Dogen transmitted from China.

— • —

[1] (Dogen’s Extensive Record 10-109, 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

The evening bell

Photo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Dogen’s Chinese Poems (7)


Mountain Dwelling (5)

The evening bell rings in moonlight and lanterns are raised.
Training monks sit in the hall and quietly observe emptiness.
Having fortunately attained the three robes, now they plant seeds.
How heartwarming, their ripening liberation in the one mind.[1]

晩鐘鳴月上燈籠 (晩鐘月に鳴らして燈籠を上ぐ、)
雲衲坐堂靜觀空 (雲衲、堂に坐して靜かに空を觀ず、)
幸得三田今下種 (幸いに三田を得て今種を下す、)
快哉熟脱一心中 (快きかな熟脱一心の中。)

This is verse 7 in Kuchugen and verse 110 of volume 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dogen’s Extensive Record). This is one of the poems about mountain dwelling. Manzan’s version is exactly the same as the Monkaku version.

The evening bell rings in moonlight and lanterns are raised.
Training monks sit in the hall and quietly observe emptiness.

The first two lines are the description of an evening practice at Eiheiji (or Daibutsuji). According to The Model for Engaging the Way (Bendoho), the daily practice schedule at the monks’ hall begins with evening zazen, not with the wake-up bell in the morning. Traditionally this has been interpreted to mean that even the time of sleeping in the night is not a break from monks’ practice.

While the monk in charge (鐘司, shosu or bell manager) strikes the evening bell one hundred and eight times, it is getting dark, the moon rises, the candles are lit, and the lanterns are raised in the monks’ hall and the walkways. In the monks’ hall, training monks sit evening zazen in silence. The sublime sound of the big temple bell (梵鐘, bonsho), boundless bright moon, the small light of the lanterns, and the monks are all within calmness, peace, and harmony.

Although it says the monks quietly “observe” emptiness (靜觀空), it is not possible for monks to “observe” or “contemplate” emptiness as the object of their minds. Just sitting is itself contemplating emptiness. This is the same as is said in the first sentence of the Heart Sutra, “Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva, when deeply practicing prajna paramita, clearly saw that all five aggregates are empty and thus relieved all suffering.” There is no such person named Avalokiteshvara beside the five aggregates. This “clear seeing” means that the five aggregates of Avalokiteshvara are simply being the five aggregates; there is no subject-object separation and relation. Five aggregates just being the five aggregates is itself clear seeing of emptiness. Within the practice of prajna paramita, or just sitting, emptiness is revealed. The boundless moonlight and small lights of lanterns, the monks’ five aggregates, and emptiness are corresponding with and interpenetrating each other. In Shobogenzo Zanmai-o-zanmai (The Samadhi that is king of samadhis), Dogen Zenji said, “Now we sit in full-lotus with this human skin, flesh, bones, and marrow, we sit zanmai-o-zanmai (the samadhi that is the king of samadhis) in full-lotus… This is the time when buddhas see buddhas. This is the very moment of living beings’ becoming buddha.”

Having fortunately attained the three robes, now they plant seeds.
How heartwarming, their ripening liberation in the one mind.

In the third and fourth lines, Dogen expresses the profound meaning of this practice in the peaceful mountains. “Three robes” translates the Chinese characters for sanden (三田, literally, three rice fields). According to Dr. Genryu Kagamishima,[2]sanden refers to the three robes (kasyaya with 5, 7, and 9 or more stripes) which are collectively called fukuden-e (福田衣, the robe of the field of happiness). Zen monks receive these three robes as part of shukke tokudo (monk ordination). Attaining the three robes means becoming Buddha’s disciples.

種 (shu, planting seeds), 熟 (juku, process of growing and maturing), 脱 (datsu, liberation as the result, or harvesting) are used in Tendai teachings as the process of arousing bodhi-mind, practice, and attaining liberation. Dogen used these in Shobogenzo Kuge:

“They only know that flowers of emptiness (kuge) are something to be discarded; they don’t know the great matter after [seeing] flowers of emptiness. They don’t know planting seeds, ripening, and coming out of the husk of flowers of emptiness (kuge).”

Here Dogen is saying that it is not that there is no process of growing and maturing, blooming, and bearing fruit, but that the entire process is within the practice of this moment.

In Dogen’s teaching, “the one mind” is as he says in Shobogenzo Sokushin-zebutsu (The Mind is Itself Buddha), “The mind that has been authentically transmitted is ‘one mind is all dharmas; all dharmas are one mind.’” The monks’ practicing zazen, seeing emptiness, is “dropping off body and mind of the self and others.”

There is an alternate interpretation of the final lines of Dōgen’s poem. According to Sawaki Roshi and other scholars, “three fields” refers to a saying from the Mahayana Parinirvana Sutra categorizing the three types of people’s quality, corresponding to the bodhisattva, the shravaka, and the icchantika. Icchantika are people who have no potential to become a buddha.

The Mahayana Mahaparnirvana Sutra Chapter Forty: On Bodhisattva Kasyapa (a)[3]  says:

“It is like three kinds of field. One is easy to irrigate. There is no sand there, no salt, no gravel, and no stones, and no thorns. Plant one, and one gains 100. The second also has no sand, no salt, no gravel, no stones, and no thorns. But irrigation is difficult, and the harvest is down by half. The third gives difficulties with irrigation, and it is full of sand, gravel, stones, and thorns. Plant one, and one gains one, due to the straw and grass. O good man! In the spring months, where will the farmer plant first?”

“O World-Honored One! First, the first field, second, the second field, and third, the third field.”

“The first can be likened to the Bodhisattva, the second to the sravaka, and the third to the icchantika.”

If we interpret the third and four lines in this way, what Dogen means is that even though there are monks who have various qualities, some who are sincere and capable, and others who are mediocre or even low quality, in their zazen here and now, they are all equally expressing emptiness and their buddha-seeds are all ripening.

I think the first interpretation is better. It is difficult to me to think that Dogen is watching and categorizing his disciples depending on their ability.

— • —

[1] (Dogen’s Extensive Record 10-110, p.641) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., http://www.wisdompubs.org.
[2] The editor of Dogen Zenji Zenshu (The Complete Collection of Dogen Zenji’s Writings) published by Shunjusha.
[3] Translation by Kosho Yamamoto, edited, revised and copyright by Dr. Tony Page, 2007).

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

Copyright 2018 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

— • —

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

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

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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.

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Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

> Other Waka by Dōgen

Copyright 2017 Sanshin Zen Community