Tag Archives: waka

When we bow to the Buddha, what are we bowing to?


I am a little confused about when we bow to the Buddha. When we bow to the Buddha, what are we bowing to?

 “Buddha” has many meanings. Here is one way to think about it. There are three bodies of Buddha. The first is called Dharmakaya. Buddha as Dharmakaya means dharma itself is Buddha. The way things are, the network of interdependent origination, the reality of all beings is itself Buddha. In that sense, each and everything within that network is part of Buddha. When we understand Buddha in this way, making prostrations to the Buddha means we venerate and make prostrations to this entire network of interdependent origination, of which we are part. This is one meaning.

The second body of the Buddha is called Samboghakaya. In Mahayana Buddhism, besides the person Shakyamuni who was born in this world in India about twenty-five hundred years ago, there are many other buddhas who practiced life after life – and not only within this world, but in many other worlds within this universe. Buddhas such as Amitabha Buddha or Yakushinyorai (Medicine Master) also accomplished buddhahood. There are numberless buddhas who have accomplished Buddhahood through their practices. Understanding Buddha in this way means that when we make prostrations, we venerate all Buddhas who practiced and studied dharma and accomplished buddhahood and who are teaching in various Buddha lands in this universe, even though we don’t see them.

The third body of the Buddha is called Nirmanakaya. This refers to Shakyamuni, who was born in this world at a certain point in history, and who was the so-called founder of the religion Buddhism. Because we are Buddha’s student we venerate this particular Buddha. We express our gratitude that Shakyamuni awakened to and discovered this dharma and taught about how to live based on that awakening.

So depending upon our understanding of what is Buddha, the meaning of even one act of prostration can be different. We do not need to say which prostration we are doing. Actually, we do prostration to all those buddhas. Not only buddhas but buddhas, dharmas, and sanghas.

— • —

Commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

Beginning with this post, the Dōgen Institute hopes to offer an occasional series of questions from students with responses from Okumura Roshi  about practice and study. These questions and responses are from Okumura Roshi’s recorded lectures, and are lightly edited.

— • —

For further study:


Copyright 2018 Sanshin Zen Community

Meeting with a person

Devoted to the Way

© Can Stock Photo / iamagoo
にほの海や Nio no umi ya On the lake of Nio,
矢橋のおきの Yabase no oki no A ferry boat is sailing
渡し舟 watashi bune offshore of Yabase.
おしても人に oshitemo hito ni [I would like to] push it
あふみならばや afumi naraba ya to meet the person.


This waka is Addendum 13 and the last waka in the Shunjusha text of Dogen Zenji Wakashu (Collection of Dogen Zenji’s Waka). Nio is the old name of the waterfowl called kaitsuburi (grebe, Tachybaptus ruficollis). Lake Biwa, the largest lake in Japan located in Shiga Prefecture, was called Nio no umi (Lake of Nio) because many grebes and other water fowl live there. Today the grebe is the prefectural bird of Shiga Prefecture. Lake Biwa can be seen from Mt. Hiei where Dogen practiced for several years as a novice.

Yabase is the name of a town on the east coast of Lake Biwa in Kusatsu City in Shiga Prefecture. In the ancient times, Yabase was well known as the port of a ferry boat that connected Kusatsu and Otsu, creating a short cut to travel to the capital Kyoto that was much shorter than walking around the lake. Afumi in the last line is a paronomasia that combines oumi, the old name of Shiga Prefecture) and “the person to meet.” Afu can mean to meet (au, 会う), and mi (身) means a body or a person.

The first three lines of this waka describe the scenery of Lake Biwa. A ferry boat is sailing on the lake offshore from Yabase. Then, Dogen (if this waka was written by him) says, even though it is a short cut, he still wishes to push his boat out to meet with the person on the ferry as soon as possible.

This waka was found by Dr. Doshu Okubo in Toyo-wakashu (藤葉和歌集) a collection of waka compiled in the Nanbokucho period (1336 – 1392) by Ogura Sanenori. Dr. Okubo included this waka in Dogen Zenji Wakashu as a part of Dogen Zenji Zenshu published by Chikuma Shobo in 1970. Okubo wrote in his Dogen Zenji Den no Kenkyu (Study of the Biographies of Dogen Zenji, Chikuma Shobo, 1966) that this waka might be evidence that Dogen Zenji attended gatherings of aristocrats for writing waka while he lived in Fukakusa.

