Tag Archives: Shōbōgenzō Zazenshin

Taking another step

(c) Can Stock Photo / flamiaki8

Dogen’s Chinese Poem (16)


Given to a Zen Person

Clouds disappearing in the blue sky, a crane’s mind at ease;
Waves constant on the ancient shore, a fish swims slowly.
Who can focus their eyes on this vague edge?
From the hundred-foot pole, take another step.[1]

雲斷青天鶴意閑 (雲青天に斷えて鶴の意閑かなり、)
浪連古岸魚行漫 (浪は古岸に連なって魚の行くや漫なり、)
誰人眼著此参際 (誰人か眼を此の参際に著けん)
百尺竿頭一進間 (百尺も竿頭一進の間)

This is verse 16 in Kuchugen and verse 59 of volume 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dogen’s Extensive Record). This is the last poem titled “Given to a Zen Person” in Kuchugen. In Menzan’s version there is a slight difference in line 3:

設人著眼及斯際 (設し人眼を著けて斯の際に及ばば)
If someone focuses one’s eyes and reaches this boundary,

Clouds disappearing in the blue sky, a crane’s mind at ease;
Waves constant on the ancient shore, a fish swims slowly.

On reading this poem, I imagine Dogen Zenji standing on the rocky, coastal cliff facing the Japan Sea not far from Eiheiji. Clouds are disappearing and the entire sky is becoming completely blue. Only one white crane is flying in the clear sky. The coast seems as solid as if it has been existing there from ancient times without any change, and waves are incessantly breaking on the shore and retreating one by one. A fish is slowly and freely swimming underneath peaceful blue waves. The sky and the ocean are entirely blue, and only the crane and the waves breaking at the foot of the cliff are white. The entire world is beautiful and peaceful. Within the infinite sky and ocean, a crane and a fish – tiny living beings – are also peacefully and joyfully flying and swimming. Infinity and eternity and restless coming and going in impermanence are both there.

In Japan, traditionally the crane is a symbol of happiness and longevity. It is said a crane’s life span is a thousand years. Today, the origami (paper folding) crane is well known as a symbol of peace.

In Shobogenzo Zazenshin (Acupuncture Needle of Zazen), Dogen Zenji quoted the poem by Hongzhi Zhengjue[2] entitled Zazenshin and composed his own poem with the same title. At the end of his poem, Hongzhi wrote:

The water is clear to the bottom, a fish is swimming slowly.
The sky is infinitely vast, a bird is flying far away.[3]

The final part of Dogen’s Zazenshin is:

The water is clear to the earth, a fish is swimming like a fish.
The sky is vast and extends to the heavens, a bird is flying like a bird.[4]

It is clear that the motif of the first two lines of the poem to a Zen person derive from these other poems on zazen. They are a depiction of the scenery of our zazen. In his comments on Hongzhi’s Zazenshin, Dogen says that the water in which the fish swims is not the water in the external world. The water has no boundary, no bank or shore. A fish is swimming but we cannot measure how far is it moving, because there is no bank from which we survey it. The sky in which the bird is flying is not the space suspended in the firmament. The sky is never concealed or revealed and it has neither outside nor inside. When the bird is flying through the sky, it is flying the entire universe. When the bird is flying, the entire sky is also flying. In zazen, even though we are simply sitting immovably, right here and now, we are flying or swimming together with the entire universe. In this flying and swimming, there is no goal, no purpose, no task, therefore the crane’s mind is at ease, and the fish swims slowly in a relaxed manner.

