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Dōgen, on Dōgen

Dōgen Zenji

Dōgen’s Chinese Poems (43)

[Dōgen’s] Verses of Praise on Portraits of Himself
自賛 Jisan 6

Having eaten the old fist of Taibai,
Bulging eyes see both North Star and cowherd.
Myself is deceived by myself, with nowhere to search.
For your sake, the old woman still moved gently.[1]

喫來太白老拳頭 (喫し來る太白の老拳頭、)
突出眼睛看斗牛 (眼睛を突出して斗牛を看る、)
自被自瞞無覓處 (自ら自に瞞かれ覓むるにところなし、)
老婆為汝尚油油 (老婆汝がためになお油油。)

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[Dōgen’s] Verses of Praise on Portraits of Himself
自賛 Jisan 6

This is verse 42 in Kuchūgen and Jisan 6 in Volume 10 of Eihei Kōroku (Dōgen’s Extensive Record). Manzan’s version has a small difference in line 4:

扶桑那畔去油油 (扶桑那畔去って油油)
In Japan, I am still moving gently.

Jisan (自賛) is the second section of the three divisions in Volume 10 of Eihei Kōroku (Dōgen’s Extensive Record). Twenty verses are included in this section. This possibly means that there were twenty portraits of Dōgen and that he wrote a praising verse for each of them. Unfortunately, it is not possible to see any portraits of Dōgen painted while he was alive and which are accompanied with his own calligraphy of self-praising verse–except perhaps one.

The oldest and most well-known portrait of Dōgen is stored at Hōkyōji, established by Hōkyō Jakuen (1207–1299), one of Dōgen’s disciples. According to some scholars, the painting stored there was made while Dōgen was alive, and the calligraphy of the praising verse was written by Dōgen himself on fifteenth day of the eighth month in 1249. The fifteenth day of the eighth month is the full moon day, when Dōgen and his sangha often had a party to see the beautiful full moon and compose poems. This painting is called “Dōgen’s portrait watching the moon.” That is why in the painting his eyesight is going upward. Other scholars think the painting was made after Dōgen’s death and the calligraphy was made by someone else.

Jakuen was a Chinese monk who practiced together with Dōgen under the guidance of Tiantong Rujing. After Rujing’s passing away, Jakuen came to Japan to practice with Dōgen. While Dōgen was alive, he took care Rujing’s memorial hall. After Dōgen’s death, he received dharma transmission from the second abbot, Ejō and left Eiheiji. He sat by himself in the mountains not far from Eiheiji for many years. The lord of that region built a temple for him named Hōkyōji. Hōkyō is the name of the era during which Dōgen and Jakuen practiced with their teacher Rujing. Jakuen did not leave any writings, not even a verse. Jakuen’s dharma heir was Giun (1253–1333) who became the fifth abbot of Eiheiji. Beginning with Giun, Eiheiji was taken care of by Jakuen’s lineage for several centuries. The self-praising poem on the portrait is included in Eihei Kōroku, but Menzan did not include this in Kuchūgen. Here is the poem on the portrait:

            一無寄一不収、 (一も寄る無く一も収めず、)

            Autumn is spirited and refreshing as this mountain ages.
            A donkey observes the sky in the well, white moon floating.
            One [the moon] is not dependent; one [the sky] does not contain.
            Letting go, vigorous with plenary of gruel and rice,
            Flapping with vitality, right from head to tail,
            Above and below the heaven, clouds and water are free.[2]


Having eaten the old fist of Taibai,
Bulging eyes see both North Star and cowherd.

Taibai is another name of Mt. Tiantong, on which Rujing’s monastery was located. Here it refers to the abbot of the monastery, Tiangtong Rujing, Dōgen’s teacher.

In the very beginning of Shōbōgenzō Juppō (十方, Ten Directions), Dōgen wrote, “A single fist is nothing other than the ten directions.”[3] “Old fist,” that is, the entirety of the ten-directions, refers to Rujing’s teaching of the network of interdependent origination transmitted from Shakyamuni Buddha through the fifty generations. He had eaten Rujing’s teaching, embodied it and made it himself.

