John Daido Loori comments on koans from Dogen’s Treasury of the True Dharma Eye
Japanese master Eihei Dogen is best known for his comprehensive and profound masterwork, the Kana, or Japanese, Shobogenzo. This monumental achievement, a collection of ninety-five discourses and essays composed in Japanese between 1231 and 1253, is a unique expression of the buddhadharma based on Dogen’s profound religious experience.
A lesser-known work of Dogen’s is his Mana Shobogenzo, or Shobogenzo Sambyakusoku (Treasury of the True Dharma Eye: Three Hundred Cases), a collection of three hundred case koans written in Chinese. This seminal work, which was to influence all of Dogen’s other teachings, remained in obscurity for many centuries. Dogen culled the three hundred case koans collected in the Mana Shobogenzo from Zen texts of the Song era during his travels in China between 1223 and 1227. And, unlike the classic collections of the period, these cases are not accompanied by either a title or a commentary.
In writing commentaries for these koans, I have tried to embody Dogen’s unique perspective, applying it to situations that modern day practitioners face. Every one of the elements of the commentary—the commentary itself, the verse, and the notes—challenges the student to see the koan broadly and deeply, rather than just the main point as in the wato style of koan study. They are also an invitation to reflect upon the koan’s relevance to everyday life situations so that the dharma can come down from the top of the mountain where enlightenment occurs and be manifested in the world.
The commentaries are short, in the style of the Gateless Gate, and they take up the different points—both primary and secondary—that need to be dealt with if the koan is to be understood in its entirety. The capping verses, used extensively in Zen, are in effect dharma words. They are a poetic expression of the heart of the koan. The notes act as footnotes to help clarify what is being said in each line of dialogue. And finally there is kyogai, the way in which a koan affects your consciousness—in other words, the effect that it has on your life. This is ultimately where it counts. Because no matter how many hundreds of koans you pass through, if they do not change the way you relate to the rest of the world, then they are nothing but intellectual exercises. And as I’ve said before, koan introspection is not about gaining information; it is about transforming your life.
For me, the comparative use of the two Shobogenzos and of Dogen’s other writings, in conjunction with the traditional koans, in koan study and introspection, is of more than just theoretical interest. It is very practical. This kind of study has opened up new possibilities in the training of Western students of koan study in a way that addresses their natural philosophical and psychological inclinations, without abandoning the heart of the dharma that was transmitted from Sakyamuni Buddha to the present. Seen within the context of Dogen’s outstanding body of work, the Mana Shobogenzo will, it is hoped, enable readers to appreciate the endless breadth and depth inherent in the teachings of this incomparable Zen master.
Yangshan’s “It’s Not That There Is No Enlightenment”
Mihu of Jingzhao had a monastic ask Yangshan,1 “Can people these days depend on enlightenment?”2
Yangshan said, “It’s not that there is no enlightenment,3 but how can we deal with falling into the secondary?”4
The monastic returned and reported this to Jingzhao, who then approved Yangshan.5
Enlightenment is not simply the absence of delusion, nor is it true that because there is enlightenment there is no delusion. Delusion does not become enlightenment. It is beginningless and endless. Enlightenment does not follow delusion. It is beginningless and endless. Thus, they are always manifesting in the present moment.
There is delusion within enlightenment, as there is enlightenment within delusion. Enlightenment can only be realized within delusion; delusion can only be realized within enlightenment.
With self and other forgotten, how can you even speak of them? Bringing them up in the first place makes them two. The nature of diamond wisdom is that it includes the whole universe.
Endless blue mountains,
free of even a particle of dust.
Boundless rivers of tumbling torrents,
1. Everyone in the whole world is the same. Still, it’s important to investigate.
2. Practitioners inevitably get lost here, building nests and calling it the great matter.
3. He gingerly tiptoes barefoot through the dog shit.
4. Now he has dragged the monastic into it.
5. Although it’s true, it’s too bad he had to say so. Now people everywhere will carry this around for several decades.
Naynyue Polishes a Brick
Zen master Mazu Daoyi was an attendant to Nanyue and personally received the mind seal from him, exceeding his peers. Before that, he lived in Kaiyuan Monastery and did zazen all day long. Knowing that Mazu was a dharma vessel, Nanyue went to him and asked, “Great monastic, what do you intend by doing zazen?”1
Mazu said, “I am intending to be a buddha.”2
Nanyue picked up a brick and started polishing it.3
Mazu said, “What are you doing?”4
Nanyue said, “I am trying to make a mirror.”5
Mazu said, “How can you make a mirror by polishing a brick?”6
Nanyue said, “How can you become a buddha by doing zazen?”7
Mazu said, “What do you mean by that?”8
Nanyue said, “Think about driving a cart. When it stops moving, do you whip the cart or the horse?”
