Dharma Eye
April 2001 Number8

Dogen Zenji's Genjo-koan Lecture (8)

Rev. Shohaku Okumura
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, p.148)

"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, 709-788).

"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 robe.

(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 practice.

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 is.

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 expressed.

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.

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