Dōgen’s eyes are transformed in in such way he can see both north and south. 斗牛 (to-gyū) is abbreviation of 北七星 (hokutoshichisei, the seven stars of the dipper in the north, the Big Dipper) and 牽星 (kengyūsei, cowherd star, Altair). The Cowherd star is well-known because of the old Chinese story regarding the origin of the Qixi Festival (七夕, tanabata). The cowherd boy (Altair) and the weaver girl (Vega) loved each other, but they could not meet because the Silver River (Milky Way) blocked them. The Emperor of Heaven allowed them to meet once a year on seventh day of the seventh month.

The Big Dipper is in the north and Altair is in the south. “Being able to see both” might refer to another old story which appears in the Book of Serenity, Case 68. A man was good at astronomy and familiar with the signs of heavens. As he was looking between the North star and Altair, there was always a strange phenomenon to be seen. Inspired by the phenomenon, he and his friend found a pair of swords. The swords were two dragons. In the story, the dragon-swords might be the symbols of universal energy, yin and yan.

Here however, I think Dōgen means that his eyes are transformed into the true dharma eye (shōbōgen, 正法眼)that can see both the conventional truth (here) and the ultimate truth (there).


Myself is deceived by myself, with nowhere to search.
For your sake, the old woman still moved gently.

In Dōgen’s Extensive Record, he sometimes uses the expressions “to deceive” and “to be deceived” in terms of the relation between Tiantong Rujing and himself. For example:

Dharma Hall Discourse 1–48:
Somehow I just met my late teacher Taintong [Rujing]. However, I was not deceived by Tiantong. But Tiantong was deceived by this mountain monk.[4]

Dharma Hall Discourse 1–167:
“I cannot avoid deceiving my late teacher.”[5]

Dharma Hall Discourse 1-184, on the Memorial Day for Tiantong Rujing [1246]:
Don’t say that my late teacher deceived his disciple.
Rather, Tiantong was deceived by Dōgen.[6]

In this verse, Dōgen says he was deceived by himself. I have been considering what this means. In Shōbōgenzō Kattō, Dōgen quotes Rujing’s saying: “Bottle gourd vines intertwine with bottle gourd vines.” Then he said, “Bottle gourd vines intertwining with bottle gourd vines are the buddha-ancestors studying buddha-ancestors, and buddha-ancestors verifying and being in accord with buddha-ancestors.”[7] He says the teacher (Rujing) and the disciple (Dōgen) study and verify each other. When the vines of two gourd plants intertwine each other, we cannot see the separation.

I don’t think ‘deceiving’ and ‘being deceived’ means that there is something negative between Dōgen and Rujing. However, I cannot think of any positive meaning in this word. Possibly he is saying, although the teacher and his student are identical (not two), yet they are different, individual persons (not one).

But here, he says that he is deceived by himself. “With nowhere to search” might mean because nothing is hidden, the reality of all beings is always revealed everywhere. This is same as “eyes are horizontal, and nose is vertical.” But if so, why does he say he is deceived by himself? It might make sense if he says that he used to be deceived by himself in seeking the truth somewhere else, but now he is not deceived by anything and he doesn’t seek the truth anywhere else. So, I still don’t have any good answer as to what this means.

Finally, in this poem, Dōgen says he is like an old woman sharing his practice and teaching, watching, and protecting his disciples. 油油 (yūyū) means moving slowly and calmly like water in a big river flowing slowly. As a Chinese character, 油 means oil. Oil does not flow fast like water, so this word means moving slowly, not abruptly. It seems this verse was composed in Dōgen’s final years. The common image of Dōgen Zenji is as a strict teacher, and not so gentle. But in his final years, he might have become like an old lady toward his disciples. Dōgen once gave a caution to Tettsū Gikai, the third abbot of Eiheiji, for his lack of old-lady heart or grand-motherly heart.

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[1] (Dōgen’s Extensive Record 10 [Dōgen’s] Verses of Praise on Portraits of Himself 6, p.604) © 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, 10-Jisan 3, p.602–3.
[3] 拳頭一隻、只箇十方なり。
[4] In Manzan’s version, this sentence is, “Immediately recognizing that eyes are horizontal and the nose is vertical, I was not deceived by anybody, and returned to my homeland with empty hands.” See Dōgen’s Extensive Record, p.111.
[5] Dōgen’s Extensive Record, p.192.
[6] Dōgen’s Extensive Record. p.203
[7] Okumura’s unpublished translation.

