Wednesday, July 1, 2009

This Very Body

"This Very Body" number 92 of 200 from Robert Aitken's book Miniatures of a Zen Master.

'Song of Zazen'
by Hakuin Ekaku (1685-1768)

All beings by nature are Buddha
As ice by nature is water.
Apart from water there is no ice;
Apart from beings, no Buddha.

How sad that people ignore the near
And search for truth afar:
Like someone in the midst of water
Crying out in thirst;
Like a child of a wealthy home
Wandering among the poor.

Lost on dark paths of ignorance,
We wander through the six worlds;
From dark path to dark path-
When shall we be freed from birth and death?

For this the zazen of the Mahayana
Deserves the highest praise:
Generosity, patience, self-discipline,
The many paramitas
All rise within zazen

Even those with proud attainments
Wipe out their old deluded ways.
Where are all the dark paths then?
The pure land itself is near.

Much more, if you dedicate yourself to practice
And confirm your own true nature,
True nature that is no nature.
You are far beyond mere dogma.

Here effect and cause are the same,
The way is neither two nor three,
With form that is no form
Going and coming -never astray
With thought that is no thought
Singing and dancing are the voice of the law.

Boundless and free is the sky of samadhi
Bright the full moon of wisdom,
Truly, is anything missing now
Nirvana is right here before our eyes;
This very place is the lotus land,
This very body, the Buddha.

Wonderful - and yet what to make of the ending? "This very body, the Buddha." Hakuin can't be referring to me? 'How can I say the this very poop-head is enlightened?'

Aitken says that 'there is nothing more radical and presumptuous' in Zen than "This very place is the lotus land, this very body the Buddha." Agreed!

This poem is chanted everyday during sesshin and each time something new appears in the vastness of mind. The koan, how can my messed up existence, this messed up world, be Nirvana?

Any error or confusion created by my commentary on
Miniatures of a Zen Master
is solely a reflection of my own delusion and ignorance.
Any merit generated by this activity is solely the result of
Aitken Roshi's clear teaching and is dedicated to
all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas throughout space and time.


  1. Ben,
    How lovely to meet you. You visited my blog and I wanted to visit yours and I am so glad I did. This poem truly touched my heart. The first 4 lines, aligning us with our Buddha nature through the metaphor of water and ice is so very powerful. Thank you for sharing this. I'll be back to read through your archives. Those I glanced at were wonderful...You have a dear and gentle heart. May you be happy and may your journey be blessed.

  2. Jan, thanks for you lovely comments. I too find great value in Hakuin's Song of Zazen. The hard question comes from the ending. "This very place is the lotus land, This very body, the Buddha."