Tag Archives: Zen

Moon-Viewing

Dōgen’s Chinese Poem (19)

「秋月」

Autumn Moon

The fifteenth night [full moon] of the eighth month, facing the moon each person [in the assembly] composed a verse about the moon. This moon is not the moon of the heart, not the moon in the sky, not yesterday’s moon, not the night moon, not the round moon, and not the crescent moon. I suppose it is the autumn moon. How is it?

Although golden waves are not calm, [the moon] lodges in the river.
In refreshing air it shines on high, and all the ground is autumn.
Reed flowers on the Wei River, snow on Song Peak,
Who would resent the endlessness of the long night?[1]

八月十五夜、於月前各頌月。此月非心月、非天月、非昨月、非夜月、非円月、非尖月、想像是秋月也、如何。
(八月十五夜、月前において各おの月を頌す。此の月、心月に非ず、天月に非ず、昨月に非ず、夜月に非ず、円月に非ず、尖月に非ず、想像するに是れ秋月なり、如何。)
金波非泊雖河宿、 (金波泊まらず河に宿ると雖も、)
爽気高晴匝地秋、 (爽気高く晴れて匝地秋なり、)
渭水蘆華嵩嶽雪、 (渭水の蘆華嵩嶽の雪、)
誰怨長夜更悠悠。 (誰か怨みん長夜更らに悠悠たることを。)

 

This is verse 19 in Kuchugen and verse 74 of volume 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dogen’s Extensive Record). In Manzan’s version, there is a slight difference in the first line only of this poem:

金波非止亦非流 (金波止まるに非ず亦た流るるに非ず 
Golden waves neither stay nor flow

In Eihei Koroku, this poem has a long introduction as above. In east Asian countries such as China, Vietnam, Korea, and Japan, a celebration called the harvest moon is held on the full moon day of the eighth month. In Japan we call it o-tsuki-mi (お月見 moon-vewing). People offer moon-viewing dumplings (tsukimidango 月見団子) together with Japanese pampas grass (susukiススキ). On this occasion, Dogen Zenji holds a gathering, writing poems with his assembly of monks. Each one of the monks composes a poem on the full moon. Dogen loves the moon as the symbol of the Dharma of interconnectedness and penetration of each and myriad phenomenal things and the vast, infinite moonlight. The oldest portrait of Dogen Zenji stored at Hokyoji is called the moon-viewing portrait (月見の像).

In this introduction, Dogen says that the moon they are seeing today is not the moon of the heart (心月 shin-getsu, mind-moon), not the moon in the sky (天月 ten-getsu, heaven-moon), not yesterday’s moon (昨月 saku-getsu, yesterday-moon), not the night moon (夜月 ya-getsu, night-moon), not the round moon (円月 en-getsu, round- or complete-moon), and not the crescent moon (尖月 sen-getsu, sharp-pointed-moon), but the autumn moon (秋月 shu-getsu). I don’t quite understand what this introduction means. The autumn moon and the other names of the moon he mentions here do not negate each other. The autumn moon cannot be the spring, summer, or winter moon, but it can be the heart-moon, heaven-moon, etc. Actually, these are the expressions used by Dogen himself in Shobogenzo Tsuki (Moon) and in Genjokoan. Possibly Dogen is asking his monks not to express the moon in the way he has already in his writings, but rather to create something unique from their own hearts.

In his teisho on this poem, Sawaki Roshi mentions that “the autumn moon” is taken from a poem by Hanshan (寒山 Kanzan, Cold Mountain):

吾心似秋月  My mind is like the autumn moon
碧潭清皎潔  clear and bright in a pool of jade
無物堪比倫  nothing can compare
教我如何説  What more can I say.[2]

In this reading, the autumn moon is really a symbol of the pure and clear mind, which is what shin-getsu (mind-moon) means.

Although golden waves are not calm, [the moon] lodges in the river.
In refreshing air it shines on high, and all the ground is autumn.

Golden waves (金波) refers to the moonlight reflected on the surface of river water. A commentary suggests that this river is the Milky Way, which in Japanese is called the river in the heavens (天の河 amanogawa). But I think that in this case, a river on the earth is a better interpretation. This is the same scenery Dogen writes about in Genjokoan, “Although the moon is a vast and great light, it is reflected in a drop of water.” The water is constantly moving, and the moonlight looks as if it is moving too, and yet it also looks as if it is not moving. This is the same as is stated in Manzan’s version: “Golden waves neither stay nor flow.”