In Toyo-wakashu, this waka is included in the section of love poems. People considered this to be a poem by a person who wishes to meet his or her lover as soon as possible so he/she wishes to push out the boat. Because of this, some people hesitated to consider this written by Dogen. Another interpreter thinks this is not necessarily a love poem. Only the compiler of the waka collection thought this waka is about the sentiment of a lover.

I have no basis to decide whether this waka was written by Dogen Zenji or not. The only thing I can suggest is that in Shobogenzo Gyoji (Continuous Practice), Dogen wrote about his encounter with his late master Rujing (Nyojo):

Manoatari senshi wo miru kore hito ni afunari.
I saw my late master with my own eyes; this is [truly] meeting with a person.

If this waka was written by Dogen, I think this expression “hito ni afu (to meet a person)” could mean to meet with a true person of the Way. In Shobogenzo Zuimonki, Dogen talked about his meeting with many such people who completely dedicated their lives to the Buddha Way.

Dogen also wrote in Shobogenzo Uji (Being time):

Ware hito ni au nari; hito ware ni au nari; ware ware ni au nari; shutu shutu ni aunari.
I encounter a person; a person encounters a person; I encounter myself; going forth encounters going forth.

This quote from Uji has something to do with the koan included in Shinji Shobogenzo (Dogen’s collection of 300 koans) case 92:

Zen master Sansheng (Dharma heir of Linji) said, “When I meet a person, I go out. When I go out, I don’t guide the person.”
Cunjiang of Xinghua Monastery said, “When I meet a person, I don’t go out. When I go out, I guide the person.”

Zen master Yuanwu, the commentator of the Blue Cliff Record; Hongzhi, the Soto Zen master who composed verses on the hundred koan included in the Book of Serenity; and Dogen’s teacher Rujing all mentioned this koan in their Dhama Hall discourses.

I think that if this waka was composed by Dogen, meeting “with a person” means meeting with anyone devoted to the Way. 

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Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

> Other Waka by Dōgen

Copyright 2017 Sanshin Zen Community

Mountain Dwelling

In the mountains, and in samsara

山居 二首
Two poems on Mountain Dwelling

立よりて Tachiyorite I won’t stop by
かげもうつさじ kage mo utsu sa ji at the bank of the valley stream,
溪川の tanigawa no so that my appearance is not reflected on it.
ながれて世にし nagarete yo ni shi Because I think,
出でんとおもへば iden to omoeba the water will flow
into the world [of samsara].


Addenda 11 and 12 of the Shunjusha text of Dogen Zenji Wakashu (Collection of Dogen Zenji’s Waka) are titled “mountain dwelling (sankyo, 山居)” taken from a collection named Ryakugebon made by a monk named Kakugan (覚巖), who was the abbot of Entsuji in Okayama in the 19th century. We don’t know where Kakugan found these poems. Entsuji is the temple where the famous monk poet Ryokan practiced with his master Dainin Kokusen.

This waka is very similar to Addendum 1.

たちよりて  かげもうつさじ  かも川に みやこにいづる 水とおもへば
(Tachiyorite / kage mo utsusaji / kamogawa ni / miyako ni izuru / mizu to omoeba)
I won’t stop by / at [the bank] of Kamo river, / so that my appearance is not reflected on it. / Because I think, / the water will flow / into the capital.

The wording is a little different after the third line, but the meaning is the same. I don’t think I need to write a comment on this waka.

Addendum 12 

山ずみの Yama zumi no The moon on the mountain brow
友とはならじ tomo towa naraji does not become a friend
峯の月 mine no tsuki of this mountain dweller,
かれも浮世を karemo ukiyo wo Because it is also moving around
めぐる身なれば meguru mi nareba the floating world [of samsara].


The meaning of this poem seems the same as Addenda 1 and 12. It seems Dogen is saying that he does not want to interact with the valley stream and the moon because they have connection with the mundane world. It is difficult for me to think Dogen has such a negative attitude toward the people in the mundane world. It is true that as a Zen Buddhist monk, Dogen put strong emphasis on renunciation of the fame and profit in the mundane world so that he does not rely on political and economic power. However his practice in the mountain is not an escape from the world. Also, he always loves the sounds of valley stream as Buddha’s voice and the moon as the boundless radiant light of the entirety of interdependent origination. 

If Dogen really composed this waka, I hope we can read it as follows:

The moon on the mountain brow
cannot [always] accompany 
this mountain dweller [alone],
because it needs to move around 
and [illuminate the people in] the world [of samsara also].

