Tag Archives: Shobogenzo

Pull Your Own Nose and Lift the Ancient Kōan  

Copyright©2022 Misaki C. Kido

Dōgen’s Chinese Poems (53)

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

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

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

— • —

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

The speech he gave after the verse is:

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

Pull Your Own Nose and Lift the Ancient Kōan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— • —

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

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

— • —

For further study:
See Dōgen’s Extensive Record.

> More of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese Poems


Copyright©2022 Sanshin Zen Community

New article by Okumura Roshi in Dharma Eye

— • —

Okumura Roshi is a regular contributor to Dharma Eye, the journal of the Soto Zen Buddhism International Center, providing translation of and commentary on fascicles of Dogen Zenji’s Shobogenzo. Numerous articles are available free online. For a full listing, and the latest article on Shobogenzo Kannon, which we have just posted, please see our DI page dedicated to these articles.

— • —


Copyright 2022 Sanshin Zen Community

Ryōkan Interpreted: the true Dharma eye

Collage "Crazy Moon"
Copyright©2021 Tomon Marr
(from the book)

[An extract from Okumura Roshi’s new book: Ryōkan Interpreted.]

Chapter title: Ryōkan and Dōgen

I remember that a long time ago, while staying at Entsūji monastery,
my late teacher upheld the true Dharma eye.
At that time, I experienced the pivotal point for transforming my self.
Therefore, I asked him to let me read the texts, and I intimately practiced following Dōgen’s teachings.
Further, I realized that I had been wastefully using my strength.
After that, I left my teacher and traveled far and wide to practice with other teachers.
What was my affinity with Eihei [Dōgen]?
Wherever I went, I respectfully practiced the teachings of the true Dharma eye.
More years than I can remember have passed away.
I forgot the function, returned to my home country and have been living the idle, lazy life.

— • —

In this second section [of a longer poem], Ryōkan remembers his experience of studying and practicing Dōgen’s teaching of the true Dharma eye treasury while he practiced at Entsūji monastery. His teacher Dainin Kokusen gave instructions on the true Dharma eye. Ryōkan says here only shōbōgen. It is not clear if this refers to the text Shōbōgenzō (with abbreviated because the number of Chinese characters is limited in a line of poetry), or if this refers to the eye that sees true Dharma. Even if shōbōgen in this poem does not refer to the text Shōbōgenzō, I believe Kokusen gave lectures on Dōgen’s writings including Shōbōgenzō. Either way, it is certain that through his teacher, Ryōkan studied Shōbōgenzō. He was inspired by Dōgen’s teaching and asked his teacher to allow him to read the texts by himself. At this time, Shōbōgenzō was not yet published in a woodblock version, which is why Ryōkan asked special permission from the abbot to read a rare and precious hand-copied manuscript.

Entsūji was founded by Tokuō Ryōkō (徳翁良高 1648–1709), one of the dharma heirs of Gesshū Sōko (月舟宗胡 1618–1696) and a dharma brother of Manzan Dōhaku (卍山道白 1636–1715). They pioneered the movement of “returning to Dōgen” in order to restore the uniqueness of the Sōtō School as distinct from the Rinzai School and the newly established Ōbaku School. Ryōkan’s master Kokusen (1723–1791) was one of Tokuō’s dharma grandsons and Entsūji must have owned Shōbōgenzō and other texts by Dōgen, as well as important texts of Zen and Buddhism in general.

By studying Shōbōgenzō, Ryōkan says that he experienced the pivotal point for transforming himself. Until then, he probably thought “Ryōkan” studied and practiced the dharma using his own power and effort to see the true reality of all beings, but he now found that all beings came to him and allowed him to practice. This is one of the most important points of Dōgen’s teaching in Genjōkōan.

Ryōkan practiced at Entsūji for 12 years from 1779 to 1791, from the time he was twenty-two until he was thirty-three years old. Shortly before his death in 1791, Kokusen gave a poem and a staff to Ryōkan. Commonly this is considered to mean Ryōkan received inka (the seal certifying completion of practice) or dharma transmission. Seemingly, he was therefore qualified to be the abbot of a Sōtō temple. And yet when Ryōkan passed away, he was simply called “Ryōkan Shusō (head monk)” on his mortuary tablet. In today’s Sōtō School system, after completing shusō practice, we receive dharma transmission sometime later, and only after copying the sanmotsu (three documents: shisho, kechimyaku, and daiji) and visiting Eiheiji and Sōjiji to do zuise (the ceremony of being abbot for a day). I think it was the same in Ryōkan’s time, but no one, including Ryōkan himself, ever mentioned that he received dharma transmission or copied the three documents or visited Eiheiji or Sōjiji for zuise. Probably, Kokusen passed away before giving transmission to Ryōkan and Ryōkan did not want to receive transmission from another teacher. Or possibly he had already decided not to be a Sōtō Zen temple priest and part of the government-controlled Buddhist system. In any event, Ryōkan left Entsūji around the time his teacher passed away and never returned. He traveled widely for several years until 1796 when he was thirty-nine. We don’t know much about where he visited or what he did during this period. But in this poem, Ryōkan says that wherever he went, he met and respectfully practiced shōbōgen (the true Dharma eye). Again, some people interpret this line as Ryōkan meaning he could read a hand-copied manuscript of Shōbōgenzō at many places, but I don’t agree with this interpretation. I think Ryōkan means that wherever he went he practiced with the essential spirit of Dōgen: “studying the self” and “dropping off body and mind.”

