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Zazen shin Notes


1. The temple name does not appear in the Kenkon'in ms; it is supplied from the Kôfukuji text.

2. "Great Master Hongdao": The posthumous title of Yueshan Weiyan (751-834).

Yueshan's expression "not thinking" (fu shiryô tei) here might also be understood as "what cannot be thought" (fu ka shiryô), but Sôtô treatment of the expression typically takes it as a mental state; the expression "nonthinking" (hi shiryô) can as well be read "it is not thinking". For more on these terms, see glossary: "shiryô"; for discussion of the passage as a whole, see supplemental note 1.

3. "Although he is not alone in "thinking fixedly", Yueshan's saying is singular": Usually interpreted to mean that, while the practice of thinking fixedly in zazen is the common heritage of the buddhas and patriarchs, Yueshan's words are the best (or ultimate or only true) expression of it. (See, e.g., SBGZ MG.4,67; SBGZ KT.2,521.) The translation "singular" here attempts to span something of the range of Dôgen's term sono (or sore) itsu, which carries the senses of "one of them" and "the first (best) of them", but may also suggest (in a usage based on Chapter 7 of the Zhuangzi) the "oneness" of the great sage.

"Thinking is the very 'skin, flesh, bones and marrow' (hi niku kotsu zui); 'not thinking' is the very skin, flesh, bones and marrow": Usually interpreted to mean that, in zazen, both thinking and not thinking are the entirety of the practice (or of the practitioner). (See, e.g., SBGZ KT.2,522-523.) While the terms "skin, flesh, bones and marrow" have a common abstract sense of "essence" or "entirety" (for which, see glossary: "hi niku kotsu zui"), as SBGZS (SBGZ CKZS.4,70) points out, we should probably not overlook the possibility that Dôgen is here identifying thinking and not thinking in zazen with the physical body of the practitioner.

4. "Indeed, while 'not thinking' may be old, here it is [the further question] 'how do you think'?": Most commentators take "old" here to mean "well known" (e.g., SBGZ KT.2,523). The antecedent of "it" (kore) here is unclear; the most common reading identifies it as "not thinking" (e.g., SBGZ KT.2,523) and thus understands the second clause to be identifying "not thinking" with "how do you think" (ikan shiryô) (for this type of interpretation, see supplemental note 1).

"How could [it] fail to penetrate beyond sitting 'fixedly'?": A tentative translation; see supplemental note 2.

"If we are not the sort of fool that 'despises what is near' (sengon no gu)": From the old Chinese saying, "The ordinary person values what is distant and despises what is near."

"We ought to have the strength, we ought to have the 'thinking', to question sitting 'fixedly'": Here, as below, the translation loses Dôgen's play on the element ryô ("measure") in the expressions shiryô ("thinking") and rikiryô ("strength").

5. This is one of the more obscure passages in the text; for a possible interpretation of its argument, see supplemental note 3.

"Although the employment (shiyô) of 'nonthinking' is crystal clear (reirô), when we 'think of not thinking', we always use 'nonthinking'": Usually interpreted to mean that the enlightened state of nonthinking is always operating in the practice of thinking of not thinking.

"There is someone (tare) in 'nonthinking', and this someone maintains (honin) us (ware)": Interpretators often follow SBGZS (SBGZ CKZS.4,74) in associating "someone" here with thinking and not thinking, and "us" with nonthinking; thus, thinking and not thinking maintain nonthinking.

"It presents itself as sitting 'fixedly'": The translation here attempts to preserve something of the grammatical play in Dôgen's sentence, in which gotsugotsuchi is both subject and object of the predicate. In the predicate, "present", the graph in kotô (usually "to lift the head") should probably be taken as a colloquial nominalizer.

"Measure of the buddha (butsuryô), measure of the dharma (hôryô), measure of awakening (goryô), measure of comprehension (eryô)": Dôgen is here again playing with the graph ryô ("measure") in shiryô ("thinking"), beginning with the common Buddhist term butsuryô (for which, see glossary: "butsuryô"), and then extending this to other possible authorities, or "measures".

