Tag Archives: Sawaki

Who could measure the ocean of merit?

Copyright©2021 Misaki C. Kido

Dōgen’s Chinese Poems (37)

Continuing the Previous Rhyme from Mount Potalaka


The ocean waves crash like thunder below the cliff.
I strain my ears and see the face of Kanjizai.
Upholding this, who could measure the ocean of merit?
Just turn your eyes and see the blue mountain.[1]

潮音霹靂海崖間 (潮音霹靂たり海崖の間、)
側耳辺看自在顔 (耳辺を側てて看る自在の顔、)
拈此誰量功徳海 (此れを拈じて誰か量らん功徳海、)
只教回眼見青山 (只だ眼を回らしめて青山を見るのみ)


This is verse 36 in Kuchūgen and verse 28 of volume 10 of Eihei Kōroku (Dōgen’s Extensive Record). In Manzan’s version, this is verse 45 and there are some differences in each line:

潮音霹靂斷崖下 (潮音霹靂たり斷崖の下、)
The ocean waves crash like thunder below the cliff.
湧現分明自在顔 (湧現分明なり自在の顔、)
The face of Kanjizai appears clearly.
至者誰量功徳海 (至る者誰か量らん功徳海、)
Among the visitors, who could measure the ocean of merit?
回望眼見青山 (只だ眼を回らして青山を見るのみ)
Just turn your eyes and see the blue mountain.

Continuing the Previous Rhyme from Mount Potalaka

This is the second verse concerning Dōgen Zenji’s pilgrimage to the sacred place of Avalokiteśvara on Mount Potalaka. It is not clear if he visited the same place again and composed another verse continuing the first rhyme, or if he created the second verse thinking that somehow the first did not fully express what he wanted to say. In his teishō on this verse, Kōdō Sawaki Rōshi said that Dōgen Zenji might have visited the place twice.

The ocean waves crash like thunder below the cliff.
I strain my ears and see the face of Kanjizai.

Sawaki Rōshi visited China for four months in 1934 to make pilgrimage to the sacred places of Zen masters. The first place to which he paid a visit was Mount Potalaka. Sawaki Rōshi said that reading the first line of this verse, he could see that Dōgen Zenji had actually visited the place, because his description of the spot below the cliff was exactly the same as Rōshi saw seven hundred years later.

According to Sawaki Rōshi, the place was in the precinct of a temple named Fau-si (法雨寺, Hōu-ji, Dharma Rain Temple) established in 16th century. The temple was located near the ocean cliff. There was a shrine hall named Chaoyin-tang(潮音堂, Chōon-do, Rolling-tide Voice Hall) right on the cliff, where waves incessantly crashed against the rocky cliff and made a roaring sound in a cave.

The name of the temple, “Dharma Rain” and the shrine hall, “Rolling-tide Voice” are from the 25th chapter of the Lotus Sūtra, often called Kannon-kyō (観音経). Close to the end of the final verse of the sutra, it says:

悲體戒雷震 慈意妙大雲 澍甘露法雨 滅除煩惱焔
(悲體の戒は雷震のごとく 慈意の妙は大雲のごとく 甘露の法雨を澍ぎ 煩惱の焔を滅除す.)
Precepts from his compassionate body shake like thunder.
His compassion is like a great cloud
Pouring Dharma rain like nectar,
Quenching the flames of affliction![2]

“His compassionate body” is a translation of 悲體 (hi-tai, body of compassion). The character 悲is a translation of Sanskrit word karuṇā, one aspect of Buddha’s compassion, wishing others to be free from suffering. In this case, 體 could be interpreted as essence instead of body. Avalokiteśvara’s teaching as the precepts are powerful like thunder.