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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

Copyright©2021 Sanshin Zen Community

Manifesting the true body

Copyright©2021 Misaki C. Kido

Dōgen’s Chinese Poems (42)

Verses of Praise on Portraits
真賛 Shinsan 5

Master Butsuju [Myōzen]
「佛樹和尚」 (「佛樹和尚」)

His everyday practice of the way was thorough and intimate.
When he passed into nirvāṇa his face was fresh.
Tell me, what is his affair today?
Since the vajra flame, he manifests his true body.[1]

平生行道徹通親 (平生の行道徹通親し、)
寂滅以來面目新 (寂滅以來面目新なり)
且道如何今日事 (且く道え如何今日の事、)
金剛焔後露眞身 (金剛の焔後眞身を露す)

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This is verse 41 in Kuchūgen and Shinsan 5 in Volume 10 of Eihei Kōroku (Dōgen’s Extensive Record). Monkaku’s version and Manzan’s version have no differences between them.

Master Butsuju [Myōzen] 

Myōzen was one of Dōgen’s early teachers. He was sometimes called Butsuju-bō. Butsuju (仏樹, Buddha Tree) is Myōzen’s bōgō (房号), the name of a monk’s hermitage or cell. In Japan, Buddhist monks were known by the name of the place they lived, such as their temples (for example, Eihei Dōgen), or by the names of their hermitage or cell within a larger temple. Dōgen Zenji was also sometimes known by his bōgō, Buppō-bō (仏法房, Buddha Dharma) even though it is not certain if he lived in a hermitage by that name or if it was just a kind of a nickname. This custom came from China, where a person’s real name was not usually used outside one’s family. I suppose this poem was composed when Myōzen’s portrait was painted and Dōgen was asked to write a praising poem for the painting.

Myōzen (1184–1225) was a Rinzai Zen master, but since he died young in China, he is unknown in the Rinzai school. Almost all the information we know about him is from what Dōgen wrote or said about him. Myōzen was born in Iga (伊賀) or Ise (伊勢) Province in today’s Mie Prefecture. These provinces are next to each other. Dōgen wrote that Myōzen was from I-shū (伊州), which is usually an abbreviation for Iga. The abbreviation for Ise is Se-shū (勢州) but some scholars think this means Ise. We don’t really know where he was born and who were his parents.[2] When he was eight years old, he left his family and went up to Mt. Hiei to live with his teacher Myōyu. He was ordained as a monk at Mt. Hiei when he was sixteen years old. Later, he practiced Zen with Eisai at Kenninji, Kyoto. After Eisai’s death, in 1217, Dōgen began to practice Zen with Myōzen. In 1223, Myōzen went to China with Dōgen and two other monks. In Zuimonki, Dōgen talked about Myōzen’s decision to go to China even though his teacher Myōyu at Mt. Hiei was on his death bed and had requested Myōzen to postpone the travel until Myōyu’s death.[3]

After practicing at Tiangtong monastery for about two years, Myōzen passed away. Dōgen wrote about Myōzen’s death and his cremation ceremony in Note on Transmitting [Master Myōzen’s] Relics:[4]

On the eighteenth day of the fifth month of the first year of Baoqing Era [1225], he became ill. On the twenty-seventh day of the same month in the hour of the dragon [between seven and nine a.m.], he adjusted his robes, sat upright and entered nirvāṇa. Monks gathered like clouds and made prostrations [to Myōzen’s casket]; lay people came like mist and showed their respect by putting their head on the floor. After completing the funeral ceremony, during the hour of dragon on the twenty-ninth day of the same month, the cremation took place. The fire changed its light into five colors. The assembled people admired this and said, “Certainly relics (śarīra)[5] would appear.” As they said, when we saw the site of the cremation, we found three pieces of white crystal-like relics. When people reported this to the temple, all the monks in the assembly gathered together and honored [the relics] by having a ceremony. Later people continued to pick and collected more than three hundred sixty pieces [of relics].[6]

Dōgen took Myōzen’s relics back to Japan and gave part of them to Myōzen’s female student named Chi (智) together with the Note. In this praising poem, Dōgen writes about Myōzen’s cremation.

