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Tathāgata Zen and Ancestral Zen  

“Buddhist scriptures collected by Horyuji” by 柏翰 / ポーハン / POHAN is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/?ref=openverse.

Dōgen’s Chinese Poems (54)

A Pitiful Condition
335. Dharma Hall Discourse

「示衆」 (示衆)
如來禪祖師禪   (如來禪・祖師禪、)
古不傳東土妄傳 (古傳えず東土妄りに傳う。)
迷執虚名何百歳 (虚名に迷執すること何百歳、)
可怜末世劣因縁 (怜れむべし末世の劣因縁。)

Tathāgata Zen and Ancestral Zen
were not transmitted by the ancients, but only transmitted falsely in the Eastern Land (China).
For several hundred years some have been clinging with delusion to these vain names.
How pitiful is the inferior condition of this degenerating world.[1]

— • —

This is verse 53 in Kuchūgen and Dharma Hall Discourse (上堂, jōdō) 335 in Volume 4 of Eihei Kōroku. Dōgen Zenji only recited this verse as the dharma discourse without making any explanatory speech, or else his speech was not recorded. This verse in Manzan’s version is slightly different from Monkaku’s version in the second line:

古不傳妄傳 (古は傳えず、妄りに傳う)
were not transmitted in the ancient times, but only transmitted falsely in these days.

A Pitiful Condition

This dharma discourse was given during the summer practice period in 1249. Taigen Leighton and I took this title for the discourse from the fourth line. In Shōbōgenzō and Eihei Kōroku, Dōgen Zenji often criticizes various aspects of the Zen he encountered in Song Dynasty China. This verse is about one of the problems he found. He does not agree with the distinction between Tathāgata Zen and Ancestral Zen.

Tathāgata Zen is a translation of Nyorai Zen (如来禅). This expression is used in the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra (Nyū-Ryōgakyō, 入楞伽経). According to scholars, this Mahāyāna sutra was created around the 4th century CE in India. Lanka refers to Sri Lanka; avatāra means “to enter,” so that the title means “Entering Sri Lanka.” In this Sutra, somehow, Shakyamuni Buddha is invited by the king, visits Sri Lanka, and answers his questions. Basically, the teaching in this Sutra is a combination of the consciousness-only theory of the Yogacara school and the theory of Tathāgata-garbha. There are three Chinese translations of this sutra. The first one was translated by Guṇabhadra (求那跋陀羅, 394–468). This sutra gave inspiration to the early Zen (Chan) practitioners in China. According to a Zen text, Bodhidharma said that Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra was the only reliable sutra he found in China and transmitted it together with his robe to the second ancestor, Huike (Eka, 慧可). The group later called the Northern School (so-called by the Southern School) named their own lineage Lanka School (Ryōga-shū 楞伽宗) and made a collection of biographies of their ancestors entitled, Ryōga-shiji-ki (楞伽師資記, Record of Master and Disciple in [the Transmission of] the Lanka). This text was unknown until it was found in the Tunghuang cave in 20th century. In this text, Guṇabhadra. the translator of the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra, was recorded as the first ancestor of their school, before Bodhidharma.

In the Lankavatara Sūtra, meditation (dhyana, chan, zen) practice was categorized into four kinds. In the D. T. Suzuki’s English translation, these are:

(1) the Dhyana practised by the ignorant,
(2) the Dhyana devoted to the examination of meaning,
(3) the Dhyana with Tathāta (suchness) for its object, and
(4) the Dhyana of the Tathāgatas.[2]

The first kind refers to the kinds of meditation practice by Sravakas and Pratyekabuddhas: to see no-self, to see the body of the self is impermanent, suffering and impure, to attain the state of no-thought. The second kind refers to the meditation practice in the Mahāyāna that sees the meaning of the various aspects of emptiness — not only one’s own self, but also all dharmas are empty. The third kind refers to the meditation to see tathāta (suchness, emptiness) itself as its object, and go beyond all kinds of discrimination. The final kind, the Dhyana of the Tathāgata is having entered the stage of Tathāgatahood, and abiding in the triple bliss which characterizes self-realization attained by noble wisdom, devoting oneself for the sake of all beings to the accomplishment of incomprehensible works.

Zen people thought the first kind is the practice of the lesser vehicle, the second and third are meditation practices based on Mahāyāna teaching on seeing emptiness of the self and objects, and seeing suchness itself. The fourth practice is not only for developing oneself but also benefitting others.

