Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Shobogenzo Genjokoan a translation by Ted Biringer

Translation by Ted Biringer

When all things are seen as the Buddha-Dharma, then there is delusion and enlightenment, there is practice, there is life and there is death, there are Buddhas and there are ordinary beings.

When all things are seen as empty of self, there is no delusion and no enlightenment, no Buddhas and no ordinary beings, no life and no death.

The Buddha’s truth includes and transcends the many and the one, and so there is life and death, delusion and enlightenment, ordinary beings and Buddhas.

And though it is like this, it is simply that flowers, while loved, fall; and weeds, while hated, flourish.

That people drive the self to actualize awareness of the many things is delusion. That the many things actualize awareness of the self is enlightenment.

Those who are enlightened about delusion are Buddhas. Those who are deluded about enlightenment are ordinary beings.

There are people who continue to realize enlightenment based on enlightenment. There are people in the midst of delusion adding to delusion.

When Buddhas are Buddhas, they do not know they are Buddhas. Nevertheless, Buddhas are Buddhas and continuously actualize Buddhahood. Mustering the whole body-and-mind to look at forms, and mustering the whole body-and-mind to listen to sounds, they perceive them directly, but it is not like an image reflected in a mirror, and not like the reflection of the moon on water. As one side is revealed, the other side is concealed.

To realize the Buddha-Dharma is to realize your self. To realize your self is to forget your self. To forget your self is to be actualized by the many things. To be actualized by the many things is to allow the body-and-mind of your self and the body-and-mind of other than your self to fall away. All traces of enlightenment fall away, and the falling away of all traces of enlightenment is continuous.

The first moment you seek the Dharma you are far removed from the environs of Dharma. The first moment of true Dharma transmission your originally true nature is realized.

A person sailing along in a boat looking at the shore might have the illusion that the shore is moving. However, if they look closely at the boat they realize the boat is moving. Similarly, when they try to understand the many things based on deluded notions about body-and-mind they might have the illusion that their minds or nature are stationary. However, if they step back into fundamental awareness they realize nothing has a fixed self.

Firewood becomes ash; it can never go back to being firewood. Nevertheless, you should not take the view that ash is its future and firewood is its past. Remember that firewood abides in the Dharma position of firewood. It has a past and it has a future. Although it has a past and a future, the past and the future are cut off. Ash exists in the Dharma position of ash. It has a past and it has a future. The firewood, after becoming ash, does not again become firewood."

Similarly, human beings, after death, do not become alive again. This being so, it is the established tradition in the Buddha-Dharma to deny that life turns into death. This is why Buddhists speak of no appearance. In addition, it is the established teaching of the Buddha that death does not become life. This is why Buddhists speak of no disappearance. Life is an instantaneous situation, and death is an instantaneous situation. It is like winter and spring. You do not think that winter becomes spring, and you do not say that spring becomes summer.

A person experiencing enlightenment is like the moon being reflected in water: the moon does not get wet, and the water is not broken. Though its light is wide and great, the moon is reflected in a puddle of water an inch wide. The whole moon and the whole sky are reflected in a dewdrop on a blade of grass and are reflected in a single drop of water.

Enlightenment does not break a person, just as the moon does not pierce the water. A person does not constrict enlightenment, just as a dewdrop does not constrict the sky and moon. The depth of the drop is the height of the moon. Whether large or small, and whatever the length or shortness of its duration the whole sky and the whole moon are discerned in each body of water.

When the Dharma has not yet filled the whole body-and-mind people feel already replete with Dharma. When the Dharma fills the body-and-mind people feel something is lacking.

For example, when a person sails out beyond the mountains into the ocean, and looks around in the four directions, the ocean appears only to be round; it does not appear to have any other characteristics at all. Nevertheless, this great ocean is not round, and it is not square. There are an infinite number or qualities to the ocean: to fish it is like a palace; to gods it is like a string of pearls. Nevertheless, as far as someone’s eyes can see, it just appears to be round.

