Tag Archives: Sutra on the Buddha’s Bequeathed Teaching

When Will We Meet the Compassionate Buddha?

Copyright©2021 Misaki C. Kido

Dōgen’s Chinese Poems (48)
Verse from Dharma Hall Discourse 486

When Will We Meet the Compassionate Buddha?
486. Dharma Hall Discourse for the ceremony for Buddha’s Parinirvāna [1252]

In Crane Forest with the moon fallen, how could dawn appear?
In Kusi[nagara] flowers wither, and spring is not spring.
Amid love and yearning, what can this confused son do?
I wish to stop these red tears, and join in wholesome action.[1]

「涅槃會」 (涅槃会)

鶴林月落曉何曉 (鶴林の月落ちぬ、曉、何ぞ曉ならん。)
鳩尸花枯春不春 (鳩尸の花枯れて、春、春ならず)
戀慕何爲顛誑子 (戀慕、何爲せん顛誑の子)
欲遮紅涙結良因 (紅涙を遮めて良因を結ばんと欲す)

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This is verse 47 in Kuchūgen and Dharma Hall Discourse (上堂, jōdō) 486 in Volume 7 of Eihei Kōroku (Dōgen’s Extensive Record). After a long presentation and a short pause, Dōgen Zenji recites this verse at the end of the jōdō. This verse in Manzan’s version has a few typographical differences but no change in meaning.

486. Dharma Hall Discourse for the ceremony for Buddha’s Parinirvāna [1252]

This Dharma Hall discourse was presented on the 15th day of 2nd month, in 1252, on the occasion of Buddha’s Parinirvāna Day. Together with Buddha’s Birthday and Enlightenment Day, Parinirvāna Day is one of the most important annual events in all Buddhist traditions. In the Theravada tradition, these three events are celebrated on one day in April or May, as Wesak. Seven dharma discourses given on Parinirvāna Day are recorded in Eihei Kōroku. This is the last one, given in the year before Dōgen’s own entering nirvāṇa.[2]

At Antaiji, we chanted the Sutra on the Buddha’s Bequeathed Teaching (Butsu-yuikyō-gyō, 佛遺教経) from the beginning of February until the 15th. While Sawaki Rōshi was alive, during these evenings, the monks gave a lecture in turn each day on a certain part of the Sutra. This was the only occasion during the year when Sawaki Rōshi listened to the monks’ talks. While Uchiyama Rōshi was the abbot, we each gave a lecture in turn in the mornings on certain basic Buddhist texts. Uchiyama Rōshi did not listen to our lectures.

In the Pali Mahaparinibbana Sutta, right before he entered nirvāṇa, Shakyamuni Buddha said to Ananda:

Ananda, it may be that you will think: “The Teacher’s instruction has ceased, now we have no teacher!” It should not be seen like this, Ananda, for what I have taught and explained to you as Dhamma and discipline will, at my passing, be your teacher.”[3]

In the Sutra on the Buddha’s Bequeathed Teaching, the Buddha’s saying is:

From now on all of my disciples must continuously practice. Then the Thus Come One’s Dharma body will always be present and indestructible. You should know therefore, that everything in the world is impermanent. Meetings necessarily have separations, so do not harbor grief. Every appearance in the world is like this, so you should be vigorous and seek for an early liberation. Destroy the darkness of delusion with the brightness of wisdom. The world is truly dangerous and unstable, without any durability.[4]

In the latter sutra, the notion of Buddha’s “Dharma body” that is always present and indestructible appears. Buddha’s Parinirvāna Day is the occasion to reflect on both the impermanence of our lives and the eternity of Buddha’s Dharma body. In this case, the “eternity” of Buddha’s Dharma body is different from “permanence.” The indestructible Dharma body is always present only if his disciples practice what the Buddha taught. I use the word “eternity” in terms of beyond arising and perishing, while “permanence” means something existing now continues to exist without perishing. Another English term for this term “eternity” might be “timeless.”