The moon and the valley streams illuminate and expound the Dharma, not only for monks practicing in the secluded mountain but also for the people in the mundane world.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

> Other Waka by Dōgen

Copyright 2017 Sanshin Zen Community

Dew on the Grass

Eternity within impermanence


朝日待つ asahi matsu The dewdrops on a blade of grass,
草葉の露の kusaba no tsuyu no waiting for the morning sunrise,
ほどなきに hodo naki ni [are existing] only for a short while.
急ぎな立ちそ isogina tachi so Autumn wind in the field!
野辺の秋風 nobe no akikaze “Don’t begin to blow in a hurry.”

A dewdrop is beautiful and yet stays only for a short time. There are expressions such as 露珠 (roshu), a dewdrop that is as beautiful as a jewel and 露華 (roka), dewdrops shining in the sunlight like flowers. Our life, that is precious but impermanent without perpetual self-nature, is also compared to a dewdrop (露命, romei), dewdrop-like life. Dogen Zenji used this expression several times, for example, in Fukanzazengi (Universal Recommendation of Zazen):

Furthermore, your body is like a drop of dew on a blade of grass; your life is like a flash of lightening. Your body will disappear soon; your life will be lost in an instant.1

While I stayed at Valley Zendo in western Massachusetts, I worked harvesting blueberries at a blueberry farm for a few weeks in the summer for several years. In the early mornings, the blueberry field was so beautiful. Each and every blueberry and the leaves on the plants were covered with dewdrops. In the morning sun, the many acres of the blueberry field looked like a carpet of bright jewels. However soon after sun rose a little higher and the air got warm, all of the dewdrops completely disappeared.

In this waka, Dogen describes dewdrops on a blade of grass on an early autumn morning. The dewdrops stay only for a short while on a blade of grass until the sun rises. When the cold autumn wind blows, even the grass on which the dewdrops stay will wither. Seeing this scenery of the change of season, we human beings feel loneliness and sadness, and have some sympathy or even compassion toward the dewdrops and the grasses. We see our lives are the same as theirs. Soon or later we will all disappear, and we don’t know when.

This is the same reality as Kamo no Chomei wrote about in the Hojoki, which I introduced previously. However in the case of Dogen, this is not a pessimistic view of life. He sees beauty and dignity of life in impermanence. As Dogen wrote in Shobogenzo Genjokoan, every dewdrop reflects the boundless moon light. He sees eternity within impermanence. He also writes in Tenzo Kyokun (Instruction for the Cook):

“Although drawn by the voices of spring, do not wander over spring meadows; viewing the fall colors, do not allow your heart to fall. The four seasons cooperate in a single scene; regard light and heavy with a single eye.”2

We see that spring will come again and plants, flowers, insects, birds and all living beings will become active again. We don’t need to be overwhelmed by the cold autumn wind.


1 Okumura’s unpublished translation.
2 Dogen’s Pure Standards for the Zen Community: A translation of Eihei Shingi (Taigen Leighton & Shohaku Okumura, SUNY), p.49

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

> Other Waka by Dōgen

Copyright 2017 Sanshin Zen Community

Transience Within Boundless Nature


世中は Yononaka wa To what can this world
何にたとへん nani ni tatoen be compared?
水鳥の mizudori no The moonlight
はしふる露に hashi furu tsuyu ni reflected in water drops
やどる月影 yadoru tsukikage splashed from a waterfowl’s beak.

This is the tenth waka in the 13 addendum waka in the Shunjusha text. It appears only Menzan’s Sanshodoei collection. It is not certain where Menzan found this verse; if it was composed by Dōgen, he expressed the beauty of impermanence and his insight regarding the interpenetration of impermanence and eternity.

A waterfowl dives into the water of a pond and comes up to the surface. It shakes its bill; water drops are splashed. In each and every one of the droplets, the boundless moonlight is reflected. The water drops stay in the air less than a moment before returning to the pond. Each of them is as bright as the moon itself.

Dōgen sees the scenery in the moment a waterfowl shakes its beak and water drops are splashed. Each and every droplet reflects the boundless moonlight. He thinks our lives in this world is the same. Our lives are as impermanent as the water drops, and yet, as he wrote in Genjōkōan, the boundless moonlight is reflected. In Shōbōgenzō Hotsubodaishin (Arousing Bodhi-mind), Dōgen wrote:

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 the 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..

