411. The Blue Mountains Walking

Master Dogen’s Dharma Hall Discourse, number 23:

Deeply see the Blue Mountains constantly walking. By yourself know that the white stone woman gives birth to a child at night

Dogen then descended from his seat.

That is almost a word for word replication of a teaching by Zen master Daokai, who was active in the 11th and very early 12th century in China and who revitalised the Soto lineage. The only alterations which Dogen makes are adding ‘Deeply see’ and ‘By yourself’, and adding ‘white’ to  ‘stone woman’, to remove any ambiguity that the phrase might refer to an infertile woman. 


Dogen’s replication of Daokai goes further than the repetition of his words because he also duplicates his actions.

The original record is that after Daokai said these words he just stepped down from the Dharma seat, and Dogen does the same.  So we have in this quote an enormous thing, the mountains [‘Thusness’],  and a smaller, specific thing, the stone woman [‘Thisness’].

For these Masters, the mountains are representative of the whole of interdependence. We can’t see the mountains walking because we’re within the mountains. Just in the same way as, although we might be sitting still, we can’t see that we’re hurtling through space.

‘The mountains walking’ is a way of talking about the interconnected life of all being through time. 

Yet it seems to me that one unseen thing for them, but not for us, is that in comparison to their world, in our world there has been an incredible speeding up of time.  It now seems that everything, not just the mountains, comes and goes in a blur. Your life comes and goes in a blur, and then it’s over.

So it’s important to emphasise the other aspect of the dynamic impermanence and interdependence represented by the Blue Mountains, and that is stillness. We experience both when we’re sitting Zazen. We experience the thought laden wind of interdependence, taking place within a larger container of Stillness.

When we’re sitting we become intimate with both impermanence but also with something different. We could variously call that the Eternal or the continuous present or Stillness or  Thusness. 

These two aspects mean that there’s  not simply one moment, then another moment, then another moment, then another moment.  Each moment is like a magnificent tree whose roots extend throughout the Earth and connect intimately with all other moments. We could call these two aspects the forward axis and the sideways axis.

So the mountains, our lives, the whole shebang aren’t simply coming and going in a blur, as if we’re in a bullet train speeding past them. 

There’s something else which is particularly relevant to us in this era of the dramatic speeding up of time.  It’s almost as if our feet don’t touch the ground. Not just literally: they don’t touch the ground of being. But when we sit, they do. Even if this speeded up time is pushing and pulling us, it is doing so within this stillness.

What of the stone woman? Obviously it’s absurd that a stone woman could give birth to anything. Yet we can understand that the reference to ‘night’ is a reference to non-duality. So the suggestion is that everything is alive and everything is giving birth. We’re giving birth to our children all the time. The children are known by various names: Beauty, Pain, Confusion, Clarity, Love, Rage. 

Which of them will outlast us?