Treasury of the Eye of the True Dharma

Mountains and Waters Sutra
(Shôbôgenzô sansui kyô)


The Sansui kyô represents one of the earlier texts of the Shôbôgenzô, written at Kôshôji, the monastery just south of the capital where Dôgen lived from 1233 to 1243. According to the colophon of an ancient manuscript of the work thought to be in the author's own hand, it was composed in the autumn of 1240, the year in which he seems to have begun to work in earnest on the essays that would make up his Treasury of the Eye of the True Dharma. This was a time when Dôgen was at the height of his literary powers, and the Mountains and Waters Sutra is widely appreciated as one of the most elegant of his essays.

Several months before he wrote the Sansui kyô, Dôgen composed another text of the Shôbôgenzô entitled Keisei sanshoku ("Sound of the Stream, Form of the Mountain"), inspired by a verse by the famed Song-dynasty poet Su Dongbo:

The sound of the stream is his long, broad tongue;
The mountain, his immaculate body.
These evening's eighty-four thousand verses -
How will I tell them tomorrow?

In the Sansui kyô, Dôgen returned to the theme of this poem, to explore in detail the meaning of mountains and rivers as the very body and speech of the buddha. As he says in his opening lines, the natural landscape that surrounds us here and now is the "expression of the ancient buddhas". The term "expression" (dô genjô) here should probably be taken in two senses: as the words of the buddha and as his practice. In the Sansui kyô, the mountains and waters are at once preaching a sutra that reveals the dharma and themselves putting that dharma into practice, themselves, as Dôgen says in his final line, becoming wise men and sages.

This translation is based on the text in Kawamura Kôdô, ed., Dôgen zenji zenshû, vol. 1 (1991), pp. 316-328. Examples of other English translations of the Sansui kyô can be found at Masunaga Reihô, "Introduction to Sansuikyô and Translation of Text," Shûgaku kenkyû 24 (1962); Kôsen Nishiyama and John Stevens, Shôbôgenzô: The Eye and Treasury of the True Law, vol. 2, (1977), pp. 163-170; Carl Bielefeldt "Treasury of the True Dharma Eye: Book XXIX, The Mountain and Rivers Sutra", in M. Tobias and H. Drasdo, ed., The Mountain Spirit (1979), pp. 41-49; Hee-Jin Kim, Flowers of Emptiness: Selections from Dôgen's Shôbôgenzô (1985), pp. 295-306; Kazuaki Tanahashi, ed., Moon in a Dewdrop: Writings of Zen Master Dôgen (1985), pp. 97-107; Thomas Cleary, Shôbôgenzô: Zen Essays by Dôgen (1986), pp. 87-101; Yokoi Yûhô, tr., The Shôbô-genzô (1986), pp. 357-368; Gudo Wafu Nishijima and Chodo Cross, Master Dogen's Shobogenzo, Book 1 (1994), pp. 167-179.

This translation of the Sansui kyô reflects the version published in Dharma Eye 9 (October 2001), pp. 10-17. More complete annotation will be made available in a subsequent version on this site.