Sometime after the separation between the Northern School and the Southern School occurred, Guifeng Zongmi (Keihō Shūmitsu, 圭峯宗密, 780–841) wrote Chan Prolegomena (Zengenshosenshū-tojo, 禅源所詮集都序). Zongmi was an important Fayen School (Kegon-shū, 華厳宗)master who also claimed himself a Zen master in the lineage of Shenhui (神会), one of the disciples of the sixth ancestor, Huineng. In his work, Zongmi categorized Zen into five kinds depending on their profundity:

(1)   Outsider Zen (Gedō-zen, 外道禅)
(2)   Common-person Zen (Bonpu-zen, 凡夫禅)
(3)   Inferior-vehicle Zen (Shōjō-zen, 小乗禅)
(4)   Great-vehicle Zen (Daijō-zen, 大乗禅)
(5)   Highest-vehicle Zen (Saijōjō-zen, 最上乗禅) also named Tathāgata-purity            Zen (Nyorai-shōjō-zen, 如来清浄禅)

Zongmi said that the fifth kind of Zen is the highest and is the Zen transmitted by Bodhidharma. “The practitioner all-at-once identifies with buddha substance.”[3]

These two texts were the origin of the name Tathāgata Zen (Nyorai Zen, 如来禅). Zen practitioners used this name of Zen to show that their practice was the highest, beyond other meditation practices based on Mahāyāna teachings such as the Tientai (天台) system of meditation practice, described in Tientai Zhiyi’s The Great Cessation-and-Contemplation (Makashikan, 摩訶止観).

Tathāgata Zen and Ancestral Zen
were not transmitted by the ancients, but only transmitted falsely in the Eastern Land (China).

In the Southern School, specifically Mazu’s lineage called the Hangzhou School (Kōshū-shū, 洪州宗), people thought that Tathāgata Zen was still based on the teachings in the scriptures; their practice was transmitted outside teaching (kyōge-betsuden, 教外別伝) and called Ancestral Zen (Soshi Zen, 祖師禅). For example, there is a dialogue between Yanshan Huiji (Gyōsan Ejaku, 仰山慧寂, 807–883) and Xiangyan Zhixian (Kyōgen Chikan香巌智閑, ? – 898), two major disciples of Guishan Lingyou (Isan Reiyū, 潙山霊裕, 771–853):

The master (Yanshan) asked Xiangyan, “Younger brother! What is your view these days?”
Xiangyan said, “I cannot say anything after all.”
Then he composed a verse:

Last year’s poverty was not yet poverty.
This year’s poverty is poverty in its true sense.
Last year, I didn’t have a room to stick a gimlet,
This year, I don’t even have the gimlet.

The master replied, “You only attained Tathāgata Zen, not yet Ancestral Zen.”[4]

From this dialogue, it seems that Yanshan meant that Tathāgata Zen is going beyond discrimination, and seeing emptiness beyond any conceptual thinking without using language, and that Ancestral Zen is freely functioning in a concrete way without discrimination, such as shouting, hitting with a stick, kicking, or raising a finger, a fist, a whisk, etc.

Later in Song Dynasty China, many Zen people thought their practice in the ancestral way was transmitted outside teaching, without relying on any written teachings, so that their practice of Ancestral Zen was superior to Tathāgata Zen. Dōgen Zenji does not appreciate such a Zen tradition.

For several hundred years some have been clinging with delusion to these vain names.
How pitiful is the inferior condition of this degenerating world.

“For several hundred years” means from the time of Yanshan and other eminent Zen masters in the Tang dynasty, which is sometimes called the golden age of Zen, to Dōgen’s day. When Dōgen had traveled to China in his youth, after about two years of Zen practice at Chinese Zen monasteries and meeting with several Zen masters, he still had not found the true teacher he was looking for. In 1225, right after his Japanese master Myōzen passed away, Dōgen met Tiantong Rujing and became his disciple. Dōgen kept a record of his questions and Rujing’s answers in Hōkyōki. The first question in this record is about the separate transmission outside the teaching, and the second question is about Zen masters’ instruction of just raising a fist, holding up the whisk, or hitting with a stick, not allowing their students to utilize thinking mind for measuring things.[5]

Receiving Rujing’s instruction, he was convinced that such a separation between Tathāgata Zen and Ancestral Zen was not a genuine teaching. In various fascicles of Shōbōgenzō, he repeatedly criticizes such common teachings of Zen. For example, in Shōbōgenzō Bukkyō (Buddha Sutra, 仏経), he wrote:

