On The Way: The Daily Zen Journal

March 13, 2019

Shodoka – Song of Awakening

Yung-chia Hsuan-chueh (665-713)
Commentary by Koda Sawaki (1885-1965)

The Mind of the Way

Seize the root, don’t worry about the branches,
Just like the transparent jewel
Swallowed up by the light of the moon

This is the most important verse in the Shodoka. An old adage says: “In the age of the last Dharma, people do not seek true reality, but desire the divine powers.” True reality is the essence and the original source, while divine powers are merits. We like the merits and dislike the essence. We love to receive a salary, we don’t love the work; we love the reward, we don’t love the effort.

Nevertheless, the main thing is true reality. The divine powers are only appendages. Seize the root, don’t worry about the branches. We must seek the truth without worrying about divine powers. Let us seize the essence of things; the rest is secondary and unimportant. When we have an accurate and panoramic view of our nature, what does it matter whether others criticize or admire us? Still, the majority of people seek only praise.

It it written in Dogen’s Gakudoyojinshu:

“They throw out the root and run after the leaves…When something enjoys people’s favor, they practice it, even while knowing that it is contrary to the Way.  They abstain from practicing what is neither praised nor renowned, when they know it is the true Way. What sadness!”

Later on he explains the reason for this: “Some are taught to seek awakening outside of the mind, others to be reborn in another land. Such doctrines are sources of error and confusion, they are responsible for wrong thoughts. Suppose that someone gives you a good medicine and doesn’t show you how to use it, the illness that you contract will be worse than if you had taken poison.

“In our country, it seems that since ancient times there haven’t been good doctors capable of giving good medicines nor anyone to verify the effects. It is already so difficult to eliminate the sufferings and diseases of life, and we would wish to escape from the pains of old age and death! All that is the fault of the masters and not that of the disciples!”

Only the mind of the Way is important. Whether or not the theoretical doctrine is of great depth doesn’t enter into consideration! Seize the root, don’t worry about the branches. Go directly to the mind of the Way. The rest is secondary. Without dwelling upon appearances or seeking profit, question yourself about the rightness of your own practice, and if it’s perfectly correct, the fact that others criticize you or heap you with praise is without importance. This verse contains the essence of the Shodoka.

Yung-chia Hsuan-chueh (665-713)

Commentary by Kodo Sawaki

Only the mind of the Way is important. Whether we ever have our own song of awakening as expressed in the Shodoka, if we manage to keep close to the mind that seeks the Way, we are doing well here. The more extreme the shared reality becomes, the more centered in the Way we settle. What else is there?

Sometimes, like now, less is more…

Sending the peace of the mountain,

Elana, Scribe for Daily Zen

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