Date and Place Written: 1238, Kannon-dori-kosho-horin-ji temple (Fukakusa)
Fascicle number and English title in Hubert Nearman translation: 4. On the ‘One Bright Pearl’
Fascicle number and English title in Nishijima/Cross translation: 4. One Bright Pearl
Fascicle number and English title in Tanahashi translation: 4. One Bright Pearl
Fascicle number in 12, 28, 60 and 75 fascicle editions: 7 (60), 7 (75)
Commentaries: Don’t Be A Jerk chapter 7; Receiving the Marrow chapter 2; The Zen Master’s Dance chapter 6.
Audio reading: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8VsgzR5y73g
One Bright Pearl is essentially Dōgen’s description of absolute reality, being perfect and all-encompassing in all ten directions and three times.
This fascicle, the seventh in both the sixty and seventy-five Shōbōgenzō editions, begins with the story of Master Gensa (posthumously known as Great Master Shu-itsu), who enters the monastery of Great Master Shinkaku at the age of thirty. After practicing wholeheartedly for some time, he leaves the mountain to explore the surrounding area and stubs his toe on a stone, leading him to awaken. Returning to his master, he explains his understanding as “In the end I just cannot be deceived by others” as he realises that awareness itself is nothing other than Buddha Nature. We can be told about this, as in this fascicle, but no matter how great our teacher is, we have to realise it for ourselves.
In the next story Dōgen warns against rote learning rather than knowledge based on experience as a monk repeats the words of Gensa in response to a question. Gensa replies “I see you are struggling to get inside a demon’s cave in a black mountain”, meaning that the monk is stuck in the world of ideas and concepts.
Dōgen explains how we pursue sensations to make them into our idea of self, falling into ideas of being separate from all that is. But, even that is part of the totality of all that is (One Bright Pearl). We are never separate from it but can think we are.
Because all things are the One Bright Pearl, all things are buddhas and bodhisattvas, hearing sounds and seeing sights. Recognising this is the One Bright Pearl itself. Intellectual understanding and doubts are the small view.
All of the six realms of rebirth are the One Bright Pearl. Nothing has ever been separate from it, including our doubts and attachment to concepts.
Kōans and Stories
One day a monk asked Master Gensa, “I have heard the Master’s words that the whole Universe in ten directions is one bright pearl. How should the student understand this?”
The Master says, “The whole Universe in ten directions is one bright pearl. What use is understanding?”
On a later day, the Master asks the question back to the monk, “The whole Universe in ten directions is one bright pearl. How do you understand this?”
The monks says, “The whole Universe in ten directions is one bright pearl. What use is understanding?”
The Master says, “I see you are struggling to get inside a demon’s cave in a black mountain.”
“The present expression “The whole Universe in ten directions is one bright pearl” originates with Gensa. The point is that the whole Universe in ten directions is not vast and great, not meager and small, not square or round, not centered or straight, not in a state of vigorous activity, and not disclosed in perfect clarity. Because it is utterly beyond living-and-dying, going-and-coming, it is living-and-dying, going-and-coming.”
“”The whole of the ten directions” describes the ceaseless process of pursuing things to make them into self, and of pursuing self to make it into something. The arising of emotion and the distinctions of the intellect, which we describe as separation, are themselves as real a turning the head and changing the face, or developing things and throwing oneself into the moment.”
“To voice this expression of the truth, Gensa says, “The whole Universe in ten directions is one bright pearl. What use is understanding?”. This expression is the expression of truth to which buddha succeeds buddha, patriarch exceeds patriarch, and Gensa succeeds Gensa.”
“[T]his bright pearl’s possession of reality and lack of beginning are limitless, and the whole Universe in ten directions is one bright pearl. Without being discussed as two pearls or three pearls, the Whole Body is one right-Dharma-eye, the Whole Body is real substance, the Whole Body is one phrase, the Whole Body is brightness, and the Whole Body is the Whole Body itself.”
“Artificial and non-artificial states of surmising and doubting, attaching and rejecting, are just the small view. They are nothing more than trying to make the bright pearl match the narrow intellect.”
“[B]y virtue of Gensa’s words of Dharma, we have heard, recognised and clarified the situation of a body-and-mind which has already become the bright pearl. Thereafter, the mind is not personal; why should we be worried by attachment to whether it is a bright pearl or is not a bright pearl, as if what arises and passes were some person? Even surmising and worry is not different from the bright pearl. No action nor any thought has ever been caused by anything other than the bright pearl. Therefore, forward steps and backward steps in a demon’s black mountain cave are just the one bright pearl itself.”