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Okamura, Shohaku on Shobogenzo

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Lecture 7: Dogen Zenji's Genjo-koan

Rev. Shohaku Okumura

Director, Soto Zen Education Center
original source

(Text: section 8)

Firewood becomes ash. Ash cannot turn back into firewood again. However, we
should not view ash as after and firewood as before. We should know that firewood
dwells in the dharma position of firewood and it has its own before and after.
Although there is before and after, past and future are cut off. Ash stays at the
position of ash and it has its own before and after. As firewood never becomes
firewood again after it is burned and becomes ash, after person dies, there is no
return to living. However, in buddha dharma, it is a never-changing tradition not to
say that life becomes death. Therefore we call it no-arising. It is the laid-down way
of buddha's turning the dharma wheel not to say that death becomes life. Therefore,
we call it no-perishing. Life is a position at one time; death is also a position at one
time. For instance, this is like winter and spring. We don't think that winter becomes
spring, and we don't say that spring becomes summer.

Life-and-death and 'Self'

Genjo-koan is the first chapter of the 75-volume version of Dogen Zenji's

Shobogenzo. This is one of Dogen's most popular written works. But to understand
this short article is very difficult. Dogen Zenji does not explain himself, he simply
expresses the buddha dharma using a very poetic and precise language that was the
outcome of his profound insight and experience. In Japan, we study the Shobogenzo
along with its commentaries. But, often, the commentaries made by Soto Zen
masters are just as difficult as Dogen's writings. In order to understand Dogen we
need to read the text and the commentaries many times and reflect on our own
experience of zazen and day-to-day practice. So today, I will present my own
understanding based on my own study and practice. Don't believe my words, but
please learn through your own study and practice. This is the way the buddha
dharma has been transmitted generation to generation.

From section 4 to 7 of Genjo-koan, Dogen Zenji discusses delusion and

enlightenment, and buddhas and living beings based on the relationship between the
self and all myriad things. In the end of section 7, Dogen Zenji says, "When we
conceive our body and mind in a confused way and grasp all things with
discriminating mind, we mistakenly think that the self nature of our own mind is
permanent. When we intimately practice and return right here, it is clear that all
things have no [fixed] self."

In section 8, Dogen Zenji discusses life and death, or arising and perishing as the
reality of our life that is impermanent and egoless (no-fixed self). In order to discuss
arising and perishing, we need to think of change of "things" within "time". We
usually think we are born, live and die within the stream of time flowing from the
past to the future through the present. But Dogen says it is not the only way to see
the "time".

Life-and-death is an English translation of Japanese expression shoji. The Japanese

word sho as a verb means "to live (ikiru)", and also "to be born (umareru)". This
expression can be translated into English as birth-and-death. Shoji is the process of
our life in which we are born, live and die.

As a Buddhist term, shoji (life or birth and death) is used as equivalent of two
Sanskrit words. One is jatimarana that means the process of birth and death. This is
also used as an abbreviation of "birth, aging, sickness and death" that is; the four
kinds of suffering or duhkha.

In Buddhist philosophy, there are two kinds of life (birth) and death. One is life and
death of an ordinary living being who is transmigrating within the six realms in the
three worlds (the worlds of desire, form and formlessness) and being pulled by
karma. This life-and-death is called bundans-hoji, separating life-and-death).
Another is the birth (life)-and-death of bodhisattvas who practice within the three
worlds to save all beings, although they are free from transmigrating based on three
poisonous minds. They continue this practice life after life toward accomplishment
of buddhahood all the way through the fifty two steps of bodhisattva practice. This
kind of life-and-death based on the bodhisattva vow is called henyaku-shoji,
transforming life-and-death).

There are also two other kinds of life and death. One is called ichigo-shoji, life-and-
death as one period) that is the life span between birth and death as we usually
understand it. Another is called setsuna-shoji, moment by moment life-and-death).
Setsuna (Skt. Ksana) means the slightest moment, much shorter than a second. Our
body and mind are born (arising) and dying (perishing) moment by moment. Dogen
discusses this in Shobogenzo Hotsu-bodaishin (Arising Awakening Mind).

The second Sanskrit word as the origin of the expression life-and-death is samsara.
Life-and-death is another name of samsara in which living beings transmigrate
within the six realms (hell, the realms of the hungry ghosts, animals, the asuras.
human beings, and heavenly beings). It is important to remember that life-and-death
in common Buddhist usage is samsara, that is the opposite of nirvana. When Dogen
Zenji says in Shobogenzo Shoji (Life-and-Death), "Life-and-death is Buddha's Life,"
he means our life in samsara is nothing other than Buddha's Life, that is, nirvana.
Unless we understand this point, we cannot really appreciate the power of Dogen's

Life-and-death has two meanings: one is the process of being born, living and dying;
another is transmigration within the six realms of samsara. And often these two are
used alternatively because the usual process of an ordinary being's life is birth, living
and dying, and is a part of transmigration in samsara. But here in Genjo-koan, Dogen
Zenji uses this expression as the process of being born, living and dying in the case
of living beings, or arising, staying for a while, and perishing in the case of things
other than living beings before separation between samsara and nirvana.

We were born at a certain time in the past. In my case, I was born on June 22nd,
1948, fifty-two years ago. When I was born my body was tiny. Since then, my body
and also my mind have been constantly changing. The baby became a boy. The boy
became a teenager. The teenager became a young adult. The young adult became a
middle-aged person as I am now. If I am lucky, the middle-aged person is going to
become an old person. And eventually the old person is going to die and disappear.

Between our birth and death, we are constantly changing, experiencing various
conditions. But somehow, we commonly think that fifty years ago, the baby was
Shohaku and fifty years later this middle aged person is the same Shohaku. Thirty
years ago, I was a newly ordained young monk with lots of energy and problems.
Now, thirty years later, I don't have so much energy and I have totally different kinds
of problems. My way of thinking was very different when I was twenty. I never
thought I would live in the United States and speak English. My way of thinking has
been strongly influenced by American ways of thinking since I came to this country.
And yet we usually understand that I am the same person I was when I was a baby,
as I was when I was a teenager, and when I was in my twenties, and then thirties,
forties and fifties. This is our common understanding. We almost always believe it to
be so. But, is it really true?

Buddha's teaching of no-self

If, it is true, then we have to agree with a theory that there is something that does not
change within ourselves. And this unchanging entity stays intact right through the
very process of changing. This one thing, which is not a baby, a teenager, a young
man, a middle-aged man, or an aged man, changes it's appearance through the
flowing of time. It is like one person who changes clothes one outfit after another
depending upon the occasion. My body and mind, which are constantly changing,
are like various pieces of clothing that I put on and take off. This one entity which
does not change goes through the process of changing only in appearance. This is an
idea Indian people believed at the time of the Buddha. This one thing called atman
transmigrates through many different conditions being pulled by good and bad
karma. The atman (soul) is pure but it is imprisoned in the body that is source of
delusive desires.

The definition of atman (ego or fixed-self) in Buddhist philosophy according to the

Abidharma-kosa, written by the famous Indian Buddhist philosopher Vasubandhu, is
that the atman is something which is permanent, only one, the owner of this body
and mind (five aggregates) and the operator of the body and mind. The Atman is like
the owner and driver of a car and the body and mind; as the five aggregates that are
always changing, are like a car. The owner owns the car and drives the car as far as
the car runs. When the car becomes old and not possible to fix anymore, then the
owner gives up that car and buys a new one. The Atman (soul or ego) is like an
owner of this body and mind. When this body and mind dies, the owner leaves the
body and mind and it will be born with the new body and mind. This is the basic idea
of how the atman (soul, ego) transmigrates and is born again and again life after life.
And according to the Indian belief, depending upon our good and bad deeds, the
atman transmigrates from a hell to a heaven within the six realms.

If we do good actions and accumulate good karma, we will be born with a good body
and mind in a good circumstance. When we do bad actions and accumulate bad
karma, we will be born with an inferior body and mind in a difficult environment.
This is the theory of karma that was widely believed in Indian society at the time of
the Buddha.

When the Buddha taught anatman, that is, no-atman (no soul, no-ego, no self). He
was against this basic idea of atman that is a permanent entity transmigrating in
samsara. Buddha taught that there are only five aggregates (form or material,
sensation, perception, impulse and consciousness) which are not substantial. In the
case of human beings the five aggregates refer to body and mind. Buddha taught that
only the five aggregates exist and nothing else. And the Heart Sutra says that those
five aggregates are in their self-nature empty.

Then what is transmigrating? This is a very natural question. The Buddha negated
the theory of atman but did not negate the belief of transmigration because that was
the basis of social morality in India. The Buddha put emphasis on cause and result. If
we do bad things we have to receive a painful effect. If we do good things we will
receive a pleasurable effect. This is the principle of causality. If so, if there is no
atman, who does the action and who receives the result? Buddha said that the self
has to receive the result of one's own karmic actions. What is this self, if it is not
atman? This is a question often asked regarding the Buddha's teachings. And many
Buddhist philosophers in various schools tried to logically explain this problem. And
yet, as far as I know, there is no perfect answer so far. Without offering any perfect
explanation, both the theory of no self (anatman) and the belief of transmigration
within six realms are maintained within almost all Buddhist traditions.

Dogen and no-self

In the case of Dogen, in the Bendowa (Talk on the Wholehearted practice of the
Way) and a few other chapters of Shobogenzo such as Sokusinzebutsu (Mind is itself
Buddha), and Bussho (Buddha-nature), he clearly negates the atman. In Bendowa,
question 10, Dogen said:

"The idea you have just mentioned is not buddha-dharma at all, but the fallacious
view of Senika".

This fallacy says that there is a spiritual intelligence in one's body which
discriminates love and hatred or right and wrong as soon as it encounters
phenomena, and has the capacity to distinguish all such things as pain and itching or
suffering and pleasure. Furthermore, when this body perishes, the spirit nature
escapes and is born elsewhere. Therefore, although it seems to expire here, since [the
spirit-nature] is born somewhere, it is said to be permanent, never perishing. Such is
this fallacious doctrine.

