Sunday, January 2, 2011

Chodai Kesa no Ge in detail... Part 1 of X

I have been intending for several years to have a webpage with some Zen info that has been of importance or interest to me. It has not happened. Feeling more like doing rather than intending to do, I am posting part of the study I have been doing on Chodai Kesa no Ge.

Note in the following, the pronunciation guide is based on the chanting style of Nishijima Roshi as heard in this YouTube video (

大 哉 解 脱 服
 無 相 福 田 衣
 披 奉 如 來 教
 廣 度 諸 衆 生

Key to some notations.
N = Nelson’s Japanese English Character Dictionary - On reading (Chinese) is in all caps - Kun reading (Japanese sound assigned to character) is in lowercase italics.
Breen =
Breen:B = Buddhist Dictionary
Breen:G: = General Dictionary
M =
Bc = (the CKJV branch)
Bd = (the DDB branch – Digital Dicitonary of Buddhism).
T =
➸ comments in red, following arrows,  are my observations

N 1133 → DAI. large, huge, grand ❧
N 779 → ➀ SAI. kana. How!, What!, Alas! ➁ ya. question mark  ➸ a japanese particle

➸ Though the kun reading ‘kana’ is used often in haiku and seems rather introspective, "sai" is a joyous, outgoing
N 5548 → GE. explanation, key, understanding ❧

T → unravel; notes; key;
explanation; understanding; untie; undo; solve; answer; cancel ❧
N 4822 → DATSU. removing ❧

T → undress; removing; escape from; get rid of; be left out; take off ❧
N 4775 → FUKU. Clothes ❧

T → 私【しふく】civilian clothes; plain clothes ❧
- sai
  • ➸ The many compounds that include "sai" indicate it is a very energetic and outgoing concept. Here are some examples from T
    • kaisai 【快哉】joy; exultation
    • zenzai 【善哉】Well done!;  Bravo!
    • kaisaiwosakebu 【快哉を叫ぶ】to shout with exultation;  to shout for joy
解脱 - gedatsu
  • Gedatsu - deliverance from earthly bondage - moksha (
  • Moksha is seen as a final release from one's worldly conception of self, the loosening of the shackle of experiential duality and a realization of one's own fundamental nature which is true being, pure consciousness and bliss (satcitananda) an experience which is ineffable and beyond sensation. (
  • T → A common noun (fustuumeishi) or participle which takes the aux. verb する: being liberated from earthly desires and
    the woes of man; (reaching) nirvana; moksha;  mukti
  • literally ‘release from concept’ the implication is release from woes or attaining nirvana. When we operate beyond concepts we are woe-free….or at least I think that’s part of Buddha’s thesis.

N 3439 → MU / BU. Nothing, nil, negation

N 3920 → SOU. aspect, phase, physiognomy

Breen:G → ➀ appearance; look; countenance ➁ a 'seeming' that fortune-tellers relate to one's fortune ➂ -lingustics-
aspect ➃ -physics- phase (e.g. solid, liquid and gaseous)

➸ Watch out for this other character which is almost exactly the same - (N 2606). Note the longer stroke under the "eye" radical. It has the On reading "so". I chased this confusion for a long time.

N 4105 → FUKU. fortune, blessing, luck ❧

T→ common noun: good fortune ❧

N 3727 → DEN. t/da. Rice field ❧

N 5420 → E. Garment ❧

➸ ‘e’ appears to be a specific singular, fuku is the group. Fuku is like clothing or costume. A kimono is one ‘e’ of Japanese ‘fuku’.
無 相 – musou
  • Breen:B→ deviod of marks But Breen:B also shows "有相無相 'usou musou' having form and no form", so 相 can also be translated as "form". But, this is not the kanji used in the heart sutra for "form" (色)
福田 – fukuden
  • Breen:B→ field of merit ➸ The rakusu and kesa are in a rice field pattern.
  • ➸ There are many compound terms in Japanese starting with "fuku." All implying good fortune, prosperity, positive  happenings. Some examples from T are:
    • fukuin 【福音】good news
    • fukutoku 【福徳】fortune;  happiness and prosperity
    • fukubukuro 【福袋】lucky-dip bag;  grab bag;  mystery package (with a variety of articles possibly worth more than the purchase price)
    • fukumimi 【福耳】plump ears, said to bring good fortune
  • ➸ There are also many Japanese names that are, or begin with, the characters for "fukuden" with a variety of pronounciations resulting from the various ways of pronouncing the kanji which represents a rice field, "" : fukuta, fukuda, fukude. 
  • A fortunate rice field would be one that always bring forth crops, never has a bad season. There is a clear implication of growing, coming into being. And, rice is the staple crop of Asia, so it is the essence of life. It is what sustains us. But rice does not grow on its own. It requires care, knowledge and discapline. And it is not the work of a single person. It takes a village (a sangha) for the field to be fruitful - all must work together at planting season. But there are also times when the field must be left alone. And where does the rice grow from? The mud. The earth. In fact, because of the severe importance of water for rice, it is very clearly an all-four-elements plant - Fire (sun), Earth, Water and air.
  • The physical form of the kesa, modeled after the rice field, pulls in the essential and fundamental ideas of and implications of the rice field. The kesa is our practice. Our practice is a rice field. This link cannot be ignored. 
無相 福 田– musou fukuden e
  • ➸ Unlike a tangible fertile rice field, our practice is formless. There is no spot to cling to. The dharma is beyond naming, there is no place to grab and hold. It is this formless field that sustains us. This is where our practice can grow. And the kesa is the garment that reminds of this formless fertile truth. 
  • ➸ Perhaps "Robe of living formless truth." "Living" is not in the characters, but is certainly implied by the rice field allusions. "Verdant" may be even better. "Truth" is also absent as a character, but it is perhaps the closest Western idea that
    has the same iconic weight as a rice field. As a combination "Verdant Truth" is very much what a fortunate ricefield represents. The truth, the law, that is actualized in real practice.

More to come in the next post....


Joel H said...

Thanks for your efforts! Impressive! This post important for me. I chant the sutra in Finnish every morning and evening.

Lauren said...

Glad it is useful to you Joel. I should have the rest up in a few weeks.

And thanks for *your* efforts.