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Diamond Sangha
Sesshin Sutra Book

December 1991 version
Translations/revisions by Robert Aitken Roshi
of the Diamond Sangha Zen Buddhist Society,
Koko An, 2119 Kaloa Way, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA 96822

Song on Realizing the Tao

by Yung-chia Hsuan-ch'e (Yoka Genkaku)

An exetremely abridged version of Nyogen Senzaki's commentary follows each stanza. Observing the traditional style of explication, he has somethig to say about every line, every half line, of every stanza.

His comments include stories alluded to in the verse, explanation of terms and concepts, and at times challenging the reader to come forth with his or her understanding.

It's clear that his intent was to instruct and help his students understand and interpret this poem. It's no wonder that Robert Aitken calls his old teacher "an American Hotei."

Nyogen's liberal translation of Shodoka is a "grandmotherly" rendition well worth investigating. The leaner version given here is meant to facilitate group recitation, as well as preserve the meaning of the original Chinese.

For Nyogen's translation and the full commentary refer to Buddhism and Zen by Nyogen Senzaki and Ruth Strout McCandless.

There is the leisurely one,
Walking the Tao, beyond philosophy,
Not avoiding fantasy, not seeking truth.
The real nature of ignorance is the Buddha-nature itself; The empty delusory body is the very body of the Dharma.

If you try to avoid idle thoughts or delusions when you meditate, you cannot enter Samadhi. Whoever seeks after the truth will remain behind the truth. What you consider idle thoughts or delusions are nothing but waves on the vast ocean of Buddha-nature.Just as there are no waves apart from the water, there is no delusion, no idle thought, no ignorance separate from Buddha-nature.

When the Dharma body awakens completely,
There is nothing at all.
The source of our self-nature
Is the Buddha of innocent truth.
Mental and physical reactions come and go
Like clouds in the empty sky;
Greed, hatred, and ignorance appear and disappear
Like bubbles on the surface of the sea.

When one recognizes the Dharma-body as such, no matter hw beautifully he may define it or describe it, he is still lingering in dualism. but once he has unified himself with the Dharma-body, there is no more and there is no less.

America has had Zen students in the past, has them in the present, and will have many of them in the future. They mingle easily with so-called worldlings. They play with children, repect king and beggars, and handle gold and silver as pebbles and stones.

When we realize actuality,
There is no distinction between mind and thing
And the path to hell instantly vanishes.
If this is a lie to fool the world,
My tongue may be cut out forever.

When Yokadaishi said, "If you live in this Zen, you can leave hell in your dreams of yesterday, and make your own paradise wherever you stand. . . ," he did not mean that an enlightened man can ignore the law of causation. A person creates his own hell in which to suffer, and no one can save him but himself.

Once we awaken to the Tathagata-Zen,
The six noble deeds and the ten thousand good actions
Are already complete within us.
In our dream we see the six levels of illusion clearly;
After we awaken the whole universe is empty.

.  .  . one whose meditation is mature receives the same genealogical wisdom. For this reason, Zen lives vividly through human experiences, transcending all scriptures and sectarian doctrines.

No bad fortune, no good fortune, no loss, no gain;
Never seek such things in eternal serenity.
For years the dusty mirror has gone uncleaned,
Now let us polish it completely, once and for all.

Who has no-thought? Who is not-born?
If we are truly not-born,
We are not un-born either.
Ask a robot if this is not so.
How can we realize ourselves
By virtuous deeds or by seeking the Buddha?

Yokadaishi says, "Ask a robot whether he is happy or not." I can hear you complain, "Is Zen going to compel me to become a robot?" Do you wish to suffer, filling your mind with illusions? Do you know nothing of the joy of giving thoughts enough room in which to stretch themselves and grow? A Zen student has more time to enjoy life because he allows himself to think or to do one thing at a time, and does not block the flow of inner wisdom with the trash of delusions.

Release your hold on earth, water, fire, wind; Drink and eat as you wish in eternal serenity. All things are transient and completely empty; This is the great enlightenment of the Tathagata.

Buddhism does not see mind and body as two different things. When it refers to the four elements, earth, water, fire, and air, it does not mean only the elements of the material world, but also the conditions of the mind as psychological phenomena. In Pali these four elements are called pathavi (solidity), apo (cohesion), tejo (radiability), and vayn (movability). Zen does not cling to these elements but instead lives in Mind-Essence leaving behind both mind and body. A Zen student "drinks or eats," that is, he lives his everyday life according to his own true nature.

Transience, emptiness and enlightenment --
These are the ultimate truths of Buddhism;
Keeping and teaching them is true Sangha devotion.
If you don`t agree, please ask me about it.
Cut out directly the root of it all, --
This is the very point of the Buddha-seal.
I can't respond to any concern about leaves and branches.

People do not recognize the Mani-jewel.
Living intimately within the Tathagata-garbha,
It operates our sight, hearing, smell, taste, sensation, awareness;
And all of these are empty, yet not empty.

The mani-jewel is a legendary gem of old India that fulfills all desires of its possessor. Buddhists work for desirelessness, treasuring calmness and contentment and looking forward to the highest wisdom and moral perfection. Yokadaishi uses "mani-jewel" metaphorically, saying that it can be found in "the secret place of Tathagata." But Tathagata has nothing to do with time or place.

Everything appears through contact of subjective and objective elements, and you recognize and name them in terms of relativity. This is the performance of the mani-jewel, which subjectively you call your true-self, and objectively, Buddha-nature.

Stanzas 11- 20
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Notes and comments are lifted from the endnotes of the Empty Sky compilation of these Zen Buddhist texts and The Syllabus section of Encouraging Words - zen buddhist teachings for western students by Robert Aitken Roshi

Yung-chia Hsuan-ch'e (Yoka Genkaku Daishi 665-713) was student of Hui-neng, the Sixth Patriarch of China.

Buddhism & Zen

Dharma Heroes

Nyogen Senzaki

Shodoka is memorized in its entirely by students in China, Korea and Japan, and they are often inspired during its recitation.
- from Buddhism and Zen

Dharma-body: original person in full; the sound of one hand; the eternal Buddha.

Six Noble Deeds

  1. Dana (charity)
  2. Sila (keeping the precepts)
  3. Ksanti (perseverance)
  4. Virya (striving)
  5. Dhyana (meditation)
  6. Prajna (wisdom)

Six Levels of Illusion

  1. Naraka (hell)
  2. Preta (hungry devil)
  3. Tiryag-yoni (animal mind)
  4. Asura (fighting devil)
  5. Manusya (human being)
  6. Deva (superior man)

Tathagata: Buddha; Mind-Essence; Eternal Presence; Eternal Now.


The ascii version of these texts can be acquired from the Electronic Buddhist Archives section of the Coombspapers Social Sciences Research Data Bank