top page

One Bright Pearl, from the Shōbōgenzō by Dōgen

Translated by Charles Muller

November 8, 2004

In the great Song dynasty of this samsaric world at Xuansha mountain monastery in Fuzhou lived the great master Zongyi, whose Dharma name was Teacher Replete, and whose family name was Xie. While still in this secular world, he enjoyed fishing. He used to go out on his boat on the Nan-tai river, where he learned from all kinds of fisherman. It was here, without expectation, that he caught the Golden Fish that comes up itself/ At the beginning of the Xiantong period of the Tang, he suddenly decided to renounce the world and got rid of his boat and entered the monastery. At this time he was thirty years old. Fully realizing the pitfalls of the floating world and coming to know the great value of the Buddha-way, he went directly to Xuefeng Mountain to become a disciple of Xunjiao, where he strove for the Way morning and night.

One day, with the intent of calling on various teachers, he girt himself for travel and descended from the mountain. Just then, he banged his toe severely on a rock. Bleeding and in great pain, he suddenly reflected deeply within himself saying: "This body does not exist; where does the pain come from?" He directly returned to Xuefeng.

Xuefeng asked him: "Who is this Renunciate Bei?"

Xuansha said: "I dare not deceive others after all."

Xuefeng really liked this answer and said: "Anyone could have said this, and yet who could have said it?!"

Xuefeng again asked Renunciate Bei: "Why didn't you go and visit some other teachers?"

The teacher said: "Bodhidharma did not come to China; the second Patriarch didn't go to India." Xuefeng was greatly impressed.

Even though he was fishermen who normally could not have even dreamt of reading the various scriptures and philosophical works, because of the depth of his overwhelming sincerity, Xuansha was able to muster a measure of determination that far surpassed that of his fellow students. Xuefeng also regarded him as the most outstanding among the disciples. He patched his only cotton robe over and over again, and for underwear he wore paper and mugwort. He never sought for instruction outside of Xuefeng. However, he completely mastered his teacher's dharma such that he was able to succeed him.

After he finally attained the Way, he taught people saying: "All the worlds in the ten directions are One Bright Pearl."

One time a monk came to him and said: "I have heard, reverend, that you say All the worlds in the Ten Directions are One Bright Pearl; how can [we] students understand this?"

The Master said: " 'All the worlds in the Ten Directions are One Bright Pearl,' what is the purpose of understanding it?"

The next day the master again asked the monk: "All the worlds in the Ten Directions are One Bright Pearl, what understanding have you produced?"

The monk said: "All the worlds in the Ten Directions are One Bright Pearl, what is the purpose of understanding it?"

The master said: "You know, you are living in the depths of a devil's cave in the black mountain."

(Dōgen's Comments)

"All the worlds in the Ten Directions are One Bright Pearl" which is explained here, begins with Xuansha. Concerning this teaching, in "all the worlds in the Ten Directions," there is neither vastness nor minuteness, neither round nor square, neither relative nor absolute, nether excitement nor solemnity. Moreover, since there is no coming or going of life and death, there is the coming and going of life and death. For this reason, the past has already left and the present will come from now. In thoroughly investigating it, who can analyze it piece by piece, and who can observe it as a whole?

When we say "All Ten Directions," it means the unbroken continuation [of the process of] investigating things and ending up with ourselves, and investigating ourselves, and ending up with things. "When a thought arises, wisdom is obstructed" is understood as obstruction. This is the same as "when you turn your head, your face turns," and "in revealing one's affairs, his level is apprehended." Because of "investigating oneself and ending up with things," there is unbroken continuation and there are "all the ten directions." Because of the true principle that is prior to situations, there is its overflow into attainment at the critical moment.

As for the phrase "are One Bright Pearl," even though it has never been named up till now, it has been experienced, and this phrase is the application of language to it. "One Bright Pearl" means "this moment is an eternity." It is arrival in the present in the circumstance of not having been reached through eternity. Even though you say the body presently exists and the mind presently exists, they are the Bright Pearl. It not in the grass and trees of here and there, and it is not in the mountains and rivers of heaven and earth; it is the Bright Pearl.

The phrase "How shall students understand this?" should be understood as the manifestation of great function, of the great principle, even if it appears as the mere play of the karmic consciousness of the monk. In the same way, one foot of water must protrude to become one foot of wave. It is said, "ten feet of jewels, ten feet of brightness."