Mazu said nothing.
Nanyue said, “Do you want to practice sitting Zen or sitting Buddha? If you understand sitting Zen, you will know that Zen is not about sitting or lying down.9 If you want to learn sitting Buddha, know that sitting Buddha is without any fixed form.10 Do not use discrimination in the nonabiding dharma. If you practice sitting as Buddha, you must kill Buddha.11 If you are attached to the sitting form, you are not yet mastering the essential principle.”12
Mazu heard this admonition and felt as if he had tasted sweet nectar.
You should understand that zazen is not meditation or contemplation; it is not about quieting the mind, focusing the mind, or studying the mind; it is not mindfulness or mindlessness. If you want to really understand zazen, then know that zazen is not about sitting or lying down. Zazen is zazen; it is undefiled.
With regard to “sitting Buddha,” you should understand that the very moment of “sitting Buddha” is the killing of Buddha. Thus, sitting Buddha is beyond any set form and has no abode. Therefore, when the brick is a mirror, Mazu is Buddha. When Mazu is Buddha, Mazu is at once Mazu. When Mazu is Mazu, his zazen is immediately zazen. Each thing is not transformed into the other, but is, in fact, originally the other. Practice is the unfoldment.
The reality of the universe fills your body and mind, yet it is not manifest without practice, nor is it realized without enlightenment. Unless you are prepared to move forward and take risks, the truth of your life and of the universe is never realized as this very life itself.
All of this notwithstanding, what is the truth of the universe that fills your body and mind? Don’t tell me—show me.
On the tips of ten thousand grasses,
each and every dewdrop contains the light of the moon.
Since the beginning of time,
not a single droplet has been forgotten.
Although this is so,
some may realize it, and some may not.
1. Is this a real dragon or an imitation?
2. Can Buddha become Buddha?
3. What exists is not just what appears before our eyes.
4. He wants to understand.
5. What is he saying, really?
8. He understands polishing the brick, but does he understand the mirror?
9. Then what is it?
10. Nor any abode.
11. The virtue of realizing Buddha reveals killing Buddha.
12. It simply makes it two.
Minister Peixiu Sees a Portrait
Huangbo once left his assembly at Mount Huangbo and entered Daan Temple. There he joined the workers who cleaned the halls.1 Once, Minister Peixiu visited the temple to offer incense and was greeted by the temple director. Peixiu looked at a mural on the wall and said, “What kind of painting is that?”2
The director said, “It is a portrait of a high monastic.”3
Peixiu said, “Obviously it is a portrait. But where is the high monastic?”4
The director could not answer.
Peixiu said, “Is there a Zen person around here?”
The director said, “A monastic has been working in this temple. He seems to be a Zen person.”
Peixiu said, “Could you ask him to come so I can ask him questions?”
Huangbo was quickly brought to the minister, who was happy to see him. The minister said, “I have a question, but all the masters I have asked this question of have been unable to answer it. Reverend, would you please respond to it?”
Huangbo said, “Please present your question, my lord.”
Peixiu repeated the question he had asked the temple director.
Huangbo raised his voice, called out and said, “Minister!”5
Peixiu responded, “Yes?”6
Huangbo said, “Where are you?”7
Peixiu immediately understood.8 It was just like finding a pearl in his own hair. He said to Huangbo, “You are a true master.” Then he asked Huangbo to open the teaching hall and let him enter.
Mountains and rivers are not seen in a mirror. If you go to a mirror to see them, you make one reality into two things. Just let mountains be mountains and rivers be rivers. Each thing, perfect and complete, abides in its own dharma state.
Within the myriad sounds and forms of the ten thousand things, ultimately there is neither a single particle to be found nor the subtlest sound to be heard. You can only nod to yourself. To reach this realm, all mental activity and understanding must be cut off. But say, if mountains and rivers are not seen in a mirror, where can you see them?
Seeing forms and hearing sounds intimately
is whole body and mind seeing and hearing.
It’s not like reflections in a mirror or echoes in the valley—
when you really see, you go blind,
when you really hear, you go deaf.
