Fish, Birds and Day-to-day Enlightenment


Do you obsess yourself with full research to prepare for your trip or try to make it as spontaneous as possible? People sometimes do a thorough research on towns and cities they are going to visit but all too often things don’t make sense until you actually jump in and immerse yourself in that environment. Open-mindedness over knowing is the key. In his Zen cannon, Shobo Genzo, Dogen speaks to us about how enlightenment comes about, taking fish and birds for example.

うを水をゆくに、ゆけども水のきはなく、鳥そらをとぶに、とぶといへどもそらのきはなし。(…) しかあるを、水をきはめ、そらをきはめてのち、水そらをゆかんと擬する鳥魚あらんは、水にもそらにもみちをうべからず、ところをうべからず。このところをうれば、この行李したがひて現成公案す。このみちをうれば、この行李したがひて現成公案なり。

Fish swims in the water but they never reach its end. Birds fly in the air but they never reach its end. (…) But if they try to know everything about the water or the sky before they dip into the water or take a flight into the sky, the path nor space will never be open to them. If we are open to the space and the path, we find ourselves enlightened in our day-to-day existence.

魚は水を泳ぐ。しかし、いくら泳いでも水の果てはない。鳥は空を飛ぶ。これまた、いくら飛んでも空の果てはない。(…) ところが、水を究め尽くしてから水を行こうとか、空を究め尽くしてから空を行こうと考える鳥や魚は、水にも空にも道を得ることはできない。有り処を得ることもできない。この有り処とも言えるものを得られれば、日常生活の中に森羅万象を感じられ、この道を得ることで、日常生活の中に悟りを得る。

Before we start something new, we often have a lot of anticipation. Visiting new places, striking up a new relationship with people, and carrying out unfamiliar procedures. All of these involves a lot of anticipation. The problem is that you are so scared that you just try to know everything beforehand, which keeps you from even getting your feet wet.


Knowing things beforehand doesn’t necessarily mean knowing things well. Now that you can do thorough research on anything online, you may be able to equip yourself with knowledge and information that you believe are necessary. You could check out the area with the map application. You could check out all different reviews on hotels and books. But in many cases things turn out to be different from what you expected to be or much clearer and more vivid when you experience them, so much so that you finally take things to heart.


What is stressed here, however, is not about urging people to make a try before giving a second thought. It’s about how you keep in mind that there is still something you never know after all research. That’s how you stay open to what surrounds you. You are aware of the limitless space but never bewildered about endless path. You never be desperate for the goal or frustrated by the absence of achievement. This will help you see the path unfold. That’s how you are open to the path.


Among language learners good at communicating in their target language, some are aware of the impossibility of perfect mastery. This keeps them away from getting desperate in learning. They are just able to take in what they experience in a quite natural way. That’s the way you are open to whatever surrounds you.


Some people create an intimate atmosphere in instant. Some people show their enthusiasm and optimism. Instead of being desperate about understanding everything, they just take in whatever unfolds before them. For them, each encounter with people and events is perceived as seeing things as they are.


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