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The Journey to the West

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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Some Tough Love from Dogen Zenji

Dogen Zenji was a Japanese Zen master who lived in the 13th century and, among an impressive body of work, wrote verses in Chinese in emulation of the great Chan masters.  This is one of his poems that I translated this morning, which strikes me as a bit harsher in tone than the Chan poetry from the Tang Dynasty that I've been immersed in recently.  The poem highlights one of the central ironies of Zen poetry - notwithstanding Dogen's avowal of non-attachment and setting books, ink and brush aside, yet somehow he has managed to find the means to record his naked reflections for posterity ....


For so long sheltered
From the human realm
Without attachments
All books and brushes
Having been cast aside
Even seeing flowers
And hearing birds
Holds scant atraction
Suddenly being found
On the mountaintop
Naked of all talent


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