Tag Archives: poetry

Crossing the stream

Copyright©2020 Misaki C. Kido

Dōgen’s Chinese Poems (33)

Two Verses on Winter Solstice (2)
「冬至二首」(其之二)

Everywhere you meet him, completing your face.
Turn your body and head to pervade the heavens.
In this transition, though borrowing the strength of the [teacher’s] fist,
From the beginning, the effort of your nostrils has been to exhale.[1]

觸處逢渠全面目 (觸處渠に逢うて面目を全うす、)
翻身回首向天通 (身を翻し首を回らして天に向って通ず、)
推移縦借拳頭力 (推移は縦い拳頭の力を借るとも、)
吹氣従来鼻孔功  (吹氣従来鼻孔の功なり。)

This is verse 32 in Kuchugen and verse 94 of volume 10 of Eiheikoroku (Dōgen’s Extensive Record). This is the second of two verses about the winter solstice. This verse in Manzan’s version has some differences in the third and fourth lines.

一期縦借拳頭力 (一期縦い拳頭の力を借るとも、)
During one lifetime, though borrowing the strength of the [teacher’s] fist,
須還功 (氣を出すことは須く還って鼻に功有るべし
Exhaling has [been done] by the efforts of your own nostrils.

Everywhere you meet him, completing your face.
Turn your body and head to pervade the heaven.

“Everywhere you meet him,” is a translation of 觸處逢渠. This phrase is taken from Dongshan Liangjie’s[2] verse on his realization as he was crossing a stream. In Dongshan’s original verse, the phrase is 處處得逢渠. The meanings of觸處 (sokusho) in Dōgen’s poem and 處處 (shosho) in Dongshan’s verse are the same: “everywhere.” The Chinese character 觸 literally means “to contact” or “touch,” so that 觸處 means everywhere you are contacting, that is, wherever you are now. The Chinese character 得 in Dongshan’s verse means “to attain” or “be able to.” Dōgen leaves this word out because of a limit to the number of characters in a line in this form of Chinese poetry.

According to The Anthology of Ancestral Hall (祖堂集, Zutanji), when his master Yunyan Tansheng[3] was on his deathbed, Dongshan asked, “One hundred years after your passing away, if someone asks me, if I could have painted your portrait, what should I say to that person?” In Zen literature, it is said that a disciple received a portrait (真) of the teacher when they became a dharma heir of the teacher. This means that Dongshan is asking if he (Dongshan) truly saw and understood Yunyan’s true face. Yunyan answered, “Just tell him, [I am] just this person (只這个漢是).” In a later text, Yunyan’s saying is, “Just this is it (即這箇是 or 只這是).” Since Dongshan did not really understand and continued to think, Yunyan tried to explain the meaning; but Dongshan asked Yunyan not to give him an explanation. He wanted to continue to investigate what this meant by himself. After the three-year mourning period was over, Dongshan and his dharma brother Shenshan left Yunyan’s monastery and traveled together. While they were crossing a stream, Dongshan had a realization about Yunyan’s saying, “Just this person (just this is it),” and composed the following verse, which became famous among his descendants:

切忌從他覓迢迢與我疎。(切に忌む、他に從って覓むることを。迢迢として我と疎なり。)
我今獨自往處處得逢渠。(我れ今、獨り自ら往く、處處に渠に逢うを得たり。)
渠今正是我我今不是渠。(渠は今正に是れ我れなり。我は今、是れ渠にあらず。)
應須恁麼會方得契如如。(應に須く恁麼に會さば、方に如如に契うを得べし。)

Never seek [the person] from others, or I will be far alienated [from him.]
Now, I walk alone by myself; everywhere, I am able to meet him.
Now, he is truly me; now, I am not him.
Understanding in this way, I can be for the first time in accordance with thusness.[4]

This verse is considered as the expression of Dongshan’s great realization. Dongshan, walking by himself without relying on any other person, was able to meet “the person (true face of himself) everywhere.” This is the decisive but subtle point of transformation that Dōgen pointed to in the previous verse on the winter solstice. In my understanding, “I” in Dongshan’s verse is the self as a collection of numberless elements, the karmic conditioned self as an individual person (1). “The person just as it is” is the self that is interconnected with all beings (∞). When the conditioned self (1), that is five aggregates, see emptiness of the conditioned self (0), that is, five aggregates, we begin to see we are connected with all beings (∞).

