On The Way: The Daily Zen Journal

April 05, 2012

Plum Blossoms

Dogen (1253)

My late master Taintong ascended the seat and taught the assembly:

Tiantong’s first phase of mid-winter:

Old plum tree bent and gnarled

All at once opens one blossom, two blossoms,

three, four, five blossoms, uncountable blossoms,

not proud of purity,

not proud of fragrance;

spreading, becoming spring,

blowing over grass and trees,

balding the head of a patch-robed monk.

Whirling, changing into wind, wild rain,

falling, snow, all over the earth.

The old plum tree is boundless.

A hard cold rubs the nostrils.

This old plum tree is boundless.  All at once its blossoms open, and of itself the fruit is born.

It forms spring; it forms winter.  It arouses wind and wild rain.  It is the head of a patch-robed monk; it is the eyeball of an ancient buddha.  It becomes grass and trees; it becomes pure fragrance.  Its whirling, miraculous transformation has no limit.  Furthermore, the treeness of the great earth, high sky, bright sun, and clear moon derives from the treeness of the old plum tree.  They have always been entangled, vine with vine.

When the old plum tree suddenly opens, the world of blossoming flowers arises. At the moment when the world of blossoming flowers arises, spring arrives.  There is a single blossom that opens five blossoms  At this moment of a single blossom, there are three, four, five blossoms, hundreds, thousands, myriads, billions of blossoms—countless blossoms.  Theses blossomings are not-being-proud-of one, two, or countless branches of the old plum tree.  An udumbara flower and blue lotus blossoms are also one or two branches of the old plum tree’s blossoms. Blossoming is the old plum tree’s offering.

The old plum tree is within the human world and the heavenly world. The old plum tree manifests both human and heavenly worlds in its treeness.  Therefore hundreds and thousands of blossoms are called both human and heavenly blossoms.  Myriads and billions of blossoms are buddha-ancestor blossoms.  In such a moment, “All the buddhas have appeared in the world” is shouted:  “The ancestor was originally in this land” is shouted as well.

My late master, old buddha, ascended the seat and taught the assembly:

When Gautama’s eyeball vanishes,

Plum blossoms in snow, just one branch,

Becomes thorn bushes, here, everywhere, right now.

Laughing, spring wind blowing madly.

This is the time for all human and heavenly beings to turn towards attaining the way, as the old buddha’s dharma wheel is turned to the extreme limit of the entire world.  Even clouds, rain, wind, and water, as well as grass, trees, and insects, do not fail to receive the benefit of this teaching.  Heaven, earth, and land are vigorously turned by this dharma wheel.  To hear words never heard before is to hear these words. To attain what has never existed is to attain this teaching.  This is the dharma wheel which one cannot see or hear without having some inconceivable good fortune.

The “plum blossoms in snow” is the appearance of the udumbara floweer. Although we repeatedly see the eyeball of the true dharma of our Buddha Tathagata, we do not wink, nor do we smile. Now we correctly transmit and accept that plum blossoms in snow are truly the Tathagata’s eyeball.  We take them up and hold them as the eye at the top of the head, as the pupil of the eye.

When we enter into plum blossoms and fully study them, there is no room for doubt to arise.  They are already the eyeball of “Alone above and below the heavens, I alone am the honored one,” and again, “most honored in the dharma-world.”

Therefore, plum blossoms in heaven, plum blossoms in the human world, mandara blooms raining form heaven, great mandara blossoms, and all blossoms of inexhaustible lands in the ten directions are one family of plum blossoms in snow.  Because they bloom through virtue of plum blossoms, billions of blossoms are one family of plum blossoms.  They should be called young plum blossoms.  Furthermore, flowers in the sky, flowers on the earth, and flowers of samadhi are all the large and small members of plum blossoms’ family,

To form billions of lands within blossoms and to bloom in the land is the work of plum blossoms.  Without the virtue of plum blossoms there is no virtue in rain or dew.  Life streams issue from plum blossoms.  Do not think that plum blossoms are merely snow all over Shaolin Monastery of Mt. Song.  They are eyeballs of the Tathagata illuminating overhead and underfoot.  Do not think that plum blossoms are merely snow of Snow Mountain or Snow Palace.  They are the eyeballs of Gautama’s eye of true teaching.  The eyeballs of the five eyes are fully manifested in this place.  The eyeballs of one thousand eyes are completed in this eye.

Indeed, old Gautama’s brilliance of body-mind contains not one unillumined particle of the true suchness of all things.  Even if there is a difference of views between human and heavenly beings, and the mind of ordinary and sacred are separate from one another, snow-all-over is earth, earth is snow-all-over.  Without snow-all-over there is no earth in the entire world.  The outside-inside of this snow-all-over is old Gautama’s eyeball.

Know that blossoms and ground are entirely no-birth. Because blossoms are no-birth, ground is no-birth.  “No-birth” means unsurpassed wisdom.  To see it just that moment is “plum blossoms in snow, just one branch.”  Ground and blossoms, birth permeating birth.  This snow-all-over means snow covers entirely outside and in.

The entire world is mind-ground; the entire world is blossom-heart.  Because the entire world is blossom-heart, the entire world is plum blossoms.  Because the entire world is plum blossoms, the entire world is Gautama’s eyeball.

“Here, everywhere, right now” is mountains, rivers, and earth. Everything and every moment is realization everywhere of “I am originally in this land, transmit dharma, and save deluded minds.  One blossom opens for five petals; the fruit matures of itself”  Although there is the coming from India and proceeding eastward, this is the everywhere of plum blossoms right now.

Dogen (1253)

Excerpted from Moon in a Dewdrop: Writings of Zen Master Dogen Edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi 1985

Reading this piece is like standing under a plum tree with blossoms falling all around you, the fragrance enveloping your senses and feeling connected with much more.  Remember the last time the fragrance wafted into your consciousness?  Here Dogen uses the plum blossoms to discuss the interpenetrating nature of reality.  With a wordless grace the natural world communicates an interconnectedness that many teachers have tapped into to help understand principles of Zen.

Blossoming is the old plum tree’s offering.

What then is our offering?  To take any teaching the next step we only have to apply some part of it in our daily lives.  Each piece overflows with suggestions, hints, and direct clues; which ones will we actualize?

  Only one who bursts with enthusiasm do I instruct;

Only one who bubbles with excitement do I enlighten.

If I hold up one corner and you do not come back to me

With the other three,

I do not continue the lesson.


How about coming up with one or maybe two other corners for ourselves?

With enthusiasm,