It is true not only in zazen – in our daily lives we also live together with all beings in the entire world. Dogen Zenji writes in Genjokoan:

When a fish swims, no matter how far it swims, it doesn’t reach the end of the water. When a bird flies, no matter how high it flies, it cannot reach the end of the sky. When the bird’s need or the fish’s need is great, the range is large. When the need is small, the range is small. In this way, each fish and each bird uses the whole space and vigorously acts in every place. However, if a bird departs from the sky, or a fish leaves the water, it immediately dies. We should know that [for a fish] water is life, [for a bird] sky is life. A bird is life; a fish is life. Life is a bird; life is a fish.[5]

Kodo Sawaki Roshi said the same thing using modern colloquial expressions:

It’s impossible for a fish to say, “I’ve swum the whole ocean,” or for a bird to say, “I’ve flown the entire sky.” But fish do swim the whole ocean, and birds do fly the entire sky. Both killifish and whales swim the whole river and ocean. This isn’t a matter of quantity, but quality. We work with our bodies within only three square feet, but we work the whole heaven and earth.[6]

Who can focus their eyes on this vague edge?
From the hundred-foot pole, take another step.

“This vague edge” refers to the boundary between the fish and the ocean, between the bird and the sky, and between the ocean and the sky. We see the boundary but it is not clear, and actually there is no such definite boundary. All beings in the entire universe are living together with others at the intersection of absolute oneness and phenomenal multiplicity in the network of interdependent origination.

To see the emptiness of all beings, particularly ourselves, to be free from self-clinging, and to vow to live harmoniously together with all beings and the entire world is called dropping off body and mind. To do so, we need to take one more step at the top of the hundred-foot pole.

Unfortunately, because of our self-clinging, when we feel we have such a peaceful insight or experience, almost always, we think that “I” am able to see and experience such a great, beautiful, and peaceful reality. No other people can see the Dharma as clearly as “I” can. Or more commonly, we think that “I” am no good, “I” cannot reach and experience such a state. This is how we lose body and mind that is dropped off, and cling hard to the top of the hundred-foot pole. This is a caution from Dogen Zenji to a Zen person like us.

— • —

[1] (Dogen’s Extensive Record 10-57, p.624) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., www.wisdompubs.org.
[2] Jp. Wanshi Shokaku, 1091-1157
[3] Okumura’s unpublished translation.
[4] Okumura’s unpublished translation.
[5] Okumura’s translation (Realizing Genjokoan, Wisdom Publications, 2010) p.4.
[6] Okumura’s translation (Zen Teaching of Homeless Kodo, Wisdom Publication, 2014)

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

> More of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese Poems

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Wholehearted Practice of Zazen



しづかなる Shizuka naru [Being illuminated by]
心の中に kokoro no uchi ni the moon dwelling in
栖む月は sumu tsuki wa the quiet mind,
波もくだけて nami mo kudakete Even waves are breaking down,
光とぞなる hikari to zo naru and becoming the light.

“Quiet mind” is the mind in zazen. In Shōbogenzō Hachidaininngaku (Eight Aspects of Great Beings’ Awakening), Dōgen Zenji quoted the Sutra of the Buddha’s Last Teaching on the third aspect, “The third is to enjoy serenity. Departing from the crowds and noise and staying alone in a quiet place is called ‘to enjoy serenity.’”

“Serenity” is a translation of jakujo (寂静), “quiet,” “tranquil,” “serene,” or “solitary.” This does not simply mean silent or without noise in the external world. When our mind is torn into two or more pieces, there are always dispute, conflict, or anxiety. Such conditions make our mind unsettled and agitated. More often, when we sit in the quiet zendo, we begin to hear the noise from inside. Our zazen of letting go of thoughts allows us to sit immovably without being pulled by those conditions.

In this waka, Dōgen describes zazen using the scenery of a rocky coast of the ocean where the waves incessantly hit the rocks and break down into tiny drops of water. On each and every drop, the moon light is reflected. In our zazen, each thought, image, memory, etc. are like waves that are constantly coming and going, but when we let go of them they cease to be “my” thinking. Thoughts are coming and going but we don’t think. We are not deceived and controlled by them. We don’t take any action based on these waves. Within zazen, each thought coming and going without being grasped becomes simply a scenery of our zazen.

This waka is fourth of the 13 addendum waka in the Shunjusha text. This waka appears only in two versions of Kenzeiki. Almost the same waka is included in Menzan’s version, and that is the sixth of addendum waka entitled “Zazen” in the Shunjusha text.