As it is for the ocean, so it is for the many things. There are a multitude of qualities in the world of form and the world of the void, but you see and understand only as far as your eyes of practice and realization are able to reach.

If someone wants to know how the many things really are, they should remember that besides appearing square or round, the qualities of the oceans and qualities of the mountains are infinitely numerous; there are worlds in the four directions. Not only the periphery is like this: remember, the immediate present, and a single drop of water are also like this.

When fish swim in the ocean, no matter how far they swim, there is no end to the water. When birds fly through the sky, no matter how far they fly, there is no end to the sky. While this is so, fish and birds have never left the water or the sky. Simply, when their ability is great, their usage is great, and when their ability is small, their usage is small. Thus, each realizes its full potential and each experiences its full realm. If a bird leaves the sky, it will die at once; and if a fish leaves the water, it will die at once. Therefore, you know that water is life and you know that sky is life. Birds are life, and fish are life. Hence, life is birds and life is fish. Beyond this, there may still be further progress. The existence of their practice and enlightenment, and the existence of their life, are like this.

This being so, a bird or fish that tried to move through the water or the sky only after getting to the bottom of the water or the sky, could never find its way or find its place in the water or the sky. When people find this place, this action is itself, the actualization of the fundamental point (genjokoan). When people find this way, this action is itself the actualization of the fundamental point (genjokoan). This way and this place are not great or small; not subjective or objective; they have not existed since the past nor do they arise in the present; they are simply as they are.

When a person is experiencing the practice and enlightenment of the Buddha-Dharma, each practice is complete practice, and meeting each thing is mastering it. Here, the place exists and the way unfolds, and therefore the area of enlightenment is not conspicuous. For this enlightenment and the Buddha-Dharma manifest simultaneously and are experienced simultaneously.

Do not assume that what is realized will be grasped by consciousness, or will be recognized by the intellect. Although the experience of the ultimate state is realized immediately, its mysterious existence is not a manifest realization. Realization of the inconceivable is the inconceivable itself.

Zen Master Baoche of Mount Mayu is using a fan.

A monk comes up and says, "The nature of air is ever-present, and there is no place it does not reach. Why then does the Master use a fan?"

The Master says, "You understand that the nature of air is ever-present, but you do not understand the truth that there is no place it does not reach."

The monk says, "What is the truth of there being no place it does not reach?"

At this, the Master just continues to use the fan.

The monk does prostrations.

The actualization of the Buddha-Dharma, the living way of authentic transmission, is like this.

A person who says that because the nature of air is ever-present they don’t need to use a fan, or that without using a fan they can know the ever-present nature of air, does not know ever-presence or the nature of air.

Because the nature of air is ever-present, the air of Buddhism manifests the gold of the Earth and ripens the Long River into fragrant cream.

Written and presented to my (Dogen’s) lay disciple, Koshu Yo, of Kyushu Island, in the mid-autumn of 1233. Revised in 1252

Feedback greatly appreciated!

Thank you,


Copyright Ted Biringer 2008


SlowZen said...

Just a quick question, what did you use as a source text? I ask because I find medieval Japanese characters really challenging, actually, I still find reading Japanese really challenging, so I was wondering if you used a modern source or the original text, if you got a copy of the original text, WOW! I want to see it!

Take care,

Ted Biringer said...

Hello Jordan,

Thanks for the question.

My only "hard copy" of Dogens work is the two vol. set of Okubo Doshu.

You can find the Japanese original online at Shomonji temple

Also, a great Shobogenzo resource is the Glasgow Zen Group site:

This is the latest version of my "Genjokoan" which I have been playing with for about 10 or 12 years.. Of course my Japanese is nearly non-existent now, though it never was much good. My version here is the result of years of comparing original and modern Japanese, and the "professional" translations of Hee-Jin Kim, Cleary, Aitken, Nishijima/Cross, Waddell, Abe, Mitchell, Okumura, and others...

Take care man,