The moon is shining in the boundless sky within the clear, brisk autumn air. In Shobogenzo Tsuki (Moon), Dogen quotes the saying by Zen Master Panshan Baoji:

The mind-moon is alone and completely round. Its light swallows the myriad phenomenal things. The light does not illuminate objects. Nor do any objects exist. Light and objects simultaneously vanish. Then what is this?

In his commentary on this, Dogen says,

The myriad phenomenal things are moonlight, not myriad phenomenal things. This is why the light swallows the myriad phenomenal things. Because the myriad phenomenal things naturally swallow moonlight completely, the light swallowing light itself is referred to as light swallowing the myriad phenomenal things.[3]

He interprets this scenery as the complete interpenetration of all phenomenal things and the entirety of Indra’s net. Later, he also says that the moon vomits phenomenal things, that is, moonlight is moonlight and phenomenal things are phenomenal things. He is expressing the reality in which oneness and multiplicity both vanish and yet are completely there. This is what is meant by the second line, “In refreshing air it shines on high, and all the ground is autumn.” Each and every thing and the moonlight express the beauty of universal autumn.

Reed flowers on the Wei River, snow on song Peak,
Who would resent the endlessness of the long night?

Dazu Huike, the second ancestor of Chinese Zen, lived by the Wei River. Song Peak was where Bodhidharma sat for nine years at Shaolin temple. These two places are not far away from each other. When Huike first visited Bodhidharma, the mountain was covered with snow. In Dogen’s poem, the white moonlight is illuminating reed flowers and snow which are both white. This is the scenery of a cool and peaceful world, free from the heat of the burning house of samsara.

Reed flower (蘆, roka) is used in case 13 of The Blue Cliff Record:

雪蘆花を覆えば、朕迹を分け難し。
When snow covers the white flowers, it’s hard to distinguish the outlines.
白馬、蘆花に入る。
A white horse enters the white flowers.[4]

“The white flowers” in the original Chinese is “蘆花 reed flowers.” In The Blue Cliff Record, these expressions are used with the same meaning as in a line from Treasure Mirror Samadhi (宝鏡三昧, Hokyozanmai) composed by Dongshan (洞山 Tozan), the founder of Chinese Caodong (Soto) school:

Filling a silver bowl with snow,
Hiding a heron in the moonlight[5]

All phenomenal things are illuminated by white moonlight. It is quiet, peaceful, cool, and undefiled scenery in which both difference and unity are completely integrated. This is also the scenery of our zazen.

Dogen says it is difficult to stop viewing the moon and go to bed because the moon is not only beautiful but also expresses the Dharma, in which we are the part of the moon. Shortly before his passing away in 1253, he saw the full moon on the fifteenth day of the eighth month in Kyoto, and he composed his last waka poem:

また見んと 思ひし時の 秋だにも 今夜の月に ねられやはする
Mata min to / omoishi toki no /  aki da nimo / koyoi no tsuki ni  / nerare yawasuru

I wasn’t sure if I could expect to see autumn again
gratefully I see the full moon of this night
How is it possible for me to sleep?

— • —

[1] (Dogen’s Extensive Record 10-71, p.629) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., www.wisdompubs.org.
[2] Translation by Red Pine, The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain, Copper Canyon Press, 2000. P.39
[3] Unpublished translation copyright 2019 Shohaku Okumura.
[4] Translation by Thomas Cleary (The Blue Cliff Record, Shambhala, 2005) p. 88
[5] Translation by Thomas Cleary (Timeless Spring: A Soto Zen Anthology, Weatherhill, 1980) p.39.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

> More of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese Poems


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Peach and plum, pine and bamboo

Copyright©2019 Misaki C. Kido

Dōgen’s Chinese Poem (18)

「春雪夜」「春雪の夜」

Snowy Night in Spring

Peach and plum blossoms under snow and frost are not what I love.
In green pines and emerald bamboo, so much cloudy mist.
Even though not yet stained with chicken skin and crane hair,
For some decades I have abandoned fame and gain.[1]

桃李雪霜非愛処 (桃李雪霜愛処に非ず、)
青松翠竹幾雲煙 (青松翠竹幾くの雲煙ぞ、)
鶏皮鶴髪縦無染 (鶏皮鶴髪縦い染むること無くとも、)
名利抛來數十年 (名利抛て來る數十年。)