6. Yueshan Weiyan is listed as the thirty-sixth ancestor in the lineage of Rujing given in Dôgen's SBGZ Busso (DZZ.2,67).

7. The translation follows the usual reading of this passage; it could also be read, "Once you attain [the state in which] the breast is without concerns through concentrated effort at seated meditation, this is peace and tranquility." The passage has not been identified as a direct quotation from any known source. A similar passage appears in Dahui's letters, where he criticizes those who make concentrated effort (kufû) in a quiet place: "If they happen to achieve a state in which the breast is without concerns (kyôchû buji), they think this is the ultimate ease and joy (anraku). They don't realize it is simply like a stone pressing down grass." ("Letter to Councilor Fu", Dahui yulu, T.48.921c; Araki, 54.)

8. "Walking is Zen, sitting is Zen; whether in speech or silence, motion or rest, the substance is at ease (tai annen)." From the Zheng dao ge, attributed to the early eighth-century figure Yongjia Xuanjue (JDCDL, T.51:460b16).

9. A slightly different version of this same passage occurs in the Himitsu Shôbô genzô text of the Butsu kôjô ji (DZZ.1:233-34), where it serves to define what Dôgen calls there "studying [the buddha way] with the body" (mi ni shite narafu). For a possible interpretation of the passage, see supplemental note 4.

"Entering into Mâra [The Evil One]" (ma ni iru) is used to express the spiritual freedom of advanced Zen practice, as in the saying, "You can enter into Buddha, but you cannot enter into Mâra. (See, e.g., Dahui's Zongmen wuku, T.47.950a15.)

"Filling the ditches and clogging the gullies" (mizo ni michi tani ni mitsu): See Glossary: "Kôgaku".

10. Chan Master Daji is the posthumous title of Mazu Daoyi (709-788); Chan Master Dahui is Nanyue Huairang (677-744). Their conversation can be found at JDCDL, T.51.240c18ff; but note that Dôgen's introduction to the conversation here (as in his SBS, DZZ.2.202) includes elements from Mazu's biography (JDCDL, T.51.245c26f) to make it appear -- as the original version does not -- that Mazu had already received his master's certification when the conversation took place. A similar version of the story appears in SBGZ kokyô.

11. "Do not 'value what is far away'": see above, note 4.

"Do not 'take the eyes lightly'": From the old Chinese saying, "To give weight to the ears and take the eyes lightly is the constant failing of the common man".

The "carved dragon" (chôryû) alludes to the ancient Chinese story of the Duke of She, who loved the image of the dragon but was terrified of the real thing. For interpretation of the two dragons here, see supplemental note 5.

12. "Sloughing off" (datsuraku): no doubt an ellipsis for "sloughing off body and mind (shinjin datsuraku), Dôgen's famous term for Zen awakening.

"Entangled" here renders kattô su, Dôgen's verbal form of the "vines and creepers" used in Zen to express the spiritual complications of language -- including the language of Zen discourse on the basis of which the meditator "figures to make a Buddha." See Term Glossary: "kattô".

13. "Destroy our body and lose our life" (sôshin shitsumyô): From the famous problem, posed by the tenth-century figure Xiangyan Zhixian, of the man hanging by his teeth over a thousand-foot cliff who is asked the meaning of Bodhidharma's arrival from the west: "If he opens his mouth to answer, he will destroy his body and lose his life". (JDCDL, T.51.284B23ff.)

The notion of entertwining entanglements here is probably from a saying of Rujing, that the bottle gourd vine intertwines with itself (Nyojô goroku, T.48.128b20), a remark praised as unprecedented in SBGZ kattô. There Dôgen interprets kattô as succession to the dharma (shihô) and claims that true Buddhist practice is not merely, as is usually thought, to cut off the roots of entanglements but to interwine entanglements with entanglements.

For an interpretation of this passage, see supplemental note 6.

14. Or, "What are you making?" (sa somo).

15. Dôgen discusses the difficulty of knowing water and mountains in his SBGZ Sansuikyô.

"This land and the other world (shido takai)": Some commentators take this to indicate all the various realms in all directions, including the various buddha lands. (See, e.g., SBGZ MG.4,101.)