This discovery is the decisive turning point in our lives. When we see this structure of ourselves, we cannot live without taking the bodhisattva vows to live together with all beings, and we cannot live without repentance because as a conditioned self, we are almost always self-centered. Therefore, our transformation does not only occur once in our lifetime. We need to arouse bodhi-mind moment by moment, practice, and awaken to the reality of inter-connectedness, as the cycle of practice. This way of life led by the bodhisattva vows is the life of Nirvana called mujusho-nehan (nirvana without abiding). In Shobogenzo Gyoji (Continuous Practice), Dōgen Zenji said:

In the great Way of the buddhas and ancestors, there is always unsurpassable continuous practice which is the Way like a circle without interruption. Between the arousing of awakening-mind, practice, awakening, and Nirvana, there is not the slightest break. Continuous practice is the circle of the Way.[5]

This way of practice is how we “complete our face,” living our awakening to the structure of our self: 1=0=∞. This is the way we “turn our body and head to pervade the heavens.” We take a vow to live together with all beings, as infinite self.

In this transition, though borrowing the strength of the [teacher’s] fist,
From the beginning, the effort of your nostrils has been to exhale.

While we live in the bodhisattva path, we need help from the strength of “the [teacher’s] fist.” We need not only our teacher’s help, but help also from many people, such as our dharma friends, family, good and difficult times, the changing of seasons, etc. In Japan, we have a saying, “Except for myself, everyone is my teacher.”

Still, we need to walk the path by ourselves with our own feet, without relying on others. The expression in the last line, “From the beginning, the effort of your nostrils has been to exhale (吹氣従来鼻孔功)” refers to the ordinary life activities in our ordinary lives, that is, nothing special. This expression came from Tiantong Rujing’s dharma hall discourse on the occasion of the winter solstice:

冬至上堂。晷運推移。打圓相云。看日南長至。眼睛裡放光。鼻孔裡出氣。還知向上事麼。飽飯快活屙一堆。超過瞿曇親授記。(冬至上堂。晷運推移す。圓相を打して云く。看よ。日は南より長く至る。眼睛裡に放光し、鼻孔裡に出氣す。還た向上の事を知るや。飯に飽いて快活に屙を一堆し、瞿曇の親授記を超過す。)

Winter solstice dharma-hall discourse: The Sun’s movement is changing. [The master] draws a circle and said, “Look! The sun is coming up from the south and daylight is getting longer day by day. [The monks] emit light from the eye and exhale through their nose. Do you know the matter of further going beyond? With vitality, eat lots of rice and then use the toilet. Transcend your personal prediction of future Buddhahood from Gautama.[6]

Dōgen Zenji quotes “The sun is coming up from the south and day light is getting longer day by day. [The monks] emit the light from the eye and exhale through their nose,” in Shobogenzo Ganzei (Eye Ball). In Dōgen’s dharma discourse 239 in Eihei-koroku,[7] he quotes the last three sentences of Rujing’s discourse. Finally, the word 推移, (changing; in this transition), is also used in Dōgen’s verse. I think Dōgen Zenji had this winter solstice dharma discourse by Rujing in mind when he composed his own verse on the winter solstice.

— • —

[1] Dōgen’s Extensive Record 10-94, p.636) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., www.wisdompubs.org.
[2] 洞山良价, Tozan Ryokai, 807 – 869
[3] 雲巖曇晟, 780 – 841
[4] Okumura’s unpublished translation.
[5] Okumura’s unpublished translation.
[6] Okumura’s unpublished translation.
[7] Dōgen’s Extensive Record p. 238-239

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

— • —

For further study:

> More of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese Poems


Copyright©2020 Sanshin Zen Community

 

 

I encourage you to look closely

Copyright©2020 Misaki C. Kido

Dōgen’s Chinese Poems (32)

Two Verses on the Winter Solstice (1)
冬至二首(其之一)冬至二首 (その一)