This is verse 18 in Kuchugen and verse 71 of volume 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dogen’s Extensive Record). This poem in Menzan’s version is quite different. Only the last line is the same:

桃李假娟我曷憐 (桃李娟を假るも我れ曷んぞ憐まん)
I don’t appreciate peach and plum blooming beautifully,
松杉失翠或應悁 (松杉翠を失う或た應に悁うべし)
Rather I have pity on the pines and cedars losing their green color [being covered by the snow].
道人忘卻紛飛意 (道人忘卻す紛飛の意)
A person of the Way forgets the [monkey-] mind that is jumping around in disorder.
名利抛來數十年 (名利を抛って來る數十年)
For some decades, I have abandoned [desire for] fame and gain.

 

Peach and plum blossoms under snow and frost are not what I love.
In green pines and emerald bamboo, so much cloudy mist.

It is difficult for me to understand this poem in the Monkaku-bon version. This is a poem about snow falling in a spring night. The Chinese character桃 (Ch. Tao, Jp. momo, Prunus persica) is peach and the Chinese character 李 (Ch. Li, Jp. sumomo, Prunus salicina) is usually called plum in English. This is different from ume(梅, Japanese apricot, Prunus mume) though that is also called “plum” in English. These characters (桃李 peach and plum) are often used together. For example, there is a famous saying from Shiji (Jp. Shiki, 史記) by Simaqian (Jp. Shibasen, 司馬遷) about the virtuous personality of a general who was respected by all people:

桃李不言下自成蹊 (桃李言わざれども下自ら蹊を成す)
Peach and plum do not say anything but underneath these trees, naturally a trail is made.

Their flowers are beautiful and their fruits are tasty, so many people come to the trees and naturally make a trail. This might be a rough equivalent to the English proverb: “Good wine needs no bush.” In Chinese culture, peach is also a symbol of longevity.

Ume blooms at Eiheiji in the very early spring when the ground is completely covered with snow. Dogen loves the image of ume blossoms in the snow. Peach and sumomo (translated as “plum”) bloom in mid-spring after the snow has melted away. If the peach and plum flowers were covered with snow, it must have been really unusual weather. In this poem, Dogen writes that on a spring night, they had unusually late snow on the peach and plum blossoms. But he says he does not love them.

Right after moving from Kyoto to Echizen, Dogen saw snowfall on the bright leaves in the fall. He was moved by the beauty and composed a waka poem:

In the month of long nights
it snowed
on the bright leaves
Why don’t those who see this
compose a poem?

Although the situation in his Chinese poem is similar to this waka, white snow on the bright fall leaves and snow on the spring flowers, in his Chinese poem he says he does not love the scenery. The expression Dogen uses is 非愛処 (not a place to love) – the same expression Shitou (Jp. Sekito) used in his “Song of the Grass-hut”— “I don’t love what worldly people love (世人愛処我不愛).” This seems to be quite a strong negation. Exactly what does he not love? The flowers of peach and plum, or the snow and frost which cover the beautiful flowers and possibly damages them, making them unable to produce their fruit?

In the second line, he says that the green colors of pine needles and emerald bamboo are also covered by the cloudy mist so that they are not seen clearly. The green color of pine needles and bamboo is commonly appreciated as the symbol of fidelity and constancy. Things beautiful and faithful are covered by the snow and the mist. What does this scenery mean to Dogen?

Even though not yet stained with chicken skin and crane hair,
For some decades I have abandoned fame and gain.

Chicken skin (鶏皮) refers to a winkled face of an aged person. Crane hair (鶴髪) means white hair like a crane’s feather. These are symbols of aging. It seems that Dogen says he is not yet so old. Nyo (名) is fame and ri (利) is profit. He has abandoned his desire for fame and profit since the time he became a Buddhist monk at the age of thirteen. As he often said and wrote, being free from the desires for fame and profit is one of the most important virtues for a Buddhist monk.

I don’t quite understand this poem in Monkaku version. The relationship between the first three lines and the last line is not clear to me. Peach and plum blossoms and the green color of pine and bamboo are beautiful, and people love them. But spring snow and mist cover their beauty. Smooth skin and black hair are desirable symbol of youth, but gradually change into chicken skin and crane hair – like the spring snow and cloudy mist which cover the beautiful colors of flowers, pine needles, and bamboo. It seems that although Dogen is getting closer to old age, he has neither love nor hatred for these things. Or possibly he expresses that even though he has abandoned worldly values such as fame and profit since he was young, he still feels some sadness when he sees that the aging process is already beginning.