Nevertheless, for the last one or two hundred years or so, in great Song China, all reckless stinky skin-bags have declared, “We should not keep even the ancestral masters’ words and phrases. Much less should we see the teachings within the sutras and use them forever. We should simply make our body-minds like withered trees or dead ashes. We should be like broken ladles or bottomless buckets.” In this way people have carelessly become like non-buddhists or heavenly demons.[6]

“This degenerating world,” is a translation of masse (末世), which means the age of the final dharma, the third of the three ages of the dharma–the age of true dharma, the age of semblance dharma, and the age of the final dharma. It is said that in the age of the final dharma, only Buddhist teachings remain, no one practices, and no awakening is possible. Japanese people believed that the period of the final dharma began in 1052. Dōgen did not accept this theory, as he wrote in Bendōwa:

In the Teaching Schools they focus on various classification systems, yet in the true teaching of Mahāyāna there is no distinction of True, Semblance, and Final Dharma, and it is said that all who practice will attain the Way.[7]

However, here, he uses this expression in the common meaning. Anyway, to me, this verse seems not as poetic as others composed by him.

— • —

[1] (Dōgen’s Extensive Record volume 4, dharma hall discourse 335, p.304) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., www.wisdompubs.org.
[2] See The Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra, Translated from the Sanskrit by Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki. Prajna Press, Boulder, pp. 85–6.
[3] Zongmi on Chan (Jeffrey Lyle Broughton, Columbia University Press, 2009), p. 104.
[4] This is Okumura’s unpublished translation. Another translation is in Records of the Transmission of the Lamp vol. 3 (by Randolph S. Whitefield), p.83.
[5] See Enlightenment Unfolds: The Essential Teachings of Zen Master Dōgen (edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi, Shambhala, 1999), p.4.
[6] This is Okumura’s unpublished translation. Another translation is in Treasury of the True Dharma Eye: Zen Master Dōgen’s Shobo Genzo (edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi), p.541.
[7] Translation by Shohaku Okumura & Taigen Daniel Leighton in The Wholehearted Way, (Tuttle Publishing, 1997), p.37.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

— • —

For further study:
See Dōgen’s Extensive Record.

> More of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese Poems

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Pull Your Own Nose and Lift the Ancient Kōan  

Copyright©2022 Misaki C. Kido

Dōgen’s Chinese Poems (53)

Pull Your Own Nose and Lift the Ancient Kōan
Dharma Hall Discourse Beginning the Summer Practice Period [1247]

掘空平地搆鬼窟 (空を掘り地を平らげ鬼窟を搆う。)
臭惡水雲撥溌天 (臭惡の水雲、撥ねて天に溌ぐ。)
混雜驢牛兼佛祖 (混雜す、驢牛と佛祖と。)
自家鼻孔自家牽 (自家の鼻孔、自家牽く。)

Digging a hole in the sky, leveling the earth, and constructing a demon’s cave,
The monk’s bad-smelling waters splatter, pouring over the heavens.
Donkeys and cows mix together with buddhas and ancestors.
Pull yourself by your nose.[1]

— • —

This is verse 52 in Kuchūgen and Dharma Hall Discourse (上堂, jōdō) 238 in Volume 3 of Eihei Kōroku. Dōgen Zenji recited this verse at the beginning of the dharma hall discourse and made a short speech. This verse in Manzan’s version and Monkaku’s version are the same.

The speech he gave after the verse is:

Tell me, how shall we today lift up the ancient kōan from two thousand years ago?
After a pause Dōgen said: A copper head and iron brow keep practicing. A wooden ladle and a clump of soil clap their hands and laugh.

Pull Your Own Nose and Lift the Ancient Kōan

This is the dharma hall discourse on the occasion of the beginning of the summer practice period on 15th day of the 4th month in 1247. Dōgen Zenji and his sangha moved from Kōshōji in Fukakusa, near Kyoto to Echizen (presently Fukui Prefecture) in 1243. The buildings of the new monastery Daibutsuji were built in 1244 and they moved in the winter of 1244. In 1245, they had the first summer practice period (ango) at Daibutsuji. In 1246, the temple name was changed to Eiheiji, and Pure Standards for Temple Administrators (知事清規 Chiji Shingi) was presented during the summer practice period. So it was in this year, that the sangha began to practice following the traditional system based on the Chinese pure regulations (清規 shingi). The sangha was divided into two groups. One group stayed in the monks’ hall and concentrated on practice, following The Model for Engaging the Way (弁道法 Bendoho); another group worked in the administration building, kuin (庫院), which included the kitchen, storeroom, and various administrative offices to support the practice.

