Comments by Hubert Nearman:
Dōgen’s commentaries in this discourse are based primarily on various poems that his late Master, Tendō Nyojō, had composed. The discourse begins with a poem that describes Nyojō’s relationship with his own Master, Setchō Chikan. Dōgen uses this poem to comment on the Master-disciple relationship in general, as well as to explore various applications of the metaphor to the functioning of the non-personal Buddha Nature (the Plum Blossom) after the conventional body and mind have dropped off.
The perspective from which Dōgen speaks derives from just such a spiritual experience, which not all of his disciples would have had. How he puts things often bypasses customary modes of discourse wherein one’s intellect functions as the final arbiter of meaning. To attempt to explain or ‘rationalize’ all the allusions in this text would require extensive annotation and would seem counter to Dōgen’s intent in the first place. To put it simply, his process of ‘boggling the mind’ is intended, in part, to liberate his disciples from conventional modes of thinking and to help point them towards their True Nature.
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Citation from Dogen Zenji's Baika:
My late Master, the Old Buddha, once said in verse,
Our Original Countenance is beyond birth and death.
The Spring is within the blossom of the Plum and has entered a picture.
To paint a picture of Spring, you need not paint willows, or plum trees, or peach trees, or damson trees; you should just portray Spring. To picture willow, plum, peach, or damson is to picture a willow tree, a plum tree, a peach tree, or a damson tree; it is not yet portraying Spring. It is not that Spring should not be portrayed, but apart from my late Master, an Old Buddha, there is no one within India in the west and China to the east who has portrayed Spring. Only my late Master, the Old Buddha, and he alone, had sharp-tipped a brush to portray the Spring. The Spring he spoke about now is the Spring within the picture, because he has put It into the picture. Because he had no need to call upon other abilities, he could simply make a plum blossom be Spring by putting it or its tree into the picture—such were his skillful means.
Due to the clarity of my late Master, the Old Buddha, concerning the Treasure House of the Eye of the True Teaching, he Transmitted It to Buddhas and Ancestors who had assembled from all ten quarters over the past, present, and future. Thus it was that he penetrated what the Eye is and clarified what a Plum Blossom is.
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