However, to learn this theory and suppose it is buddha-dharma is more stupid than
grasping a tile or a pebble and thinking it is a golden treasure. Nothing can compare
to the shamefulness of this idiocy. National Teacher Echu of Tang China strictly
admonished [against this mistake]. So, now isn't it ridiculous to consider that the
erroneous view of mind as permanent and material form as impermanent is the same
as the wondrous dharma of the buddhas, and to think that you become free from life
and death when actually you are arousing the fundamental cause of life and death?
This indeed is most pitiful. Just realize that this is a mistaken view. You should give
no ear to it." (The Wholehearted Way, P.32-33, Okumura and Leighton, Tuttle,

Some people think mind to be permanent and body to be impermanent. In this case,
mind was considered to be atman; that is, pure and permanent. And the body was
considered to be the source of delusive desire and impermanent. In this case, mind
was called shinsho (mind nature) and body was called shinso (bodily form). And this
mind-nature was often used as a synonym of buddha-nature. This is the reason
Dogen negates the idea of kensho (seeing the nature).

On the other hand, in Shobogenzo Sanjigo (Karma in the Three Times), or Jinshin-
inga (Deeply Believing in Cause and Result), Dogen puts emphasis on faith in the
principle of cause and result beyond this present lifetime. Also in Shobogenzo
Doshin (Way Mind) Dogen encourages people to deeply take refuge in the Three
Treasures; Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. And gives advice that one should
ceaselessly chant "I take refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha" during the period
of chuu (antara-bhava) between death in this life and the next birth, that is usually
considered to be 49 days. He said, we should chant "I take refuge in the Buddha,"
life after life until we reach buddhahood. I am pretty sure Dogen himself believes in
the bodhisattvas' henyaku-shoji, (transforming life and death) that is, as the Buddha
did, bodhisattvas practice life after life because of their vows to save all beings and
accomplish the buddhahood.

For me, these two sides seem to contradict each other. At least, I don't understand
that if there is no atman (permanent self) beside this impermanent body and mind,
what is chanting, "I take refuge in Buddha." after the death of this body and mind?
Anyway, if this is a contradiction, Buddhism itself has had this contradiction from
the very beginning until today. Many Buddhist philosophers have tried to clarify this
point and no one has been completely successful.

I am not going to try to create a new theory to explain this contradiction. I don't
believe in rebirth and yet, I don't negate it. There is no basis to believe or negate it.
What I can say for sure is, "I don't know." The important thing for me is to practice
in this lifetime as the Buddha instructed in the Dammapada, "To refrain from
anything bad and practice everything good. Purify your mind. This is the teaching of
the seven Buddhas." If there is rebirth, it is all right, I will try to practice in the same
manner. If there is no-rebirth, I don't need to do anything after my death. So I don't
need to think about it in that case. Even if I don't believe rebirth as a person, I don't
negate the principle of cause and result. What I am doing now will have result even
after my death. My practice is a result of my teacher's practice.

This is how I answered the question about rebirth until recently. But after I became
fifty, I found that I have a wish to live the next life, simply because this lifetime
seems too short to practice the buddha way. For example, I have been working on
the translation of Zen Buddhist texts from Japanese to English, and there is too much
work for me to do in this lifetime. Also my life seems too short a span to fully
understand the true meaning of Buddha's, Dogen's and other teachers' words. I need
much more time to translate all the texts I want to introduce. I wish to be reborn as a
Buddhist again and continue to work on it. I think this is because I am aging and
have found my limitations. Probably the belief in the Bodhisattva's henyaku-shoji
(transforming life-and-death); ceaseless practice life after life because of their vows
was originated in this awakening to the limitations of our personal lives.

Life-and-death and "Time"

Well, I have discussed about atman and anatman too long. I need to talk about
"time" and life-and-death. Dogen's philosophy of the unity of "time" and "being" is
very famous among philosophers not only in Japan but also in the West. It
sometimes compared with the thought of modern Western philosopher, Martin
Heidegger (1889-1976). Since I don't know much about Western philosophy, I
cannot tell whether Dogen and Heidegger thought the same thing or not. Anyway,
this section of Genjo-koan is one of the sources of Dogen's idea of identity of "time"
and "being". Later, he wrote Shobogenzo Uji (Being Time) and clearly said, "Time is
just being, and all beings are time." "All beings in the whole Universe are stretching
in a row and at the same time, it is my being-time. Because being and time are one, it
is 'me(self)-being-time'."
Firewood becomes ash. Ash cannot turn back into firewood again. However, we
should not view ash as after and firewood as before. We should know that firewood
dwells in the dharma position of firewood and it has its own before and after.
Although there is before and after, past and future are cut off. Ash stays at the
position of ash and it has its own before and after.

Here Dogen compares life and death to firewood and ash. We commonly think that a
seed sprouts and grows gradually and after long period of time, becomes a big tree.
When we need firewood, we cut the tree, split it into small pieces, pile them and dry
them to make them into firewood. And when we burn the firewood, the firewood
becomes ash. This is the same as we think our own life and death. I was a baby, I
grow up for about twenty years, I then stop growing and live as a grown-up for
certain period of time, then I start to get older and older and finally die. Finally, I
will be burned and become ash.

We think there is a stream of time, like a river that is flowing from the beginningless
past to the endless future. When I was born I appear in the stream and when I die I
disappear from the stream. But the stream continues to flow before my birth and
after my death. This is our thought about time, history and our own lives. And as a
thought, it might be not wrong. But this is not exactly how we live and die.

According to Dogen, 'time' is 'being' and 'being' is 'time'. As a tree, a tree has it own
time. As firewood, firewood has it own time. As ash, ash has also it own time. Each
being is at its own dharma-position (hoi), and at each dharma-position, each being
has its own past and future. When a tree is at the dharma-position of a tree, it has it
own past as a seed and its own future as firewood. When firewood is at the dharma-
position of firewood, it has its own past as a tree and its own future as ash. When ash
stays as its dharma-position as ash, it has its own past as a tree and its own future as
something else. If ash is scattered on the mountain it will be part of the mountain and
help other beings to grow.

And the dharma-positions of a tree, of firewood, and of ash are independent of each
other. When we use the analogy of tree, firewood, ash, or each stage of our own life
and death, each position seems to have length of time. But, as a reality, the present
moment does not have any length. If there is length, no matter how short it is, we can
cut it into half and one half is already in the past and another half is still in the future.
When I say "now", when I pronounce "n", "ow" is still in the future. When I
pronounce "w", "no" is already in the past. The present moment has no length. It is
zero. When we think of a certain period of 'time' including the present moment, all
which exists is only past and present. The present moment is just a "line" without
any width as its definition in geometry. Isn't it strange? The present moment is the
only reality, the past is already gone and the future has not yet come. Still there is
nothing that can be grasped as the present moment. The present moment does not
exist. So, time does not really exist. Still, at the present moment which is zero and
does not exist, the entire past and the entire future are reflected. And this present
moment (zero) is the only real reality. And at each moment, everything continuously
arises and perishes. Each moment everything is new and fresh.

A seed stays at the dharma-position of a seed and it has it own past and future. Since
a seed has life, it has a power to negate it's own position when it has appropriate
conditions such as moisture, temperature, sun light and so on. It sprouts and becomes
something that is not a seed. When a seed fully functions as a seed according to its
own life force, it negates itself and becomes something else. That is the reality and
function of a seed. A seed is not stuck in a stage of being a seed. A baby is the same.
When a baby fully lives as a baby, within it's life force, it has a power that negates
babyhood and becomes a boy or a girl. That is the function of the lifeforce of a baby.
Everything has this life force which negates itself and changes into something else,
this is what "everything is empty in it self-nature" means. A baby is a baby because a
baby negates its babyhood. The Buddha is Buddha because the Buddha is not

A baby Shohaku negated itself and became a boy Shohaku, and the boy Shohaku
negated itself and became the teenage Shohaku. The teenage Shohaku negated itself
and became the grown-up Shohaku. There is continuation but the baby Shohaku was
not a boy Shohaku and the boy Shohaku was not the teenage Shohaku. Is there
something which does not change within this constant change? According to the
Buddha's teachings there is nothing. All existences are just correction of five
aggregates of each time. There is a continuation, therefore the baby Shohaku did not
become a bird, a dog or other human beings beside Shohaku. But there is no
Shohaku as a fixed self. Isn't this strange? Yes it is strange. This reality is very
difficult for us to grasp. This is why, we call the reality 'wondrous dharma' (myoho )
as in the title of the Lotus Sutra ( the Sutra of Wondrous Dharma Like a Lotus

This means that even though we are a continuation from our babyhood as we have
karma (influences from the previous experiences) from the past, our life is always
new and fresh. There was a Japanese Soto Zen priest whose name was Rev. Doyu
Ozawa. When he was a young soldier in the World War Two, he lost both of his
legs. After the War, because he had no legs, he had to go through many difficulties.
After all the struggling, he made up his mind to believe that he was born just now,
without legs. That was how he could accept the reality of his life at this moment, and
could live positively without his legs. And after that, he was always smiling. After
Uchiyama Roshi retired from Antaiji in 1975 and lived in Ogaki, he met Rev. Ozawa
and encouraged him to write about his experiences. Rev. Ozawa's book became one
of the bestsellers of the year.

We all have the past as karma, memory, habit, and experiences, but the past has
already gone. We all have the future as our hopes, wishes, vows, and ambitions, or
goals, but the future has not yet come. This present moment is the only reality. How
can we live fully at this moment? If we are firmly caught up in the past experiences,
we are afraid to change. If we put too much emphasis on the future, this moment
becomes merely a step to the future. When we live in such a way, if we die before
reaching our goal, our life becomes meaningless.

Dogen's teaching of time allows us to live fully right now, and right here, in this
given condition and change this condition as a practice of this moment. This is what
he meant when he says that "there is before and after, but the before and after are cut
off." As he wrote in the first three sentences of Genjo-koan, "there is both life and
death, enlightenment and delusion, buddhas and living beings" and at the same time
there is no such thing. And again, he discusses how we should practice with life and
death, living beings and buddhas, delusion and enlightenment.

However, in buddha dharma, it is a never-changing tradition not to say that life
becomes death. Therefore we call it no-arising. It is the laid-down way of buddha's
turning the dharma wheel not to say that death becomes life. Therefore, we call it no-
perishing. Life is a position at one time; death is also a position at one time. For
instance, this is like winter and spring. We don't think that winter becomes spring,
and we don't say that spring becomes summer.

In Shobogenzo Shoji, Dogen says exactly the same thing; "It is a mistake to think
that life turns into death. Life is a position at one time with its own before and after.
Consequently, in the buddha dharma, it is said that life is itself no-arising. Death is a
position at one time with its own before and after. Consequently, it is said that death
is itself no-perishing. In life there is nothing other than life. In death, there is nothing
other than death. Therefore, when life comes, just live. And when death comes, just
die. Neither avoid them nor desire them."