“His compassion” is a translation of 慈意 (ji-i, compassionate thought or intention). Ji (慈) is a translation of Sanskrit word maitrī, another aspect of Buddha’s compassion, wishing others to be happy. Avalokiteśvara’s compassionate mind is like a great cloud that covers the entire sky. From the great cloud of compassion, the dharma teachings fall down like rain drops to extinguish the flame of the three poisonous minds (greed, anger/hatred, and ignorance) that make our life into the burning house of samsara.

The name of the shrine hall, Chaoyin (潮音, Chō-on) came from another part of the verse:

妙音觀世音 梵音海潮音 勝彼世間音 是故須常念
(妙音・觀世音 梵音・海潮音 勝彼世間音あり 是の故に須らく常に念ずべし。)
Wonderful voice, regarder of the cries of the world,
Brahma-voice, voice of the rolling tide,
World-surpassing voice –
He should always be kept in mind.

This verse is about sound (音, yin, on); this character is a part of Avalokiteśvara’s name 觀音 (Ch. Guanyin, Jp. Kannon). The sound (voice) of his compassionate teaching is wonderful or wonderous. It is the voice of the bodhisattva who sees the cries of the world. “Brahma-voice” is a translation of Sanskrit word, brahma-susvara, meaning clean, undefiled voice. The wonderous voice, powerful like the voice of the rolling tide, is revealing the ultimate truth beyond the worldly, karmic life of suffering.

I think that when Dōgen uses the expression 潮音 at the very beginning of this verse, he expects his readers know these expressions from the Kannon-kyō. Ocean waves, crashing against the rocky cliff, incessantly make roaring sounds.

In the second line, he uses the other translation of the name Avalokiteśvara, Kanjizai (観自在, Seeing Freely) which appears, for example, in the Heart Sūtra. Dōgen says he “strains his ears” to see the face of Avalokiteśvara, or Kanjizai. Straining his ears to see the Bodhisattva’s face sounds unusual, but “Kannon” literally means “seeing the sound.” Dōgen twists this expression and says that he sees Avalokiteśvara’s face with his ears.

These expressions, “hearing with eyes” and “seeing with ears” came from a poem by Dongshan (洞山, Tōzan). They appear at the end of a dialogue between Dongshan and his teacher Yunyan (雲巌, Ungan), regarding the expression “the expounding Dharma of Insentient beings (無情説法, mujō seppō).” The poem is as follows:

How wonderous! How wonderous!
The expounding of the Dharma by insentient beings is unthinkable.
If I tried to hear it with the ears, it would never be possible to understand.
Only when I hear the voice with my eyes am I able to know it.[3]

Upholding this, who could measure the ocean of merit?
Just turn your eyes and see the blue mountain.

In some suttas in the Pali Nikaya, Shakyamuni Buddha taught that when the six sense organs encounter the six objects of the sense organs, the six consciousnesses arise. Together, these are called the eighteen elements. When there are eighteen elements as cause, there is the dependent origination of contact→ sensation→ perception→ craving (taṇhā)→ clinging (upādāna). From perception, we have another stream of dependent origination, thinking→ mental proliferation (or conceptualization, papañca) → discrimination (vikalpa). These are the two aspects of things happening within our mind based on the separation and relation between subject (six sense organs) and object (emotion and conceptual thinking). These two sides of our karmic consciousness are also interdepending on each other. When we take actions based on conceptualized, distorted ways of thinking and self-centered emotions influenced by the three poisonous minds, we create wholesome or unwholesome karma and we transmigrate within the six realms of samsara.

When we clearly see the reality of impermanence, no-self (no-substance, anatman), and suffering of all the eighteen elements, we are released from the cycle of transmigration. For example, the Heart Sūtra says, “Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva, when deeply practicing prajñā paramita, clearly saw that all five aggregates are empty and thus relieved all suffering.” Later in the Sutra, it is said that all eighteen elements are empty.

