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Book Name: Dogen, the Zen MasterPrevious     Next

becomes ingrained into his mind, but anybody who is studying Chinese from the outside world ... I have been told by friends that it takes ten years at least, if one works strenuously; thirty years if one works the way any ordinary student will work.

At the age of four, to understand Chinese -- and not only Chinese, but Chinese poetry; that makes it even more difficult. Because to understand the prose of any language is simple, but the poetry has wings, it flies to faraway places. Prose is very marketplace, very earthly; it creeps on the earth. Poetry flies. What prose cannot say, poetry can manage to indicate. Prose is connected with your mind, poetry is more connected with your heart; it is more like love than like logic.

At the age of four, Dogen's understanding of Chinese poetry immediately showed that he was not going to be an ordinary human being. From that very age his behavior was not that of a mediocre child; he behaved like a buddha, so serene, so graceful, not interested in toys. All children are interested in toys, teddy-bears ... who cares about poetry?

But, fortunately or unfortunately, his father died when he was only two years old and his mother died when he was seven. Dogen used to say later on to his disciples, when he became a fully-fledged master in his own right, that everybody thought it was a misfortune: "What will happen to this beautiful, intelligent child?" But in his deepest heart he felt it was an opportunity; now there was no barrier.

Modern psychologists will perhaps understand it: you may be grown up -- fifty, sixty, seventy -- your father and mother may be dead ... still they dominate you in a very psychological way. If you silently listen to the voices within you can work out that, "This voice comes from my father, or from my mother, or from my uncle, or from my teacher, or from the priest."

Dogen used to say, "It was a great opportunity that both the people who could have distracted me, who loved me and I loved them ... and that was the danger. They died at the right time. I am infinitely grateful to them just because they died at the right time without destroying me."

It is something very

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