To what shall
I liken the world?
Shaken from a crane’s bill
Although at first glance Dogen is expressing familiar themes within Japanese poetry of the poignancy of transient beauty, the sadness inherent in the awareness that all things are impermanent, his real intention in the poem is to show the wholeness of everything. There is no Nirvana, no Being (Moonlight) except within Samsara, within beings. The Moon is reflected in the clouds, in the rain, in the dewdrops, in the river, in the ocean, in the eye, in the mind, in the heart. And apart from this reflection, there is no moon.
Cranes were said to live for a thousand years, and the poem can also be seen as a poetic response to Case 3 of The Blue Cliff a Record. In that case, Baso is unwell ( in fact, he is dying). The Temple Superintendent asked him how he was and he replied ” Sun Face Buddha, Moon Face Buddha”
The reference is to the Sutra of the Buddhas Names. According to the sutra, the lifespan of the Sun Face Buddha is 1,800 years, while the lifespan of the Moon Face Buddha is just a day.
Baso was alluding to the double aspect of beings. We occupy a particular momentary dharma position, and at the same time each being is all being, eternal. Momentary and eternal. Dogen radicalises the momentariness, and so emphasises the unity of all being. Although the dewdrops are transient, the water of life does not go.