Dōgen practiced with Myōzen as his disciple for about nine years, from 1217 to 1225. Right before Myōzen’s death, on the first day of the fifth month in 1225, Dōgen first met Tiantong Rujing; later he became a dharma heir of Rujing. Dōgen referred to Myōzen and Rujing as his late masters. He gave dharma hall discourses on the anniversary of Myōzen’s death. Two of them are included in Eihei Kōroku.[7]

His everyday practice of the way was thorough and intimate.
When he passed into nirvāṇa his face was fresh.

 In the first line, Dōgen praised Myōzen for his day-to-day practice being thoroughly penetrated and intimate with the buddha way. Myōzen must have been a well-known venerable master even before going to China. At the end of Postscript for Myōzen’s Certificate for Receiving the Vinaya Precepts (明全戒牒奥書, Myōzen Kaichō Okugaki), Dōgen wrote that Myōzen was the preceptor who gave the bodhisattva precepts to the retired emperor, Go-Takakura. Unfortunately, Myōzen left no writings, not even a poem. Probably he was not an eminent scholar or a talented poet, but rather, a quiet, practical, and down-to-earth person. His teacher Eisai put emphasis on keeping the precepts. It is said that Eisai received the Vinaya Precept from his Chinese master. This was very unusual for a monk from the Japanese Tendai tradition. Saichō, the founder of the Tendai school, gave up the Vinaya Precepts and discontinued the practice of receiving them in his school. Myōzen might be a faithful dharma heir of Eisai on this point. In Dharma Hall Discourse 435 on the occasion of Myōzen’s memorial day in 1251, Dōgen quoted the famous poem from the Dhamma Pada, “Not performing any evil, respectfully practicing all good, purifying one’s own mind, this is the teaching of all buddhas,” showing a close connection to the precepts.

In the second line, Dōgen refers to Myōzen’s entering nirvāṇa, that is, his death. Dōgen says that when Myōzen died, and even today, his face (面目, menmoku) is always fresh. This does not mean his physical face; menmoku is used as an abbreviation for the “original face” (本来の面目, honrai no menmoku). His continuous practice, including his passing away, is the manifestation of his true face as a Buddhist monk.

Tell me, what is his affair today?
Since the vajra flame, he manifests his true body.

In the third line, Dōgen is addressing the person for whom Myōzen’s portrait was painted, probably Myōzen’s disciple or a lay supporter: what is Myōzen doing today? Dōgen is asking to us too, “Do we continue to live following Myōzen’s example?” Our practice is Myōzen’s affair today. Myōzen is not gone. He is still living together with the people who practiced with him, Dōgen, and us–all who are walking the bodhisattva path. Are we living in the same way Myōzen lived, continuing his teaching and practice?

In the final line, “the vajra flame” refers to the fire that burned Myōzen’s body at his cremation. However, this word has another meaning which comes from the Song of Enlightenment (証道歌, Shōdōka), the classic Zen poem:

A man of great will carries with him a sword of wisdom,
Whose flaming Vajra-blade cuts all the entanglements of knowledge and ignorance;
It not only smashes in pieces the intellect of the philosophers
But disheartens the spirit of the evil ones.[8]


“Vajra-flame” refers to the flame of prajñā (wisdom) which extinguishes the fire of the three poisonous minds, greed, anger/hatred, and ignorance. This is like the story of Shakyamuni Buddha subduing the fierce nāga king’s fire with his own fire of wisdom.[9] I think Dōgen means that Myōzen became the vajra-flame, his true body, through his passing away. Dōgen is asking if we live with awakening of emptiness, impermanence and no-self as Myōzen did.