Is this difficult to do? Yes, it is. We want to chase after something like such as life,
enlightenment, buddha and escape from something we don't like such as death,
delusion or living beings. Our main mortive in our lives is greed and hatred, like and
dislike. Sometimes we are successful and feel like a heavenly being sometimes we
fail and feel as miserable as a hell dweller. This is samsara in our present life-time.

In Shobogenzo Zenki (Total Dynamic Function), Dogen says, "Life in the present
moment lies in this functioning mechanism, and this functioning mechanism lies in
life in the present moment. Life is not coming; life is not leaving; life is not
appearing; and life is not becoming. Rather, life is a manifestation of total dynamic
function, and death is manifestation of total dynamic function. You should know that
among the countless dharmas within the self, there is life and there is death."

In 1975, Uchiyama Roshi retired from Antaiji when he was sixty-three years old. He
retired while he was so young because he was physically a very weak person. He
said that after retirement, his practice was facing his own life-and-death. When he
was around seventy, he published a collection of several poems on life-and-death.
The following are his poems where I think Uchiyama Roshi expresses the reality and
practice of life-and-death within no-life-and-death.

Water isn't formed by being ladled into a bucket
Simply the water of the whole Universe has been ladled into a bucket
The water does not disappear because it has been scattered over the ground
It is only that the water of the whole Universe has been emptied into the whole
Life is not born because a person is born
The life of the whole Universe has been ladled into the hardened "idea" called "I"
Life does not disappear because a person dies
Simply, the life of the whole Universe has been poured out of this hardened "idea" of
"I" back into the universe

Just Live, Just Die

The Reality prior to the division into two
Thinking it to be so, or not thinking it to be so
Believing it to be so, or not believing it to be so
Existence-nonexistence, life-death
Truth-falsehood, delusion-enlightenment
Self-others, happiness-unhappiness
We live and die within the profundity of Reality
Whatever we encounter is buddha-life
This present Reality is buddha-life
Just living, just dying---within no life or death

Samadhi of the Treasury of the Radiant Light

Though poor, never poor
Though sick, never sick,
Though aging, never aging
Though dying, never dying
Reality prior to division---
Herein lies unlimited depth

Dogen Zenji's Genjo-koan Lecture (8)

Rev. Shohaku Okumur
Director, Soto Zen Education Center

(Text: section 9)
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. Realization 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.

Realization and the moon

In this section Dogen Zenji discusses the experience of a person who has attained
realization. Here, "realization" is the translation of a Japanese word "satori." Dogen
does not use the Chinese characters here but rather he wrote this in hiragana (one of
two systems of the Japanese phonetic alphabet, the other being katakana).

All things are like "the moon reflecting in water". The image of "the moon reflecting
in water" has been used as an analogy for emptiness throughout the history of
Buddhism. It occurs in scriptures dating all the way back to India. Here is an
example that comes from the Vimalakirti Sutra. Speaking to Upali, one of the
Buddha's disciples, the lay person Vimalakirti says;

Reverend Upali, all things are without production, destruction, and duration, like
magical illusions, clouds, and lightning; all things are evanescent, not remaining
even for an instant; all things are like dreams, hallucinations, and unreal vision; all
things are like the reflection of the moon in water and like a mirror-image; they are
born of mental construction. (The Holly Teaching of Vimalakirti, translated by
Robert Thurman, The Pennsylvania State University Press, p.31)

"The moon in water" is used as an analogy of the emptiness of all beings. All beings
have no fixed self-nature, therefore they are ungraspable, and transitory. All beings
neither arise nor perish.

Our body is like "the moon in water"

In the Ryoga-sijiki (Lengga-shizi-ji); The Record of Teachers and Disciples of the
Ryoga Tradition, (a history of the Northern School of Chinese Zen written in the
early 8th Century), the Forth Ancestor of Chinese Zen, Doshin (Daoxin, 580-651),
after giving instruction for zazen practice, says,

Days and nights, in walking, standing still, sitting and laying down, if you always
contemplate in this way, you will know that your own body is like the moon in
water, the reflection in a mirror, the heat waves in a hot day, the echo in the empty
valley. You cannot say it is a being (u) because even if you try to catch it you cannot
see its substance. You cannot say it is non-being (mu) either because it is clearly in
front of your eyes.

In this saying, the moon in water is used as an analogy of the emptiness of our own
body, which is neither being nor non-being. In Mahayana Buddhism and the Chinese
Zen tradition, all dharmas (things) and the self (our body) are both like "the moon in
water." It is clear that Dogen Zenji uses this analogy from the same source in the
same context; as an analogy of prajna and emptiness.
"The moon in water" is buddha's dharma body.
Dogen Zenji wrote a chapter of the Shobogenzo entitled "Tsuki (the Moon)". Instead
of using the usual Chinese character he uses manyo-gana. Manyo-gana is a way to
indicate the sounds of Japanese words by using the Chinese characters phonetically.
Manyo-gana was the method used before the previously mentioned hiragana and
katakana, were invented. It was named "Manyo-gana" because it was the system
used when the Japanese people compiled the Manyoshu, the oldest collection of
Japanese poems collected in the Nara period (710-794). The Chinese characters for
moon that Dogen used here are, although these Chinese characters are used
phonetically, they mean "total-function" this is the same as the expression "zenki".
Dogen is obviously playing with words here. Dogen Zenji took this well-known
analogy of "the moon in water" from the Buddhist scriptures. But he uses the
analogy not simply as an example of the emptiness of all things, or of our own body,
as in the Vimalakirti Sutra or in the saying of the Fourth Ancestor. Here, he uses it as
an expression of "total-function" - the dynamic movement of the network of
interdependent origination that includes the self and all dharmas.

Anyway, Dogen Zenji quotes several expressions that include "the moon in water"
from Buddhist sutras and sayings of the Chinese ancestors.

In the very beginning of the chapter, he quotes from the Konkomyokyo (Sutra of
Golden Radiance).

Shakyamuni Buddha says,

The true dharma-body of the Buddha
Is like empty space.
Responding to things, it manifests its form.
It is like the moon in water.

Dogen's comment on this saying is as follows;

The thus-ness ( nyo-nyo) of 'like the moon in water( nyo-sui-chu-getsu)' is water-

moon (sui-getsu). It is water-thus (sui-nyo), moon-thus (getsu-nyo), thus-within
(nyo-chu), within-thus ( chu-nyo). "Thus" ( nyo) does not mean 'to be like.' Thus-
ness (nyo) is this-ness (ze, concrete, definite each and every thing).

The common meaning of the Chinese word nyo is "be like", "such as," "as if," or "to
be equal to." The Chinese sentence means "It is like the moon in water." This is a
very accurate translation. But Dogen reads this nyo as the nyo in shinnyo. Shinnyo is
a Chinese translation of a Sanskrit word "tathata" that is translated into English as
"thus-ness", "such-ness," "as-it-is-ness," or simply "true reality".

Also, the Chinese word chu that is translated in the sentence as "within" can also
mean "middle" as in the "middle way." And this "middle" is important in
Nagarjuna's philosophy and also in the Tendai teachings that Dogen studied while he
was in the Tendai monastery on Mt. Hiei in Japan before he started to study Zen.

In his Madhyamaka-karika, Nagarjuna discussed the Two Truths as the basis of his
philosophy. The absolute truth and the conventional (relative) truth. Nagarjuna-said;

The teaching of the Dharma by the various Buddhas is based on the two truths;
namely, the relative (worldly) truth and the absolute (supreme) truth.
Those who do not know the distinction between the two truths cannot understand the
profound nature of the Buddha's teaching.
Without relying on everyday common practices (i.e. relative truths), the absolute
truth cannot be expressed. Without approaching the absolute truth, nirvana cannot be
attained." (24/ 8, 9, 10)
We declare that whatever is relational origination is sunyata. It is a provisional name
(i.e., thought construction) for the mutuality (of being) and, indeed, it is the middle
path. (24/ 18) (Nagarjuna: A translation of his Mulamadhyamakakarika with an
Introductory Essay, by Kenneth Inada, The Hokuseido Press, Tokyo, 1970, p.146,

"Relational origination" is another translation of "interdependent origination" that is

the reality of our life. Sunyata (emptiness) is beyond any wording, conceptualization,
or categorization and is the absolute truth. "A provisional name" is what we use to
grasp things using words, concepts and categories and is the conventional truth.
Seeing the reality from both sides without clinging to either side is the middle path.

Tendai Chigi (Tiantai Zhiyi, 538-597), the great master of the Chinese Tendai
School, used the same principles to make up the "Three Truths". This is one of the
essential teachings in the Tendai School. The "Three Truths" refers to the Truth of
Emptiness, the Truth of the Expedient and the Truth of the Middle. Those three
truths are again based on Buddha's teachings of interdependent origination.

The Truth of Emptiness refers to the way of seeing the reality of interdependent
origination as no-substance or egoless-ness (anatman). The Truth of the Expedient
refers to the way of seeing the reality of inter-dependent origination as follows; each
and everything exists as an expedient and temporal collection of infinite different
causes and conditions. Nothing exists without a relationship to something else. So
when other things change, the one thing has to change. The point here is there are
things that are a collection of causes and conditions and that exist as temporal and
expedient beings such as Shohaku. This is the Truth of the Expedient.

Shohaku has no substance; he is just a collection of body parts that are always
changing depending on the conditions inside and outside. Shohaku's mind is also
simply a collection of the results of his experiences since his birth. Also, in addition
to his body and mind, there is no Shohaku who owns and operates his body and
mind. But Shohaku is here as an empty collection of body and mind. He is Japanese,
a Buddhist, and a priest. He is talking about the Buddhist teachings as part of his
responsibilities as a Buddhist priest. He is here but he does not really exist as fixed
entity; neither his body nor his mind is Shohaku. He is talking about, Dogen, but
those are things he has studied from many Buddhist texts in the past. What he is
talking about is just a collection of the results of what he did in the past, that is,
simply his karma. His knowledge and his words are a gift from the society in which
he grew up and was educated in. This is the truth of the Middle.

The Truth of Middle means to see the reality of each and every being from both
sides; the emptiness (there is not) of everything and the existence as a temporal being
(there is). I think the first two truths are the equal to the first two sentences in Genjo-
koan. And chu is what Dogen said in the third sentence of Genjo-koan. In other
words we need to live, practice and do things using our transitory body and mind
based on the first two truths. This transcends both "abundance (expedient being)"
and "deficiency (emptiness)". In this part of the Shobogenzo "Tsuki (The Moon)" he
is saying that "the moon in water" is not just simply the symbol of emptiness of all
beings or of our own body, or merely the reflection of the buddha's dharma body, but
it is the reality as chu (middle).

