Tag Archives: Nagarjuna

May We Together . . .

Poem on “Practicing With All Living Beings”

いただきに Itadaki ni
鵲巣をや Kasasagi su wo ya On his head,
つくるらん Tsukuru ran a magpie might make its nest,
眉にかかれり Mayu ni kakareri a spider’s web is
蜘蛛のいと Sasagani no ito hanging from his eyebrows.

Itadaki” means “crown of head” or “summit of mountain.” Here it refers to the crown of the head of a person who is sitting in zazen. “Kasasagi” is a black bird similar to a crow. Its English name is magpie.

In Europe, a magpie generally has a negative association, and has been demonized in some countries. However, in China and Korea, magpies are considered a bird of good fortune. In Japan, it is said that magpies were imported from Korea in the 16th century. Since then magpies live in various places in western parts of Japan.

Probably Dogen did not have a chance to see this bird with his own eyes except while he stayed in China, but he used the name of this bird which appears in Buddhist texts.

Ran” is an auxiliary verb to show conjecture. Also, in this waka Dogen actually did not see the bird making a nest. “Sasagani” literally means a little crab, but here it refers to a spider. A spider is called a little crab, probably because it has many legs and walks like a crab. “Ito” is a thread or web. “Kakareri” is a statement, not conjecture. Dogen actually sees the spider’s web hanging from the eyebrow of the person sitting.

In the Denkoroku (the Record of Transmitting the Light), Keizan Jokin wrote about Shakyamuni Buddha’s practice after he left his father’s palace as follows:

“Shakyamuni Buddha was of the Sun Race in India. At the age of nineteen he leaped over the palace walls in the dead of night, and at Mount Dantaloka, he cut off his hair. Subsequently, he practiced austerities for six years. Later, he sat on the Adamantine Seat, where spiders spun webs in his eyebrows and magpies built a nest on top of his head. Reeds grew up between his legs as he sat tranquilly and erect without movement for six years. At the age of thirty, on the eighth day of the twelfth month, as the morning star appeared, he was suddenly enlightened.”

In the Hokyoki, Dogen recorded his master Rujing’s saying about zazen and dropping off body and mind:

“The zazen of arhats and pratyekabuddhas is free of attachment yet it lacks great compassion. Their zazen is therefore different from the zazen of the buddhas and ancestors; the zazen of buddhas and ancestors places primary importance on great compassion and the vow to save all living beings. … In buddhas’ and ancestors’ zazen, they wish to gather all Buddha Dharma from the time they first arouse bodhi-mind. Buddhas and ancestors do not forget or abandon living beings in their zazen; they offer a heart of compassion even to an insect. Buddhas and ancestors vow to save all living beings and dedicate all the merit of their practice to all living beings.”

The source of both Keizan’s description of Shakyamuni’s practice at Mount Dantaloka and Rujing’s statement about compassion in buddhas’ and ancestors’ zazen seems to be Nagarjuna’s Daichidoron, his commentary on the MahaPrajna Paramita Sutra. In this text, right after Rujing says that buddhas and ancestors do not forget compassion toward all living beings including insects, Nagarjuna refers to a story about a mountain sage who was Shakyamuni in one of his past lives. Shakyamuni was then called Rakei Sennin, the mountain sage whose hair looked like a conch-shell. While he was sitting immovably in upright posture like a tree, a magpie made a nest on his head and laid eggs. The sage thought that if he stopped sitting and moved, the mother bird would be frightened and not return, then the baby birds would die. Therefore he continued to sit without moving until the mother and the baby birds flew away. I cannot find any source about the spider’s web in the older texts.

This story tells that the bodhisattva practiced with all living beings including birds and insects and tried not to frighten or harm them. Even while he was sitting, he considered living beings as part of his life.

A modern commentator, Rev. Nanboku Oba, in his commentary on this waka, suggested that Dogen wrote this waka when he saw an old Buddha statue in an old shrine hall, probably by the roadside. Since the shrine was not cleaned for a long time, the statue was covered with dust and Dogen found a spider’s web on its face. Then he remembered the story of Rakei Sennin and imagined a magpie making a nest on the crown of the Buddha’s head.

Since a waka is a short poem, it is not possible to describe the situation in detail within the poem. Readers need to or can use their imagination to interpret a waka poem like this.

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Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

> Other Waka by Dōgen

Copyright 2016 Sanshin Zen Community

In Praise of Bodhi-mind

Poem on “Mind of the Way”


草庵に kusa no io ni In my grass-hut,
起きてもねても okite mo nete mo either standing or lying down,
申すこと mousu koto I constantly say:
我より先に ware yori saki ni I vow to ferry others
人を渡さん hito wo watasan before myself.

Mousu (申す)” is a humble expression of “to say” or “to speak.” Dogen is saying this to the Buddha, or the Three Treasures, as the expression of his vow. The first three lines of this waka is almost the same as the following waka:

In my grass-hut
While I sleep or awake
What I always recite is;
“I take refuge in Shakyamuni Buddha
Bestow your compassion!”