From the end of the Heian Era (794 – 1192) to the beginning of the Kamakura era (1192 – 1333), Japan experienced a transition in social structure and political power. The emperor’s court had been losing its power and the warrior (samurai) class had been getting more and more powerful. In the process of the growth of the warrior class, there were numberless civil wars between the Taira clan and the Minamoto clan, even in the capital, Kyōto. Finally in the end of twelfth century, the Shogunate government was established in Kamakura by Minamoto Yoritomo. Concurrent with this transition in society were lots of natural disasters. People saw piles of dead bodies on the bank of Kamo River in Kyōto. They believed that the age of final-dharma (mappo) had begun in 1052. They saw the impermanence of society and also people’s lives.

In the very beginning of the famous Tale of the Heike it is said:

The sound of the Gion Shoja bells echoes the impermanence of all things; the color of the sala flowers reveals the truth that the prosperous must decline. The proud do not endure, they are like a dream on a spring night; the mighty fall at last, they are as dust before the wind.

— Chapter 1.1, Helen Craig McCullough’s translation

“Gion Shoja” refers to the Buddhist monastery in India and “sala flower” refers to the flower of the sala tree in Kushinagara where Shakyamuni passed away. It is said that when Shakyamuni passed away, the sala trees gave forth flowers in full bloom out of season.

Dōgen’s contemporary, Kamo no Chomei (1153 – 1216), wrote an essay entitled Hojoki (My Ten-Foot Hut) in 1212, one year before Dogen became a monk at Enryakuji in Mt. Hiei. Chomei wrote about the situation in the capital, Kyōto. He recorded that they had many natural disasters such as great fires, whirlwinds, typhoons, earth quakes, etc. beside the destruction caused by the civil wars between Heike and Genji clans. In the beginning of Hojoki he wrote:

[1] Though the river’s current never fails, the water passing, moment by moment, is never the same. Where the current pools, bubbles form on the surface, bursting and disappearing as others rise to replace them, none lasting long. In this world, people and their dwelling places are like that, always changing.

[3] Nor is it clear to me, as people are born and die, where they are coming from and where they are going. Nor why, being so ephemeral in this world, they take such pains to make their houses pleasing to the eye. The master and the dwelling are competing in their transience. Both will perish from this world like the morning glory that blooms in the morning dew. In some cases, the dew may evaporate first, while the flower remains—but only to be withered by the morning sun. In others, the flower may wither even before the dew is gone, but no one expects the dew to last until evening.

— Translation by Robert N. Lawson, on Washburn University website

These are the well-known examples of people’s sense of transience and the vanity of life in the mundane world at the time of Dōgen. His insight into impermanence is very different from those pessimistic views of fleeting world. As he expresses in this waka, although seeing impermanence is sad and painful, still, that is the way we can arouse bodhi-citta (way-seeking mind) and also see the eternity within impermanence.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura-roshi

> Other Waka by Dōgen

Copyright 2017 Sanshin Zen Community

Jingqing’s Sound of Rain Drops


鏡清雨滴声 Kiku mama ni Just hearing
また心なき mata kokoro naki without extra mind [that grasps them],
身にしあれば mi ni shi areba the jewel-like raindrops
おのれなりけり onore nari keri dripping from the eaves
軒の玉水 noki no tamamizu are myself.

This is the fifth waka in the 13 addendum waka in the Shunjusha text. This waka appears only Menzan’s Sanshodoei collection; we don’t know where he found it. There is a similar verse in another later collection of Dōgen’s waka called the Yukonzan version, but the first three lines are different:

耳に見て  /  目に聞くならば  /  うたがは  /  おのれなりけり  /  軒の玉水
mimi ni mite / me ni kiku naraba / utagawaji / onore nari keri / noki no tamamizu

Seeing with ears and hearing with eyes,
there is no doubt that,
the jewel-like raindrops
dripping from the eaves
are myself.

In the Rinzai tradition, this waka is considered to have been written by Daito Kokushi (Shuho Myocho, 1282 – 1338). The fourth line of Daito’s waka is a little different, (おのずからなる、onozukara naru; Seeing with ears and hearing with eyes, / there is no doubt that, the jewel-like raindrops dripping from the eaves / as they simply are). Anyway, there is no evidence to judge if this is really Dōgen’s waka or not.

