Drawing donuts

Gabyo is one of my favorite Dogen essays. Literally, it means “painted ricecake”, but I would update that and call it “drawing donuts”. In this chapter of Shobo Genzo, Dogen ponders the meaning of the ancient Chinese saying that a painted ricecake cannot satisfy your hunger—or, as I would say, a drawing of a donut can’t fill you up.

Gabyo is the ultimate essence of Dogen’s phenomenological viewpoint, if I may call it that,. He is saying that even a “real” donut is something we “draw” in our “minds”.

The initial paragraph of Gabyo is a tour-de-force introduction to the concept. Tanahashi (in Moon in a Dewdrop) gives a typically opaque, overly literal, basically incomprehensible, and in places erroneous rendition:

All buddhas are realization, thus all things are realization. Yet no buddhas or things have the same characteristics; none have the same mind. Although there are no similar characteristics or minds, at the moment of your actualization numerous actualizations manifest without hindrance. At the moment ofyour manifestation, numerous manifestions come forth without opposing one another. This is the straightforward teaching of the ancestors.

My perhaps overly modern version is as follows. This is not just a rewriting of the Tanahashi translation, but rather is based on the original, with reference to a modern Japanese version.

If you get it, you’re cool, and so things are cool. You are different from things, of course, inside and out. But both you and things pop out when they’re cool because their coolnesses don’t bump into each other. Both can pop out when they pop out only because their poppings don’t poke into each other. This is the wisdom of the ages in a nutshell.

One Response to “Drawing donuts”

  1. mikefrog Says:

    Hmm. At least with the Tanahashi version, I grasp at once that I have no idea what he’s talking about.
    With your version, it seems as if I might, because the words are familiar, but actually I have no idea what “poppings poking into each other” would be.

    The fact that I have no idea what it means is of course, not your fault!! But your version is in danger of fooling me into thinking I do…

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