Aug 30 2013

Eihei Dogen – Zazen

Published by at 10:17 am under Poetry

by Eihei Dogen

English version by Steven Heine

The moon reflected
In a mind clear
As still water:
Even the waves, breaking,
Are reflecting its light.

— from The Zen Poetry of Dogen: Verses from the Mountain of Eternal Peace, by Steven Heine

/ Photo by Diego3336 /

Zazen is the practice of sitting meditation with Zen — so let’s meditate together…

Moon and water and mind.

The moon reflected
In a mind clear
As still water

Dogen is building on a classic spiritual image: the mind as a lake or pool of water. When the mind is still, it becomes clear, and its calm face reflects the gentle light of heaven (the moon).

This is so much of what meditation practice aims for, settling the mind. Sometimes our meditation is filled with effort, even aggression, attempting to subdue the movements of the mind. Sometimes our meditation is more forgiving, we stop interfering with the mind and simply observe it until, of its own accord, it quiets and calms.

All in order to see clearly the light of the moon.

But so often, with or without effort, that agitated mind just doesn’t want to settle. What then, meditators?

Even the waves, breaking,
Are reflecting its light.

Dogen reminds us that, if we learn to really look, we can glimpse the reflected light even in the moving waves of the mind. The mind may move, or it may yet grow still, but the goal is reached.

And so the last of our excuses falls away. We meditate effortlessly, we meditate with effort. We meditate with still mind, and we meditate amidst busy mind. Clarity is still found.

Eihei Dogen, Eihei Dogen poetry, Buddhist poetry Eihei Dogen

Japan (1200 – 1253) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

Dogen, sometimes respectfully referred to as Dogen Zenji, was a key figure in the development of Japanese Zen practice and the founder of the Soto Zen sect.

Dogen was born about 1200 in Kyoto, Japan. At the age of 17, he was formally ordained as a Buddhist monk. Considering the Japaanese Buddhism of the time to be corrupt and influenced by secular power struggles, Dogen traveled to China to discover the heart of the Dharma by studying Ch’an (Zen) Buddhism at several ancient monasteries.

Much of the Ch’an Buddhism he explored utilized koans and “encounter dialogues” to startle the consciousness into enlightenment, but Dogen was critical of this practice. Instead, he was drawn to the teachings of silent meditation.

Dogen returned to Japan in 1236. He left the politicized environment of Kyoto, and settled in the mountains and snow country of remote Echizen Province, where he established his own school of Zen, the Soto school.

While he proved to be a talented writer and poet, the core of Dogen’s teaching was to transcend the mind’s addiction to language and form in order to become fully present and recognize one’s inherent enlightenment.

More poetry by Eihei Dogen

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