1. Wandering about, gouging healthy flesh.
2. This is not a casual question; the questioner is not a casual visitor.
3. He stumbles into a pit.
4. This one is not so easily satisfied.
5. It reaches heaven and covers the earth.
6. The calling was good but the answering was even better.
7. Indeed, who are you; what are you?
8. Tell me, what is it that he understood?
Qingyuan’s “Come Closer”
Once a monastic asked Qingyuan, “What is the meaning of Bodhidharma’s coming from India?”1
Qingyuan said, “It’s just like this!”2
The monastic asked further, “What do you have to teach these days?”3
Qingyuan said, “Come closer.”4
The monastic moved closer.5
Qingyuan said, “Keep this in mind.”6
The Great Way has no side roads. Those who walk it have all settled the true imperative. The truth is not in seeing or hearing, nor can it be found in words and ideas. When you have passed through the forest of brambles and have untied the chains of Buddha and dharma, only then will you have entered the peaceful dwelling.
In bringing it out for this monastic, Qingyuan is still dripping with water and covered in mud, but alas! the monastic could not get it—how awkward. Be that as it may, if you yourself can see into Qingyuan’s truth, and see that the nature of coming and going is not a matter of understanding, then his compassionate effort will not have been in vain after all.
The bright shining sun
lights up the sky.
The pure whispering wind
covers the earth.
1. This question has been batted about Zen monasteries for fifteen centuries; still, it remains fresh.
2. Each step follows the other.
3. This monastic is not very alert. Hello! Is there anyone at home?
4. He’s so kind. A smack on the side of his head would do as well.
5. Can you beat that? He understood.
6. This instruction may be difficult for this monastic.
Zhaozhou’s “Losing the Mind in Confusion”
Zhaozhou said to the assembly, “ ‘If you have even a bit of discrimination, you lose your mind in confusion.’1 Do you have anything to say about this?”2
A monastic hit Zhaozhou’s attendant and said, “Why don’t you answer the master?”3
Zhaozhou left and went back to the abbot’s room.4 Later the attendant asked Zhaozhou for guidance and said, “Did that monastic who struck me have understanding, or did he not?”5
Zhaozhou said, “The one who sits sees the one who stands; the one who stands sees the one who sits.”6
Zhaozhou often uses the Third Ancestor’s saying to test people, since there are many who misunderstand this phrase. They take his instructions as endorsement of blank consciousness. This is because they have not yet understood that in one there are many, and in two there is no duality.
Zhaozhou always deals with people from the perspective of the fundamental matter. Thus, he said, “The one who sits sees the one who stands; the one who stands sees the one who sits.”
When thoughts disappear,
the thinker disappears.
When the mind is at peace,
the whole universe is at peace.
1. It would seem that old master Jianzhi Sengcan (the Third Ancestor) is still prowling about.
2. What can possibly be said?
3. Although he acts like a good monastic, is he really?
4. Enough of this foolishness.
5. Although it may seem like a pitfall, it’s not.
6. It just doesn’t fall to this side or that side.
Dongshan’s “Going Beyond Buddha”
Zen master Dongshan Liangjie [Wuben] of Mount Dong said to the assembly, “Experience going beyond Buddha1 and say a word.”2
A monastic asked him, “What is saying a word?”3
Dongshan said, “When you say a word, you don’t hear it.”4
The monastic said, “Do you hear it?”5
Dongshan said, “When I am not speaking, I hear it.”6
The great matter of the experience of going beyond Buddha is not contained within practice nor attained after enlightenment. It is simply that when you speak about it, you cannot hear it. Manifesting outside of patterns and forms, it is not a matter of cause and effect. This is the wisdom that has no teacher. Therefore, it is not contained in either words or silence, hearing or not hearing.
It cannot be described;
it cannot be pictured.
The beauty of this garden
is invisible to even the great sages.
The magnitude of this dwelling is so vast,
no teaching can stain it.
1. There is such a thing, you know, but only a handful have experienced it.
2. With your throat, mouth, and lips shut, how will you speak?
3. From beginning to end, obscure and hard to understand.
4. When the tip of the tongue obstructs, you do not hear.
5. How can one get it by accepting another’s interpretation?
6. The old master has snatched the monastic’s ears and made off with his tongue.
Once a monastic asked Zen master Datong of Mount Touzi [Ciji], “How is it when the moon is not yet full?”1
Touzi said, “It swallows up three or four.”2
The monastic said, “How is it after the moon is full?”3
Touzi said, “It spits out seven or eight.”4
Master Touzi is equally at ease killing or giving life. See how what he says is always spontaneously in accord with the principle and intertwines with the imperative. He never loses touch with the essential matter.