And the meaning of the last two lines is the same as this waka:

Even though, since I am dull-witted,
I will not become a buddha,
I wish being a monk
helping all living being
crossing over.

In Shobogenzo Hotsu-bodaishin (Arousing Bodhi-mind), Dogen Zenji quotes a verse from the Mahayana Parinirvana Sutra in which Kasyapa Bodhisattva praises Shakyamuni Buddha:

Arousing [bodhi-]mind and the [mind of] the ultimate stage are not different;
between these two [stages of] the mind, the former is more difficult [to arouse].
[It is the mind of] ferrying across others before oneself.
For this reason, I [respectfully] make prostrations to [those] who have first aroused [bodhi-]mind.
When they first arouse [bodhi-mind], they are already the teachers of human and heavenly beings.
They are superior to sravakas and pratyekabuddhas.
Arousing such [bodhi-]mind surpasses the triple world.
Therefore, it can be called the unsurpassable.

Arousing bodhi-mind (hotsu-bodaishin) is one of the key phrases in Dogen’s teaching. According to his writings, there are three aspects in the way bodhi-mind functions. It works as compassion, as he writes in this poem and in Shobogenzo Hotsu-bodaishin. It also works as wisdom to see impermanence. And, another way it works is as the mind of transmitting and maintaining the traditional way of practice.

In Gakudo-Yojinshu (Points to Watch in Practicing the Way), he writes about bodhi-mind as wisdom:

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.

Dogen writes about the third aspect in Pure Standard for the Temple Administrators (Chiji Shingi):

What is called the mind of the Way is not to abandon or scatter about the great Way of the buddha ancestors, but deeply to protect and esteem their great Way. …After all, not to sell cheaply or debase the worth of the ordinary tea and rice of the buddha ancestors’ house is exactly the mind of the Way.

“Mind of the Way (do-shin, 道心)” is another translation of bodhi-mind.

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Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

> Other Waka by Dōgen

Copyright 2016 Sanshin Zen Community

Where Bodhisattvas Tread

Poem on samsara and nirvana as one

life and death

おろかなる Oroka naru
心一つの kokoro hitotsu no As the destinies pulled only by
行く末を yukusue wo their ignorant minds,
六つの道とや mutsu no michi toya people seem to walk
人のふむらん hito no fumu ran the path of the six realms

Transmigration within the six realms (the realms of heavenly beings, human beings, fighting spirits, animals, hungry ghosts, and hell dwellers) of samsara (the cycle of rebirth) caused by the three poisonous minds (greed, anger/hatred, and ignorance) is one of the most well-known teachings of Buddhism. The Buddha taught the way of liberation from this cycle through the practice of the eightfold correct path.

This waka seems to depict the deluded people’s life of suffering. However, the last word of the last line “ran” shows conjecture. In this waka, Dōgen says that people “seem to walk” instead of concluding that they are actually walking the path of the six realms. Probably he means that, at least some of those people are intentionally walking the path of samsara as their Bodhisattva practice based on their vows.

One of the important points of Mahayana Buddhism is that samsara and nirvana are one. In section 25, Examination of Nirvana of Mulamadhyamakakarika, Nagarjuna says:

(19)Samsara (i.e., the empirical life-death cycle) is nothing essentially different from nirvana. Nirvana is nothing essentially different from samsara.
(20) The limits (i.e., realm) of nirvana are the limits of samsara. Between the two, also, there is not the slightest difference whatsoever.

Just understand that life-and-death is itself nirvana and neither dislike life-and-death nor seek after nirvana.
—Dōgen Zenji

In Bendowa (Wholehearted Practice of the Way), Dōgen says, “You should completely awaken to life and death as exactly nirvana. You can never speak of nirvana as outside life and death.” Life and death (Shoji, 生死), as a Buddhist term, refers to samsara. On this point Nagarjuna and Dōgen completely agree with each other.

Furthermore, in Shobogenzo Shoji (Life-and-death), Dōgen states:

Seeking after Buddha outside life-and-death is like trying to go to Yue (Etsu) [in the south] with the trills of our cart heading to the north or like trying to see the northern stars (the Big Dipper) while we are facing the south. [If we seek Buddha outside life-and-death] we would accumulate the causes of life-and-death more and more and lose the path of liberation.

Just understand that life-and-death is itself nirvana and neither dislike life-and-death nor seek after nirvana. Only at that time, will it be possible for us to be released from life-and-death.

In Shobogenzo Keiseisanshoku (Sounds of Valley Streams, Colors of Mountains), Dōgen says, “After having aroused bodhi-mind, even if they transmigrate within the six realms through the four kinds of birth, the causes and conditions of transmigration will become practices and vows for awakening.”

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Translation and commentary by Shohaku Okumura Roshi

> Other Waka by Dōgen

Copyright 2016 Sanshin Zen Community