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[1] (Dōgen’s Extensive Record 10 – Verses of Praise on Portraits 5, p.601) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., www.wisdompubs.org.
[2] Tanahashi’s translation says that he was from Iyo (伊予) Province, but I think it is a mistake. Iyo (伊予) was in Shikoku, its abbreviation is Yo-shu (予州). See Enlightenment Unfolds: The Essential Teachings of Zen Master Dōgen (Edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi, Shambhala), p.30.
[3] See Shōbōgenzō-Zuimonki (translation by Shohaku Okumura, Sōtōshū Shūmuchō, 1988) 5–12, p.178–80.
[4] Jp. 舎利相伝記, Shari-soden-ki.
[5] For more information about śarīra, see: Śarīra – Wikipedia.
[6] Okumura’s unpublished translation.
[7] See Dharma Hall discourse 435 and 504 in Dōgen’s Extensive Record (translation by Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura) p. 390–91 and p. 450. It is not known if Dōgen gave more dharma discourses for Myōzen which were not recorded, or if he gave them only twice, in his last years, 1251 and 1252. He also gave dharma discourses for his late parents in 1251 and 1252.
[8] D.T. Suzuki’s translation (Manual of Zen Buddhism), p.95. “The philosophers” refers to non-Buddhist teachers.
[9] See Gotama Buddha: A Biography Based on the Most Reliable Texts (by Hajime Nakamura, Kosei Publishing Co.), p.294.

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Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

— • —

For further study:

> More of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese Poems

Copyright©2021 Sanshin Zen Community

Coming Down from the Mountains

Copyright©2021 Misaki C. Kido

Dōgen’s Chinese Poems (41)

Verses of Praise on Portraits
真賛 Shinsan

Depiction of Shakyamuni Coming Down from the Mountains

A sack of flowing wind tied around his waist,
He stole the wind in the pines to insert or bring forth.
Then twirling a branch of winter plum blossoms to sell,
He came and went under the heavens, planning to find a buyer.[1]

腰頭帶箇風流袋 (腰頭に箇の風流袋を帶び、)
奪得松風且出内 (松風を奪得って且た出内す)
更賣臘梅拈一枝 (更に臘梅を賣って一枝を拈じ)
往來天下圖人貸 (天下に往來して人の貸わんことを圖る。)

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This is verse 40 in Kuchūgen and Shinsan 1 in Volume 10 of Eihei Kōroku (Dōgen’s Extensive Record). This verse in Monkaku’s version and Manzan’s version have no difference.

Verses of Praise on Portraits
真賛 Shinsan

Volume 10 of Eihei Kōroku (Dōgen’s Extensive Record) is a collection of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese poems. This volume is divided into three parts. The first part is called Shinsan (真賛, Verses of Praise on Portraits; five verses). The second part is called Jisan (自賛, Verses of Praise on Portraits of Himself; twenty verses). The third is Geju (偈頌, Assorted Verses; 125 verses). Verses 1–39 in Kuchūgen are selections from part three; I have been discussing verses from this third section until now.

Shin (真) is usually translated as “true,” “real,” or “genuine.” In Zen Buddhism, this word also refers to a “portrait” of a deceased venerable master. In Chanyuan Qinggui (禅苑清規, Rules of Purity for the Chan Monastery), it says that a portrait of a deceased abbot is hung above the dharma seat during his funeral ceremony.[2]

San (賛) means “a praising verse” for the person painted in the portrait. Above a portrait of a deceased master, we often find a praising verse for that master. For example, in the commentary on case 11 of Blue Cliff Record, we read this sentence:

This verse by Hsueh Tou seems just like praise on a portrait of Huang Po, yet you people mustn’t understand it as “praise on a portrait.”[3]

If a verse is written by the master himself for the master’s own portrait, the verse is called jisan (自賛, praising oneself). Menzan selected two verses, 40 and 41, from the five verses in the Shinsan part. This one is a praising verse for Shakyamuni.

Depiction of Shakyamuni Coming Down from the Mountains

Commonly, “Shakyamuni Coming Down from the Mountains (出山の釈迦)” refers to paintings of Shakyamuni Buddha when he came down from the mountain after six years of very strict ascetic practice. This is one of the popular motifs of Zen paintings. After he came down from the mountain, he bathed and washed his body in the river, received food from a village girl named Sujata, and then sat under the bodhi tree where he attained unsurpassable awakening. Since the time of the Song Dynasty in China, and also in Japan, there have been many portraits of a skinny Shakyamuni walking using a staff. This theme emphasizes the strictness of Buddha’s six years of ascetic practice, and that his teaching was the Middle Way between the two extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification.