16. The "old mirror" (kokyô) and "bright mirror" (meikyô) are venerable symbols for the Buddha nature, or Buddha mind, which are by definition unproduced, and by standard Chan account quite unaffected by polishing. Dôgen seems to be saying here that, while the tile cannot become the mirror, there is no mirror apart from polishing the tile; i.e., the act of polishing is itself the mirror. Cf. his similar remarks on this line in SBGZ kokyô (DZZ.2:43.5ff).

17. Mazu's question here (ikan sokuze) might be more naturally put, "Then, what should I do?" But (as in his earlier treatment of "how do you think" and "not thinking") Dôgen seems to be reading the question as a declarative sentence and suggesting that the interrogative term "what" (ikan; often taken here to indicate the practice of zazen) is itself what is "right" (sokuze; usually understood here as "making a buddha"), or that, like the relationship between the effort of "figuring" and the goal of "making a Buddha", the two are interdependent.

"'What' and 'right' emerge simultaneously": Literally, "'what is right' is a simultaneous appearance." The translation takes apart the expression ikan sokuze in keeping with the above interpretation.

18. "Should he beat the cart?" (tasha sokuze): The translation here loses the syntactical parallel to Mazu's question (and Dôgen's analysis of it); literally, "to beat the cart is right?"

For the metaphor of the cart, see supplemental note 7.

19. In this passage, Dôgen is doubtless playing on the Buddhist paradox of impermanence: that, while all things are changing and hence always "going" even when seemingly at rest, each dharma is momentary -- or, as is said, "abides in its own position" (jû hôi) -- and hence does not "go" through time.

"Water's flowing (suiryû)": The notion of water's "not flowing" is best known from the line attributed to Fu Dashi (497-569): "The bridge flows and the water doesn't" (JDCDL, T.51.430b7). Dôgen explores this and other notions of water in his SBGZ sansuikyô.

"For it is time (toki)": There are two lines of interpretation of this cryptic remark: (a) that, whether the cart is going or not going, it is [present in] time; (b) that both going and not going are present in each time. SBGZ MG (4.115): "Impermanence (mujô) is itself permanence (ujô)"; SBGZS (4.116): "The kôan is realized (kôan genjô) in each time (ichiji) as this 'going' and 'not going'; SBGZKT (2.564): "Both 'going' and 'not going' are 'time'."

20. "Beating the cart" here is most often interpreted to refer to the physical practice of zazen, and "beating the ox" to the mental process of "making a buddha". (E.g., MG.4.115; KT.2.559.) The distinction here is perhaps akin to that made in the SBGZ shinjin gakudô, where Dôgen speaks of "studying with the mind" (shin o mote gaku [su] and "studying with the body" (mi o mote gaku su). (1:27.8-9)

"Ox-beating" (dagyû su): This odd English expression seeks to retain something of the style of Dôgen's use here of the double accusative in such forms as suikogyû wo dagyû su.

For more on bovines and beating, see supplemental note 8.

21. "Throwing out a tile to take in a jade" (hôsen ingyoku): In Chinese literary usage, a polite way to ask another for a capping verse for your poem; used in Chan for the give and take of Chan repartee (as, e.g., by Zhaozhou, at JDCDL,T.51).

"Turning the head and reversing the face" (kaitô kanmen): A common expression in Chan literature suggesting the notions both of a spiritual reversal and of the inseparability of awakening and delusion -- or, as probably in this case, of master and disciple.

22. "Sitting still" zaga: The translation follows the interpretation of most commentaries, which treat this term in reference to the "four postures": walking, standing, sitting and reclining (gyô jû za ga); hence, "sitting and reclining". The element ga here could also be interpreted as an intensive; hence, "sitting still" or "repose".

23. "Close and distant 'familial lines'" (shinso no meimyaku): Usually interpreted as referring here to the relationship between (our human) sitting and (the Buddha's) seated meditation.