In this Dharma discourse, Dōgen says:

Therefore [nirvāna] is neither departing nor entering [the world], nor hiding in despair. Nor is it birth or extinction, nor going or coming. And yet, simply when the opportunity and conditions join together, parinirvāna is manifested. This night [Buddha] entered nirvāna under the twin sāla trees, and yet it is said that he always abides on Vulture Peak.[5]

As it was the death of the Buddha, it was a sad time. Some of the people surrounding the Buddha’s death bed, including Ananda, cried; other monks, such as Anuruddha, did not cry . In the Pali Mahaparinibbana Sutta, we read:

And those monks who had not yet overcome their passions wept and tore their hair, raising their arms, throwing themselves down and twisting and turning, crying: ‘All too soon the Blessed Lord has passed away, all too soon the Well Farer has passed away, all too soon the eye of the world has disappeared! But those monks who were free from craving endured mindfully and clearly aware, saying: ‘all compounded things are impermanent–what is the use of this?’[6]

In Crane Forest with the moon fallen, how could dawn appear?
In Kusi[nagara] flowers wither, and spring is not spring.

“Crane Forest” is a translation of kakurin (鶴林). It is said that at the place of the Buddha’s passing away, there were four twin trees of sāla—together, eight trees surround the Buddha’s death bed. The flowers of those sāla trees suddenly bloom and change their color into white, as if white cranes are flying. Therefore, the place came to be called Crane Forest. In paintings of the Parinirvāna, half of the sāla trees are withered and the leaves have become brown; another half of the tees continue to flourish with green leaves. This shows the impermanence of rupa-body and the eternity of Dharma body. The Buddha’s mother Queen Maya is coming down from the heavens. She wants to offer some medicine, but it seems too late, so she throws the medicine down. But still, it is not in time. Monks, bodhisattvas, lay people, and heavenly beings come to see the Buddha’s passing away. Not only human and heavenly beings, but also all different kinds of living beings gather around the death bed to show their respect and sadness.

In this poem, Dōgen Zenji remains on the side of the monks who had not yet released from delusions and desires, such as Ananda. After the Buddha’s death, the full moon set, and it became dark. Even when the time of dawn came, it was still dark for them. The flowers of the sāla trees had fallen. Even though it was springtime, for those monks, this spring was not cheerful like a usual spring.

Amid love and yearning, what can this confused son do?
I wish to stop these red tears, and join in wholesome action.

In this poem, Dōgen Zenji is together with those unenlightened monks and calls himself “a confused son” overwhelmed by sadness for losing their teacher. The original word ten’oshi (顛誑子) is a strong word. Ten (顛) means “upside down” used for example, in the Heart Sutra, tendō musō (顛倒夢想)—inverted or up-side-down view. O (誑) means crazy. Shi (子) is “son” or “child.”

In the final line, he expresses his wish and vow that no matter how sad and painful this experience, he wishes to stop his red tears, and continue to practice following the Buddha’s final teaching. In this way, the indestructible Dharma body is always present.

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[1] (Dōgen’s Extensive Record Volume 7, Dharma Hall Discourse 486, p.433) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., www.wisdompubs.org.
[2] Dharma Hall Discourse 121 (p.147), 146 (p.173), 225 (p.230), 311 (p.287), 367 (p.323), 418 (p.374), 486 (p.432).
[3] The Long Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Dīgha Nikāya (translation by Maurice Walshe, Wisdom) p.269–270. Dhamma refers to the teachings, and discipline refers to Vinaya Precepts.
[4] Translated from the Chinese by: The Buddhist Text Translation Society, Dharma Realm Buddhist University, Talmage, California, USA.
[5] Dōgen’s Extensive Record p. 432
[6] The Long Discourses of the Buddha, p.272.

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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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The Dharma of Impermanence

Transience Can Spawn Bodhi-Mind


© Can Stock Photo / lilkar

心なき Kokoro naki Even insentient beings
草木も今日は kusaki mo kyo wa such as grasses and trees
しぼむなり shibomu nari wither today.
目に見たる人 meni mitaru hito Seeing them in front of their eyes,
愁へざらめや ure-e zarameya how can people be without grieving?

In his teisho on this waka, Kōdō Sawaki Roshi emphasized the quality of our eyes, whether they are open to see impermanence and whether we can feel grief about the plants’ and our own lives. He compared himself with Dōgen Zenji who deeply realized impermanence by experiencing his mother’s death when he was seven years old.

Seeing the incense smoke at his mother’s funeral, Dōgen aspired to become a Buddhist monk. Sawaki Roshi’s mother died when he was five years old and his father died when he was seven; he was adopted by his aunt, but soon her husband died from a stroke in front of Sawaki Roshi’s eyes in the same year. Then he was adopted by Bunkichi Sawaki.