However, it seems this poem by Dōgen is a depiction of Shakyamuni Buddha walking down from the mountain after completing the awakening and after making up his mind to begin to teach. Since I never been to India, I am not sure if Shakyamuni Buddha really practiced and attained awakening on a mountain. From photos of Bodhgaya, it looks like the place Shakyamuni attained awakening was not really on a mountain. However, Chinese Zen people somehow thought so.

In this case, the mountain refers to the realm of the ultimate truth, the Dharma to which the Buddha awakened. In the beginning, the Buddha thought it was not possible to teach and share the same Dharma with other people. But after the God Brahma requested three times, he accepted and made up his mind to teach. He stayed in the same area sitting by different trees for several weeks, probably to translate his experience of the Dharma beyond language into language he could use to teach with, using conventional explanations. Then, finally, he started to walk down from the mountain of ultimate truth to Deer Park, to teach the five monks who used to practice the ascetic practice with him.

A sack of flowing wind tied around his waist,
He stole the wind in the pines to insert or bring forth.

“A sack of flowing wind” is a translation of 風流袋 (fūryū bukuro). Fukuro (袋) is a sack like the Chinese laughing Buddha, Budai[4] always carried on his back to put everything he received during mendicant rounds. The sack Buddhist monks use to carry three robes for travelling is called zudabukuro (頭陀袋); we still carry it when doing takuhatsu. Dōgen writes that when Shakyamuni was leaving the mountain after attaining awakening, he carried such a bag on his waist. It seems the bag is empty; only the air was in it. Fūryū (風流) was an important word in Japanese aesthetics after the Muromachi period (1336–1573), and is often translated as “artistic,” “tasteful,” “refined,” or “elegant.” In Dōgen’s time, this word was not so widely used. As a Chinese word, fūryū means a style of past respectable people which we should continue.

When Shakyamuni left Bodhgaya, he only had this empty cloth sack around his waist. He stole “the pine wind” and kept it in the sack; he took it out to teach and put it back in, again and again. “The pine wind” (松風, shōfū or matsukaze) is used for example in the classic Zen poem, Song of Enlightenment (証道歌, Shōdōka): “The moon is serenely reflected on the stream, the breeze passes softly through the pines.”[5] This is a depiction of the cool and serene scenery of interconnectedness in which each thing illuminates, supports, and benefits each other and is free from the heat of the burning house of samsara.

Dōgen also used “pine wind” in another poem:

Someone asked the meaning of coming from the west.
The wooden ladle’s handle long, the ravine is just as deep.
If you want to know this boundless meaning,
The wind in the pines play a stringless lute.[6]

In the line from the topic poem, Dōgen is saying that Shakyamuni awakened to the true reality of all beings, stole the wind from nature, put it into his sack and pulled it out whenever he gave Dharma teachings. The pine wind became various teachings or medicine depending on the problems his listeners had.

Then twirling a branch of winter plum blossoms to sell,
He came and went under the heavens, planning to find a buyer.

“The winter plum blossom (臘梅 rōbai)” literally means “plum blossoms in the twelfth month (臘月, rōgatsu).” This refers to Shakyamuni’s awakening and came from Tiantong Rujing’s poem on the occasion of Buddha’s Enlightenment Day:

At the time Gautama lost his eyeballs,
In the snow, there was only a single branch of plum blossoms.

In Shōbōgenzō Baika (梅華, Plum Blossoms), Dōgen says that the uḍumbara flower Shakyamuni picked and held on the Vulture Peak when he transmitted Shōbōgenzō (true dharma eye treasury) to Mahākāśyapa was also a branch of plum blossoms.

What Shakyamuni awakened to, taught many people the rest of his life, and transmitted to Mahākāśyapa was the true reality of all beings—that is, how things are co-existing within the network of interdependent origination. He made efforts to try to sell this universal truth, travelling extensively in India during his entire lifetime. Did he find any buyer?