Yesterday was short; today is longer.
Though without edge or corners, [the solstice] is good to examine.
I encourage you to look closely.
Stop asking for the sun in the sky.[1]

昨日短兮今日長 (昨日短く今日長し、)
雖無稜角好商量  (稜角無しと雖ども好商量、)
勧君急著眼睛見  (君に勧む急に眼睛を著けて見よ、)
休向天辺紋太陽  (天辺に向かって太陽を問うこと休みね)

This is verse 31 in Kuchugen and verse 93 of volume 10 of Eiheikoroku (Dōgen’s Extensive Record). This is the first one of the two verses about the Winter Solstice. This verse in Manzan’s version has some differences in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th lines.

昨日短兮今日長 (昨日短く今日長し、)
Yesterday was short; today is longer.
佛法商量 (了に佛法の商量すべき無し、)
After all, there is nothing to investigate as the Buddha Dharma
絶商量後如何委 (商量を絶して後如何が委かにせん、)
After stopping investigation, how shall we see it in detail?
到處逢人賀一陽 (到る處人に逢うて一陽を賀す、)
Wherever we meet others, we celebrate Yan energy [is coming back].

Yesterday was short; today is longer.
Though without edge or corners, [the solstice] is good to examine.

In East Asian countries including China, Korea, and Japan, the winter solstice (冬至, Ch. dongzhi, Jp. toji) is one of the important seasonal festivals. In Japan, because it was the busiest time of the year for farming, the summer solstice was not celebrated. After the summer solstice, yin energy is getting stronger and stronger, and on the day of winter solstice it has reached its pinnacle. However, this is the same time at which yan energy returns and little by little restores brightness and warmth. Daylight hours will be getting longer. In ancient times in China before the use of the lunar calendar, the winter solstice was celebrated as the first day of the new year.

At Zen monasteries, the winter solstice was also celebrated. In Dōgen Zenji’s sangha, Dōgen gave formal dharma hall discourse on this day, or they held shosan, an informal meeting in which the abbot and the assembly of monks discuss questions and answers. In the Eiheikoroku, five dharma hall discourses and four shosan are recorded.

On the occasion of the winter solstice in the eleventh month of 1245, the first year Dōgen’s sangha had summer practice period at the newly built Daibutsuji (later renamed Eiheiji), Dōgen gave a dharma hall discourse, from which the following is taken:

Today’s first [arising of] yang [and the daylight’s increase] is an auspicious occasion; a noble person reaches maturity. Although this is an auspicious occasion for laypeople, it is truly a delight and support for buddha ancestors. Yesterday, the short length [of day] departed, yin reached its fullness, and the sound of cold wind ceased. This morning the growing length [of day] arrives, and yang arises with a boisterous clamor. Now patch-robed monks feel happy and sustained, and the buddha ancestors dance with joy.[2]

At the end of the discourse, he said:

Although the plum blossoms are bright amid the fallen snow, inquire further about the first arrival of yang [with the solstice].

After this discourse, one of the compilers of Eiheikoroku (probably Koun Ejo) noted:

This mountain [temple] is located in Etsu [Province] in the Hokuriku [northern] region, where from winter through spring the fallen snow does not disappear, at various times seven or eight feet, or even more than ten feet deep. Furthermore, Tiantong [Rujing, Dōgen’s teacher] had the expression “Plum blossoms amid the fallen snow,” which the teacher Dōgen always liked to use. Therefore, after staying on this mountain, Dōgen often spoke of snow.[3]

We are not sure exactly in which year this verse was composed but it is certain that Dōgen wrote it in Echizen, where all the mountains and temple buildings become covered with deep snow. During winter, it snows day after day, the sky is dark and gloomy. Since the temperature is not so low in that area, it is always humid. (I was surprised when I spent my first winter in Minneapolis; it was very cold and dry because the moisture was completely frozen out of the air.) The monks must have had difficulties keeping their aspiration strong to continue to practice. Winter solstice is the pivotal point of the entire world from the cold, dark, and snowy winter to the time of restoration of yan energy, which will bring back light and warmth.