The title of this waka, “Jingqing’s Sound of Raindrops,” refers to the koan that appears as case 46 of the Blue Cliff Record (Hekiganroku). The conversation between Zen master Jingqing and a monk in the kōan is as follows:

Jingqing asked a monk, “What sound is that outside the gate?”
The monk said, “The sound of raindrops.”
Jingqing said, “Sentient beings are inverted. They lose themselves and follow after things.” (衆生顛倒、迷己遂物)
Then the monk said, “What about you, Teacher?”
Jingqing said, “I almost don’t lose myself”
The monk said, “What is the meaning of ‘I almost don’t lose myself’?”
Jingqing said, “Though it still should be easy to express oneself, to say the whole thing has to be difficult.” 1

In this kōan, the Zen master Jingqing and his student are inside a building and hear a sound. This kōan is about the relation between the six sense organs and the objects of the sense organs, in this case “ear” and “sound.” Because it was raining outside, the monk answered his teacher that it was the sound of raindrops they were hearing. Then Jingqing said, “Sentient beings are viewing things upside-down. They lose themselves and follow after things.” This saying is based on a teaching of the Surangama Sutra. The sentence from the sutra is:


From the time without beginning, all beings have mistakenly identified themselves with what they are aware of. Controlled by their experience of perceived objects, they lose track of their fundamental minds. 2

“Their fundamental minds” refers to the One-Mind, Mind-nature, Original-Mind, etc.— the mind source as the noumenon. In this section of the sutra, the fundamental mind (honmyō-meijō-shin,本妙明浄心, the originally pure and wondrous understanding mind) is compared to an innkeeper; the thinking-mind caused by encountering objects, therefore based on dichotomy between subject and object, is compared to the visitors of the inn. Thinking-mind is conditioned, impermanent and ever-changing, but the innkeeper is always there, so it is permanent.

What the sutra means is that when we lose sight of the true essence of the self (the fundamental mind), we identify ourselves as the subject that is facing the objects we encounter, we discriminate among them, evaluate them and chase after or escape from them, and thus we begin to transmigrate within samsara. Being deluded by the “visiting” discriminative mind and losing the fundamental mind is the cause of suffering within samsara.

However, Dōgen did not appreciate the Surangama Sutra during his entire life. I think, that was because it promoted this concept of an “original fundamental mind” as noumenon.

Jinqing says that people are deluded and lose themselves and they chase after external things. Then the subject and the object become separate. When these are separate and interact, something happens in our minds. In the koan, a thought is aroused in the student’s mind and he said “that was the sound of raindrops.” He grasped himself as the subject that is hearing the sound of raindrops. According to this master’s teaching, at that very moment the student loses the fundamental self, chases after an object (heard) and becomes the subject (hearer) of doing such action (hearing).

According to the Surangama Sutra, this means that all of the discriminative thinking caused by interactions between the sense organs and the objects of the sense organs is delusion. We should therefore stop thinking, restore calmness without waves of discriminative thinking and awaken only to this pure and bright fundamental mind, free of all duality and defilements. Based on this teachihg, Jingqing is saying that as soon as the monk hears the sound of the raindrops and tries to answer the teacher’s question, he has fallen into the duality between subject and object and begun interacting with it. His point is that when the monk’s mind is divided into subject and object, and the subject thinks about the object, and he then answers his teacher, he has lost his original self.

In Shōbōgenzō Ikka-myōju (One Bright Jewel), Dōgen writes:

The “entire ten-direction” means the ceaseless activities of chasing after things and making them into the self, and chasing after the self and making it into things.

In this sentence, Dōgen uses the same expression Jingqing used, but in the positive way. If this waka was written by Dōgen, I think he expressed the same thing. Our life is ceaseless and endless interaction between the self and myriad things, but the self and myriad things are not in the dichotomy of subject and objects; rather they are working together as a part of the total function (全機zenki) of the entire network of interdependent origination. In Tenzō-kyōkun, Dōgen writes, “All day and all night things come to mind and the mind attends to them At one with them all, diligently carry on the Way.”

In this case “mind” means the tenzō or the self. Things come to the self and the self attends to those things. This is the way the self and myriad things work together as one reality. The important point here is being attentive. We need to intimately work with myriad things in the way we express our awakening to the reality of impermanence, selfless, and interconnectedness.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura-roshi

1 Translation by Thomas Cleary &J.C. Cleary (The Blue Cliff Record, Shambhara,1977) case 46, p.275.
2 Translation by Buddhist Text Translation Society (The Śūraṅgama Sūtra, Buddhist Text Translation Society, 2009), p.65.

> Other Waka by Dōgen

Copyright 2017 Sanshin Zen Community

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.

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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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