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[1] (Dōgen’s Extensive Record 10–1, p.599) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., www.wisdompubs.org.
[2] The Origins of Buddhist Monastic Codes in China: An Annotated Translation and Study of the Chanyuan Qinggui, (translated by Yifa, Kuroda Institute, 2002), p.217.
[3] Translation by Thomas Clearly, The Blue Cliff Record (Shambhala, 1977), p.77.
[4] Another name for Budai is Hotei (布袋), which literally means “cloth sack.”
[5] Translation by D.T. Suzuki, Manual of Zen Buddhism, p.95.
[6] Dōgen’s Extensive Record, Volume 9–71, p.585.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

— • —

For further study:

> More of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese Poems

Copyright©2021 Sanshin Zen Community

Flowers for Buddhas

Offerings to Ornament the Sky

Flowers offered to the sky

© Can Stock Photo / sadakko

この心 Kono kokoro Together with this [bodhi]-mind,
天つ空にも amatsu sora ni mo [I] embellish the heavenly sky
花そなふ hana sonau with these flowers.
三世の仏に miyo no hotoke ni I respectfully offer them to all the buddhas
奉らなむ tatematsura namu in the three times.

“I embellish the heavenly sky with these flowers.” This sentence refers to a story of a bodhisattva in one of Shakyamuni Buddha’s past lives that appears in the Chinese Vinaya text.

When Dipamkara Buddha was in this world, there was a bodhisattva (the future Shakyamuni Buddha) who lived as a hermit. When he heard Dipamkara Buddha was coming, he wanted to offer flowers. He bought five stalks of lotus flower, spending all the money he had. When he threw the flowers to the Buddha as an offering, they stayed in the sky and were transformed into a flower canopy which covered the Buddha. The canopy continued to cover the Buddha wherever he went.

In Shobogenzo Hotsumujoshin (Arousing Unsurpassable Mind), Dogen refers to this offering of the five stalks of lotus flowers:

Taking it up in this way, we sit a buddha and we make a buddha; this is called arousing bodhi-mind. In general, as the causes and conditions of arousing bodhi-mind, we don’t take it up from somewhere else, rather we take up bodhi-mind itself to arouse this mind. Taking up bodhi-mind means that we hold a single stalk of grass and make it into a Buddha; we hold the rootless tree and making it into a sutra. We offer a handful of sand to a buddha and offer a bowl of drink to a buddha. We offer one ball of food to living beings and offer five stalks of [lotus] flowers to a tathagata.1

This mind (kokoro) refers to bodhi-mind. As bodhisattvas — people who have aroused bodhi-mind — we exchange all of our personal possessions for the lotus (dharma) flowers and throw them into the sky (emptiness) to offer them to the Buddha. Then our offerings stay in the sky as ornaments of the world of Buddha dharma. They don’t fall down to the earth, the ground of human desire.

Ryokan (1758 – 1831) was inspired by this waka of Dogen and composed his own:

鉢の子に Hachinoko ni In my begging bowl,
菫たむぽぽ sumire tampopo putting violets and dandelions
こき混ぜて kokimazete mixing together,
三世の仏に miyo no hotokeni Let’s respectfully offer them
奉りてな tatematsuri tena to all the buddhas in the three times.

While Ryokan was begging (takuhatsu) in a spring day, some children in the village wanted to play with him as usual. Ryokan started to pick violets and dandelions in the spring field with the children. He put the flowers in his begging bowl and told the children, “Let’s offer these pretty flowers to the buddhas.

Possibly on the same occasion, Ryokan composed another waka,

飯乞うと Ii kou to
わが来しかども waga koshi kadomo Although I came [to practice] begging for food,
春の野に haru no no ni I spent the whole day
すみれ摘みつつ sumire tsumitsutsu in a spring field,
時を経にけり toki o henikeri picking violets.

Even though they have no market value, violets and dandelions are pretty flowers in the field. Ryokan and the children picked them and put them in the begging bowl and made them offerings to the buddhas. The begging bowl is made receive offerings from people, but Ryokan used it to make offering to the buddhas. His practice of begging and playing with children were also his offering.

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Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

1 Shōhaku Okumura’s unpublished translation.

> Other Waka by Dōgen

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