In what is called the "explication of one's attainment," Xuansha's explication is "All the worlds in the Ten Directions are One Bright Pearl, what is the purpose of understanding it?" This saying reflects the realization that has been passed on from buddha to buddha, from patriarch to patriarch and from Xuansha to Xuansha. Trying not to transmit it and attempting to avoid it, even though there is no absence of a place to which to escape, even if one clearly avoids it temporarily, if we put it in words, it is the immediate presence of the totality of time.

"The next day Xuansha asked this monk: 'All the worlds in the Ten Directions are One Bright Pearl, what understanding have you produced?' " This is to say that yesterday he taught the fixed dharma, today he uses his own two lips to speak. Today he speaks the indecidable dharma to overturn yesterday's [encounter] by nodding and laughing at it.

"The monk said: 'All the worlds in the Ten Directions are One Bright Pearl, what is the purpose of understanding it?' " This should be explained as 'riding the thief's horse to chase the thief.' The ancient buddha's explanation for his listeners was carried out among those of various dispositions. If we reflect on it for a little while, how many layers of "how to use this understanding" are there? Even if we investigate these words and come up with "seven layers of milkcakes, five layers of vegetable cakes," this is nothing but the teaching of "South of the Xiang north of the Tan."

"Xuansha said, 'You know, you are living in the depths of a devil's cave in the black mountain.' " You should know that the sun's face and the moon's face have not changed since ancient times. Since the sun's face comes out together with the sun's face and the moon's face comes out together with the moon's face, if we talk in terms of exactly six month's passage, you should not call me by the name "Warm."

However, this being the case, the suchness and beginninglessness of this Bright Pearl is endless. All the worlds in the Ten Directions are One Bright Pearl—don't say two pearls or three pearls. The whole body is this one single true eye of the dharma; the whole body is this essence of reality; the whole body is this single phrase; the whole body is this luminosity; the whole body is this whole mind. At the time of the wholeness of body, the whole body is without obstruction. It is perfectly round and circular. Because the merits of the Bright Pearl are visibly manifest like this, there are presently Avalokiteśvara and Maitreya who see form and hear sound, and there are the ancient buddhas and recent buddhas who appear in the world to teach the dharma.

Exactly at this time, though some [pearls] hang from the sky, some are hidden in one's clothes, some are kept under the [dragon's] neck, some are kept in the topknots [of wheel turning sage kings], all are the One Bright Pearl of All the worlds in the Ten Directions. It should be contained in the clothes and you should not try to show it on the outside by explanation. When it is kept in the topknot and under the dragons chin, there is no such thing as trying to show it off outside of the chin and topknot. When you are drunk there is a good friend who gives you a pearl, and one should give one's pearl to one's good friend. In order for the jewel to be sewn in, one must necessarily be drunk.

The fact that it is already like this is itself the One Bright Pearl as All the worlds in the Ten Directions. But if this is so, then whether the pearl turns or not, or appears to keep on turning or not, it is still just the Bright Pearl. If you truly know the pearl is just like this, then this is the Bright Pearl. In just this way the Bright Pearl is the sounds and forms which are heard. Concerning the seeking of ourselves in the Bright Pearl, we should never doubt that we are in the Bright Pearl. Seeking and doubting, grasping and releasing, doing and not-doing are all temporary and trivial views, and merely give [the One Bright Pearl] a semblance of triviality.

How wonderful it is, the limitless of the Bright Pearl's reflective spectrum! Every bit of color and every single ray of light are the merits of All the worlds in the Ten Directions: who can snatch it away?! There is no one in the marketplace who casts out a tile [in order to get a pearl], nor is there any such thing as falling or not falling into the cause and effect of the Six Destinies. It is the Non-obscured which is correct from head to tail: the Bright Pearl is its face and eyes and, is its eyes and pupils.

Nonetheless, even though the hundred thoughts and non-thoughts that do not know whether you and I are somehow the Bright Pearl or are somehow not it, are entwined like clear fodder, according to the teaching of Xuansha, if the way of being of the body and mind which are the Bright Pearl are examined and brought out into the light, the mind's not being in us and who and what arises and ceases are the Bright Pearl; you are unafflicted by grasping and releasing of the non-existence of the Bright Pearl. Even if you waver and doubt; the Bright Pearl exists, it doesn't exist, even if you don't act and don't think according to the idea that the Pearl doesn't exist; this is nothing other than the wasted motion in the devil's cave of the Black Mountain. This is only the Bright Pearl.