In the case of Dōgen’s practice, our immovable sitting of letting go of thought is itself prajñā paramita. When we see things from dropping off body and mind, we see all myriad things are Buddhadharma. I think that is what Dōgen is saying in the 3rd and 4th lines of this verse. There is no way to measure the vastness of the ocean of merit, the network of interdependent origination. Whatever we see, for example the scenery of the blue mountains and the ocean, has no separation from Mt. Potalaka. Each and everything in the ocean and mountains are expounding the dharma of Buddha’s wisdom and compassion. Avalokiteśvara is a symbol of this interdependence in which myriad things are supporting each other.

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[1] (Dōgen’s Extensive Record 10–28, p.616) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., www.wisdompubs.org.
[2] Translations by Gene Reeves from The Lotus Sūtra: A Contemporary Translation of a Buddhist Classic (Wisdom Publications, 2008) p.378–379.
[3]This is Okumura’s unpublished translation. Dōgen discusses this kōan in Shōbōgenzō Mujō-seppō (The Dharma-expounding of Insentient beings).

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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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Teacher and student: the dog’s buddha nature

A monk asked Zhaozhou, “Does a dog have a buddha-nature or not?”
Zhaozhou said, “Yes.”
The monk said, “Since it has, why is it then in this skin bag?”
Zhaozhou said, “Because he knows yet deliberately transgresses.”
Another monk asked Zhaozhou, “Does a dog have a buddha-nature or not?”
Zhaozhou said, “No.”
The monk said, “All sentient beings have buddha-nature—why does a dog have none, then?”
Zhaozhou said, “Because he still has impulsive consciousness.”[1]

The koan about Zhaozhou’s (Jp. Joshu’s) dog appears as Case 18 in the Shoyoroku (Book of Serenity). The main point of the interpretation of this koan in the Shoyoroku concerns Zhaozhou’s teaching method. In the first part of the koan, Zhaozhou offers buddha nature by saying “u,” indicating yes, a dog does have buddha nature. In other words, “Here it is, you have a buddha nature”– it’s a kind of encouragement. You have a precious jewel, so you have to take care of this and practice. In the second part of the koan, to the another monk, who has already matured in practice, and doesn’t rely on whether or not he has buddha nature, Zhaozhou removes this encouragement by saying “mu,” indicating that a dog does not have buddha nature. Zhaozhou says there’s no such thing called buddha nature.

First Zhaozhou gave buddha nature – here you are, you have buddha nature, so practice diligently, take care of it, become free from your delusion, and the beauty of this jewel reveals itself. That is a type of teaching for beginning students. To the mature student, Zhaozhou said there’s no such thing called buddha nature. It’s just an illusion. So he took it away, and he knew that student would be all right without that concept of buddha nature. For Zhaozhou himself, buddha nature is neither “u” nor “mu,” but he could say “u” or “mu” depending on the person’s need. That is basically the interpretation in Shoyoroku of the story of a dog’s buddha nature.

In a funny way, a teacher is always deceiving students, and the student neither perfectly nor completely trusts the teacher. That is a problem. If you are lucky, you meet the right teacher, but as a beginner we cannot really evaluate the teacher, so we cannot tell whether this teacher is trustworthy or not. This is a really difficult point, but this is what Uchiyama Roshi said – the teacher is just an ordinary human being. In this case, the teacher he was referring to was Sawaki Kodo Roshi – he was a really great teacher. But  Uchiyama Roshi practiced very closely with Sawaki Roshi for twenty-five years, until his death, so he knew Sawaki Roshi was not a special person, but an ordinary human being. Uchiyama Roshi’s important point was to understand that all people, even Zen masters, are ordinary human beings. But as students we need to study Dharma from that person.