“Edge or corners” is a translation of 稜角 (ryokaku), which refers to a clear-cut boundary between two parts, such as the line of a mountain-ridge or a corner of rectangular lumber. Although it is decisive, the change on the winter solstice day is really subtle; severe winter weather continues for a few more months. Unless we are mindful, we don’t feel the difference before and after the solstice. And yet, no matter how subtle, the decisive change happens on this day. This subtle change can be an analogy of the decisive change of our lives – from the life being pulled by karma, to the bodhisattva path in which we are led by vows. Arousing bodhi-mind is the turning point from the life of the first two truths of the Four Noble Truths, suffering and cause of suffering, to the path of the cessation of suffering, the second two of the Four Noble Truths. This change might be subtle and unclear, even to ourselves. But we need to clearly see and examine the decisive meaning of this subtle transformation.

I encourage you to look closely.
Stop asking for the sun in the sky.

Dōgen Zenji encourages his monks to examine the importance of this subtle, but decisive turning point. A turning point might not only occur once a year, or once in our lifetime. We may experience the same sort of subtle transforming point every day within our not so exciting, rather boring day-to-day continuous practice. Arousing bodhi-mind each moment and continuing to practice steadily is precious but difficult. This verse is Dōgen’s encouragement to his monks during the long winter.

It is not meaningful to search for the sun above the dark snow clouds and escape to a fantasy in which the spring sun appears, and the entire world becomes bright and warm. We need to continuously practice with lively and peaceful mind during not only the hard winter but also the joyful spring, the hot summer, and the cool autumn. This is the meaning of the magnanimous mind, as Dōgen wrote in Tenzokyokun: “Although drawn by the voices of spring, do not wander over spring meadows; viewing the fall colors, do not allow your heart to fall. The four seasons cooperate in a single scene; regard light and heavy with a single eye.”[4]

Uchiyama Roshi wrote in one essay:

So simply by practicing zazen immovably and peacefully as the true self, I am making the best contribution to the development of the society that I can. Unbeknownst to other people, my personal zazen is already reverberating throughout the entire society.

And yet, if even one person begins to practice zazen inspired by my zazen, we must say that this is really a great event. Actually, since the time of Shakyamuni Buddha, the seed of zazen has been transmitted from one person to another, one by one, and has reached the present day.

If seeds are sown in the ground during winter, there is no way they can germinate. Yet if a seed of true zazen remains somewhere in this world, when spring comes, the seed will certainly sprout and grow bigger and bigger.[5]

Dōgen Zenji’s and Uchiyama Roshi’s teachings are meaningful and important for us during this difficult time of pandemic.

— • —

[1] Dōgen’s Extensive Record 10-93, p.636 © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., www.wisdompubs.org.
[2] Dōgen’s Extensive Record, Dharma Hall Discourse 135, p.162
[3] Ibid. p.164.
[4] Dōgen’s Pure Standards for the Zen Community, p.49
[5] Boundless Vows, Endless Practice: Bodhisattva Vows in the 21st Century (Dōgen Institute 2018) p.37.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

— • —

For further study:

> More of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese Poems


Copyright©2020 Sanshin Zen Community

 

 

Emptiness grasping emptiness

Copyright©2020 Misaki C. Kido

Dōgen’s Chinese Poems (31)
The Night of the Seventeenth;
Verse on “Riding on a whale, they grasp the moon.”
十七夜、頌騎鯨捉月 (十七夜、「鯨に騎って月を捉う」を頌す)

Wearing dragon scales, rabbit horns, and turtle hair,
With falling rain and rising clouds, we see the path is slippery.
Gouging out the empty sky, seeking has not ceased.
Tonight, finally, I grasp the moon in the water.[1]

龍鱗兎角帯亀毛、 (龍鱗兎角亀毛を帯び、)
致雨興雲見路滑、 (雨を致し雲を興して路の滑らかなるを見る、)
剜掘虚空索未休、 (虚空を剜掘して索むること未だ休まず、)
今夜始捉水中月。 (今夜始めて捉う水中の月。)

This is verse 30 in Kuchugen and verse 86 of volume 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dōgen’s Extensive Record). This is the sixth and last of the poems about “harvest moon” in Kuchugen based on Rujing’s dharma hall discourse I have commented upon before. This poem in Manzan’s version has some differences in the first and second lines:

龜毛兎角鼓溟渤 (龜毛兎角溟渤を鼓す、)
Wearing turtle hair and rabbit horns, [the whale] swims in the great ocean.
霓背龍鱗任出沒 (霓背龍鱗出沒に任す、)
Riding on the back of whale covered with dragon’s scales, I freely appear and disappear.

