On The Way: The Daily Zen Journal

April 13, 2006

Sho-do-ka Song of Realization

Yoka-daishi (d.713)

The minute you attain Buddha’s Zen, the six noble deeds and the ten thousand good actions are already complete within you. In your dream there are six paths, but when you awake, they will be reduced to nothingness.  No sin, no happiness, no loss and no gain. Do not try to seek these things in Mind-Essence. For a long time you have not wiped the dust from your mirror. Now is the time for you to see its brilliance precisely.

Who thinks non-thinking and who recognizes non-existence? It if is really non-existence, you cannot think of it. Ask a robot whether it is happy or not. As long as you aim to become Buddha, no matter how you strive, you will never be one. Do not cling to the four elements. Drink and eat according to your true nature. Things are transient, therefore, they are in a state of emptiness. This is Buddha’s realization.

A true disciple of Buddha speaks the ultimate truth. If you do not agree with what I say, you are free to discuss it. You must remember, however, that Buddhism is concerned with the root of truth, not with the branches or leaves.

Most people do not recognize the mani-jewel, the gem of wisdom. It is hidden in the secret place of Tathagata awaiting discovery and attainment. The six senses and the six worlds interweave making life as it is. It is an illusion as a whole, yet nothing exists to be called illusion. The perfect light of this mani-jewel, the gem of wisdom, illuminates humanity. It has neither color nor form, nor has it non-color and non-form.

Clarify the five kinds of vision, and acquire the five powers. It is only possible through Zen meditation that goes beyond speculation. One can see the images in the mirror naturally. To hold the reflections of the moon on the water is impossible.

A Zen student should walk alone at all times. Those who have attained, tread the same road of Nirvana. Each of them is natural in manner, and clean and contented of heart. Since not one of them is concerned with special attraction, no one pays them much attention.

The followers of Buddha speak of their poverty. The simplicity of their living may be called poor, but not their Zen. A monk’s gown, torn and mended, shows the world his poverty; his Zen, unseen by others, is the treasure beyond all value. No matter how much it is used, the priceless treasure never deteriorates. It may be given freely to others who need it. The three bodies of Buddha and the four kinds of wisdom are completely contained within it.

The excellent student of Zen goes directly to the ultimate truth. The fair or good ones like to learn from others but have no steady faith. Once you strip off the tattered clothing of prejudice you will see your true self. How can you wander around in outward striving?

One who attains Zen must acquire its eloquence. Meditation and wisdom must have their full brilliance unclouded by an idea of emptiness. Such an accomplishment is not limited to the few. The Buddhas, countless as the sands of the Ganges, are all witness to this fact.

Zen students journey by land and sea, across rivers and over mountains. Visiting monasteries and receiving personal guidance from teachers. I also followed the Way, reaching So-kei, where I met my master and received Dharma. Now I know my true being has nothing to do with birth and death.

A Zen student walks in Zen and sits in Zen. Whether in speech and action, or silence and inaction, her body always dwells in peace. She smiles, facing the sword that takes her life. She keeps poise even at the moment of death, nor can drugs alter this calm.

Our great teacher, Sakyamuni, met Dipankara Buddha many millions of years ago, and accepted his Dharma. Ever since, he is master of Ksanti, perserverance, life after life.

People are born many times, so they die many times.

Life and death continue endlessly.

If you realize the true meaning of the unborn,

You will transcend both gladness and grief.

Yoka-daishi (d.713)

Excerpted from Buddhism and Zen Edited by Nyogen Senzaki and Ruth McCandless 1953

The Sho-do-ka is often translated as the Song of Realization, and this older translation from 1953 is wonderful in that in the text there is commentary from Senzaki’s own instruction to his students. We stuck with the bare bones text so that you can have your own first insights, but the original commentary was added to assist understanding of the lines. Sho-do-ka is memorized in its entirely by students in China, Korea, and Japan, and they are often inspired during its recitation. There are newer translations that can be found, but there is something exquisite about the reading of this older translation.

As with many of the longer pieces, it is better broken down into smaller reflections to allow us closer to the heart of the teaching.

“The rain has stopped,

The clouds have drifted away,

And the weather is clear again.

If your heart is pure,

Then all things in your world are pure.

Abandon this fleeting world,

Abandon yourself,

Then the moon and flowers will guide you along the Way.”

One Robe, One Bowl – The Zen Poetry of Ryokan

Springing Towards Emptiness ,
Elana Scribe for Daily Zen

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