Menzan’s version of this poem is more understandable to me. In this version, Dogen does not say that he sees peach and plum blossoms covered with snow and frost. He simply says he does not appreciate their luxurious beauty that most worldly people love. What he actually sees is the green colors of pine needles and cedar leaves getting covered and hidden by the snow. He has sympathy for them, for keeping their faithfulness and beauty even when covered by snow. In this version, peach and plum represent what worldly people love, and pine and cedar trees covered with snow are not appreciated by worldly people, who don’t even come to see them.

The practice of Dogen and his monks practicing on a remote mountain is like the faithfulness of cedars and pines. As a person of the Way, he is free from the monkey-mind that jumps in a disorderly way among beautiful and valuable things such as peach and plum blossoms in the worldly system of value. Rather, Dogen identifies himself with the pine and cedar trees in the snow. He has been living in this way for several decades since he became a Buddhist monk, even before he moved to Echizen. Faithful and continuous practice of just sitting without gaining mind, that is good for nothing, is not appreciated in the market place, but Dogen Zenji is completely committed to the practice.

— • —

[1] (Dogen’s Extensive Record 10-71, p.628) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., www.wisdompubs.org.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

> More of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese Poems


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Visiting teachers to ask about the way

Herbythyme [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Dōgen’s Chinese Poem (17)

「與禪人求頌」 (「禪人の頌を求むるに與う」)

Given to a Zen Person Asking for a Verse

Visiting teachers to ask about the way is practicing Zen.
This state of fine simplicity is transmitted from the ancients.
Who would begrudge [crossing] many thousands of rivers and mountains?
Returning home, the ground beneath your feet is always good.[1]

尋師訪道是參禪、 (尋師訪道是れ參禪、)
此段風流自古傳、 (此の段の風流古より傳わる、)
誰恨江山千萬疊、 (誰か恨みん江山千萬疊、)
還郷脚下悉良縁。 (郷に還れば脚下悉く良縁。)

This is verse 17 in Kuchugen and verse 64 of volume 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dōgen’s Extensive Record). This poem in Menzan’s version is quite different:

瞻風撥草要參禪 (瞻風撥草、參禪を要す
For yearning after [the ancestors’] wind and clearing away the weeds [of our minds], we need to practice Zen.
祖意明明妙不傳 (祖意明明なり妙不傳
The intention of the ancestral master is clear and wonderous, but not-transmitted
恨江山千萬疊 (恨むこと莫れ、江山千萬疊)
Do not regret [crossing] many thousands of rivers and mountains.
頭頭爲汝闢玄門 頭頭汝が爲に玄門を闢く
Each and every one of them opens the gate of profound [truth] for you.

 

Visiting teachers to ask about the way is practicing Zen.
This state of fine simplicity is transmitted from the ancients.

From the beginning of the history of Buddhism, Shakyamuni Buddha and his disciples were great travelers. They held a three-month practice period during rainy season. The rest of the year, they did not stay in any one place but travelled around. The Buddha encouraged his disciples to travel, saying:

“Go forth for the good of the many, the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the people of the world, for the good and happiness of gods and human beings. Let not two of you take the same road [so that the greatest number of people will be exposed to the teaching]. …There are in the world those whose eyes are covered by little dust, yet because they do not hear the teaching they are far from the Truth. [If they hear it] they will thoroughly understand the Truth. And I too will go to the village of Sena in Uruvela, there to preach the teaching.”[2]

Shakyamuni lived traveling in this way for about forty years, until the very end of his life. Even after monasteries were established, travelling was a very important part of the practice and teaching activities of Buddhist monks.

In the Chinese Zen tradition, the custom of the three-month summer practice period was maintained. Zen monks stayed at a monastery during the summer practice period, but the rest of the year they could travel. In the 8th century, Mazu (Baso) lived in Jiangxi (江西, Jp. Kosei) and Shitou (Sekito) lived in Hunan (湖南, Jp. Konan). These two were considered the two greatest masters of that period. Many monks traveled between their monasteries to attend their practice periods. Even today, practice period is called Goko-e (江湖会), after the names of where they lived. Since then, it is a common practice for Zen monks to travel seeking a teacher best for them. Many Zen koan stories are about making pilgrimage searching for a true teacher.

