Sketchbook notes from the drifting spaces

Portrait of Tokyo Ren Master

Many visitors to the friendly Ren Bar in east Tokyo made calligraphy and artworks to express their wishes for the new year… here is my fast ink portrait of the famous master!

Reworking Dogen’s white mountain poem from Sanshodoei

From the Sanshodoei poems, I have been working on the English translations with John Fraser –


waga iho wa
koshi no shirayama
kouri mo yuki mo
kumo kakari keri

my hut
in the white mountain of Koshi
enclosed in winter’s
ice and snow
wrapped in cloud

Eihei Dogen

moon cloud – secluded within snow


moon cloud softly emerging
plumes of blue snow dust
swirling around
our scratched out rooftop

Waves breaking through light – Kusen collaboration


John Fraser’s Kusen No. 231

Master Dogen’s poem ‘Zazen Practice’:

The moon mirrored
By a mind free
Of all distractions;
Even the waves, breaking,
Are reflecting its light

We have a primitive idea what a symbol is. Usually, we think it’s like a code. So, in this case, ‘Moon’ will mean ‘Enlightenment’, or ‘Buddha Mind’, something like that. But a symbol is like a real person: it has infinite expression.

In his commentary on the Heart Sutra, Dogen said that “the bodhisattva of compassion, practicing zazen with the whole body, sees the five skandas are empty, and relieves all suffering”

So, we can see that one face of the symbol of the moon is Avalokitesvara, whose ‘whole body’ is the whole Universe, whose hands are the moonlight, whose eyes are the space above and the ground below, both holding the mind waves, enabling each wave to break, not through stillness but

through light

Zazen Practice:

at peace
within the heart
the clear moon
even the smashing waves
reflecting light

(translation by Blair Shogen)

More zen articles at Kusen & Notes from John