にごりなき  /  こころのみずに  /  すむ月は  /  なみもくだけて  /  ひかりとぞなる
Nigori naki / kokoro no mizu ni / sumu tsuki wa / kokoro kara koso / nami mo kudakete / hikari to zo naru

[Being illuminated by] the moon dwelling in
the mind-water without cloudiness,
Even the waves are breaking down,
and becoming the light.

Only the first two lines are slightly different. I think these are not two independent waka, but rather two versions of the same waka. There is no evidence to judge which is Dogen’s original, or even whether either version was composed by Dōgen or not. But if this is made by Dogen, what is said here is connected with what he wrote in Shōbōgenzō Genjōkoan:

(09) When a person attains realization, it is like the moon reflecting on the water. The moon never becomes wet, the water is never destroyed. Although it is a vast and great light, it reflects itself on a small amount of water. The whole moon and even the whole sky reflects on even a drop of dew on a blade of grass or a single tiny drop of water. Enlightenment does not destroy the person as the moon does not make a hole in the water. The person does not obstruct realization as a drop of dew does not obstruct the moon in the sky. The depth is the same as the height. [In order to investigate the significance of] the length and shortness of time, we should consider whether the water is great or small, and understand the size of the moon in the sky. 1

In Tenzōkyōkun (Instructions for the Tenzō), Dōgen quotes a verse by Xuedou Chongxian (Seccho Juken, 980 – 1052):

One character, three characters, five, and seven characters.
Having thoroughly investigated the ten thousand things,
None have any foundation.
At midnight the white moon sets into the dark ocean.
When searching for the black dragon’s pearl,
You will find they are numerous. 2

There is Samadhi described in the Kegonkyō (Avatamsaka Sutra, Flower Ornament Sutra) called ocean-seal samadhi (海印三昧kaiin-zanmai). According to this teaching, water is the original mind-nature that is peace and quiet and reflecting everything as it is like a clear mirror. But when the wind of ignorance begins to blow, the water’s surface is agitated, and waves are aroused. Then the surface of the ocean is not able to reflect things as they are. In this teaching, meditation practice is a method to restore the original calmness by stopping the wind of ignorance that is discriminative thinking so that the water can again reflect all things as they are. The ocean water becomes like a seal or a stamp, which copies exactly the same thing on the paper. In the teachings of Kegaon School, this sort of meditation is called mojin-gengen-kan (妄尽還源観), the contemplation for eliminating delusory thoughts and returning to the source. Dōgen wrote in Shōbōgenzō Zazenshin (Accupuncture Needle of Zazen)

Their writings seem only discuss going back to the source or returning to the origin, and vainly endeavoring to stop thinking and become absorbed in tranquility. …How could [those people] have received the single transmission of zazen of the buddhas and ancestors? Since the chroniclers of the Song Dynasty have mistakenly included [those writings], students in later ages should discard them without reading them. 3

Dōgen Zenji wrote a fascicle of Shōbogenzō Kaiin-zanmai (Ocean Seal Samadhi), and wrote about his understanding of kaiin-zanmai that is pretty different from that in the Kegon teaching:

To be the buddhas and ancestors is always the ocean-seal samadhi. As they swim in this samadhi, they have a time to teach, a time to verify, a time to practice. Their virtue of walking on the ocean goes to its bottom: they walk on the ocean as “walking the floor of the deepest ocean.” To seek to cause the currents of birth and death to return the source is not “what are you thinking?” 4

What he is saying here is that his practice of zazen is not a method to stop the wind of ignorance, that is, to discontinue thinking and make the ocean surface completely quiet so that it can reflect all things as they are. Rather, in this waka, Dōgen says that, even the waves become the light of the moon.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura-roshi

1 Realizing Genjōkōan (Shōhaku Okumura, Wisdom Publications,2010) p.3.
2 Dōgen’s Pure Standards for the Zen Community: A Translation of Eihei Shingi (translated by Taigen Daniel Leighton and Shōhaku Okumura, SUNY,1996) p.43.
3 Okumura’s unpublished translation.
4 Carl Bielefeldt’s translation (Soto-shu Translation Project.)

> Other Waka by Dōgen

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