“This state of fine simplicity” is a translation of 風流 (Ch. fengliu; Jp. furyu) commonly translated as “artistic,” “tasteful,” “distinguished,” or “refined.” In this case, the word means the beyond-worldly, undefiled way of life transmitted from ancient times. Monks traveled only for the sake of searching out authentic teachers with whom to study the Dharma.

Who would begrudge [crossing] many thousands of rivers and mountains?
Returning home, the ground beneath your feet is always good.

Dōgen Zenji’s first trip seeking the Way was his walk in 1212 from Kohata, Uji to the temple his maternal uncle lived in near Mt. Hiei. According to Dōgen’s biography, Fujiwara Motofusa (his maternal grandfather) wished to adopt him, and was planning for the ceremony to celebrate his coming of age. But Dōgen secretly left home and visited his uncle Ryokan, who was a Tendai monk and lived at the foot of Mt. Hiei. Probably it took Dōgen less than half a day to walk there.

While Dōgen was studying as a novice at the Tendai monastery on Mt. Hiei, it is said that he had a serious question: If all living beings are inherently enlightened, why did buddhas and ancestors have to go through difficult study and practice? In Bendowa, he wrote,

“After arousing bodhi mind and beginning to seek the dharma, I traveled throughout this country and visited various teachers.”

Probably he visited teachers at the various temples on Mt. Hiei, teachers at Kojōin within Onjōji (Miidera), another main monastery of the Tendai school, located by Lake Biwa and near Mt. Hiei, and some teachers in Kyoto area, possibly including Eisai at Kenninji. Since Dōgen practiced at Mt. Hiei until he was seventeen years old, it is difficult for me to think that he could have traveled extensively outside of the Kyoto area. All of the above places are within the distance of a one-day walk.

When Dōgen writes, “travelling [crossing] many thousands of rivers and mountains,” he may be writing about his own experiences. In other works, he writes about his travel from Japan to China and about making pilgrimage in China. By the time he met his teacher Tiantong Rujing in the fifth month of 1225, he had traveled quite extensively – probably from the end of the summer practice period in the seventh month of 1224 until the beginning of the practice period in the fourth month of 1225. He visited many Zen monasteries and at least seven Zen masters. It seems he was disappointed because he did not find a true teacher for himself. But when he returned to Tiantong monastery, he found that a great teacher was waiting for him, the new abbot of the monastery, Rujing (Nyojo).

However, in this poem, he writes that all of the experiences he had during this pilgrimage were meaningful and appreciated. Traveling through many mountains and rivers, visiting many villages, towns, and cities, meeting with various people, and experiencing hard times and good times must have been a wonderful way of studying the Dharma in a very concrete way. The process of travelling was equally important and educational as achieving the goal, finding a true teacher.

I did not need to travel to find my teacher. A classmate at my high school allowed me to read Uchiyama Roshi’s book, and Roshi lived in Kyoto not far from where I lived in Osaka. After coming to the USA in 1975, I travelled from California to Massachusetts twice – once by car with several friends, and another time alone by Greyhound bus. I also travelled from Valley Zendo to New York City regularly to do sesshin there for a few years around 1980, sometimes by bus and other times by hitch-hiking. I studied many things about American people from those travel experiences.

From 1997 to 2010, I travelled much more extensively by airplane to visit many Zen centers in the USA from the West coast to the East coast, from Alaska to Florida. But traveling in the air is different than traveling on the earth. Sitting on a small seat in an airplane is not interesting at all. The only meaningful way to spend the time is reading a book or working on a laptop computer. I could do such things at my home much more comfortably.

— • —

[1] (Dōgen’s Extensive Record 10-64, p.626) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., www.wisdompubs.org.

[2] Gotama Buddha: A Biography Based on the Most Reliable Texts volume 1 (Hajime Nakamura, Kosei, 2000) p.285-286.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

> More of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese Poems


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Taking another step

(c) Can Stock Photo / flamiaki8

Dogen’s Chinese Poem (16)

「與禅人」

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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A dewdrop splashed.

Okumura Roshi has translated many of Dogen’s poems. This post originally appeared in 2013 and was one of the most-read posts of that year.

canstockphoto10777529

In the year he passed away, in the evening of the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month, Dogen composed the following poem.

又見んと   思ひし時の   秋だにも   今夜の月に    ねられやはする
mata min to / omishi toki no / aki da nimo / koyoi no tsuki ni / nerare yawasuru

I [was not sure] if I could expect to see the autumn again,
[Gratefully I can see] the full moon of this night,
How is it possible for me to sleep?