In the poem, Ryōkan remembers that in his youth, he studied and practiced following Shōbōgenzō and other teachings of Dōgen. However, after returning to Echigo when he was thirty-nine years old, he gave it up, and as he expressed it, “I have been living the idle, lazy life.” “Lazy life” is a translation of sorai (疎懶). So means “negligent” or “careless” and rai means “lazy,” “dull,” or “idle.” An example of the same kind of person is Hanshan (寒山, Kanzan). This “laziness” is not completely negative and Ryōkan’s lifestyle after returning to Echigo is a typical example of “Zen laziness.” Ryōkan loved Hanshan’s poems. One of Ryōkan’s famous poems is:

For my entire life, I have been too lazy to rise in the world.
I live freely, leaving everything to heaven’s truth.
In my bag, three measures of rice.
By the fireside, a bundle of firewood.
Who inquires after the trace of delusion and realization?
Why do I care for the dusts of fame and profit?
In the night rain, inside my grass-hut
I stretch my legs leisurely.

Ryōkan doesn’t care for social climbing but leaves everything to “heaven’s truth.” Heaven’s truth (天真, tenshin) means reality as-it-is before being processed by human thinking. Ryōkan’s poem might have been inspired by a poem by Hanshan:

All my life too lazy to work
favoring the light to the heavy.
Others take up a career,
I hold onto a sutra,
a scroll with nothing inside.
I open it wherever I go.
For every illness it has a cure
and heals with whatever works.
Once your mind contains no plan
wherever you are it is alert.[1]

When Ryōkan says, “I am too lazy to rise in the world,” this “world” includes the Buddhist temples as a part of the worldly social system. At some time of his life, as he wandered here and there, I think that Ryōkan found he could not live like Dōgen because, internally, his impractical personality could not work with others within an organization and, externally, because of the situation of the Sōtō School and its temples. He had to create his own lifestyle and practice as a bodhisattva inspired by Dōgen’s teaching, but without imitating Dōgen’s style as it was practiced at Sōtō Zen monasteries of the time.

However, there may be a difference between the Chinese “lazy” Zen monks and Ryōkan, for Ryōkan could not be completely lazy; he is not one hundred percent comfortable being a “lazy” Zen monk. Sometimes, he feels shame or even guilt for having left his family responsibilities and for having discontinued the diligent monastic practice that Dōgen carried out. His mind is ambivalent even though he knows he cannot change his way of life. To me, this is an attractive aspect of Ryōkan. Probably the Chinese Zen monks had the same kind of internal entanglements, but Zen literature as it comes down to us is hagiography created by later people about legendary monks whom they worshiped; it makes no mention of their internal dilemmas.

— • —

[1] Red Pine, trans., The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain, (Port Townsend, Wash: Copper Canyon Press, 2000), p.209.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

— • —

For further study:

> More Ryōkan


Copyright©2021 Sanshin Zen Community

Just published! The Japanese poet Ryōkan (1758–1831) is known throughout the world for his deep and delightful lyric verses, evoking the beauty of nature and the precious and transitory nature of everyday life. In his new book, the internationally-known Zen Buddhist commentator and author Shohaku Okumura newly translates poems by Ryōkan and provides commentary on Ryōkan’s life and works, for the enjoyment of lovers of poetry and for Buddhist practitioners alike. This handsome volume commences with an essay by Tonen O’Connor, Resident Priest of Emerita of the Milwaukee Zen Center, and is enhanced with the inclusion of photography of Roykan’s beloved “Snow Country” by Hoko Karnegis, Vice Abbot of Sanshin Zen Community. Tomon Marr, a disciple of O’Connor, has graced the cover and chapter headings with contemporary works of mixed media in response to Ryōkan.

New article by Okumura Roshi in Dharma Eye

— • —

Okumura Roshi is a regular contributor to Dharma Eye, the journal of the Soto Zen Buddhism International Center, providing translation of and commentary on fascicles of Dogen Zenji’s Shobogenzo. Numerous articles are available free online. For a full listing, and the latest article on Shobogenzo Kannon, please see our DI page dedicated to these articles.

— • —


Copyright 2021 Sanshin Zen Community