I think what Dogen wants to show us in this writing is that our practice of the buddha
way is based on the two truths but it transcends the two truths in the living reality of
our life.

Dogen is not a philosopher but a Zen master. He is not giving us a lecture on the
basic philosophy of Mahayana Buddhism. He is showing the actual reality of our life
explained with the theory of Mahayana Buddhism. Dogen would laugh at me if he
heard me talk in this way just as the Zen master Dogo (Daowu) laughed at a lecture
by Kassan (Jiashan). But still, I believe it is important for us modern people who are
so highly trained to think using our intellect to understand what Dogen is saying on a
philosophical basis in order to be free from our intellectual understanding. When we
find chu, in Dogen's writings, it important to have an association of the meaning of
the chu in Mahayana philosophy and not cling to it as a logical or philosophical
concept. We need to accept those teachings as the reality of our own lives right
"within (chu)" our own ordinary day-to-day lives.

The Buddha's dharma-body has no form like empty-space. But the formless dharma-
body manifests itself within the phenomenal world as each and every phenomenal
thing, just as the moon reflects in the water. In this verse from Konkomyokyo, the
moon in water is a manifestation of the formless dharma-body of the buddha.
Formless thus-ness should be expressed as concrete this-ness, that is, as our day-to-
day activities using our own body and mind.

The moon is the self

The second quote in the Shobogenzo "Tsuki" is a poem by a Chinese Zen Master
Banzan Hoshaku (Panshan Baoji, ?-?), a disciple of Baso Doitsu (Mazu Daoi, 709-

The perfect circle of the mind-moon is alone.

It's light swallow's ten-thousand things.
The light does not illuminate objects.
Neither do objects exist.
The light and objects both cease to exist.
What is this?

In his comment on this poem, Dogen says:

The ancient Buddha said, 'One mind is all dharmas and all dharmas are one-mind.
Therefore, the mind is all things. All things are one mind. Because the mind is the
moon, the moon is the moon. Because all things that are the mind, are without
exception the moon, the entire universe is the entire moon. The whole body is the
whole moon. Within the "before and after three and three" in the ten-thousand years
of a moment, which one is not the moon? Sun-face Buddha and moon-face Buddha,
that are our body, mind and environs are all within the moon. Coming and going
within [the cycle of] birth and death are both within the moon. The ten-direction
world is the up and down, the left and right of the moon. The present activities in our
daily lives are the bright hundred grasses within the moon and the bright ancestral-
teacher's mind within the moon.

I think this part of Shobogenzo "Tsuki (The Moon)" is an explanation of what Dogen
says in section 9 of Genjo-koan. In the case of this poem, the moon is the self and it
illuminates all phenomenal beings. But I think the topic is the same: the inter-
connected-ness and the total function of the self and the myriad things.

The mind in "one mind is all dharmas" is not our psychological mind. My teacher
Kosho Uchiyama Roshi called this mind "the reality of our life." As the reality of our
life, we are connected with all beings. Or, the reality of our life is before the
separation of self (subject) and others (objects). We separate our self from others by
discriminative thinking, when we "open the hand of thought"(or release our
discriminating views), we are right in the network of interdependent origination. We
are connected with everything. Uchiyama Roshi called this oneness of self and all
things "original self" or "universal self." Our zazen practice manifests this reality
before separation between self and all beings. In "Tsuki" Dogen Zenji calls the same
reality "moon." The moonlight swallows all things, all things disappear and become
part (or the contents) of the self. There are no objects to illuminate. The entire
universe becomes the moonlight. The entire body of the self is the entire moon. All
things are the entire moon. We are born, live and die within the moon. Our ordinary
daily activities become the moon. This is what Dogen Zenji means when he says,
"when a person attains realization."

The rabbit in the moon

There is another meaning of the analogy of "the moon in water" to me. This analogy
does not only refer to vast, boundless light and the tiny self. When I read this part of
Genjo-koan, I am reminded of a story that I was familiar with in my childhood. In
Japan, all children know the story about the rabbit in the moon. This story originally
came from the Jataka Tales; the Indian collection of stories about the Buddha's
previous lives. In Japanese literature, this story was introduced in the Konjaku-
monogatari-shu (Stories from the Ancient to the Present), a collection of various
stories from India, China and Japan. It was compiled in the eleventh century.

The modern Japanese translation of this collection was one of my favorite books
when I was a child. A Japanese Soto Zen Monk and poet Ryokan (1758- 1838) also
loved the story and wrote a poem about the rabbit in the moon. I would like to
introduce the story with Ryokan's poem. This poem is written in beautiful Japanese.

The Rabbit in the Moon

It took place in a world/ long long ago they say:
A monkey, a rabbit, / and a fox / struck up a friendship, / mornings / frolicking in
field and hill, / evenings / coming home to the forest, / living thus / while the years
went by, when Indra, / sovereign of the skies, / hearing of this, / curious to know / if
it was true, / turned himself into an old man, / tottering along, / and made his way to
where they were.
"You three," / he said, / "are of separate species, / yet I'm told play together / with a
single heart.

If what I've heard/ is true, / pray save an old man / who's hungry!"

Then he set his staff aside, / and sat down to rest.

Simple enough, they said, / and presently / the monkey appeared / from the grove
behind him / bearing nuts / he'd gathered there, and the fox returned from the rivulet
in front of him, / clamped in his jaws / a fish he'd caught.

But the rabbit, / though he hopped and hopped / everywhere / couldn't find anything
at all, / and the others / cursed him because / his heart was not like theirs.

Miserable me! / he thought and then he said,

"Monkey, go cut me / firewood!

Fox, build me / a fire with it!"

and when they'd done / what he asked, / he flung himself / into the midst of the
flames, / and made himself an offering for an unknown old man.

When the old man saw this / his heart withered.

He looked up to the sky, / cried aloud, / then sank to the ground, / and in a while,
beating his breast, / said / to the others, / "Each of / you three friends has done his
best, / but what the rabbit did / touches me most!"
Then he made the rabbit / whole again/ and gathering the dead body / up in his arms,
/ he took it and laid it to rest / in the palace of the moon.

From that time till now / the story's been told, this tale of how the rabbit / came to be
/ in the moon, / and even I / when I hear it / find the tears / soaking the sleeve of my
(Ryokan: Zen Monk-Poet of Japan, translated by Burton Watson, Columbia
University Press, New York, p.46-49)

It is clear that Dogen does not refer to this story in Genjo-koan, but when I read
Dogen's writing about the moonlight, I naturally think of this story. It is important to
me. The moonlight is not just something simply vast and boundless but also, for me,
it is the symbol of the bodhisattva vow to save all beings as an expression of
Buddha's compassion.

I was ordained when I was twenty-two years old while a student at Komazawa
University. Since then, I have been practicing zazen and as a result I have not
developed any skills to have a regular job. I have been pretty poor. But I think the
quality of my life has also been very rich with wonderful teachers and my many
dharma friends. I am very grateful to live such a life. But, it's true I don't have much
money or possessions. Often I felt I was like the rabbit and had nothing to offer
except my body and mind. One of the most important teachings of Kodo Sawaki
Roshi was "Gaining is delusion; losing is enlightenment." A problem for me was that
I did not have anything to lose. Particularly when I lived on takuhatsu (begging), I
felt I only received offerings from many people without offering anything back to
them. I felt guilty about it. So, the story of the rabbit has a very significant meaning
for me. I did not burn my body, but I tried to practice zazen as my offering of body
and mind to the buddhas and all beings. But still sometimes, I felt that I used my
zazen practice as an excuse not to help others who were in need. Our vow, practice
and psychological conditions are so fragile. Without being illuminated by the
moonlight of the Buddha's vow and compassion, I think I could not continue to

When Dogen Zenji says that the vast moonlight reflects on a tiny drop of water, I felt
that even though I have to practice using this tiny, weak, impermanent body and,
deluded self-centered mind, the Buddha's boundless compassion is reflected in my
practice if I can let go of my ego-centered thought.

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.
In this section, the drop of water is the self and the moon is the ten-thousand
dharmas. We need to keep in mind that the self is a knot in the network of
interdependent origination of the myriad things. Without a relationship with the
myriad things, there is no self. Actually the relationship itself is the self. As Zen
Master Banzan Hoshaku said, the self swallows the myriad things and the myriad
things swallow the self. What is this thing swallowed by both the self and myriad
things? The moon is reflected each and every drop of water no matter how small it

Dogen wrote a waka poem entitled "Impermanence";

What is this world like?

As a waterfowl shakes its bill,
On each drop of dew,
The moon is reflected

A waterfowl dives into the water and comes out of a pond and shakes its bill. Tiny
drops of water scatter in the air and return to the surface of the pond. On each and
every drop of the water that exists for only less than a second, the moon is reflected.
Our life is like the moonlight on a drop of dew. We are so tiny, weak and transitory,
like a dewdrop. But the vast, boundless and eternal moonlight reflects on each and
every drop of dew. This is really a beautiful expression of a life that is the
intersection of impermanence and eternity, individuality and universality. I think
within this short poem, the essential point of Mahayana Buddhist teachings is vividly

To awaken to the tininess and shortness of our lives, and discover the vastness and
eternity of the moonlight (of Buddha's wisdom and compassion) reflecting on our
lives is Dogen's message in section (4), "Conveying oneself toward all things to
carryout practice/verification is delusion and all things coming and carrying out
practice/verification through the self is realization." In our practice, the reality
awakens to the reality and the reality actualizes the reality. We are not the subjects of
a practice that is trying to attain some desirable thing called "enlightenment".

Even though the vast moonlight is reflected, we are still tiny drops of dew as
individual persons. The vastness of the moon does not destroy the dewdrop. And the
small size of our lives does not prevent the moonlight from reflecting. When Dogen
talks about satori (realization, verification, awakening), this is not a concrete one
time psychological experience. It is rather an awakening to the very ordinary reality
that we are tiny, impermanent and self-centered and the network of interdependent
origination in which we are living is vast, boundless and beyond discrimination.

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.

Although we are so tiny, impermanent, and ego-centered as individual persons, our

life is immeasurably deep and boundless. The depth of our life is the same as the
height of the moon. As our practice, we need to investigate how high and vast the
moon is and how deep and subtle the reality of our life is. We need to go higher and
higher, deeper and deeper endlessly trying to understand and express the height and
depth within our activities.