 

Wearing dragon scales, rabbit horns, and turtle hair,
With falling rain and rising clouds, we see the path is slippery.

Ryurin (龍鱗) is dragon’s scales, tokaku (兎角) is rabbit horn, and kimo (亀毛) is turtle hair. These are all things that do not really exist. In Chinese Buddhist texts, dragon (龍) is used as a translation of the Sanskrit word naga. In India, naga is serpent (cobra); nagas often appear in Buddhist scriptures. According to the Jataka stories, when Shakyamuni was born in Lumbini park, two nagas appeared in the sky and rained down cold and warm showers to wash the baby Buddha’s body. When Shakyamuni was older, and sitting under the bodhi tree, a naga protected him from a rainstorm. Nagas were considered as one of the eight kinds of guardians of the Dharma. It is also said that the Naga king had a palace in the ocean and that the Mahayana sutras had been stored there until Nagarjuna visited the palace to study the teachings. In China, since naga was translated with the Chinese character 龍 (long, ryu), the Indian image was combined with the dragon which appears in Chinese culture. The Chinese dragon was a god with great power to cause clouds, heavy wind, and rain. For example, Dōgen wrote in Fukan Zazengi (普勧坐禅儀 The Way of Zazen Recommended Universally):

若得此意、如龍得水、似虎靠山。
When you grasp this, you are like a dragon with water, or a tiger in the mountain.[2]

In this case, a “dragon” refers to Yan energy and a tiger refers to Yin energy. This dragon has nothing to do with the naga in Indian Buddhist scriptures.

Rabbit horns and turtle hair were used in the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra as examples of things which have only name but no substance:

O good man! I call such as the following secular truth: a being’s life, knowledge, growing up, manhood, the doer [of deeds], the recipient [of karmic consequences], a mirage in the hot season, a gandharvan castle, the hairs of a tortoise [i.e. which do not exist], the horns of a hare [which again do not exist], a circle of flame, all such things as the five skandhas, the eighteen realms, and the twelve spheres.[3]

In Rujing’s dharma discourse, since the subject of riding on a whale is “practitioners,” Taigen Leighton and I translated it in Dōgen’s Extensive Record as “they grasp the moon,” but in this verse, I think, Dōgen himself is riding the whale. Dōgen Zenji says that he wears dragon scales, rabbit horns, and turtle hair, things which are all empty and without any substance. I think that means he himself is emptiness. As it is said at the beginning of the Heart Sutra, when Avalokiteshvara practiced prajna paramita, wisdom that sees emptiness, he clearly saw that the five aggregates are empty. Avalokiteshvara himself/herself was nothing other than the five aggregates and emptiness. In the title of this verse, Dōgen practices riding the whale to catch the moon. But he writes in the previous verse that he has been riding on the moon for fifty years. This means he is trying to catch the moon riding on the moon. The whale and the moon are the same thing, that is, the entire network of interdependent origination. The total function of this network causes not only rain and clouds but all other phenomena in the world, positive and negative. We are also parts of this network. The path of this practice is very slippery.

The expression, “the path is slippery,” comes from the story about Deng Yinfeng (To Inbo), a disciple of Mazu (Baso), who was visiting Shitou (Sekito) to examine him. Mazu cautioned him, “The path of Shitou is slippery.” Deng Yinfeng visited Shitou twice, but both times he was defeated. Then Mazu said again, “I told you Shitou’s path is slippery!”[4] In this case, “the path is slippery” means the path of bodhisattva practice together with all beings is not easy to walk.

Gouging out the empty sky, seeking has not ceased.
Tonight, finally, I grasp the moon in the water.