“Pull Your Own Nose” in the title is from the fourth line of this verse, and “Lift the Ancient Kōan” is taken from Dōgen’s speech after the verse. The ninety-day summer practice period is an ancient kōan given by the Buddha in which each monk is studying and practicing using their karmic self in order to study the self that is empty and interconnected with all beings. Another way to understand the title is that the empty and interconnected self pulls and trains the self-centered karmic self.

Digging a hole in the sky, leveling the earth, and constructing a demon’s cave,
The monk’s bad-smelling waters splatter, pouring over the heavens.

“Digging a hole in the sky, leveling the earth,” is a translation of kukku heichi (掘空平地). The sky and earth mean the entire world. Monastic practice is not simply a means to develop monks’ individual bodies and minds, but allows us to discover the emptiness and interconnectedness with the entire heaven and earth. This expression might also mean that monks work with emptiness (空), the ultimate truth, oneness of all beings and also work with the earth (地), one of the four great elements, the concrete, the conventional truth, multiplicity. Digging emptiness is making it concrete, and leveling the earth is to see oneness. By seeing and working with both sides, the monks can act in the middle way between discrimination and beyond discrimination.

“Constructing a demon’s cave” is kō kikutsu (搆鬼窟). By working with all beings in heaven and earth, the monks construct a demon’s cave. A demon’s cave is an abbreviation of kokusan kikutsu (黒山鬼窟), a demon’s cave in the black mountain, commonly used in the negative meaning—that is, being caught up with discriminative thinking or clinging to non-discrimination. For example, in Case 25 “The Hermit of Lotus Flower Peak Holds up His Staff” in the Blue Cliff Record, there is a sentence in Yuanwu’s commentary, “As soon as you make a comparative judgement, you’re in the demon cave of the mountain of darkness making your living.”[2]

In Shōbōgenzō Ikka myōju (一顆明珠, One Bright Jewel), Dōgen quotes Xuansha’s dialogue with a monk, in which Xuansha used this expression in the common, negative way.

Once a monk asked, “I have heard that you said that the entire ten-direction world is one bright jewel. How can this student (I) understand it?”
The master said, “The entire ten-direction world is one bright jewel. What is the use of understanding it?”
The next day, the master asked the same monk, “The entire ten-direction world is one bright jewel. How do you understand it?”
The monk said, “The entire ten-direction world is one bright jewel. What is the use of understanding it?”
The Master said, “I know that you are making a livelihood inside the demon’s cave in the black mountain.”[3]

In his comments on this dialogue, Dōgen changed the meaning of the expression and said, “Therefore, forward steps and backward steps within the demon’s cave in the black mountain are nothing other than the one bright jewel.” Thinking using the dharma-eye, which sees both discrimination and beyond discrimination, is one bright jewel that is the entire ten-direction world. In the verse from Kuchūgen, he used this expression in the same way. Seeing both the ultimate truth and the conventional truth, we use our thinking based on beyond-thinking during the practice period.

“The monk’s bad-smelling waters splatter, pouring over the heavens.” This is an ironical expression, probably taken from Tiantong Rujing’s verse for the Librarian:

The Librarian
Excreted directly from the mouth of old bandit Gautama,
A lot of donkey-dung (sutras), and horse manure (Vinaya texts) as well!
Rolling them all into a ball, turning them around,
The bad-smell pervades the heavens, annoying people in the sahā-world.[4]

As many Zen masters did, Rujing sometimes used “dirty words” to express the Buddha’s awakening and teachings. The most famous example might be case 21 of the Gateless Barrier (無門関, Mumonkan), Yummen’s Dried Shit-Stick.[5]

Rujing’s verse is about the manager of the storage for scriptures. Within a building on the monastery grounds, there was a huge rotary bookcase in which scriptures (tripiṭaka) were stored. There was a belief that, when a person turned the bookcase once, there was merit produced, just the same as reciting the entire Buddhist library. Probably this was for air circulation, keeping the bookcase cool and dry to protect the books.

Rujing said that the Buddhist scriptures were like the excrement of the old bandit Gautama, that is, Shakyamuni Buddha. By turning the scriptures, the bad-smell pervades the entire world. The word “bad-smell (臭悪, shūaku)” is used in the description of the smell from the process of a corpse decaying; this was used as a method for the contemplation of impurity (不浄観, fujōkan).

