Zen Study Group

See our virtual practice schedule for meeting times.

March 2021

Discussion Group Topic: Views on Song of the Jewel Mirror Awareness

For longer than I care to admit, I’ve been reciting Song of the Jewel Mirror Awareness after
zazen. For the last thirty years, since the founding of The Des Moines Zen Center, Song of the
Jewel Mirror Awareness has been a staple of our Wednesday night practice. Despite all this
exposure, however, the poem has, at various levels, always baffled me—except for the
occasional insights that result from repeated reading and exposure. Unlike other texts we
incorporate into our liturgy, I’ve found few really helpful commentaries to guide my
understanding the way, say, Suzuki Roshi’s commentary, Branching Streams Flow in the
Darkness, sheds light on The Merging of Difference and Unity.

Recently, I ran across (what I would call) a solid interlinear commentary on Song of the Jewel
Mirror Awareness by Taigen Dan Leighton in his book, Just This Is It: Dongshan and the
Practice of Suchness. For our March discussions, I’d like to take on selections from that
commentary that I hope answer questions the participants might have about the poem—and
answer the continuing questions I also have.

Starting Points:
Song of the Jewel Mirror Awareness is uncertainly attributed to Dongshan Lianjie (807-869).
Like many of the texts in the history of Zen, Song of the Jewel Mirror Awareness doesn’t appear
in the written record until 200 years after the poet’s death, and some historians attribute the poemto Dongshan’s teacher, Yunyan, or even Yunyan’s teacher, Yaoshan. My sense of it is that, in the end, it doesn’t matter a whole lot who actually composed the poem since, during the centuries it was part of the oral tradition, it probably underwent numerous revisions. One reason that Dongshan and Song of the Jewel Mirror Awareness are important to us is that Dongshan is recognized as the founder (or at least a founder) of the Caodong school of Chan—which evolved into Soto Zen, the school that Des Moines Zen Center identifies with.

Following are the page numbers from Just This is It that we’ll take up, in order, over the course
of the March discussions:

Readings: pp 34-36
Readings: pp. 171-181, pp. 190-194, pp. 200-202, pp. 207-209