(Text: section 10)

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. For example, when we sail a boat into the
ocean beyond sight of land and when our eyes scan [the horizon in] the four
directions, it simply looks like a circle. No other shape appears. This great ocean,
however, is neither round nor square. It has inexhaustible characteristics. [To a fish],
it looks like a palace; [to a heavenly beings] a jeweled necklace. [To us] as far as our
eyes can see, it looks like a circle. All the myriad things are like this. Within the
dusty world and beyond, there are innumerable aspects and characteristics; we only
see or grasp as far as the power of our eye of study and practice can see. When we
listen to the reality of myriad things, we must know that there are inexhaustible
characteristics in either an ocean or mountains and there are many other worlds in
the four directions. This is true not only in the external world, but it is the same right
under our feet or within a single drop of water.

Two sides of the buddha dharma

In the beginning of Genjo-koan, Dogen Zenji brings up three pairs of the most
important points in Buddhist teachings: (1) delusion-enlightenment, (2) enlightened
buddhas - deluded living beings, and (3) life (or birth, arousing) - death (or dying,
perishing). In the first sen-tence, Dogen says, " there is delusion and realization,
practice, life and death, buddhas and living beings." And in the second sentence he
says, "There is no delusion and no realization, no buddhas and no living beings, no
birth and no perishing." In the third sentence, he talks about our practice as the
manifestation of the buddha way and said, "There is arising and perishing, delusion
and realization, living beings and buddhas."

Then from section 4 to section 7, he discusses (1)delusion and realization, and

(2)buddhas and living beings. In section 8, he speaks about (3)life and death. The
first and the second sentence are apparently contradicted each other. But as I
explained in my commentary in that section, these are two sides of Buddhist
teachings. And the theme of the entire Genjo-koan is how to live and practice based
on the clear insight of both sides.

Practice based on the two sides

Then from section 9, Dogen Zenji discusses our concrete way of practice as the
buddha way based on the clear understanding of the dharma that he developed in
sections 1 through 8. In this section I am most impressed with Dogen's saying "When
a person attains realization, it is like the moon reflecting on the water." Here
according to Dogen it is not because of our individual effort that the moon reflects
itself on the water. What Dogen is pointing out here is the reality of all beings as
indepen-dent- origination. Everything is connected with everything. Everything
exists only within the relationship it has with all other things and by support from
them. That is what Dogen Zenji is pointing out when he says that the moon reflects
itself on each and every drop of water.

But still, he says, the moon has infinite height and water has infinite depth and we
need to investigate how high it is and how deep our life can be. This process of
inquiry is the process of our practice.

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. For example, when we sail a boat into the
ocean beyond sight of land and when our eyes scan [the horizon in] the four
directions, it simply looks like a circle. No other shape appears.

Seeing the ocean as one circle

In section 7, Dogen Zenji says when we first seek after the dharma, we become far
from the boundary of the dharma. And when the dharma is correctly transmitted to
us, we are immediately original persons. Our practice is the way of living as an
original person. Our practice is not the way to "become" an original person sometime
in the future. In that section he uses the analogy of sailing a boat where the coast is
still in our view and we mistakenly think the coast is moving and boat is not moving,
that is, our self is something fixed as a subject and things are moving and changing
around us.

In this section, he discusses that, after we clearly see that all things have no [fixed]
self, we should inquire how we should live as an original person based on such an
insight. Here he uses an analogy that we are sailing on a boat in the midst of ocean
where we don't see the coast anymore. We only see a circle of horizon.

Dogen's voyage to China

My guess is that, these two analogies were taken from Dogen's experience when he
went to China in 1223. Dogen was 23 years old. The voyage was a sincere journey to
discover the genuine buddha dharma for Dogen and his teacher, Butsuju Myozen

In Shobogenzo Zuimonki, Dogen talked to his own students about Myozen's

resolution to go to China. Myozen's original teacher was a Tendai monk named
Myoyu. When Myoyu was in his deathbed he asked Myozen to postpone the trip to
China for a while in order to take care of him and conduct his funeral service. After
having a meeting with his dharma brothers and disciples to discuss this matter,
Myozen said,

Even if I put off my trip for the time being, one who is certain to die will die. My
remaining here won't help to prolong his life. Even if I stay to nurse him, his pain
will not cease. Also, it would not be possible to escape from life-and-death because I
took care of him before his death. It would just be following his request and
comforting his feeling for a while. It is entirely useless for gaining emancipation and
attaining the Way. To mistakenly allow him to hinder my aspiration to seek the
dharma would be a cause of evil deeds. However, if I carry out my aspiration to go
to China to seek the dharma, and gain a bit of enlightenment, although it goes against
one person's deluded feelings, it would become a cause for attaining the Way for
many people. Since this merit is greater, it will help return the debt of gratitude to
my teacher. Even if I were to die while crossing the ocean and failed to accomplish
my aspiration, since I would have died with the aspiration to seek the dharma, my
vow would not cease in any future life. We should ponder Genjo Sanzo (Tripitaka
Master Xuanzang) 's journey to India. Vainly spending time which is easily lost, for
the sake of one person would not be in accordance with the Buddha's will. Therefore,
I have firmly resolved to go to China now.

These days, to go to China from Japan takes only a few hours by airplane. Since
there are many flights by different airline companies everyday, it is not a big deal to
postpone a trip for a while. But, in the 13th century, to sail to China was very
dangerous. Many people who sailed to China did not come back to Japan. Also, if
they missed a chance they could not know when the next chance to take a voyage
would be. The next trip to China by Japanese Buddhist monks after Dogen and
Myozen in the history, was in 1233. That was 10 years after their departure. Actually
Myozen died at Tientong monastery in China when he was 42 years old and Dogen
returned to Japan with his ashes. Myozen's resolution was not simply an

With two other attendant monks, Dogen and Myozen left Kenninji in Kyoto in
February 1223 to Hakata, Kyushu probably by a boat and then they changed boats to
sail to China.

On the Inland Sea between Osaka and Kyushu, they could always see the coast of
Honshu, Shikoku or many other smaller islands. But after they departed from Hakata
in the end of March, they saw nothing but the circle of the horizon until they arrived
in the port of Ninbo, in April. About the voyage, Dogen said in the Zuimonki, "On
my way to China, I suffered from diarrhea on the ship, yet when a storm came up
and people on the ship made a great fuss, I forgot about the sickness and it went

This voyage must have been a very impressive and important experience for Dogen.
I think the process of this voyage and the process of his search for the true dharma
and a true teacher were overlapped in Dogen's mind.
Is seeing one-circle enlightenment?
When we sail the Inland Sea, we see mountains, villages, people, trees and many
other things on the coast. Some times we feel the coast is moving and sometimes we
see that the boat (our self) is moving. Sometimes we feel both are moving together.

After we sail out to the vast ocean, we only see the ocean, its horizon like a circle
and the vast sky. We see the oneness (or not-two-ness) of all things. It is a surprising
experience to us. But is it enlightenment? Or is it the goal of our practice? Dogen
says, " No!"

He says, if you feel such a condition is enlightenment, then, the Dharma has not yet
fully penetrated into body and mind. He continues and says, "when dharma has fully
penetrated the self, we see that something is still lacking." This means that when the
dharma fills us, we will see the incompleteness of our practice and the various
characteristics of all beings, and we will understand that we need in inquire endlessly
about these characteristics and how we can sincerely practice with them as
bodhisattvas. The moon has infinite height and our life as an individual self also has
infinite depth. But what we see with our eyesight is limited. No matter how deep,
high or broad we try to see, our sight is limited. To see this limit is wisdom.

As a finite human being, we cannot see the entire reality as it is. We are born, live
and die within the reality. We can only see the reality from inside. We need to take a
position in the reality. That means we cannot see the parts of reality hidden by our
own existence. Our eyesight is smaller than 180 degrees. When we see forward, we
cannot see backward. When we turn our head to see backward, we cannot see in
front of us. We can not see our back. Our eyes cannot see themselves.

But somehow, we have an ability to remember things we saw in the past and to
integrate them with what we are seeing right now and create a picture as if we are
seeing 360 degrees or the total reality. What we need to understand is that this way
of seeing is simply a picture of the world we create in our mind, that is, a mind-

Even the circle of the horizon on the ocean is a mind construction. Therefore it is
still a limited view of a conditioned self. Seeing that not only our discriminating
views but also our view of oneness or beyond discrimination is a mind-construction,
is the beginning of seeing the reality. Seeing how deluded we are is the wisdom to
see the actual reality of our life.

Kodo Sawaki Roshi said, "Everyone reads the sections of the newspaper in a
different order. One person reads the stock market page first, another turns first to
the sports page, a serial novel, or the political columns. We are all different because
we see things through our own individual discriminating consciousness. Grasping
things with human thought, we each behave differently. We can't know the actual
world, the world common to everyone, until we stop discriminating."
The view without discriminating is sometimes expressed as one round circle like the
horizon in the ocean. But once we take it as a kind of concept or description, we are
already out of the reality. "To stop discriminating" occurs only in letting go of
thought in our actual sitting practice of zazen.

Sawaki Roshi also said, "People often say, ‘in my opinion… ' Anyhow, ‘my opinion'
is no good –so keep your mouth shut!"

Keeping our mouth shut, does not mean we stop thinking. But rather we should try to
see the actual reality more and more clearly, deeply and from a broader perspective.
And in our actual lives, we also should see that we are also moving and changing so
that the things around us seem different not only because they are changing but also
because we are changing. Things that used to be attractive in my twenties are not at
all attractive to me in my fifties.

This great ocean, however, is neither round nor square. It has inexhaustible
characteristics. [To a fish], it looks like a palace; [to a heavenly beings] a jeweled
necklace. [To us] as far as our eyes can see, it looks like a circle.

A Palace for fish is water for human beings

The analogy of how four different kinds of beings see water in four different ways
appears in a commentary to Asangha's Shodaijoron (Mahayanasamgraha). Here it is
said that human beings see water as water, fish see water as a palace, heavenly
beings see water as a jewel, and hungry ghosts see water as pus and blood. This
analogy explains how each one of us sees things in different ways and has different
concepts and pictures depending upon our karma. This analogy is used in Yogacara
philosophy, which insists that only consciousness exists and no objects exist outside
our consciousness.

