White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Shoji: Birth and Death 生死

by Eihei Dogen zenji

translated by Ven. Anzan Hoshin roshi

and Yasuda Joshu Dainen roshi

[published in Udumbara: Journal of Zen Practice, Vol 4, Number 1, 1987, Minnesota Zen Meditation Center]

"There is no birth and death when Awake Awareness is within birth and death."

"If there is no Awake Awareness within birth and death, then there is no delusion about birth and death."

These are the words of two great Zen Masters, Jiashan Shanhui 1 and Dingshan Shenying. 2 Do not neglect these but study them seriously as the expressions of those who have attained the Way. If you wish to be free from birth and death, then these words must become clear to you.

Searching for Awake Awareness outside of birth and death is like pointing your cart north when you want to go south or facing south when you want to see the Big Dipper. Acting like this, the causes of birth and death will increase and you will lose sight of freedom.

Discover that birth and death are themselves vanishing beyond conditions.3 There is no birth and death to be avoided and unconditioned freedom is always already here. Realizing this, you will be free from birth and death.

Don't think that birth becomes death. Birth is its own time with its own past and future. Thus in the Teachings of Awake Reality, birth is known to be "unborn". Death is its own time, with its own past and future. Thus death is realized as "deathlessness". In birth there is only birth, in death there is only death. Thus, when birth comes realize birth. When death comes realize death. Do not avoid or desire either of them.

This birth and death is itself the life of Awake Awareness. If you struggle to escape it you will lose the life of Awake Awareness. Also if you try to grasp it you will lose the life of the Awakened One and all you will have is the husk. Only when you don't crave for or despise birth and death will you enter Awake Awareness.

Do not try to measure it with your mind or describe it in words. Just cast body and mind into the realm of Awake Awareness. In this, you are free from birth and death and, without effort or worry, you become Awake. If you realize this, there are no obstacles in your mind.

This is simply becoming Awake. Refrain from unwholesome acts, do not grasp at birth and death, respect seniors and be kind to juniors, give up hope and fear, worry and grief. This is called Buddha. Do not look elsewhere.

  • 1. Jiashan Shanhui (Chia-shan Shan-hui, Kassan Zen'e), 805-881.     Dharma-heir of Chuanzi Decheng. See Mountains and Rivers, Ven. Anzan Hoshin sensei, Great Matter Publications, 1991.
  • 2. Dingshan Shenying (Ting-shan Shen-ying, Jozan Shin'ei), 771-853. Dharma-heir of Guishan Lingyou.
  • 3. Nirvana.