by Eihei Dogen

English version by Ivan M. Granger
Original Language Japanese

Beneath the snows
the hidden world of winter grass.

And in the field of white, a white heron
hides himself.

-- from This Dance of Bliss: Ecstatic Poetry from Around the World, Edited by Ivan M. Granger

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

Looking out my window, I see a quiet winter morning, mist trickling in among the bare branches, yesterday's snow still new upon the ground. I think of this poem…

Reading this poem, we immediately ask what a white heron in snow has to do with worship, as suggested by the title.

And in the field of white, a white heron
hides himself.

Have you ever watched a heron fishing, wading at the edge of a lake? Its entire being is focused. Even when it moves it seems utterly still. Because of these qualities, the heron is a natural symbol for the meditator.

We have a being of white -- the heron, the meditator—disappearing into an environment of white -- the snow-covered field. In fact, the heron is not passively disappearing, it is actively engaged in the process. He “hides himself” in the snow. How does the heron hide? Through stillness. The heron settles into its own nature. It is already as white as the snowy world it inhabits. The heron just has to grow quiet, be itself, and it naturally disappears from sight.

Snow represents the glowing world as perceived by the enlightened awareness. Everything, when draped in new-fallen snow, becomes one. Everything is the same “white” radiance. Everything comes to rest within this shared glow of being. The idea of separation is lost in that light. Beings and objects are suddenly seen as a fluid continuity within that “field of white.”

So this, according to Dogen, is what constitutes true worship: Through meditation and stillness we recognize our own incandescent nature in the midst of the bright field of being. As we settle into ourselves, we gently merge with the luminous reality that surrounds us.

Recommended Books: Eihei Dogen

Zen Poetry: Let the Spring Breeze Enter Haiku Enlightenment: New Expanded Edition The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library) The Zen Poetry of Dogen: Verses from the Mountain of Eternal Peace The Soul is Here for its Own Joy: Sacred Poems from Many Cultures