On Tuesday 7 January Zen nun Maddie E Shin Parisio from Norwich visited us at the Old Street Zen group and gave us an insightful introduction to the Cheng-dao ke (Japanese Shōdōka) - The Song of Awakening - a famous Zen poem by the Chinese Zen teacher Jongjia Xuanjue (Japanese Yoka Daishi.) Maddie has been practicing zazen for many years. She has received bodhisattva ordination from Jean Baby in 1998. Ten years later she received the nun ordination from Philippe Reiryu Coupey - a close disciple of Taisen Deshimaru.

Despite having practiced for such a long time, Maddie only recently began to formally study Zen texts. She came across the Shōdōka for the first time a few years ago when she volunteered to transcribe a bunch of old typewriter transcripts of a commentary of Taisen Deshimaru about the poem. Maddie got intrigued and wanted to learn more. She picked up the French translation of this commentary on the poem and has not put it down ever since. What impresses Maddie most is the warmth and simplicity of the teaching. Jongija Xuanjue addresses his disciples as “friends” and reveals that there really is nothing special to do. The truth is like a precious gem which is imprinted on the mind of everybody. The nature of ignorance and the nature of Buddha are ultimately the same. Verse 39 of the poem is one of Maddie’s favourites:

The treasure of the precepts
Of Buddha nature
Is imprinted in the depths of our mind.
The fog and the dew,
The rain and the mist
Are the kesa which clothes our body.

We also talked briefly about the importance of formal studying as opposed to only practice zazen. We agreed that studying was also important, but that it should always be done in the context of practice. For complete beginners the sheer abundance of sutras, commentaries and other literature can be overwhelming and confusing. From Maddie’s experience, as one matures in the practice, the interest in studying the Dharma will arise naturally. Maddie will talk more about the Shōdōka at the IZAUK spring sesshin from 7 to 10 February 2019 in Sheringham.

Additional Information

Sawaki, Kodo and O'Connor, Tonin, ed. (2014). Commentary on the song of awakening by Yoka Daishi. a twentieth century Japanese Zen Master's commentary on Sodaka, the famous poem by the great seventh century Ch'an Master Yoka Daishi. Portland, ME: MewinAsia.

Wikipedia. (2019). Song of Enlightenment [online]. Wikipedia. [Viewed 8 Jan 2020]. Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Song_of_Enlightenment.

Xuanjue. (1978).  Le chant de l'immédiat satori / par Yoka Daïshi ; traduction [de la version japonaise] et commentaires de maître Taïsen Deshimaru Roshi. Paris: Retz.


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