About ten days after arriving in Kyoto, on the night of 15th, he saw the beautiful full moon.

The 15th day of the 8th lunar month is called the mid-autumn, the center of the three months of autumn– that is, around the day of the autumnal equinox. In East Asian countries including China, Korea, Vietnam, and Japan, people celebrate the mid-autumn harvest moon festival.

At Eiheiji, Dogen gave formal dharma discourse on this day each year. He also had a gathering with his disciples for composing poems on this day. We can find one Chinese poem included in the Eiheikoroku:

The fifteenth night [full moon] of the eight month, facing the moon each person [in the assembly] composed a verse about the moon. This moon is not the moon of the heart, not the moon in the sky, not yesterday’s moon, not the night moon, not the round moon, and not the crescent moon. I suppose it is the autumn moon. How is it?

Although golden waves are not calm,
[the moon] lodges in the river.
In refreshing air it shines on high, and all the ground is autumn.
Reed flowers on the Wei River, snow on song Peak,
Who would resent the endlessness of the long night? ¹

In this year, he was not sure if he could live until the autumn. Because he could see the full moon in Kyoto where he was born and had grown up, he was very delighted and wanted to see the moon all night.

The moon was one of the important metaphors of the dharma he often used, such as moon in the dewdrop in Genjokoan. In one of his waka poems he wrote that this world is like a dewdrop splashed from a waterfowl’s beak staying in the air only for a few seconds and yet the boundless moonlight is reflected on it and it is shining like the moon itself.

Dogen passed away on 28th of that month in 1253.

¹Dogen’s Extensive Record, vol. 10, p. 629

Copyright 2019 Sanshin Zen Community

At the bottom of rushing waters

photo ©David S. Thompson

Dogen’s Chinese Poem (15)

「與禅人」

Given to a Zen Person

Who hates ignorance, which is simply the autumn dew?
From the beginning, true form is actually within this.
Its remains are hard to see at the bottom of rushing waters.
Bound up it’s easy to transform the self we receive.
[1]

無明誰惡唯秋露 (無明誰か惡まん唯だ秋の露、)
實相元來此裡眞 (實相元來此の裡に眞なり、)
留而難知流水底 (留めて知り難し流水の底)
結來變易承當身 (結び來ては變じ易し承當の身)

This is verse 15 in Kuchugen and verse 57 of volume 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dogen’s Extensive Record). This is the second of three poems titled, “Given to a Zen Person” in Kuchugen. This poem in Menzan’s version has slight differences in lines 1 and 3:

無明誰惡艸頭露 (無明誰か惡まん艸頭の露)
Who hates ignorance, which is dew on a blade of grass?

難知流水底(留め得て知り難し流水の底)
Even if possible to remain, it is hard to know what there is at the bottom of rushing water.

Who hates ignorance, which is simply the autumn dew?
From the beginning, true form is actually within this.

Ignorance is a translation of mumyo (無明), literally “lack of brightness (knowledge).” In Sanskrit, this is avidya. Avidya is the first of the twelve links of causation, and the root cause of suffering and transmigration within samsara. Because of ignorance, we cannot see reality as it is. We take action with distorted visions of things inside and outside of ourselves. In Yogacara teachings, it is like a person in the dark seeing a piece of rope as a poisonous snake and becoming frightened. In an opposite case, we might see something dangerous, and yet, because of a lack of knowledge or attentiveness, we ignore it. Influenced by such distorted views, we have desires to make things our possession or to escape from them. We take actions to fulfill such desires and our lives become chasing after some things which are desirable and escaping from other things we dislike. These are the functions of the three poisonous minds: greed, hanger/hatred, and ignorance. As a result, we make mistake after mistake and we lose the sight of the peaceful foundation of our lives.

“True form” is a translation of jisso (実相), which is an abbreviation of shoho jisso (諸法実相), true reality of all things, which comes from the second chapter of the Lotus Sutra. In my understanding, shoho jisso is the teaching that each and every unique, individual thing can exist as it is only in the relation with all other things throughout time and space. In the case of seeing a piece of rope as a snake and becoming frightened, by seeing it more carefully and mindfully, we may find it is not a snake but a rope, and further, we may discover the rope as a collection of some kind of fiber, therefore it is also empty.

