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Love: Dogen’s One Bright Pearl

Love’s Immediacy: Dōgen’s One Bright Pearl

We don’t encounter discussions of love or even find the word love very often in the vast Zen literature. Dōgen is a rare exception. Near the conclusion of One Bright Pearl, he writes:

How can we fail to love the Pearl? The colors and luster are infinite. Each and every aspect of the color and luster are the virtue of the entire ten-direction world.

            “Love” in this phrase is very direct, intimate and immediate. It hits the bull’s eye. Translations of this passage vary widely, either directly demonstrating a high degree of felt immediacy and intimacy, such as in the Nishijima & Cross translation quoted above. On the other hand, many translations are indirect, flat and feel distant. It almost feels like an avoidance of deeply felt emotions. They just don’t ring the bell.

Here are some examples:

            “How can we fail to care for it?” (Kim 1985, p.129).

            “Should we not appreciate it?” (Cook 1989, p. 75).

            “Should we not cherish the bright pearl?” (Waddell & Abe 2002, p. 36).

            “How wonderful it is” (Muller 2004, p. 5).

            “How lovely is one bright pearl.” (Tanahashi 2012, Kindle Location 2507).

I suggest reading each of these versions out loud and verify through your own experience what touches your heart; what feels most relevant and direct for your life and for your practice. For me, “care,” “appreciate,” “cherish,” “wonderful,” or “lovely,” just don’t reach it with the emotional intensity and depth of contact that “love” conveys. One question that emerges is, “How intimate are you with your practice?”  Is it a gift or a dreaded chore? Are you being your practice, or do you observe and evaluate it, as if practice is a separate object occurring in the distance? Can we be our practice, or do we watch and evaluate it from varying degrees of measured space as if observing from the outside? 

From a practice perspective, no matter how linguistically accurate these alternative translations are, for me, they just don’t seem to hit the bullseye. The strong direct impact is deeply felt and heightened in Okumura’s commentary that accompanies his translation. He speaks of love in the active voice, which emphasizes love’s immediacy, as well as the relational and actional basis of Dōgen’s view of practice. One can feel the immediacy and intensity in Okumura’s interspersed comments, followed by his translations, are in bold type:

            How can we fail to love the jewel? The colors

            and luster are infinite.

            This jewel is really lovely, so we cannot help loving it. It’s truly infinite; even within our delusions this jewel is shining. (2019, p. 12). 

            Each and every aspect of the color and luster

            are the virtue of the entire ten-direction world.

            This bright jewel has many different facets, and it is always beautiful. There are different colors and lusters, and they are connected with all of  the virtue of the ten-direction world. (p. 12).

In Japanese, “Ai” translates as love. Buddhist references to love are often negative and occur in the negative context of passionate attachment, an attachment that ultimately leads to sorrow or somehow must be cut. But, here, Dōgen insists, “How can we fail to love?” Once again, Dōgen completely reverses traditional meanings and stands a standard interpretation on its head. His use of “love” is a somersault; it’s such an instance. In the context of the Shobogenzo chapter, One Bright Pearl he equates the intimacy of oneness as love.

            From the Zen perspective the unity of subject and object, or, seeing beyond duality into unity, the dual unity of all phenomena is realization. We should love all the bright Pearls, small or large. Dōgen speaks of loving all Bright Pearls regardless of whether or not they are large or small. In fact, he argues that the One Bright Pearl cannot be measured. In other words, it cannot be categorized or thought about, but only lived and experienced through intuited wisdom. This is prajna, or the wisdom that becomes realized as we sit remaining open to all experience without judgment; without picking and choosing; without attachment or aversion. Here is another example from the Sansuikyo (Mountains and Waters Sutra) Chapter of the Shobogenzo:

Although we say that mountains belong to the country, actually they belong to those who love them. When the mountains love their owners, the wise and virtuous inevitably enter the mountains. (S. Okumura, Trans. 2018, p. 33).

Love’s immediacy is further emphasized in Okumura’s commentary on these lines:

            Dogen says mountains really belong to the people who love them. And for practitioners it is not only mountains but this whole world, this reality, our entire lives including self and environment – all this belongs to us, those who love it, who practice. (p. 200).

            In both of these writings Dōgen clearly emphasizes relationships and action. There is a mutuality of love between us as individuals and the “ten direction world.” We love and live the One Bright Pearl and simultaneously the One Bright Pearl loves and lives us. In this regard, can we accept the Buddha’s wisdom that engenders compassion for all beings? Can we express our compassion and love through practice and in how we relate to others, friends, strangers, enemies, the mountains, the rivers? For me, this includes the Western Catskill Mountains and the Upper Delaware River. What are the mountains and rivers where you are? All mountains and rivers, wherever, radiate love and are imbued with love. Is there a place in the Ten Direction Universe for your love’s expression? Where is it alive in your emotional being? Or has it gotten flattened out and repressed by the intellect; by denial; by doubt; by torpor? The infinite nature of Buddha’s compassion is always “being-as-it-is,” such as in the “who are you?”. When we begin to realize the total exertion of our whole being within the context of the total functioning of One Bright Pearl, perhaps we can start to live in the simple “ease and joy” that Dōgen describes as his practice of “not learning meditation” in Fukanzazengi. Being without resistance or conflict realizing One Bright Pearl in each and every dharma moment, living by the vow that “Dharma Gates are boundless, I vow to enter them all.” Yes, realization is beginningless, yet this is the lifelong project of practice, which is endless. Can we allow ourselves to be open to Dōgen’s teachings and advice? As the opening gatha recited before formal dharma talks reminds us:

            An unsurpassed, penetrating and perfect Dharma is rarely met with even in a hundred thousand million kalpas. Having it to see and listen to, to remember and    accept, I vow to taste the truth of the Tatagatha’s words.

             My wish for all beings is that we live fully and creatively as the unique individuals that we are, expressing our own realization of Gensha’s “One Bright Pearl,” yet each and every one of us also deeply experiencing the interconnectedness and oneness of One Bright Pearl that constitutes being in this Ghost Cave world. May we manifest and exert the fruits of our study and practice for the benefit of all beings. This is living, loving realization.

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