Two verses go by the same name. 1. Verse chanted in connection with ceremony of taking precepts (tokudo shiki 得度式), and in funeral of a lay follower (danshinto sōgi 檀信徒喪儀):
In the round of rebirth in the three realms,
the bonds of love cannot be severed.
To cast off human relations and enter into the unconditioned
is the true repayment of blessings .
ruden san gai chu 流轉三界中
on nai funō dan 恩愛不能斷
kion nyu mui 棄恩入無爲
shin jitsu ho on sha 眞實報恩者
In East Asia (the sphere of Chinese cultural influence), where the influence of Confucian values is strong, children are enjoined to "repay the blessings" (hōon 報恩) bestowed by the parents who gave them life, cared for them in childhood, and continue to aid them in adulthood. That repayment, traditionally, consists of honoring and obeying parents, caring for them in their old age, and making regular offerings of nourishment (kuyō 供養) to their spirits when they have passed on to the afterlife. In the case of sons, in particular, it also means having children (at least one son) to carry on the family line and ensure that there will always be descendants to care for the ancestral spirits. To leave home (shukke 出家) and become a celibate monk, therefore, could be criticized as a selfish, unfilial act that failed to meet one's obligations to one's parents. This verse speaks to that criticism by arguing, as Buddhists in China were wont to do, that becoming a monk and gaining liberation from the round of rebirth is the best and truest way of repaying blessings received from parents and ancestors. ☞ "blessings."
In modern Soto Zen, becoming a monk does not entail celibacy, and most monks are ordained by their own fathers, so the problem that this verse addresses scarcely exists. Indeed, many young men enter the clergy precisely because they feel obligated to succeed their fathers as abbots and care for their parents in old age: if there is no successor to a deceased abbot within his own family, then his widow, children, and grandchildren may not be able to remain in the temple that is their home.
2. Verse chanted whenever shaving (jōhatsu 淨髮), as is done routinely on "4" and "9" days:
In shaving off beard and hair,
we pray that all living beings
should forever be free from mental afflictions
and in the end attain nirvana.
teijo shuhatsu 剃除鬚髮
to gan shujō 當願衆生
yōri bon no 永離煩惱
kugyō jakumetsu 究竟寂滅