In this case from the Book of Serenity, the Dharma we need to study is about buddha nature and karmic nature, or karmic consciousness. Even  a great teacher like Sawaki Roshi has both. Uchiyama Roshi said many people studying with Sawaki Roshi were attracted by his karmic features. Sawaki Roshi was a very strong, strict, and very attractive person, as a karmic being. Many people practiced with Sawaki Roshi because of that attraction. But that was not Sawaki Roshi’s Dharma, according to Uchiyama Roshi. What Sawaki Roshi did was just sitting. Not so many people sat like Sawaki Roshi, but they loved to listen to Sawaki Roshi talking. Uchiyama Roshi said that we as students need to study the person’s Dharma, not the person’s karma. Karma means karmic attribute – their good points and bad points, as they are the person’s – how can I say? – characters, or personalities. But as a beginner we cannot tell which is Dharma which is karma.

Somehow I became attracted to Uchiyama Roshi’s way of life. At that time I knew nothing about Buddhism, or Zen. I didn’t know even what he was doing. But somehow what he wrote in his book and how he lived his own life was very attractive to me. So somehow I was sucked into that path. I was so fortunate that it was when I was seventeen years old; now I am sixty-five, so more than forty years I walked this path, only this path, and I have no regret. I think it’s really a rare thing. I know some people who have had some difficulty with their teachers and then quit their practice. There’s no one hundred percent safe way. Somehow we have to find our own path. It’s really difficult to make judgments about teachers. When we judge and evaluate teachers, then we can’t be really a true student. We have to accept everything the teacher can offer to be a real student. But we cannot tell if what the person is offering is really true Dharma or not, because we don’t know yet. So we need to go through a really difficult process to find out if this is really my teacher, and if I really want to be this person’s student. This is not an easy path. On the one hand we have to accept everything from the teacher, and at the same time, we have to doubt.

Dogen said in Shobogenzo Jisho zanmai that whether we study Dharma following the teacher or following the text, we’re studying the self – ourselves. So that means we have to – how can I say? – accept everything the teacher can offer, and yet we should not rely on that person. It’s kind of contradictory, but both are important. That means we need to walk on our own legs, our own feet.

That is another thing Uchiyama Roshi taught me. It was right on the day after I was ordained as a priest. For the ordination ceremony – I was twenty-two years old – my father came, and as a greeting to Uchiyama Roshi, my father asked him, “Please take care of my son.” The next day Uchiyama Roshi said to me, “Even though your father asked me to take care of you, I cannot take care of you. It’s not possible. You have to walk on your own legs.”

Uchiyama Roshi also said he never watches his students, but he is walking toward the path he needs to walk, toward the direction he needs to walk. That’s his own practice. If I want to be his disciple, I need to walk toward the same direction with my own legs. To me, this is a really interesting thing. Basically what he said is: “Don’t rely on me.” Therefore, I accept this teaching, and I try not to rely on him, except as an example of Dharma practice. And by doing this, I completely rely on him. So both are there. This teacher-student relationship I think is the same as the one between parents and children. The parents’ goal is to raise children to make them independent – “Don’t rely on me, or on us.” But to do so, the children need to rely on the parents. This is an interesting aspect of our life.

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[1] Thomas Cleary, trans., Book of Serenity: One Hundred Zen Dialogues (Boston, Mass.: Shambhala, 2005), p. 76.

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Commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

The Dōgen Institute offers an occasional series of perspectives on koans from Okumura Roshi. This is the first of the series. These perspectives are taken from Okumura Roshi’s recorded lectures, and are lightly edited.

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For further study:

> Other posts on koans

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Podcast: Stories from Modern Zen Masters

Wisdom Publications, which publishes many of Okumura Roshi’s books, recently invited Okumura Roshi to record an episode in their series of podcasts.

“For this episode, host Daniel Aitken speaks with Shohaku Okumura Roshi, Japanese Soto Zen priest and revered writer and translator. Shohaku Okumura is also the founder and current abbot of the Sanshin Zen Community in Bloomington, Indiana. In this conversation, you’ll hear Okumura Roshi tell powerful stories, not only from his own life, but from the lives of his teachers: Zen Master Kosho Uchiyama, and the great Kodo Sawaki Roshi, one of the most influential Soto Zen teachers of the twentieth century. Okumura Roshi explains the emphasis on zazen over monastic rituals within his lineage, drawing parallels to both Dogen’s teachings as well his teachers’ own personal encounters with zazen. You’ll also hear how this emphasis on zazen has played out in Okumura Roshi’s own development as a practitioner as well as his development as a translator later in life.”