Our practice is clarifying emptiness with our body and mind that are also empty. This practice is together with all beings that are all empty. Therefore, our practice is good for nothing. We cannot expect to gain anything, and it is really endless, never ceasing. However, this practice is not passive, motionless, or lifeless. This practice makes us into ourselves as a bodhisattva.

In Shobogenzo Koku (Empty Space), Dōgen introduced the story of another disciple of Mazu, Shigong Huizang (Sekkyo Ezo) and his dharma brother Xitang Zhizang (Saizo Chizo), about grasping empty space. When Shigong asked Zitang if he knew how to grasp empty space, Xitang pinched empty space. Then Shigong said that was not right. When Xitang asked, how did Shigong grasp empty space, he grabbed Xitang’s nose.[5] In his comment on this story, Dōgen says, “The buddha ancestors’ making efforts in wholehearted practice of the Way; arousing bodhi-mind, practice-verification, expressing and questioning it is nothing other than grasping empty space.”[6]

The last line of this verse says, “Tonight, I finally grasp the moon in the water.” “The moon in the water” is also a metaphor of emptiness. Actually, the empty-self studies and practices, grasps, and expresses emptiness. We gain nothing and our practice is ceaseless. Sawaki Roshi said that our practice is like a burglar breaking into an empty house, “Although he had difficulty getting in, there’s nothing to steal. He doesn’t need to run. Nobody’s after him. The whole thing is a flop.”[7] Self is selfing the self; emptiness is emptying emptiness. Nothing is there, but everything is there; dynamic and boundless activities of emptiness together with all beings.

As I wrote when I introduced Rujing’s dharma discourse, Dōgen divided Ruijing’s discourse into nine parts. Dōgen had a poem writing gathering with his assembly monks on 15th, 16th, and 17th evenings of the 8th month, probably for two years in a row. He wrote six poems in those two years. There is no way to know if the same gathering was held in the third year, and if Dōgen composed three more verses and those are missing, or if for some reason he could not have a gathering in the third year. I cannot imagine that he lost his interest in having such a gathering, though it is possible. From 1249 to 1252, each year, he gave formal dharma hall discourse on the 15th day of the 8th month. The final one, dharma hall discourse 521, in 1252 was quite a long discourse. But as I wrote at the start of this series, it’s possible that he was not able to have a gathering on the occasion of the mid-autumn day in that third year because of his health. Dōgen died in 1253.

— • —

[1] (Dōgen’s Extensive Record 10-86, p.634) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., http://www.wisdompubs.org.
[2] Okumura’s translation.
[3] Translation by Kosho Yamamoto, 1973. The Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra; Chapter twenty: On Holy Actions (b) p. 183 (www.shabkar.org ). Underlines are by Okumura.
[4] This story appears in the book 6 of Records of the Transmission of the Lamp volume 2 (translated by Randolph S. Whitefield), p.144
[5] This story appears in the book 6 of Records of the Transmission of the Lamp volume 2 (translated by Randolph S. Whitefield), p.158
[6] Okumura’s translation.
[7] Zen Teaching of Homeless Kodo, p.193.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

— • —

For further study:

> More of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese Poems


Copyright 2020 Sanshin Zen Community

 

 

The woodcutter

Copyright©2020 Misaki C. Kido

Dōgen’s Chinese Poems (30)

The Night of the Sixteenth;
Verse on “Practitioners in each place share the bright moon.”
十六夜、頌処処行人共明月 (十六夜、「処処行人明月を共にす」に頌す)

Without discussing south and north or east and west,
For fifty years I have been riding this moon.
How regrettable, the silver laurel branch of the heavens
Is mistakenly called a dried shitstick by people.[1]

不論南北及東西、 (論ぜず南北及び東西、)
五十年来乗此月、 (五十年来此の月に乗ず、)
可惜上天銀桂枝、 (惜しむべし上天銀桂の枝、)
人間錯道乾屎橛。 (人間錯って道う乾屎橛と。)

This is verse 29 in Kuchugen and verse 85 of volume 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dōgen’s Extensive Record). This is the fifth of the six poems about “harvest moon” in Kuchugen based on Rujing’s dharma hall discourse, which I commented on earlier in the series. Manzan’s version of the poem is exactly the same as the Monkaku-bon version.