"Wisdom and eradication" (chidan): The acquisition of enlightened knowledge and elimination of the "defilements" (bonnô; klesa) that are the two primary accomplishments separating a Buddha from an ordinary human.

See supplemental note 9 for an interpretation of this passage.

24. "No fixed mark" (hijôsô): The phrase might be more colloquially put, "not a fixed form". The translation here tries to preserve the technical sense of the "mark" (sô; laksana) of the Buddha's body, with which Dôgen will play in his comments. The discussion of this mark draws on the famous doctrine in the Diamond Sûtra that the true mark of a Buddha is not his thirty-two major marks and eighty minor physical signs of spiritual excellence but precisely his transcendence of all "marks", or phenomenal characteristics.

The translation here loses the play on the term ("fixed", "settled", "determined", etc.), used in the Buddhist lexicon for "meditation" (from samâdhi: "to hold [the mind] steady"); hence, the secondary sense here, "buddha is not marked by meditation".

25. Dôgen is here alluding to a sentence from Nanyue's answer to Mazu that he does not bother to quote: "In a nonabiding dharma, there should be no grasping or rejecting (shusha)".

26. Dôgen is no doubt alluding here to one of the most famous sayings of Chan, attributed to the Tang-dynasty master Linji: "If you meet the buddha, kill the buddha; if you meet an ancestor, kill the ancestor." (LJL, T47:500b22)

"Killing buddha" (setsubutsu): Dôgen's treatment of this binome plays on the syntatical parallel with zabutsu ("seated buddha"), to suggest that buddha is subject as well as object of the predicate. A similar play is possible with "killing people" (setsujin), the common term for "murderer".

27. In his commentary on this difficult passage, Nishiari Bokusan advises us to take the verb "grasp" (shû) here to mean complete identification with seated meditation, and to understand the expression "not reaching its principle" to mean "has already reached its principle." (SBGZ KT. 2:574.) He is probably right that, to make sense of this passage in its context, we must assume that here again Dôgen wants to give a positive connotation to both clauses of Nanyue's sentence, though clearly in this case we shall have to reach quite far for his principle.

28. The "radiance of the buddha" (butsu kômyô) refers to both the "physical" aureola said to emanate from his body and the inner effulgence of his perfect wisdom that "illumines" the world. In his SBGZ kômyô (DZZ.1:116-17), Dôgen identifies this radiance with the spiritual tradition of Bodhidharma and, as here, criticizes those who think of it as visible light. In this, he may well have had in mind the mystical visualization of such light (bukkô zanmai) popularized in his day by the Kegon master Kôben.

"Light from a pearl or fire" (juka no kôyô): Following the usual interpretation of juka as "pearl and fire". But note SBGZ STR (4:215), which suggests that it may refer to the light of the "fire pearl" (kaju) known from ancient Chinese sources.

29. The last roll of the JDCDL, compiled in 1004, includes a "Zuochan zhen" by Wuyun (Zhifeng) Heshang (909-85) (T.51:459c-60a); the Jiatai pudeng lu, compiled in 1204, records a "Zuochan ming" by Foyan (Longmen Qing) Yuan Chanshi (1607-1120) (ZZ.2B, 10:214b).

30. Taza sude ni nanji ni arazu kufû sara no onore to sôken se [zu]. A tentative translation of a passage variously interpreted. Some take the point to be simply that they never properly sit and hence do not engage in true practice; some would prefer to read the second clause to mean that, in their practice, they never encounter their (true) selves. Note that here and in the following sentence Dôgen has personified Zen practice as a conscious agent that encounters and chooses us.

31. "Reverting to the source" and "returning to the origin" (gengen henpon, more often in reverse order, henpon gengen) both suggest a notion of spiritual practice as the process of recovering the "original mind"; the expression is best known in Zen as the title of the ninth of Kuoan's famous Ten Oxherding Pictures (Jûgyû zu).

"Suspending considerations" and "congealing in tranquility" (sokuryo gyôjaku) suggest calm transic states free from all thinking; a similar expression, "suspending considerations and forgetting objects (xi lü wang yuan)," appears in Wuyun's "Zuochan zhen" (T.51:459c27), though the text itself also warns against attachment to the cultivation of samâdhi.