Dogen Zenji writes about the difference of viewing water depending upon the karmic
conditions of each being in Shobogenzo Sansuikyo (Mountains and Waters Sutra) as

The ways of viewing mountains and waters are different depending upon what kind
of beings we are. There are some beings that view water as a jewel. However, this
does not mean that they view a jewel [for human beings] as water. How do we see
what they view as water? What they see as a jewel is what we see as water. Some
beings see water as wondrous flowers. But they do not use flowers [for human
beings] as water. Hungry ghosts view water as raging fire or as pus and blood.
Dragons and fish view it as a palace or a lofty building. [Some beings] see it as the
seven treasures or the mani jewel. [Others] see it as a forest or walls, or as the
dharma nature of immaculate liberation, or as the true human body, or as body as the
form and mind as the nature. Human beings view it as water. And these [different
ways of viewing] are the conditions under which [water] is killed or given life.
Thus the views of different beings are diverse depending upon their karmic
conditions. We should question this for now. Should we think that each being views
one and same object in different ways? Or do all kind of beings make a mistake
when we see that various different forms we see as one and same objects? We should
inquire further on the top of our efforts of inquiry. Therefore, our practice/realization
as engaging the Way should not be only one way or two ways. The ultimate realm
has onethousand or ten thousand of ways.

The important point in Dogen Zenji's comment on this analogy is that he questions
even the fixed existence (self-nature) of the water that is seen by those four different
beings. The common interpretation of this analogy is that there is one reality of water
and four different kinds of views. Dogen says that it is not certain if there is water as
a fixed object objectively outside of the relationship between each being and
something tentatively called water. This is what Dogen meant when he said,
"Therefore, flowers fall down even though we love them; weeds grow even though
we dislike them." We feel sad when we see a flower that we love is fading. We
dislike weeds growing only if the weeds are growing in our garden where we have to
pull them up. We don't care how many weeds grow on a mountain or a grassy plain
where we don't need to weed. We rather enjoy the scenery.

What is the difference between Dogen and Yogacara philosophy? Yogacara teachers
say that only consciousness exists and nothing else exists outside of our
consciousness. What Dogen says is that our self and the world are working together
within a relationship of inter-dependent- origination. The world and everything in the
world appears within this relationship between our self and all myriad dharmas. For
him the important point is how we act, or practice within our relationship with the
myriad dharmas. His concern is not whether the self, or the myriad dharmas exist or
not. He questions all the possible ways of thinking and de-constructs whatever
concepts we have and cling to, regarding the myriad dharmas and us.

All the myriad things are like this. Within the dusty world and beyond, there are
innumerable aspects and characteristics; we only see or grasp as far as the power of
our eye of study and practice can see. When we listen to the reality of myriad things,
we must know that there are inexhaustible characteristics in either an ocean or
mountains and there are many other worlds in the four directions. This is true not
only in the external world, but it is the same right under our feet or within a single
drop of water.

Endless inquiry
The dusty world refers to the secular world and the world beyond refers to the world
of dharma, which is beyond the standards of the ordinary world.

In Shobogenzo Ikka-no-myoju (One Bright Pearl). Dogen Zenji introduces a story of

a Chinese Zen master, Gensha Shibi (Xuansha Shibei, 835-908). One day Gensha,
while he was still a student, was leaving his teacher's monastery to visit other
masters. Shortly after he left the temple, he stubbed his toe on a stone. As it bled
with terrible pain, he suddenly had a deep insight and said, " This body is not
existent. Where does this pain come from?"

When we study Mahayana Buddhism we learn that our body is just a collection of
five skandhas and that it is empty and does not really exist. Still, when we injure
even a tiny part of it like our toe, we have terrible pain. If the body is empty, where
does the pain come from? This is not a "question" for Gensha, but a realization of
reality. To see the emptiness of all beings, or the five skandhas as our body and
mind, is exactly the same as seeing the ocean as just the one circle. No individual,
independent, fixed entity is there. Still we have pain and the pain is so real, fresh and
immediate that we need to take care of it somehow. Each pain comes from emptiness
but each pain has its own causes and conditions. We need to figure out what is the
cause of each particular pain and how to take care of it. Just seeing the emptiness or
oneness of all beings does not work. Even though it's true that seeing the ocean as
one circle is to see that the entire ten-direction world is one bright pearl (as Gensha
said after he became a Zen master.) But within the one bright pearl, there are many
different kinds of pain that people suffer. Each pain has different cause and needs a
different cure. We need to study each pain one by one.

As Dogen Zenji experienced on his voyage to China, within one circle of the ocean,
he did not have only beautiful, peaceful days, he also had stormy days. Dogen
suffered from diarrhea on the ship, yet when a storm came up and people on the ship
made a great fuss, he forgot about the sickness and it went away. When we have a
larger and more serious problem, we sometimes forget our smaller problems and
somehow they go away. Each of us may have had this kind of experience. But such a
thing does not always occur. In our actual lives, we experience many different kinds
of situations and depending upon our karmic conditions we interpret each experience
and condition in many different ways. Most often we make a story in which we are
the main subjects.

It is right here in the middle of our story where we need to keep our eyes open and
try to examine the myriad beings, and ourselves very closely in order to study the
reality of interdependent origination. We should try to see reality with fresh eyes;
without grasping our fixed ideas or a system of values that we have created from our
previous experiences.

We only see or grasp as far as the power of our eye of study and practice can see. I
have been practicing zazen and studying Dogen Zenji's teachings more than thirty
years, from the time I was nineteen years old, through my twenties, thirties, forties,
and now, my fifties. In each stage of my life, the power of my eye of study and
practice has been changing so that the scope I can see and grasp has been changing.
On one hand, I feel the longer I practice and study, the more I can see myself and
things around me deeply. On the other hand, I feel that I am losing the energy to
change myself, and the situations I am involved in. I don't think it is appropriate to
say I am improving and growing or I am losing energy and backsliding. Both are true
and both are not true. Though I did not have deep understanding when I was 19, I
think I was much more sincere in my practice. When I was young, I was young.
When I am in my fifties, I am just in my fifties. I am getting older and older, and my
condition inside and outside my self will always be ceaselessly changing. At any
stage, I will try to be honest and keep practicing and studying endlessly. There is no
time I graduate from this practice. On the day, my teacher Uchiyama Roshi died, he
wrote a poem on his diary and said that it finally fully expressed what he wanted to
say. He kept studying, practicing, and trying to express his dharma in even a little bit
better than the day before, until the day he died when he was 86 years old.

The one-circle as the Logo of Zen

We often see calligraphy of one-circle. Right now, they have an exhibit of Zen art at
the San Francisco Asian Art Museum. On the poster for the exhibition is calligraphy
of the one-circle. Actually, on the cover of this newsletter, we find the one-circle as
well. This one-circle is widely thought of as almost the "logo" of Zen. But at least,
there was one Zen master who did not like the one-circle. That was Dogen.

In Shobogenzo Bussho (Buddha-Nature) Dogen wrote about his experience at a

Chinese Zen Monastery. On a wall of a walkway, he found the painting of a one-
circle. He asked what did the circle mean? The guiding monk said that it was a
painting of Nagarjuna manifesting the form of a round moon. Later on, Dogen
discussed about the story of Nagarjuna in the same chapter. I think the story of
Nagarjuna was the origin of the one-circle. When Nagarjuna sat in zazen, his
physical form disappeared and people only saw the form of a round-moon. Dogen
criticized the painting on the walkway and said, if they wanted to paint Nagarjuna's
form of a round-moon, they should just paint Nagarjuna's sitting as we usually do.
Dogen was a very unique Zen Master and probably did not care about being a "Zen
Master" anyway.

Dogen Zenji’s Genjo-koan Lecture (10)

Rev. Shohaku Okumura
Director, Soto Zen Education Center
(Edited by Koshin Steve Kelly)

(text: section 11)

When a fish swims, no matter how far it goes, 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.
Only, when their need is great, their range is large. When their need is small, their
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, they immediately die. 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.
And we should go beyond this. There is practice/enlightenment-- this is the way of
living beings.

Fish and Bird in Zazen

In Genjo-koan, in order to discuss the meaning of our practice, Dogen Zenji uses
various examples such as flowers and weeds, a mirror and it’s reflection, the moon
and water, and firewood and ash. Such examples make his writing poetic and
attractive. In the previous section he used the example of a person in a boat sailing
on the midst of the ocean. In this section Dogen Zenji will once again introduce an
analogy from the natural world in order to make his discussion more concrete. In this
example, the fish and birds activity is more direct and immediate than a person
sailing on the ocean. Later, however in Shobogenzo Zenki (Total Function, written
in 1243) Dogen Zenji once again will use the analogy of a person in a boat.

In Shobogenzo Zazen-shin (The Acupuncture Needle of Zazen) written in 1242 (9

years after Genjo-koan), Dogen discusses Wanshi Shogaku’s verse entitled "Zazen-
shin." Wanshi Shogaku (Hongzhi Zhengjue, 1091-1157) was a famous Chinese Soto
(Tsaodong) Zen Master. He was the abbot of Tiantong monastery for almost thirty
years from 1129 to his death in 1157. It is said that during his abbacy, the temple
buildings were completed and accommodated twelve hundred monks. Tiantong was
also the monastery where Dogen practiced several decades later with his teacher
Nyojo (Rujing). Wanshi was well known for his excellent poetry and composed
verses on 100 koans. Later Bansho Gyoshu (Wansong Xingxiu, 1166-1246) wrote
commentaries on his verses and created the Shoyoroku (Book of Serenity) which is
still studied by Zen students today. Dogen respected Wanshi and called him Wanshi
Kobutsu (Ancient Buddha) and quoted many of Wanshi’s verses and formal
discourses in his own discourses recorded in the Eihei-koroku (The Extensive
Record of Eihei Dogen). This verse on the Zazen-shin by Wanshi is obviously the
source of Dogen’s analogy of the fish and birds found in Genjo-koan. My translation
of Wanshi’s verse is as follows.

The essential-function of each buddha and the functioning- essence of each ancestor.
Knowing without touching things.
lluminating without facing objects.
Knowing without touching things, the wisdom is by nature inconspicuous.
Illuminating without facing objects, the illumination is by nature subtle.
The wisdom, that is by nature inconspicuous, never has discriminative thoughts.
The illumination, that is by nature subtle, never has the slightest separation.
The wisdom, that never has discriminative thoughts, has no dichotomy but sees
The illumination, that never has the slightest separation, has no attachment, but is
evident.The water is clear to the bottom; a fish is swimming slowly, slowly.
The sky is infinitely vast; a bird is flying far, far away.

Even though Dogen does not use the word "zazen" at all in Genjo-koan, it is clear to
me that this analogy is about our zazen practice not excluding our day-to-day
activities and the entire universe as our environment. He discusses the nature of our
zazen practice and how it forms the foundation of our attitude toward our entire
lives. The water or the sky does not simply refer to an environment that is outside of

What is the water

In his comments on the "water" in which a fish is swimming in Wanshi’s verse,
Dogen Zenji says in Shobogenzo Zazen-shin;

As to the meaning of the water is clear, the water suspended in space is not
thoroughly clear to the bottom. [This water in Wanshi’s verse] is not the clean water
that is deep and clear in the external world. [The water] that has no boundary, no
bank or shore, is thoroughly clear to the bottom.