This is a common understanding of “ignorance” and “true form” in Mahayana Buddhism. We need to become free from ignorance and see the true reality by attaining wisdom (prajna). Here Dogen is saying something one step further. For example, in Chapter 7 of the Vimalakirti Sutra, The Dharma-door of Nonduality, the bodhisattva Vidyuddeva declared, “‘Knowledge (vidya)’ and ‘ignorance (avidya)’ are dualistic. The natures of ignorance and knowledge are the same, for ignorance is undefiled, incalculable, and beyond the sphere of thought. The realization of this is the entrance into nonduality.”[2]

A bodhisattva has made a vow not to enter nirvana but to stay in samsara to walk with all living beings. For a bodhisattva to hate and escape from “ignorance” and to seek after “true form” is another duality, which creates another samsara within our practice. A bodhisattva who sees non-duality does not hate “ignorance,” because ignorance does not have self-nature, it is impermanent like dew on a blade of a grass in autumn. In the same way, a bodhisattva does not chase after “true form” to make it their personal possession. As Dōgen’s poem implies, when the sun rises, dew-like ignorance will disappear into the air. Water vapor in the air becomes dew on the grass and then returns to the air depending upon the temperature. “Ignorance” is empty, that is why the transformation from taking action based on ignorance to seeing true form is possible. Even when we see a rope as a poisonous snake, the poisonous snake does not really exist. We can see that both the snake and the rope are empty. We don’t need to be afraid of and escape from delusions caused by ignorance. In Gakudo-yojinshu (Points to Watch in Practicing the Way), Dogen Zenji says:

You must understand that we practice within delusions and attain realization before enlightenment. At that moment, you will comprehend that boats and rafts are merely yesterday’s dream and will be able to cut off your previous views based on words which bind you like a vine or a snake.[3]

Its remains are hard to see at the bottom of rushing waters.
Bound up it’s easy to transform the self we receive.

Depending upon the temperature and numberless other factors, water changes its form as vapor, dew, or ice. Our mind is the same. Unfortunately, in our case as immature bodhisattvas, the transformation from “ignorance” to “true form” is not thorough and decisive. Depending upon the conditions inside and outside of ourselves, our mind is rapidly changing its form, as vapor, dew, or ice. Our minds are like a rushing of waters. It is really hard to see what is at the bottom of our ever-changing mind conditions. Sometimes we feel we are free from the five aggregates of attachment (panca upadana skandha) by seeing their emptiness, but the next moment, our body and mind function in variety of self-centered ways as the five aggregates of attachment. The body and mind we received when we were born very easily transforms back and forth between self-centeredness and selflessness. That is the reason we need to practice mindfully and continuously, moment by moment. If we think that we are permanently free from ignorance because we had some sort of “enlightenment experience,” such an attitude can be the worst form of self-clinging.

— • —

[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] The Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti: A Mahayana Scripture (translation by Robert A. F. Thurman, The Pennsylvania State University Press), p.74.

[3] Heart of Zen: Practice without Gaining-mind (Sotoshu Shumucho,1988), p.12.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

> More of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese Poems


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Dōgen’s question

© Nevit Dilmen [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Dogen’s Chinese Poem (14)

「與禅人」

Given to a Zen Person

Essence and expression are penetrating, before we glimpse the ground.
Arriving at this, who can be at peace?
Too bad the echo of wind in the pines doesn’t reach a deaf ear.
Dew from bamboo is repeatedly dropping in front of the moon.[1]

宗説倶通瞥地先 (宗説倶に通ず瞥地の先)
誰人到此可安然 (誰人か此に到って安然たるべき)
松風愧響聾人耳 (松風響きに愧ず聾人の耳)
竹露屡零納月邊 (竹露屡零ちて月邊に納る)

This is verse 14 in Kuchugen and verse 55 of volume 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dogen’s Extensive Record). This is one of the 3 poems titled “Given to a Zen Person” in Kuchugen. This poem in Menzan’s version has slight differences in lines 2, 3, and 4:

到此解參玄  (誰か能く此に到って參玄を解す):
Arriving at this, who can understand attending the profundity.
松風響聾人耳 (松風空しく響く聾人の耳):
The echo of wind in the pines is in vain to a deaf ear
竹露屡零月邊  (竹露屡かに零つ月の邊):
Dew from bamboo is repeatedly dropping by the cool moon.

 

Essence and expression are penetrating, before we glimpse the ground.
Arriving at this, who can be at peace?

