Within a tradition already rich with sublime poetry, the Song of the Jewel Mirror Samadhi stands out as one of the most profound and beautiful verses to come out of 9th century China. The poem is attributed to master Dongshan Liangjie (known as Tozan Ryokai in Japan), who was the founder of the Caodong tradition which later developed into the Soto school. Although there is some doubt as to whether Dongshan really was the author of the poem, it can be said that it embodies his teachings and attitude towards Zen practice. Regularly chanted during Zen ceremonies, it’s a text so dense with imagery and suggestion, it could warrant years of study.
Song of the Jewel Mirror Samadhi
The teaching of thusness has been intimately communicated
by buddhas and ancestors.
Now you have it,
so keep it well.
Filling a silver bowl with snow,
hiding a heron in the moonlight –
Taken as similar they’re not the same;
when you mix them, you know where they are.
The meaning is not in the words,
yet it responds to the inquiring impulse.
Move and you are trapped;
miss and you fall into doubt and vacillation.
Turning away and touching are both wrong,
for it is like a massive fire.
Just to depict it in literary form
is to stain it with defilement.
It is bright just at midnight,
it doesn’t appear at dawn.
It acts as a guide for beings,
its use removes all pains.
Although it is not fabricated,
it is not without speech.
It is like facing a jewel mirror;
form and image behold each other –
You are not it,
in truth it is you.
Like a babe in the world,
in five aspects complete;
It does not go or come,
nor rise nor stand.
“Baba wawa” –
is there anything said or not?
Ultimately it does not apprehend anything
because its speech is not yet correct.
It is like the six lines of the illumination hexagram:
relative and ultimate interact –
Piled up, they make three,
the complete transformation makes five.
It is like the taste of the five-flavored herb,
like a diamond thunderbolt.
Subtly included within the true,
inquiry and response come up together.
Communing with the source, travel the pathways,
embrace the territory and treasure the road.
Respecting this is fortunate;
do not neglect it.
Naturally real yet inconceivable,
it is not within the province of delusion or enlightenment.
With causal conditions, time and season,
quiescently it shines bright.
In its fineness it fits into spacelessness,
in its greatness it is utterly beyond location.
A hairsbreadth’s deviation
will fail to accord with the proper attunement.
Now there are sudden and gradual
in which teachings and approaches arise.
Once basic approaches are distinguished,
then there are guiding rules.
But even though the basis is reached and the approach comprehended,
true eternity still flows.
Outwardly still while inwardly moving,
like a tethered colt, a trapped rat –
The ancient sages pitied them
and bestowed upon them the teaching.
According to their delusions,
they called black as white;
When erroneous imaginations cease,
the acquiescent mind realizes itself.
If you want to conform to the ancient way,
please observe the sages of former times.
When about to fulfill the way of buddhahood,
one gazed at a tree for ten eons,
Like a battle-scarred tiger,
like a horse with shanks gone gray.
Because there is the common,
there are jewel pedestals, fine clothing;
Because there is the startlingly different,
there are house cat and cow.
Yi with his archer’s skill
could hit a target at a hundred paces.
But when arrow-points meet head on,
what has this to do with the power of skill?
When the wooden man begins to sing,
the stone woman gets up dancing;
It’s not within reach of feeling or discrimination –
how could it admit of consideration in thought?
Ministers serve their lords,
children obey their parents;
Not obeying is not filial
and not serving is no help.
Practice secretly, working within,
like a fool, like an idiot.
Just to continue in this way
is called the host within the host.
Dongshan Liangjie (807-869)
Translation as used by the San Francisco Zen Center