"Observation, exercise, infusion, cultivation" (kan ren kun ju): a set of terms, taken from the Dazhidu lun and used especially in Tiantai systems for the various "undefiled (muro; anâsrava) meditations; they are identified by Tiantai Zhiyi as the second of his three levels of meditation -- the "transmundane" (shutsu seken; lokottara) practices that rank above the "mundane" but below the "supreme (jôjô) transmundane" (see, e.g., his Fahua xuanyi).

"The ten stages and virtual enlightenment" (jûji tôgaku): The final phases of the bodhisattva path according to the fifty-two stage system, the latter being the penultimate state, just preceeding, but virtually equivalent to, buddhahood.

32. The text appears in the Hongzhi guanglu, T48:98a29-b5. Zhenjue received his title, "Chan Master Spacious Wisdom (Hongzhi chanshi)," from the Sung emperor Gao Zong.

33. A series of classical allusions to Chan expressions of wisdom, seen here as medical "lancets".

"Manifestation of the great function" (daiyô genzen): See Yuanwu's commentary to the Biyan lu, T.48:142c5.

"Comportment beyond sight and sound" (shôshiki kôjô igi): After a line by Xiangyan Zhixian (d.898), Liandeng huiyao, ZZ.2B,9:283c8.

"Juncture before your parents were born (or, in some interpretations, "before your parents gave birth")" (fubo mishô zen): After a question to Zhixian by his master Gueishan, ibid., 283b15.

"You had better not slander the buddhas and ancestors" (maku bô busso kô): Here probably after a remark of Guangxiao Huijue (dates unknown), LDHY, ZZ.279a16.

"Do not avoid destroying you body and losing your life" (mimen sôshin shitsumyô): Again from Zhixian (see note 13); also see Linji lu, T.47:496.

"A head of three feet and a neck of two inches" (zuchô sanjaku keitan nisun): From Dongshan Liangjie (807-69), JDCDL, T.51:323a8.

34. "My master had no such words" (senshi mu shi go): From a remark of Huijue, LDHY, ZZ.2B,9:279a16; usually understood to mean that the true ancestory lies beyond words.

"The dharma and robe are transmitted": A reference to the bequest of the teaching and robe of Bodhidharma that marks the Chan ancestral lineage.

"Essential function" and "functioning essence" translate yôki and kiyô, respectively. As binomes, both terms mean roughly what is pivotal, or essential; but it seems clear from his association of them with the head and face (for which see note 21) that Dôgen wants to understand the two component graphs in each case as expressing the classical metaphysical categories of "substance" (tai, the "head") and "function" (yô, the "face"), or essence and expression -- hence the rather forced translation.

35. Zaha jô shô hi: In colloquial usage, the term zaha may be read simply as "breaking" (as in expressions like zakyaku); the translation here reflects the Zen tradition of associating the element za with zazen.

"When they come in the light...": From a saying attributed to the wild Chan monk Puhua in the Linji lu (T.47:503b20); though its interpretation is much debated, it is usually taken here to suggest the detached spontaneity of the mind in meditation.

36. Ego fu ego: From a line in the Can tong qi, of Shitou Xiqian (700-791), JDCDL, T.51:459b10; usually interpreted to mean that [subject and object] are both independent and interdependent.

"Never hidden throughout the world" (henkai fu zô zô): From a saying of Shishuang Qingzhu (807-88), JDCDL, T.51:321a4; usually glossed here as [the object] is always manifest.

"It does not emerge when you break the world" (hakai fu shuttô): source to be identified.

37. Fuhô ichinin: From Dongshan Liangjie's "definition" of the trackless path of his famous "way of the birds" (niao dao), on which one is said not to "meet anyone." (JDCDL, T.51:322c22.)

The "Yu Gate" (umon) refers to Longmen (present-day Shansi Province), the rapids on the Yellow River beyond which the climbing carp is said to change into a dragon; here, taken as a metaphor for the point of awakening.