“Essence and expression” is a translation of 宗説 (shu-setsu). 宗 (shu) is the original truth or reality beyond thinking, discriminating, conceptualizing, to which buddhas and ancestors awaken. 説 (setsu) is talking, expressing, explaining, teaching, or expounding the original reality.

When Shakyamuni Buddha completed awakening, he discovered the original reality, the Dharma, but he hesitated to share it with others. He thought it was too subtle, profound, fine, and difficult to perceive for people who are lost in desire, cloaked in darkness. But after being requested three times by the God Brahma, he made up his mind to teach. He said, “The gateway of ambrosia [deathlessness] is thrown open for those who have ears to hear.” What the Buddha taught using language to the five monks was the first turning of the dharma wheel. The Buddha’s act of teaching to lead others to the truth is 説 (setsu).

“To glimpse the ground” is a translation of 瞥地 (becchi) which means to take a glance at the truth. 瞥 (betsu) means to get a glance; that is, to see with half an eye, not thoroughly seeing. Dogen Zenji uses this expression in the beginning of Fukanzazengi (Universal Recommendation of Zazen):

Even if you are proud of your understanding, are enlightened in abundance, and obtain the power of wisdom to glimpse the ground of buddhahood; even if you gain the Way, clarify the mind, resolve to pierce heaven, that is only strolling on the border of the buddha way. You are still, almost always, lacking the vivid path of emancipation.

As the result of our personal efforts, we understand and feel, “I have some awakening experience to the truth,” but according to Dogen, such a result is just strolling on the border of the buddha way. It is not really entering the buddha way; something is still lacking.

In Genjokoan, Dogen Zenji says,

When the Dharma has not yet fully penetrated into body and mind, one thinks that one is already filled with the dharma. When the dharma fills the body and mind, one thinks that something is [still] lacking.

Here in this poem, Dogen is saying that even prior to such a small result of personal efforts, the essence and its expressions are always penetrating. Basically, what he is saying is the same with the several lines in the very beginning of Fukanzazengi:

Originally, the Way is complete and universal. How can we distinguish practice from enlightenment? The Vehicle of Reality is in the Self. Why should we waste our efforts trying to attain it? Still more, the Whole Body is free from dust. Why should we believe in a means to sweep it away? On the whole, the Way is never separated from where we are now. Why should we wander here and there to practice?

However, this does not mean we can be relaxed and at peace without making any effort. In the next paragraph of the Fukanzazengi, Dogen says we should continue to practice following the examples of Shakyamuni Buddha and Bodhidharma. Their practice is not for the purpose of gaining something.

Too bad the echo of wind in the pines doesn’t reach a deaf ear.
Dew from bamboo is repeatedly dropping in front of the moon.

松風 (shofu, or matsu-kaze) refers to soughing of the wind through pine trees. In Japanese poetry this expression was often used to express the solitary and serene scenery of a seashore. The sounds of the wind through the pine trees is the Buddha’s voice. However, unless our ears are open, we don’t hear the message from the Buddha.

竹露 (chikura, or take no tsuyu) is a drop of dew on a blade of bamboo leaves. When the temperature goes down below the dew point, water vapor in the air condenses to form droplets on the surface of the bamboo leaves. On each and every drop of dew, the moonlight is reflected. However, when sun rises and the temperature goes up, the dew drops will evaporate and disappear. Within a tiny drop of dew, boundless moon light is reflected, and yet it does not last long. As Dogen writes in Genjokoan, this is the expression of each and every phenomenal being including ourselves. This is the way all things are existing, not only for special enlightened people as the result of their personal efforts. However, if our eyes are not open, we don’t see the significance of Buddha’s radiant light.

According to Dogen’s biography, Kenzeiki, while he was studying at the Tendai monastery on Mt. Hiei as a novice monk, he had a question, “Both the exoteric and esoteric teachings say that, from the beginning [human beings are endowed with] dharma-nature. [We are] naturally the self-nature [buddha-]body. If so, why did all buddhas in the three times have to arouse [bodhi-]mind to seek awakening?” I think what he is saying in this poem is the answer to that question. We need to continue to study and practice and keep our eyes and ears open to see and hear the Buddha’s voice and body expressed in each and every phenomenal thing. By doing so, we don’t get anything, but we put ourselves on the ground of original reality.

— • —

[1] (Dogen’s Extensive Record 10-55, p.624) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., www.wisdompubs.org.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

> More of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese Poems


Copyright 2019 Sanshin Zen Community