Without discussing south and north or east and west,
For fifty years I have been riding this moon.

Without discussing south and north or east and west (不論南北及東西) refers to seeing the world with the prajna eye which sees emptiness. Dōgen Zenji introduced Rujing’s poem on the wind bell in Shobogenzo Makahannyaharamitu (Mahaprajnaparamita):

The whole body [of the wind bell] is like a mouth hanging in empty space-
Without distinguishing the winds from east, west, south, or north
Together expressing prajna equally to all beings-
Di ding dong liao di ding dong[2]

The shape of a wind bell hanging from the eaves of a large temple building is like a mouth. Within the empty space inside the bell, a piece of metal called zetsu (舌tongue) is hanging. When the wind blows the bell, the metal piece hits the bell and make sounds. Rujing used the wind bell as a metaphor of prajna, the wisdom that sees and expounds the emptiness of all things without discrimination.

The directions of east, west, north, and south are concepts created by the human mind to make our world understandable and share information among people. We call the direction from which the sun rises east, the direction in which the sun sets west, and when facing the rising sun, the left-hand side is north and the right-hand side is south. This definition works in most parts on the earth, except at least two points, the north pole and the south pole. When we are at the exact point of the north pole, all directions are south. There are no east and west. At the south pole, it is the same. Conventionally, we use the names of the directions because it works for us human beings. However, before human beings appeared and tried to think and share information, there were no such directions.

In Japan, after a funeral ceremony is done at the home of the deceased or at a temple, the mourners walk in procession to the burial yard. A few of the people walk each holding a banner on which a Buddhist verse is written, such as these:

迷故三界城 Because of delusion, the three worlds [in samsara] is like a fortress.
悟故十方空 Because of realization, the ten-direction [world] is empty.
本来無東西 Originally there is no east or west.
何処有南北 Where is south or north.

We have certain images about each direction in the human world depending upon where we are. In Japanese culture, the east refers to the Tokyo area, and the west refers to the Kyoto, Osaka area. There are some historical and cultural differences between these two areas. Sometimes people compare them, and look down and insult each other in a stereotypical way. On a larger scale, the East means Asia and the West means Europe and America.

However, in emptiness there is no such separation, the entire earth is one; even the entire universe is one without any separation. Prajna wisdom is free from our conceptual and discriminative way of thinking about our images of the differences between Osaka and Tokyo, or between Eastern or the Western civilizations. That is what Rujing is saying in his poem about the wind bell’s ringing working together with the wind from any direction. In this poem, Dōgen is also talking about the reality of our life seen with prajna wisdom, without discrimination. Each and every thing in this entire world is illuminated by the boundless moonlight, the metaphor of prajna wisdom. We are living within a certain karmic, conditioned way, but at the same time, we are living the reality beyond discrimination.

Dōgen says he has been living in the world of emptiness for fifty years. This means that even before he became a Buddhist monk, and studied and understood emptiness, he lived in the world of emptiness. This poem was composed on the sixteenth day of the eighth month, so if he was exactly fifty years old, it was written in 1249.[3] Dharma hall discourse 344 in Dōgen’s Extensive Record was given the day before he wrote this poem. At the end of that discourse, Dōgen said, “Why has our ancestor Yunyan’s ‘Which moon is this?’ suddenly appeared as a round sitting cushion?”[4] Yunyan’s saying is from his conversation with his dharma brother Daowu, from case 21 of Book of Serenity (Shoyoroku):

As Yunyan was sweeping the ground, Daowu said, “Too busy.”
Yunyan said, “You should know there’s one who isn’t busy.”
Daowu said, “If so, then there is a second moon.”
Yunyan held up the broom and said, “Which moon is this.”[5]

In his discourse 344, Dōgen goes on to say that the full moon becomes the round cushion we use for our zazen practice.

How regrettable, the silver laurel branch of the heavens
Is mistakenly called a dried shitstick by people.