Dōgen Zenji sometimes used this kind of expression. There is a story that an old Pure Land Buddhist master once listened to Dōgen’s dharma discourse, and he was stunned when Dōgen used the expression, “a dried sit-stick.” This master declared that Zen was a terrible teaching, which says the buddha is a dried shit-stick. Hearing that, Dōgen said, “I want to cry, that even such a respectable master said such a foolish thing.”

In this verse, Dōgen says that the monks splash their bad-smelling water over the entire heaven. This is a reference to the actual practice of monks during the practice period; they have to use their karmic body and mind and yet practice the Buddha’s practice. Of course, there are tons of beautiful phrases to praise the Buddha’s awakening and teachings, and monks’ practice. I think Zen masters tried to avoid using such flowery, hackneyed words, and tried to make their audience or readers wake up.

Donkeys and cows mix together with buddhas and ancestors.
Pull yourself by your nose.

Donkeys and cows refer to the monks’ karmic bodies and minds. Yet in their practice, based on zazen and on following the Buddha’s teachings and on the proscriptions of the pure standards (shingi), buddhas and ancestors manifest themselves within the monks’ practice.

“Pull yourself by your nose” is an expression Dōgen also took from Rujing. This is from a verse on the eighth of the ten ox-herding pictures titled, “Forgetting both Person and Ox,” in which only the round circle is there and nothing is in it. In the first two lines of his poem for this picture, Rujing said, “One’s own nostril is drilled by the self, and one’s own rope is pulled by the self.”[6] This means that the both the person and the ox are the self. The self makes a hole in the ox’s nostril and the self puts the rope in the hole and pulls the rope to guide the self. That is the monks’ practice during the practice period. I think this is the same as Dōgen’s expression jijuyū-zanmai, and the same as Kōdō Sawaki Rōshi’s expression, “self selfing the self.” The monks make a vow to practice during the ninety-days practice period; they make a hole in their nostril and pull their own nostril to guide themselves.

— • —

[1] Dōgen’s Extensive Record Volume 3, Dharma Hall Discourse 238, p.238) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., www.wisdompubs.org.
[2] The Blue Cliff Record (translation by Thomas Cleary, Shambhala, 1977), p.168.
[3] Okumura’s translation.
[4] This is Okumura’s translation from “Recorded sayings of Tiantong Rujing” in Study on Zen Master Tiantong Rujing (天童如浄禅師の研究)by Genryu Kagamishima (Shunjusha, Tokyo, 1983), p. 380.
[5] In Zen Comments on the Mumonkan (Zenkei Shibayama, Harper & Row, 1974), p.154, the case reads:
           A monk asked Unmon, “What is Buddha?”
           Unmon said, “A shit-stick!” (Kanshiketsu!)
In Master Yunmen: From the Record of the Chan Master “Gate of the Clouds” (translation by Urs App, Kodansha America,1994), p.126, the dialogue is:
           Someone asked, “What is Shakyamuni’s body?”
           The master said, “A dry piece of shit.”
[6] 自家の鼻孔自家穿つ。自家繩索自家牽く。

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

— • —

For further study:
See Dōgen’s Extensive Record.

> More of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese Poems

Copyright©2022 Sanshin Zen Community

Can you acquire the dharma?

Nine talks on Shōbōgenzō Raihai Tokuzui
Photographer: User:Justinc {{cc-by-sa-2.0}} This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

In acquiring the dharma, all acquire the dharma equally.
All should pay homage to and hold in esteem one who has acquired the dharma.
Do not make an issue of whether it is a man or a woman.
This is the most wondrous law of the Buddhadharma.[1]


—From Shōbōgenzō Raihai Tokuzui

What does “acquiring the dharma” mean? It sounds like the dharma is something concrete that you can attain.

Okumura Roshi:
This word “attain” is a problem. Toku (得) means to “attain.” Conventionally, this means we get something we don’t have or didn’t have before. So this is something new that is attained. But actually, nothing is attained. That is what the Heart Sutra says:

With nothing to attain, a bodhisattva relies on prajñā pāramitā, and thus the mind is without hindrance.

The first phrase of this sentence reads mu chi yaku mu toku. Mu chi means “nothing who (as a subject) attains,” and mu toku is “nothing that is attained.” Because there’s no such attainment. If we think there’s something called “dharma” that can be attained, then that is a mistake. We usually say, “I attained enlightenment.” Even Dōgen sometimes used the words, “attain the Dharma.” That is a mistake, I think.

