Gail Sher Dharma Talks

Gail Sher • Dharma Talks

White Snow on Bright Leaves: Dogen’s Japanese Waka

White Snow on Bright Leaves: Dogen's Japanese Waka

Though Dogen wrote more than 400 Chinese Kanshi and over 200 Japanese Waka, the latter compiled in a book called Verses on the Way from Sansho Peak, it is well known among Dogen scholars and practitioners that he disparaged the value of literature. In Shobogenzo Zuimonki he says:

I have been fond of studying [literature] since my childhood, and even now I have a tendency to contemplate the beauty in the words of non-Buddhist texts. Sometimes I even refer to the Selections of Refined Literature or other classic texts. Still, I think it is meaningless, and it should cease immediately.

In the end, Dogen does not say that one should not write poetry, but rather that one’s poems should not be evaluated by worldly standards such as literary devices and flowery styles. Okumura Roshi says, “From the time of Shakyamuni, Buddhist masters have questioned the ability of language to express reality beyond discrimination and conceptualization, and yet these masters all tried to express this reality using language, including Dogen. As he discussed in the Shobogenzo fascicle “Being Able to Speak,” Dogen never dismissed the importance of expressing reality, with or without language.” In this series, using his waka, we will see how well he did.

First Talk: White Snow on Bright Leaves

“To find the oneness of joy and suffering, the oneness of the joy of enlightenment within difficulty, is our practice.”

—Suzuki Roshi

Date/Time: August 7, 2022 | 10:00 a.m. (Pacific Time)

Duration: 60 minutes

Second Talk: Waves Settle / And Wind Calms / A Tiny Discarded Boat Drifts Unmoored

“If you do things not because of Buddha, or truth, or yourself, or others, but for the things themselves, that is the true way.”

—Suzuki Roshi

Date/Time: August 14, 2022 | 10:00 a.m. (Pacific Time)

Duration: 60 minutes

Third Talk: I Am My Own Grandpa

“All buddhas in the past, present, and future, when they become buddha, unfailingly become Shakyamuni Buddha. This is ‘mind itself is Buddha.’ “


Date/Time: August 21, 2022 | 10:00 a.m. (Pacific Time)

Duration: 60 minutes

Fourth Talk: The Four Kinds of Horses

“It doesn’t matter if you’re the best or the worst, that what matters is practicing with what’s called ‘the great mind of Buddha.’ “

—Suzuki Roshi

Date/Time: August 28, 2022 | 10:00 a.m. (Pacific Time)

Duration: 60 minutes

Fifth Talk: Flowers of Emptiness

“Things are manifested completely as they are, and yet at the same time, they are liberated from what they are due to impermanence and no-self.”

—Okumura Roshi

Date/Time: September 4, 2022 | 10:00 a.m. (Pacific Time)

Duration: 60 minutes

Sixth Talk: Waterbirds / Fly Away and Return / Leaving No Trace / Even So, They Do Not Forget the Path

“If you don’t understand the way right before you, How will you know the path as you walk?”

—Sekito Zenji

Date/Time: September 11, 2022 | 10:00 a.m. (Pacific Time)

Duration: 60 minutes

Seventh Talk: Magnanimous Mind

“Buddhas and ancestors do not forget or abandon living beings in their zazen; they offer a heart of compassion even to an insect.”


Date/Time: September 18, 2022 | 10:00 a.m. (Pacific Time)

Duration: 60 minutes

Eighth Talk: Arousing the Mind of Awakening

“We should not disparage ourselves thinking we are foolish or dull-witted. If we do not arouse the mind [of awakening] in this present lifetime, when can we expect to?”


Date/Time: September 25, 2022 | 10:00 a.m. (Pacific Time)

Duration: 60 minutes