The monastic’s question comes from within the realm of three or four, so old Touzi answers, “It swallows up three or four.” These days when practitioners get here, they think that this is it and go about making a nest, not realizing that it does not impart strength for the road. It would have been awkward if the monastic had not asked, “How is it after the moon is full?” After all, people have been known to drown on dry land. Touzi’s “It spits out seven or eight” almost settles the case, but still it must be said that this is only eighty percent of the truth. Furthermore, we should understand that the heart of Touzi’s teaching is not to be found in the moon.
Be that as it may, you tell me, what is the heart of Touzi’s teaching, and why is it still only eighty percent of the truth?
The light illuminates in accordance
with causes and circumstances, time and season.
In its fineness, it enters the spaceless,
in its boundlessness, it reaches everywhere.
1. Rattling his chains and dragging his net, he needs to know.
2. Not a particle of dust can be found anywhere.
3. You should not travel by night.
4. He exposes or transforms according to the occasion.
Yangshan’s “Dharma Positions”
Yangshan once asked his teacher, Zen master Guishan Lingyou [Dayuan] of Mount Gui, “How is it when millions of objects emerge all at once?”1
Guishan said, “Blue is not yellow. Long is not short.2 All things abide in their own positions.3 It does not concern me.”4
Each and all, the subjective and objective spheres are related, and at the same time independent. Related, yet working differently, though each keeps its own place. Two faces on a single die. Thus, no thing ever falls short of its own completeness; wherever it stands, it does not fail to cover the ground.
Though clouds may come
and clouds may go.
The pure wind that carries them,
only I can know.
1. Pick up the whole great earth in your fingers and it’s as big as a grain of rice.
2. The long one is a straight buddha, the bent one is a crooked buddha.
3. Perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
4. Don’t mistake no concern for not caring.
5. What did he see that made him bow?
Xuansha’s “One Bright Pearl”
Zen master Shibei of Xuansha [Zongyi] was once asked by a monastic, “You said that the entire world of the ten directions is one bright pearl.1 How can I understand the meaning of this?”2
Xuansha said, “The entire world of the ten directions is one bright pearl. Why is it necessary to understand the meaning of this?”3
On the following day Xuansha said to the monastic,4 “The entire world of the ten directions is one bright pearl. How do you understand the meaning of this?”5
The monastic replied, “The entire world of the ten directions is one bright pearl. Why is it necessary to understand the meaning of this?”6
Xuansha said, “Now I know that you are living inside the cave of demons on the black mountain.”7
When your life is not free of fixed positions, you drown in a sea of poison. Following after another’s words and mimicking others’ actions is the practice of monkeys and parrots. As a Zen practitioner you should be able to show some fresh provisions of your own. Be that as it may, you should understand that even in the cave of demons on the black mountain, the one bright pearl’s radiance is not diminished.
The question came from the cave of demons;
the master answered with a mud ball.
Beyond telling, absolutely beyond telling—
ultimately, we can only nod to ourselves.
1. Tens of thousands know it, but how many have realized it?
2. What is the meaning of the meaning?
3. There is no place to take hold of this. It’s sure to be misunderstood.
4. When he raises his head I can see horns. Be careful here!
5. Gaa! First he inflicts a flesh wound, now he goes for the monastic’s throat.
6. This monastic is not very alert; he sees a pit and jumps into it.
7. Xuansha is a competent teacher of our school. Why doesn’t he just drive him out?
Changsha’s “Returning to Mountains, Rivers, and the Great Earth”
Zen master Jingcen of Changsha [Zhaoxian] was once asked by a monastic, “How do you turn the mountains, rivers, and great earth and return to the self?”1
Changsha said, “How do you turn the self and return to the mountains, rivers, and great earth?”2
Responding to the myriad things from the perspective of the self is delusion. Manifesting the self from the perspective of the myriad things is enlightenment. From ancient times to the present, people have regarded the myriad things as separate from themselves, not realizing that the universe is the body of the Buddha—this very body and mind itself.
What do you see when you behold the mountain? Can you see the real form of truth? What do you hear when you listen to the river sounds? Can you hear the subtle gāthās of rock and water? Or are you trapped in the superficiality of sound and form?
Mountains, rivers, and the great earth are ceaselessly manifesting the teachings, yet they are not heard with the ear or seen with the eye. They can only be perceived with the whole body and mind. Be that as it may, how do you turn the self and return to the mountains, rivers, and the great earth? What is it that you are calling mountains, rivers, and the great earth? Indeed, where do you find your self?
There is no place to hide
the true self.
When the universe disintegrates,
“it” remains indestructible.
This gigantic body
ultimately has no abode.
1. What is he talking about? It seems he has confused the horse with the cart.
2. Back in your own backyard, there is no place this does not reach.