When we use the word “attain the dharma” it means we awake to the reality that there is nothing to gain and nothing to lose. But this word “attain” itself is contradictory. When we read the story of someone who attained so-called enlightenment, that process of attaining enlightenment is a process of losing.

There is a famous kōan story about someone whose name was Kyōgen Chikan. He was very eminent, a very bright person. He knew everything about Buddhist teachings. One time his teacher asked him, “Say something about the dharma without using what you have studied” from the scriptures. That means, don’t use any word you studied from somewhere else. Kyōgen tried to say something about the dharma. But everything he could think of was something he had studied, either from the texts or from the teachers. He tried very hard and finally he said, “I can’t say anything without using something I learned from others.”

He said to his teacher, “I can’t say anything without using something I studied. So please say something for me.” Now the student asks the teacher to say something. But the teacher rejected his request. So Kyōgen lost his pride about his knowledge. He was rejected by the teacher. He said he gave up hoping to become an enlightened person in this lifetime. He made a determination to become a working-class monk, to serve people instead of trying to become enlightened. He spent some time in that way. Then, sometime later, he left the monastery and lived in a hermitage near a certain Zen master’s grave. So he lost the monastery also. And he had lost his teacher.

When he was cleaning the road to that Zen master’s grave, he swept a stone and the stone hit a stalk of bamboo. He heard the sound of the stone hitting bamboo. At that time, the story says that he “attained” enlightenment. But what had he attained? He had lost everything. And when he heard the sound of the stone hitting the bamboo, he lost even himself. He swept the stone, and hitting the bamboo it made a sound. This sound is made by everything, this entire universe. So what he understood is… well, we have to say what he “understood” or what he “awakened to” or what he “attained,” but actually there’s no such thing called “he” or “me.” We are simply a part of this network of interdependent origination. “We” are not “living,” but we are… how can I say? All beings allow me to live, to exist. There’s nothing called me. So, that is called attaining enlightenment. What did Kyōgen attain actually? He lost everything, even himself. So the process of attaining enlightenment, so-called enlightenment, is a process of losing everything.

What kind of word can we use about this? Somehow, we have to say “he attained.” But actually, he lost. He attained awakening? He awakened to wisdom? You know, somehow, we have to use a positive expression or word when we talk about it. If we always use negative expressions, then our mind somehow doesn’t work. So even in the case of Shakyamuni, when he attained awakening and became Buddha, we have to say he attained buddhahood. But what did he really attain? He didn’t attain anything. But somehow, we have to say “he became Buddha” or “attained buddhahood.” I think this is a problem of language. We need to be careful not to be deceived by the language we use to express the real things that happen. What do you say? Attain? Do we attain or do we not-attain? If we say I attain that is a mistake. But if we say I don’t attain anything, then how can we express this transformation?


[1] Okumura’s translation.

— • —

Commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Rōshi

The Dōgen Institute offers an occasional series of questions from students with responses from Okumura Rōshi about practice and study. These questions and responses are taken from Okumura Rōshi’s recorded lectures, and are edited to provide continuity and context.

— • —

For further study:


> Other Questions and responses

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Spring Crimson Penetrating All Minds  

Copyright©2022 Misaki C. Kido

Dōgen’s Chinese Poems (52)
Spring Crimson Penetrating All Minds

發心畢竟二何窮 (發心・畢竟二つ何ぞ窮めん。)
如是二心佛祖風 (是の如きの二心は佛祖の風なり。)
忘自度他功徳力 (自を忘れ他を度す功徳力。) 
家郷春色桃華紅 (家郷の春色、桃華紅なり)

In both arousing the mind and the ultimate stage,
how do we practice fully?
Engaging these two minds like this
is the style of buddha ancestors.
Forgetting self and freeing others
with the strength of merit and virtue,
My homeland’s spring color, peach blossom crimson.[1]

— • —

This is verse 51 in Kuchūgen and Dharma Hall Discourse (上堂, jōdō) 487 in Volume 7 of Eihei Kōroku. This verse in Manzan’s version and Monkaku’s version are the same.

Spring Crimson Penetrating All Minds

This is the title we gave the dharma hall discourse in the English translation of Eihei Kōroku, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. There is no such title in the original. This discourse consists only of this verse, without any speech by Dōgen. It is not certain if Dōgen gave a speech which was not recorded with this verse, or if for some reason he only recited this verse.