"Brisk and lively (kappatsupatsu): The translation loses the piscine imagerey of this term, an onomatopoeic expression, much favored in Chan, for the leaping of the carp as it climbs upstream.

"Buddhas of previous 'discrimination'" (isô funbetsu naru butsubutsu): For an interpretation of this rather obscure passage, see supplemental note 10.

38. Dôgen's "doubts" (gijaku) here are usually taken in the sense, "there is more to this than meets the eye."

"Sign (chô): A "portent", or indication of what is to come; hence Hongzhi's mysterious illumination is usually taken as knowledge of that which "precedes" all things.

"It is not yet brought out" (imada shôrai se[zu]): sometimes identified as an allusion to a question posed to the Chan master Zhaozhou by his disciple Yanyang Shanxin: "How is it when nothing's been brought out?" (Zongrong lu, no. 57, T.48:263a25).

"Without peer" (mugû), "rare" (ki): The translation loses the play in Honzhi's verse on "odd" (gû) and "even" (ki); hence, the additional sense, "its knowing is 'singular', not 'dual'".

39. Kotai no fugyô chôdô: an allusion to Dongshan's remark that "[the original face] does not follow the path of the bird" (JDCDL, T.51:322c26).

The "vessel world" (kikai, bhâjana-loka) refers to the natural world, seen as the container of sentient beings.

Dôgen's commentary here takes advantage of Hongzhi's expression, tettei, which conveys both a literal and a figurative sense of "getting to the bottom of something."

40. Shi zai shari: Dôgen is here alluding to a conversation between the Tang-dynasty masters Bochang and Mazu over a passing flock of wild geese. When Mazu asked where the birds were going, Bochang said they had flown away. Mazu twisted Bochang's nose and said, "You say they've flown away, but from the beginning they're right here." (Shôbô genzô sanbyaku soku, DZZ.2:233. Dôgen's text seems to conflate the original story [see Liandeng hui yao, ZZ.2B,9:247b] with the interlinear comments in the Biyan lu [T.48:187c21].)

"You should go off..." (jiki shu sokka mu shi ko: from Dongshan's "explanation" (JDCDL, T.51:322c23) of how one is to follow his "path of the bird"; usually interpreted to mean one should go without leaving a trace (of his sandal strings).

"Sky" kû: The translation, of course, misses the play throughout this passage on the Buddhist use of this graph to represent sûnyatâ, "emptiness".

41. That is, in Hongzhi's (and Dôgen's) Caodong lineage descended from the Tang master Dongshan Liangjie.

"My former master" (senshi): I.e., Tiantong Rujing. Dôgen's appeal to his Juching's appreciation of Hongzhi is repeated in the SBGZ ô saku sendaba (DZZ.1:595); in the context there, it seems clear that Dôgen had in mind in particular a remark in the Nyojô goroku (T48:127a25). Hongzhi, of course, had been the most famous abbot of Rujing's Tiantong monastery.

"Know the music" (chi in): The translation tries to preserve the etymological sense of this expression meaning "to know another's true heart", "to be a true friend"; from the ancient Chinese story of Zhong Zi Qi, who is said to have known the state of mind of his friend Bai Ya from the sound (in) of his music.

42. "Third year of Ninji": I.e., 1242.

"Twenty-seventh year of Shaoxing": I.e., 1157, when Hongzhi died.

43. "Present" (gen) and "completed" (jô): The two elements of the binome, genjô, translated earlier as "realization".

"Intimate" (shin) and "verification" (shô): From the term, shinshô, "intimate verification," an expression for enlightened understanding much favored by Dahui.

"Stain or defilement" (senna): Famous in the saying, "The way does not depend on cultivation; only don't defile it" -- words often directed against meditation (as by Dahui, at Dahui yulu, T.47:b2).

"Upright or inclined" (shôhen): Terms for absolute and relative used in the famous schema of five ranks (wu wei) developed by Dongshan and Caoshan (on which Hongzhi wrote an appreciative verse [Hongzhi guanglu, T.48:99a]).