In the previous poems, Dōgen mentioned two living beings dwelling in the moon according to Chinese mythology; a toad and a rabbit. Here he refers to another one. It is said that there is a woodcutter living in the moon and cutting a laurel tree. Actually, in the same Dharma hall discourse 344, Dōgen quotes Hongzhi (Wanshi)’s discourse directly. At the end of his discourse, Hongzhi said, “Completely break the laurel tree in the moon and the clear light will increase.”

This man’s name is Wu Gang (呉剛, Go Gou). It is said that he was forced to cut the tree every thousand years, otherwise, the tree grows too big and darkens the moonlight. This is what Hongzhi was referring to. In another version of the story, as punishment for something he did, he has to cut the tree every day, but the tree grows an equal amount each day. This version of the story reminds me the story of the stone of Sisyphus.

The name of the tree in Chinese is 桂花 (guihua) or in Japanese 月桂樹(gekkeiju, katsura tree in the moon). Often this tree is mentioned as laurel, and “laurel wreath” is translated into Japanese as gekkeikan (月桂冠). (Sake lovers may be familiar with this word.) However, the tree in the moon is not laurel, but mokusei (木犀, Osmanthus fragrans). The flower of this tree has a strong fragrance and blooms around the time of the mid-autumn moon. Chinese people drink osmanthus wine on the occasion of the moon festival.

In this poem by Dōgen, the silver laurel branch of the heavens (上天銀桂枝) refers to the moonlight. When Dōgen uses the image of moonlight, he is referring to the true reality of all beings; moonlight illuminates all things without discrimination.

In the final line, Dōgen says that in Zen literature, this fragrant branch of the laurel tree in the moon is called “a dried shitstick.” “A dried shitstick” is a well-known expression in Zen. For example, Linji (臨済 Rinzai) said:

The Master ascended the hall and said, “Here in this lump of red flesh there is a True Man with no rank. Constantly he goes in and out the gates of your face. If there are any of you who don’t know this for a fact, then look! Look!”
At that time there was a monk who came forward and asked, “What is he like – the True Man with no rank?”
The Master got down from his chair, seized hold of the monk and said, “Speak! Speak!”
The monk was about to say something, whereupon the Master let go of him, shoved him away, and said, “True Man with no rank – what a shitty ass-wiper!”
The Master then returned to his quarters.[6]

Traditionally, 乾屎橛 (kanshiketsu) was interpreted as a wooden spatula used to wipe oneself in the toilet, before toilet paper began to be used. But these days, scholars think this may refer to dried shit itself. Another well-known example is from Yunmen (雲門 Unmon):

Someone asked. “What is Shakyamuni’s body?”
The Master said, “A dry piece of shit.”[7]

Dōgen did not use this expression in Shobogenzo at all, but he used it in Eihei Koroku (Dōgen’s Extensive Record) about ten times. It is said that when Dōgen used this expression in his dharma discourse while he was at Koshoji near Kyoto, a high-ranking Pureland Buddhist priest in the audience said, “Zen teaching is terrible. They use such a nasty word to refer to the sacred teaching of the Buddha.” Upon hearing that, Dōgen Zenji said, “I would like to cry. Such an eminent priest said such a foolish thing.” In this poem also, I think, “dried shitstick” is used in a positive way, even though he says this expression is mistakenly used. This is an expression by Zen masters to show that we need to go beyond the dichotomy between sacred dharma teaching and mundane things. As a dharma teaching, this means the same thing as the full moon becoming a round cushion for our zazen practice.

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[1] Dōgen’s Extensive Record 10-85, p.634 © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., http://www.wisdompubs.org.
[2] Okumura’s translation in Deepest Practice, Deepest Wisdom (Wisdom, 2018) p.6.
[3] The traditional Japanese way of calculating a person’s age is different from the current way. Traditionally, when a person is born, the person is 1 year old.
[4] Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record (Wisdom) p.309.
[5] Translation by Thomas Clearly in Book of Serenity (Lindisfarne Press, 1990) p.91.
[6] Translation by Burton Watsom, The Zen Teachings of Master Lin-chi (Shambhala, 1993) p.13.
[7] Translation by Urs App in Master Yunmen, (Kodansha America, 1994) p.127.

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Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

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For further study:

> More of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese Poems


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