This discourse was given next to Dharma Hall Discourse 486, given on Buddha’s Parinirvāṇa Day (the fifteenth day of the second month in 1252), and before discourse 489, on the occasion of Closing the Fireplace (on the first day of the third month of that year). It is getting warmer, and heating is not necessary anymore, so they remove the fireplace from the monks’ hall. The second half of the second month in the lunar calendar is around the end of March or beginning of April in the solar calendar. It is the time peach blossoms and other flowers begin to bloom. Traditionally in Japan, the third day of the third month has been celebrated as Peach Festival, or Girl’s Day.

This verse has something to do with what Dōgen wrote in Shōbōgenzō Hotsubodaishin (発菩提心, Arousing Bodhi-mind), the fourth of the twelve-fascicle collection of Shōbōgenzō. Dōgen scholars suppose that these twelve fascicles were written in Dōgen’s later years.

In both arousing the mind and the ultimate stage,
how do we practice fully?
Engaging these two minds like this
is the style of buddha ancestors.

The first line here and the third line (described below) of the complete verse are taken from a verse in the Mahāyāna Parinirvāṇa Sutra. Dōgen quotes the verse in Shōbōgenzō Hotsubodaishin (Arousing Bodhi-mind):

Kāśyapa Bodhisattva praised Shakyamuni Buddha with a verse saying,
[First] arousing [bodhi-]mind and the [mind of bodhisattvas in the] ultimate stage are not different;
between these two [stages of] 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.
Such arousing [bodhi-]mind surpasses the triple world.
Therefore, it can be called the unsurpassable.[2]

It seems that Dōgen did not so much appreciate the theory of buddha-nature discussed in the Parinirvāṇa Sutra; but it does seem that he appreciated this verse from it, particularly the line “ferrying across others before oneself (自未得度先度他, ji-mitokudo-sendo-ta).” Probably this is the reason that in Dharma Hall Discourse 383, he recommends reading the Parinirvāṇa Sutra together with the Lotus Sutra and the Prajna Paramita Sutras.

In this verse, Kāśyapa Bodhisattva says to Shakyamuni Buddha that the bodhi-mind we first arouse and the bodhi-mind of the most developed bodhisattvas who are about to attain buddhahood are one and the same mind. And yet, for us beginners as immature bodhisattvas arousing the bodhi-mind to save others before ourselves is definitely more difficult than for the more developed bodhisattvas who have been practicing for many kalpas, life after life. Therefore, Kāśyapa Bodhisattva praises and makes prostrations to the immature bodhisattvas who have first aroused the mind to save others before themselves.

In his comments on this verse, Dōgen says:

Arousing [bodhi-]mind is to arouse the mind of ferrying others before oneself for the first time. This is called first arousing bodhi-mind. After having aroused this mind, we further meet with innumerable buddhas and make offerings to them, we see buddhas and hear dharmas, and further arouse bodhi-mind. It is like adding frost on the snow.

The so-called ultimate stage refers to the awakening of the fruit of buddhahood. When we compare anuttara-samyak-sambodhi (ultimate awakening) with first arousing bodhi-mind, they are like the kalpa-gni and the fire of a firefly. However, when we arouse the mind of ferrying across others before ourselves, these two are not at all different.[3]

The kalpa-gni is the fire that burns the entire universe at the end of the kalpa of dissolution, one period of the cycle of four periods: 1) kalpa of creation, 2) kalpa of duration of created world, 3) kalpa of dissolution, and 4) kalpa of nothingness. Our bodhi-mind is tiny and weak like that of a firefly, and the great bodhisattvas bodhi-mind is like the fire that burns the entire universe. These two are so different, and yet, Dōgen says, these are the same fire; it is not a matter of the scale but the quality.

Further, Dōgen says:

To benefit all living beings is to help all living beings to arouse the mind of ferrying others before oneself. We should not expect to become a buddha by the power of arousing the mind of ferrying others before ourselves. Even if the virtue to become a buddha is ripened and is about to be completed, still we dedicate [the virtue] to all living beings to help them become buddha and attain the Way.