Though he had such painful experiences, Sawaki Roshi said that he did not really see impermanence; rather, he only worried about who would feed and raise him.

His adopted father Bunkichi was a gambler living in a red-light district. When Sawaki Roshi was eight years old, a middle-aged man died of a stroke in a prostitute’s room nearby. Sawaki Roshi saw the dead man in bed with his wife beside him, crying, “Why did you die in a place like this, of all places?”

Sawaki Roshi was stunned by this miserable scene, and this time impermanence and the impossibility of keeping secrets were inscribed deep in his mind.1 After all, Sawaki Roshi said, “Dōgen Zenji was sharp witted so that he could deeply see impermanence and aroused bodhi-mind by simply seeing the smoke of incense, or withering trees and grasses, but a dull-witted person like me could not feel the same thing until I had much more intense experiences.”

Even though Sawaki Roshi said he was dull-witted compared with Dōgen Zenji, I think he was the only person who had the eyes to see the spiritual meaning of impermanence among the many people who witnessed what happened at the brothel.

All plants — either grasses or trees — know when they sprout, grow, bloom flowers, bear fruits, and wither. Each plant has its own time and season.

If we are mindful, we can see that all things in nature are expressing the Dharma of impermanence. Particularly when we see plants withering, we cannot help but see the transience of our own lives if our eyes are open. We all see that our lives are not at all different from the lives of plants.

Seeing impermanence and feeling grief is a good chance to arouse bodhi-mind. This way of seeing impermanence is essentially different from the common sense of the fragility of life expressed by many Japanese poets. Seeing impermanence and feeling grief is not necessarily negative in Buddhism, especially in Dōgen’s teachings.

Dōgen Zenji says in Shōbōgenzō Hotsu bodaishin (Arousing Bodhicitta):

In general, arousing [bodhi-]mind and attaining the Way both depend on the instantaneous arising and perishing [of all things]. … In this way, whether we wish in our minds or not, being pulled by our past karma, the transmigration within the cycle of life and death continues without stopping for a single ksana *. With the body-mind that is transmigrating in this manner through the cycle of life and death, we should without fail arouse the bodhi-mind of ferrying others before ourselves. Even if, on the way of arousing the bodhi-mind, we hold our body-mind dear, it is born, grows old, becomes sick, and dies; after all, it cannot be our own personal possession. … Our lives arise and perish within each ksana. Their swiftness is like this. Moment after moment, practitioners should not forget this principle. While being within this swiftness of arising and perishing of transmigration in each ksana, if we arouse one single thought of ferrying others before ourselves, the eternal longevity [of the Tathagata] immediately manifests itself.2

Seeing impermanence is not a negative thing in Buddhism even though we feel sad. It is a good chance to arouse bodhi-mind and aspire to practice what the Buddha taught. As Shakyamuni Buddha said in the Sutra on the Buddha’s Bequeathed Teaching, within the practice, the Buddha’s indestructible Dharma Body is actualized.

In the beginning of Shōbōgenzō Genjōkōan Dōgen said, “Therefore, flowers fall even though we love them; weeds grow even though we dislike them.” Then at the end of the same fascicle he wrote, “Since the wind’s nature is ever-present, the wind of the Buddha’s family enables us to realize the gold of the great earth and to transform the [water of] the long river into cream.”3

By seeing the reality beyond our self-centered desire or expectation, we see our lives are connected with all beings. This waka might have a connection with the case 27 of the Blue Cliff Record “Yunmen’s The Body Exposed, The Golden Wind”:

A monk asked Yunmen, “How is it when the tree withers and the leaves fall?”
Yunmen said, “Body exposed in the golden wind.”
. 4

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Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

1 See The Zen Teaching of Homeless Kōdō (Kōshō Uchiyama, Wisdom Publicatins) p.235.
2 Okumura’s unpublished translation.
3 Okumura’s translation in Realizing Genjōkōan (Wisdom Publications, 2010), p.1, p.5
4 The Blue Cliff Record (Thomas Cleary, Shambhala, 1977) p.176.

* An instant; an infinitesimal unit of time.

> Other Waka by Dōgen

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