According to Dogen, the water Wanshi is talking about is not simply the water in the
ocean, or a river that forms the environment in which a fish is swimming. It is not
the water in the "external" world separate from us. The water has no boundaries such
as a bank or a shore.

When a fish goes through this water, we cannot say that there is no movement.
Although [the fish] migrates more than ten thousand miles, [their movement] cannot
be measured and is unlimited. There is no bank from which to survey it, there is no
air to which [the fish] might break the surface, and there is no bottom to which it
might sink. Therefore, there is no one who can measure it. If we want to discuss its
measurements, [we say] only that the water is thoroughly clear to the bottom. The
virtue of zazen is like the fish swimming. [Although, in our sitting, we progress] a
thousand or ten thousand miles, who can estimate it? The process of going that
thoroughly penetrates to the bottom is that the whole body is ‘not flying the way of
the birds’.

According to Dogen, the water in Wanshi’s verse is boundless water without the
limitations of a shore or a bank by which we can objectively measure how vast or
how small it is. This is, of course, the water of emptiness. No separation between the
fish, and the water, the earth or the air. This is another description of what Dogen has
said earlier in Genjo-koan; "Conveying oneself toward all things to carry out
practice/enlightenment is delusion. All things coming and carrying out
practice/enlightenment through the self is realization." Dogens emphasis here is not
on the objective facts, but on the reality that is manifested when we practice with the
attitude of "all things carry out practice through the self."

In the Bendowa (Wholehearted Practice of the Way) Dogen also said, "Even if only
one person sits for a short time, because this zazen is one with all existence and
completely permeates all time, it performs everlasting buddha guidance within the
inexhaustible dharma world in the past, present, and future." It is obvious that the
key is our practice of zazen.

What is the Sky?

About the sky in which a bird is flying, Dogen comments;
"The infinitely vast sky" is not what is suspended in the firmament. The sky
suspended in the firmament is not the infinitely vast sky. Moreover, the space that
perme-ates here and there is not the infinitely vast sky. [The sky] that is never
concealed or revealed and that has nei-ther outside nor inside is the infinitely vast

Again, this sky is not the space outside us. The sky and the bird are one without
separation. We are com-pletely part of the sky. The sky is inside us too.

When a bird flies through this sky, flying in the sky is the undivided dharma. Its
activity of flying in the sky cannot be measured. Flying in the sky is the entire uni-
verse, because the entire universe is flying in the sky. Although we do not know the
distance of this flying, in expressing it with words beyond distinction, we say "far,
far away." "Go straightforwardly, there should be no string under the feet." When the
sky is flying away, the birds also are flying away; and when the birds are flying
away, the sky also is flying away. In studying and pene-trating the "flying away", we
say "Simply being here." This is the acupuncture needle for the immovable sitting. In
travelling ten thousands miles by "simply being here," we express it (zazen) in this

When a bird is flying, the sky is also flying. The bird is a part of the sky and the sky
is the part of the bird. The entire sky is the wings of the bird. This is not true only in
zazen. When a fish is swim-ming, the whole water is swimming. When a bird is
flying, the entire sky is flying. When we live, the entire universe is living with us.
Fish and water, bird and sky, all living beings and the universe are completely one.
When we sit in zazen and let go of our discriminative thoughts, we are completely
one with the universe. When we stand up from our cushion, however, and go out of
the zendo we again start to think, make distinctions, evaluations, and judgements. As
Dogen says, sometimes we think the shore is moving, sometimes we think we are
moving, sometimes we think both are moving, sometimes we think all things in the
world are totally separate individual entities. Based on such thinking, naturally we
make choices and take action. But our unity with all beings remains because
whatever we think about, thinking is just thinking. Thinking cannot change reality.

For example, until the time of Galileo Galilei (1564- 1642), people in Europe
thought that the earth was not moving, but rather the sun, the moon and the stars
were moving around the earth. In reality, regardless of both common people’s and
Galileo’s ideas, the earth had been moving around the sun since its birth 4.6 billion
years ago. Our thought cannot change the reality.

In reality we are all tiny parts of the universe. Each one of us is a collection of causes
and conditions. We are products of the co-evolution of Life and the Earth. I am made
of things that are not "me". The foods I eat are not "me". The air I breathe is not
"me". The water I drink is not "me". But without, foods, air and water that are not
"me", "I" don’t exist. Not only water, air and foods, our life itself is a gift from the

As Human beings, we are born in human society and because we are born in a very
immature stage, we cannot live without support from others for a long time. We
cannot even stand up until we are over a year old. We need to be fed without
working for a long time, at least until we become teenagers. In order to become
really independent members of our society, we have to study for about 20 years or
more. Until then we are basically supported and taken care of by our society.

Even the language we use to think is gift from our society. We are taught how to
think and behave through the process of education. Because I was born and grew up
in Japan, I think using the Japanese language and act mostly according to my
Japanese system of values. The Japanese language is the result of a culture created
by all the Japanese people who have lived in the land of Japan.

Our self and all beings in the entire universe, past, present and future are all
connected. This is not a mysterious truth, which can only be seen in a certain mental
condition such as a trance or by using some special spiritual intuition. This is a very
simple, plain reality we can understand using our reason. Still, we are almost always
losing sight of this plain reality due to the separation and discrimination created by
our thinking using words and concepts.

In the end of Shobogenzo Zazen-shin, Dogen writes his own poem with the same
title as Wanshi’s.

The essential-function of each buddha and the function-ing- essence of each
Being actualized within not-thinking.
Being manifested within non-interacting.
Being actualized within not-thinking, the actualization is by nature intimate.
Being manifested within non-interacting, the manifestation is itself verification.
The actualization, that is by nature intimate, never has defilement.
The manifestation, that is by nature verification, never has distinction between
Absolute and Relative.
The intimacy without defilement is dropping off without relying on anything.
The verification beyond distinction between Absolute and Relative is making efforts
without aiming at it.
The water is clear to the earth; a fish is swimming like a fish.
The sky is vast, extending to the heavens; a bird is flying like a bird.

Does Dogen’s understanding in his verse exactly match Wanshi’s? This is an

important point in understanding Dogen’s teaching on zazen. But that is not the point
of Genjo-koan. So I won’t discuss it now. Dogen Zenji says that there are no
independent entities separate from the water or the sky called a fish or a bird, but still
there is something like a fish or a bird, which is swimming or flying. This is his
expression of the reality of our lives that function together with all beings in the
world in the past, present and future.

This total reality in which each and every thing exists within the network of all
beings is what Dogen wants to show us. However we must not forget that within this
reality, we are living as an individual person. For example Shohaku is not a fixed
entity but still Shohaku is living like Shohaku. And Shohaku needs to take
responsibility for what Shohaku does. This integrity of totality and individuality is
the way we actually live. Dogen Zenji’s teaching in Genjo-koan shows how we can
recognize real-ity and live according to it.

Range of life

When a fish swims, no matter how far it goes, 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.
Only, when their need is great, their range is large. When their need is small, their
range is small. In this way, each fish and each bird uses the whole space and
vigorously acts in every place.

During the time I was living at Valley Zendo from 1976 to 1981, my range was very
small. The Zendo’s property was about 5 acres but most of the land was covered
with trees. We cut the trees and dug out the stumps in about one-acre and built the
zendo and made a garden. That one-acre of land was the entire range of my life for
five years. I did not go out of the zendo very much. I did not get out of Western
Massachusetts so often. Since I had neither a TV nor a radio and I did not read
newspapers, I knew almost nothing about what was going on in the world. The range
of my life was really very tiny. I just practiced zazen with two other Japanese priests
and a few American practitioners. I knew nothing about the world and almost no one
knew me.

In comparison, since I began to work for the Soto Zen Education Center in 1997, I
have traveled extensively from California to New England and from Alaska to
Florida. I have met and practiced with so many people. I am on an airplane almost
every month. Although I still don’t have a TV or a radio, I do get the news of the
world through the Internet. I also give many lectures. My range looks much bigger
than while I was at Valley Zendo. But in either case, what I have been doing is just
sitting facing the wall with my body and mind and talking about my understanding
of zazen. That’s all. In whatever condition, I am simply living my own life that is
connected with all things in the universe.

No matter how large our range may be, we cannot reach the end of the universe. And
yet, no matter how small our range may be, we are living being connected with the
entire universe. Our body and mind are much larger than we usually think. And our
life has a much more intimate connection with all things than we can imagine. We
share the same DNA structure with all living beings on the earth.

In Shobogenzo Shinjin-gakudo (Studying the Way with Body and Mind), Dogen
Zenji says about the mind, "Mountains, rivers, the great earth, sun, moon and stars
are the mind." And he says about the body, "The entire ten-direction world is the true
human body. Using this body, we refrain from the ten unwholesome deeds, keep the
eight precepts, take refuge in the Three Treasures and leave home to become a monk.
This is the true study of the Way."

It is certain that the source of Dogen’s image of fish and birds in Genjo-koan is
Wanshi’s verse of Zazen-shin. I am not one hundred percent sure, but I guess that the
source of Wanshi’s image of fish and birds might be Chuang Tzu. In the very
beginning of the first chapter of Chuang Tzu entitled, "Free and Easy Wandering", it
is said that there was a huge fish and the fish transformed into a huge bird and flew
to heaven.

In the northern darkness there is a fish and his name is K’un. The K’un is so huge I
don’t know how many thousand li he measures. He changes and becomes a bird
whose name is P’eng. The back of the P’eng measures I don’t know how many
thousand li across and, when he rises up and flies off, his wings are like clouds all
over the sky. When the sea begins to move, this birds sets off for the southern
darkness, which is the Lake of Heaven. (Translated by Burton Watson)

According to a Japanese commentary, one li is about 405 meters (1336 feet). The
size of the fish/bird is out of our imagination. There is, however, an important
difference between Chuang Tsu and Dogen. In Chuang Tzu, small creatures such as
a cicada, a dove or a quail laugh at the large bird.

Where does he think he’s going? I give a great leap and fly up, but I never get more
than ten or twelve yards before I come down fluttering among the weeds and
brambles. And that’s the best kind of flying anyway! Where does he think he’s

Then Chuanng Tzu said, "Such is the difference between big and little." By
comparing the big bird with a cicada, a dove and a quail, Chuang Tzu looked down
and laughed at those small creatures. His conclusion is that people in the mundane
world caught up in the conven-tional concepts and systems of value are like those
small living beings and his ideal person is like the large bird. Chuang Tzu said,
"Therefore I say, the Perfect Man has no self; the Holy Man has no merit; the Sage
has no fame."