This is the basic nature of the first of the four bodhisattva vows: “Beings are numberless; I vow to free them.” Bodhisattvas aspire to become buddhas and enter nirvāṇa together with all beings. That means we vow not to enter nirvāṇa until all other beings enter nirvāṇa before us. We vow to stay in samsara as long as any beings are still there. All bodhisattvas vow to stay in samsara, working with other beings. Therefore, no bodhisattva ever crosses over the river to the other shore and enters nirvāṇa. The other shore is empty. When all bodhisattvas are working in samsara and helping each other, we can find nirvāṇa right here on this shore of samsara. Because of compassion, bodhisattvas never enter nirvāṇa, but because of wisdom, bodhisattvas do not abide in samsara. In Mahāyāna Buddhism, this way of life is called nirvāṇa without abiding (無住処涅槃, mujusho-nehan). That is why Dōgen continues:

However, after having aroused this mind, when we touch the great earth, everything [on the earth] becomes gold, and when we stir the great ocean, [the water in the ocean] becomes sweet dew. After this, when we grasp soil, stones, sands, or pebbles, we uphold the bodhi-mind. When we meet with water, foam, bubble, or fire, we intimately carry the bodhi-mind.

In Shōbōgenzō Sesshin-sesshō (Expounding Mind, Expounding Nature), Dōgen writes:

The Buddha Way is the Buddha Way at the time of first arousing bodhi-mind, and it is the Buddha Way at the time of attaining true awakening; [indeed] it is always the Buddha Way—in the beginning, in the middle, and at the end. For example, when a person travels ten thousand miles, the first step is a part of the thousand miles, and the thousandth step is also a part of the thousand miles. Although the first step and the thousandth step are different, both are equally parts of the thousand miles.

This is one of the reasons why Dōgen says that practice as a cause, and realization as a result, are one and the same. For mature bodhisattvas who are getting closer to the buddhahood, saving other beings might be a natural thing, but for immature bodhisattvas like us, who are not yet free from self-centered minds, it is extremely difficult to save others before we are saved ourselves. It sounds almost like self-negation.

No matter how difficult, and no matter how small, weak, and incomplete our practice may be, if we practice with such a spirit, we and the mature bodhisattvas such as Avalokiteśvara are the same. In other words, we are parts of the innumerable hands and eyes of Avalokiteśvara. In the poem, Dōgen says this is how (“the style”) buddha-ancestors have been practicing. We wish to continue this way of practice.

Forgetting self and freeing others
with the strength of merit and virtue,
My homeland’s spring color, peach blossom crimson.

It is difficult or almost impossible for us new and immature bodhisattvas to practice, if we think that we are the only bodhisattva and that all others are the beings we have to save. But if we think all others are also bodhisattvas, and others are also living in the same spirit, and I am one of the living beings for other bodhisattvas to help and support, then it is not such a difficult thing to live in such a spirit. This world becomes the world of helping and supporting each other. The basic teaching of Mahāyāna Buddhism is that we are living in the network of interconnectedness; we are all connected and supporting each other. Kōdō Sawaki Rōshi said, “Heaven and earth make offerings. Air, water, plants, animals, and human beings make offerings. All things make offerings to each other. It’s only within this circle of offering that we can live. Whether we appreciate this or not, it’s true.”[4] This circle of offering is our homeland.

Modern society looks like the world of separation and competition. It seems all people think only of their own personal or group benefit, and take advantage of others. In such a world, it is not possible to live with peace of mind. Our homeland would become like that of the realm of fighting spirits, hungry ghosts, or hell dwellers.

If we can do something for the sake of others’ benefit before our personal benefit, our world would change to the world of offering and supporting each other. That is the strength of merit and virtue which Dōgen talks about in the poem. In our helping and supporting each other, we can see the beauty of our homelands’ spring color, peach blossom crimson, and all other dharma flowers. The reference to peach blossoms in the spring came from the story of Lingyun Zhiqin (霊雲志勤, Reiun Shigon), who realized the Way upon seeing peach blossoms. He wrote a poem and presented it to his teacher Guishan Lingyou:

 For thirty years, I have been looking for the sword,
How many times have the leaves fallen and the branches grown anew?
Since once seeing the peach blossoms,
Up to the present, never once have I harbored any more doubts.[5]

They might have had peach blossoms at Eiheiji at this time. Dōgen combines the dharma and the seasonal beauty in front of their eyes.

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[1] (Dōgen’s Extensive Record volume 7, dharma hall discourse 487, p.433) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., www.wisdompubs.org.
[2] This is Okumura’s unpublished translation. Another translation is in Nirvāṇa Sutra: A Translation of Dharmakshema’s Northern Version (translation by Kosho Yamamoto), p. 341.
[3] Okumura’s unpublished translation.
[4] The Zen Teaching of Homeless Kodo (Kōshō Uchiyama and Shohaku Okumura, Wisdom Publications, 2014), p.179.
[5] This is Okumura’s unpublished translation.

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Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

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For further study:
See Dōgen’s Extensive Record.

> More of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese Poems

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