Sawaki Kōdō and Uchiyama Kosho

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  • Das Bodhisattva – Herz

    Extrahiert aus Grenzenlose Gelübde, Endlose Praxis

    English version of this post


    Ich bin fest davon überzeugt, dass das Herz der Welt ein Bodhisattva-Herz ist. Ich bin überzeugt, dass wir sowohl in den drei Zeiten und in den zehntausend Richtungen als auch in jeder spirituellen und religiösen Tradition Bodhisattvas finden. Ich bin überzeugt, dass Bodhisattvas still und freudig gelassen und vielleicht zu anderen Zeiten auch etwas lauter, alle gemäß ihrer Lebensumstände, ihrer Kultur, Zeit und gemäß der Ursachen und Bedingungen zum Wohle aller Existenzen jenseits von Raum und Zeit gewirkt haben, gerade wirken und wirken werden, bis in die Unendlichkeit. Ich bin überzeugt, dass das gesamte Universum, das unendlich kleine genauso wie das makroskopisch bislang noch nicht erforschte große, mit dem Herz aller Bodhisattvas schlägt. Das drückt aus wie stark und grenzenlos dieses Vertrauen in meinem Körper/Geist unerschütterlich verwurzelt ist, eins mit den fünf Skandhas, die mich in die Lage versetzen, zu fühlen, zu denken und diesen wundervollen Weg, der mir durch wundersames Karma gegeben wurde, zu teilen.

    Die Wahrheit ist, dass all dieses Vertrauen und tiefsitzende Gefühl jenseits von Worten ist, aber auch Worte sind kostbare Instrumente. Sie sind nützlich, weil sie es uns erlauben, in unserem Leben in der Gemeinschaft eine gemeinsame Basis zu finden und miteinander zu teilen. Wie hätten wir ohne Worte durch die Lehren und Beispiele von Şākyamuni Buddha, Dōgen-Zenji und all den Vorfahren, die das Licht des Dharmas durch Worte und Schrift übermittelt haben, erreicht und berührt werden können?

    Ich denke und fühle, dass, wenn wir uns auf diesen Weg begeben – und ich bin mir nicht sicher, ob wir wirklich wissen, wann er für jeden von uns beginnt (Kein-Anfang und Kein-Ende) –, die Praxis und das Hören der Lehren Schwierigkeiten bereiten können und wir verstehen sie vielleicht auf eine naive Art und Weise. Auch das Herz braucht Schulung. Ein Bodhisattva zu sein bedeutet nicht nur Gutes tun zu wollen und anderen Priorität einzuräumen, es erfordert genauso, in kleinen Schritten zu lernen, Erfahrung für Erfahrung, Lehrer für Lehrer, wie, wo und wann Gutes zu tun ist – oder einfach gesagt, wie und wann zum Wohle anderer, als unserer Hauptmotivation, angemessen gehandelt wird. Da Avalokiteśhvara eine Hand für jeden und jedwede Lebensumstände hat, muss der Bodhisattva mit seinem ganzen Herzen und Körper erfahren und erlernen, wann zu sprechen, zu handeln oder ruhig zu bleiben und nichts zu tun ist, wenn es zum Wohle aller Wesen geschehen soll. Als Bodhisattvas beschreiten wir diesen Weg und erwachen auf diesem Weg. Einen Schritt nach dem anderen bewegen wir uns in kinhin in einem endlosen Kreis, endlose Kalpas den Schritten Buddhas und der Vorfahren folgend.

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    Aus Kapitel 10 Das Bodhisattva – Herz von Kaikyō Roby

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