Dogen says that even a small bird like a quail flies the entire sky. Even a cicada that
lives only for several days in the summer is one with entire past, present and future.
For Dogen, we are like those small living beings. As a bodhisattva, it is important to
aware of how small we are. And yet, no matter how tiny we are, we are flying the
entire sky and the entire sky is flying with us. I think this is one of the differences
between Taoism and Buddhism.

Life is a bird; Life is a fish

However, if a bird departs from the sky, or a fish leaves the water, they immediately
die. 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. And we should go beyond this. There is
practice/enlightenment-- this is the way of living beings.

We cannot live separated from the world. For us, this world is our life. Since we are
one with the world and supported by all things as a part of the net of interdependent
origination, we have to take care of the world and the self and others. How can we
live our lives with such a magnanimous view of the self, others and the world?

Life needs to be a bird or fish or something else to manifest itself in a concrete way.
Otherwise, life is just an abstract concept. Without a particular body and mind of
living beings, no matter how tiny, weak, deluded or selfcentered it is, there is no way
for life to live life.

In Buddhism, the reality of all beings (the Dharma) is the way we should study and
the way we should live. One of the problems for us human beings is that we usually
don’t think that the world in which we are living is our life. We think our life is only
this body and mind asindividual and it continues only between the date of our birth
and the date of our death. We think that all other people and things are the materials
we can use to make us meaningful, happy and satisfied.

The Necessity of finding our own place and path

(text: section 12)

Therefore, if there are fish who want to swim or birds who want to fly only after they
investigate the entire sky or all the water, they will find neither path nor place. When
we make this very place our own, our practice becomes manifestation of reality
(genjo-koan). When we make this path our own, our activity naturally becomes
actualized reality (genjo-koan). This path or this place is neither big nor small,
neither self nor others. It has not existed before this moment nor has it come into
existence now. Therefore, [the reality of all things] is thus. In the same way, when a
person does practice/enlightenment in the buddha way, as the person realizes one
dharma, the person permeates that dharma; as the person encounters one practice, the
person [fully] practices that practice. [For this] there is a place and a path. The
boundary of the known is not clear; this is because the known [which appears
limited] is born and practiced simultaneously with the complete penetration of the
buddha dharma. We should not think that what we have attained is conceived by
ourselves and known by our discriminating mind. Although complete enlightenment
is immediately actualized, its intimacy is such that it does not necessarily form as a
view. [In fact] viewing is not something fixed.

This is Dogen Zenji’s conclusion of how we should live based on the buddha dharma
he discussed in the very beginning of Genjo-koan.

Therefore, if there are fish who want to swim or birds who want to fly only after they
investigate the entire sky or all the water, they will find neither path nor place.

When I was a high school student, I was exactly like the fish and birds that hesitate
to swim or fly until they completely investigate the entire water or sky. Before I
started to do anything, I wanted to find the purpose and meaning of life. I tried to
find the answer in books. I thought if life is meaningless, I should not continue to
live. I was very childish but extremely serious. I read many books on religion,
philosophy and science. But according to the books I read, I discovered that there
was no meaning that supports our life. I found that "meaning" or "value" can have
"meaning" and "value" only within a relationship with other things. I cannot judge
the meaning of just myself. Human beings cannot measure the value of human
beings. Anyone in the universe cannot evaluate the universe. In order to do so, we
need something like an Absolute Other, like God. But I could not believe that God
existed outside the universe.

I became nihilistic and I was completely lost. I could not do anything, even commit
suicide. To commit suicide,I needed to find a reason or a meaning to do so. But if
our life has no meaning, to kill myself is also meaningless. I could not live and I
could not die. I faced a dead end. As you can imagine, my high school life was not a
joyful one.

I think that if I did not have the chance to read my teacher Uchiyama Roshi’s book,
such a condition would have lasted much longer. As it was, I had a friend who has
the same kind of question. Because he knew someone who went to Antaiji monastery
to practice zazen with Sawaki Kodo Roshi, he visited Antaiji and stayed there during
a summer vacation. That was around the same time Uchiyama Roshi published his
first book entitled "Jiko" (Self). My friend allowed me to read the book after he
returned from Antaiji.

In the book, Uchiyama Roshi wrote about his own search for the meaning of life. I
read that when Uchiyama Roshi was a teenager, he had the same question as I did
and he had spent his life searching for the answer to it. After he found the answer, he
practiced it and taught it. Since I knew nothing about Buddhism or Zen, I did not
understand Uchiyama Roshi’s answer, but I knew I wanted to live like him. That was
the one of the main reasons I started to study Buddhism and Zen and became
Uchiyama Roshi’s disciple. Although I had read about many spiritual teachers who
taught the truth, for me, Uchiyama Roshi was the first actual person who I met who
lived in such a way. Somehow I wanted to become his disciple.
After practicing with my teacher for some time, I found that meaning is created
when we find our own place and path and we begin to do something. Until that
moment there is no ready-made meaning or purpose to our lives. When I found my
place as a student of Uchiyama Roshi and a practitioner in the lineage of his teacher
Sawaki Roshi, and the source of their teachings; Dogen Zenji and Shakyamuni
Buddha, life became mean-ingful and precious to me. To continue my teacher’s vow
to transmit the tradition to the next generation became my path and many different
kinds of support to my practice became available.

When I first read Genjo-koan, this point on how we create meaning really struck me
and based on that I decided to follow Dogen Zenji’s teaching even though I didn’t
understand anything else. I was saved by Uchiyama Roshi and Dogen Zenji.

When we make this very place our own, our practice becomes manifestation of
reality (genjo-koan). When we make this path our own, our activity naturally
becomes actualized reality (genjo-koan). This path or this place is neither big nor
small, neither self nor others. It has not existed before this moment nor has it come
into existence now. Therefore, [the reality of all things] is thus.

When I made up my mind to become Uchiyama Roshi’s disciple and actually started
to practiced zazen, I finally found my own place and path. When I choose one thing
and actually did it, I found the path to proceed. The Manifestation of reality (genjo-
koan) is not a concept or philosophical idea, but rather it is actual practice using our
body and mind that is connected with the entire world. This path of zazen practice
has led me to a won-drous and unbelievable way of life. The path is so broad,
flexible and endless. Since then, I have been walking the path for thirty years. I am
still a beginner in this path. The path has no beginning and no end but permeates all
time and space. And yet, it is only this moment right now and right here.

One thing at a time

In the same way, when a person does practice/enlighten-ment in the buddha way, as
the person realizes one dharma, the person permeates that dharma; as the person
encounters one practice, the person [fully] practices that practice. [For this] there is a
place and a path.

I found my place as a zazen practitioner under the guidance of Uchiyama Roshi, and
committed to it, and in each moment, each day, and through each stage of my life, I
have tried to see the many people, things, and situ-ations I have encountered as my
own life and practice. Whatever I encounter, I try to do my best with a sincere

In the Tenzo-kyokun (Instructions for Tenzo), Dogen Zenji teaches how we should
work together with each and every thing with our sincere heart, using the example of

Next, get ready the following morning’s breakfast. Select the rice and prepare the
vegetables by yourself with your own hands, watching closely with sincere
diligence. You should not attend to some things and neglect or be slack with others
for even one moment. Do not give a single drop from within the ocean of virtues;
you must not fail to add a single speck on top of the mountain of good deeds.
(Dogen’s Pure Standards for the Zen Community, P.34)

When we work on one thing, we study it, do some experiments with it, take care of it
and penetrate it. One by one, each time. This is how we study the characteristics of
all things. One thing at a time. When we practice that role sincerely, we penetrate
that thing. When we make a mistake, we penetrate that mistake and learn from the
mistake. Then a mistake is a great teacher for us. Nothing is meaningless when we
have our own place and path to walk. Actually this place and path is not something
outside us. The place and path are nothing other than ourselves.

The way is endless

The boundary of the known is not clear; this is because the known [which appears
limited] is born and practiced simultaneously with the complete penetration of the
buddha dharma. We should not think that what we have attained is conceived by
ourselves and known by our discriminating mind. Although complete enlighten-ment
is immediately actualized, its intimacy is such that it does not necessarily form as a
view. [In fact] viewing is not something fixed.

Even though we walk on the path, we cannot measure how far we have come and
how much farther we will have to go to reach the goal. As Buddhist practitioners, we
commonly think our goal is very clear, that is, to become a Buddha. According to
Mahayana Buddhist teachings, a bodhisattva must practice through the fifty-two
stages to reach Buddhahood and it takes three great kalpas, which means almost
forever. And yet, to become a Buddha is not the end of the story but rather it is
simply the starting point of life as a Buddha. A Buddha practices Buddha’s practice.
That is helping all living beings to become bud-dhas and to make entire world into
buddha land. It also takes almost forever.

Within such an endless process of the Buddha way, it is nonsense to measure how
much we have achieved, which stage we are at now and what we need to do to go
further. In Buddhist teachings of many different traditions, there are many sets of
stages of spiritual achievement, such as the four stages toward arhathood, and the
fifty-two stages of the bodhisattva. But these stages are all a kind of expedient

Dogen Zenji does not use such expedients. He simply says the buddha way is endless
and there is no way to measure where we are now. No matter how long and how hard
we have been practicing, within the infinite length of the buddha way, the distance
we have walked is the same as zero.

When faced with this truth, what we can do is try to be mindful in each moment, and
practice one thing wholeheartedly in the way that we can penetrate that one thing.
This is what Dogen Zenji means when he says, "When Buddhas are truly Buddhas,
they don't need to perceive that they are themselves Buddhas. However, they are
enlightened buddhas, and they continue actualizing buddha."

This is a lesson we can apply to many parts of our lives. For example, if peace is the
condition in which there is no war among countries, no fighting or conflict among
people, and no pain, anxiety, or struggle in our minds, probably there is never a time
that such a condition can be completely achieved. Then is "peace" a meaningless
dream? Not at all. According to Dogen Zenji, our peaceful efforts themselves are the
source of peace in each moment and each step we take. Nirvana or buddhahood is
the same thing.

Our practice is just to practice one thing at a time wholeheartedly and manifest our
own lives moment by moment without evaluation. That is all. This is what shikan
(just) in Dogen’s expression shikan-taza (just sit-ting) means. This is also what
Dogen means when he says that practice and realization are one.