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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.

The rays shining from this perfect Mani-jewel
Have the form of no form at all.
Clarify the five eyes and develop the five powers;
This is not intellectual work, -- just realize, just know.
It is not difficult to see images in a mirror,
But who can take hold of the moon in the water?

Everyone knows that the physical eye must have light in order to see, and that even then sight is not to be relied upon implicitly.

Modern science has developed the heavenly eye in the telescope and the microscope. Bringing into the range of vision things that could not otherwise be seen.

The Prajna or wisdom eye views the world without desire and the person who possesses it can avoid entangling, dualistic thoughts.

The Dharma eye is the eye of higher wisdom in the world of discrimination. A Zen student who has sound knowledge of modern science and philosophy; and is well acquainted with other religions and the cultures of many lands so that he may view the conditions of other beings with sympathy and tolerance, is using the vision of Dharma.

The Buddha eye is the perfect eye. When a student attains complete realization, he sees the world in truth as it is in reality. This is the eye of perfect compassion free of all defilement.

The five powers are self-evident. Faith allows one to stand firmly in truth; energy is necessary: to continue the climb; memory increases and enriches knowledge; meditation guards a person's calmness, which is the source of the fifth power: Prajna, the wisdom of emancipation.

Always working alone, always walking alone,
The enlightened one walks the free way of Nirvana
With melody that is old and clear in spirit
And naturally elegant in style,
But with body that is tough and bony,
Passing unnoticed in the world.

We know that Shakya's sons and daughters
Are poor in body, but not in the Tao.
In their poverty, they always wear ragged clothing,
But they have the jewel of no price treasured within.

This jewel of no price can never be used up
Though they spend it freely to help people they meet.
Dharmakaya, Sambogakaya, Nirmanakaya,
And the four kinds of wisdom
Are all contained within.
The eight kinds of emancipation and the six universal powers
Are all impressed on the ground of their mind.

When you hear the sound of one hand, you have mirror-intuition. When you can put out a light one thousand miles away, you are practicing your intuition of identity. When you can tell me whether the man you meet is your younger brother or older brother, you have a clear perception of relations. When you can show me how you enter an object, such as a stick of incense, and pay homage to all the Buddhas, you are proving your knowledge of doing work in Zen.

The best student goes directly to the ultimate,
The others are very learned but their faith is uncertain.
Remove the dirty garments from your own mind;
Why should you show off your outward striving?

Some may slander, some may abuse;
They try to set fire to the heavens with a torch
And end by merely tiring themselves out.
I hear their scandal as though it were ambrosial truth;
Immediately everything melts
And I enter the place beyond thought and words.

One night many years ago a blind man, visiting a friend, was offered a lantern to carry home with him.

"I do not need a lantern," he said, "darkness and light are the same to me."

"I know you do not need a lantern to find your way home," his friend replied, "but if you do not take it, someone else may run into you. You must take it."

The blind man took the lantern, but before he had gone very far, someone walked straight into him.

"Look where you're going," the blind man exclaimed. "Can't you see this lantern?"

"Your candle has burned out," the stranger answered.

Always be sure your candle is burning, both for your own safety and for the sake of others.

When I consider the virtue of abusive words,
I find the scandal-monger is my good teacher.
If we do not become angry at gossip,
We have no need for powerful endurance and compassion.

To be mature in Zen is to be mature in expression,
And full-moon brilliance of dhyana and prajna
Does not stagnate in emptiness.
Not only can I take hold of complete enlightenment by myself,
But all Buddha-bodies, like sands of the Ganges,
Can become awakened in exactly the some way.

The incomparable lion-roar of doctrine
Shatters the brains of the one hundred kinds of animals.
Even the king of elephants will run away, forgetting his pride;
Only the heavenly dragon listens calmly, with pure delight.

When a Zen student comes for Sanzen, he strikes the bell twice without the slightest fear. In that moment he transcends both birth and death; he is beyond space and time. What he says now comes directly from his own Buddha-nature and is called the "roar of the lion." This does not mean that he shouts. He is not an empty radio turned on at full volume.

Sometimes a student will bring a bag full of answers, trying one after another to fit the question, but he is like a peddler in a vain attempt to please a customer. Instead of reaching the palace of wisdom, he will return to his old alley of blind faith with all the stray cats that symbolize superstition.

I wandered over rivers and seas, crossing mountains and streams,
Visiting teachers, asking about the Way in personal interviews;
Since I recognized the Sixth Founding Teacher at Ts'ao Ch'i,
I know what is beyond the relativity of birth and death.

Although many of the koans and Zen stories are woven around traveling or secluded monks, nothing will be achieved by our clinging to and imitating these outward circumstances. A Zen student is neither a misanthropist nor a misogynist, so there is no need to shut himself up in some forest cabin or to avoid the opposite sex. He just controls his own environment and masters his situation wherever he stands.

In order to know the author of this poem intimately, we must remember the last line of the stanza, "Now I know my true being has nothing to do with birth and death." This is your koan. How can you free yourself from birth and death? What is your true being? No, no! Do not think about it! Just gaze at it closely.

1-10 Stanzas 21- 30
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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

Five Eyes

  1. physical
  2. heavenly
  3. Prajna
  4. Dharma
  5. Buddha-vision

Five Powers
  1. faith
  2. energy
  3. memory
  4. meditation
  5. wisdom

Four Wisdoms

  1. mirror intution
  2. intuition of identity
  3. clear perception of relations
  4. knowledge of work

Sanzen: the examination of a student by a teacher.

Sixth Founding Teacher: Hui Neng


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