View Full Version : About the Precious Jewel Mirror Samadhi (Hōkyō Zanmai)

09-27-2022, 02:30 AM
The Song of the Precious Mirror Samadhi (Hōkyō Zanmai 寶鏡三昧, sometimes called the "Jewel Mirror Samadhi") is a Zen poem cherished in Soto Zen which first appeared during the Song Dynasty. Authorship is traditionally attributed to Dongshan Liangjie (Tōzan Ryōkai), the founder of the Caodong/Sōtō branch of Zen, although scholars tend to doubt that he is the actual author.

Here is a sample from commentators on its significance and history:

[Rev. Sheng-yen:] The mirror is our true self. It is precious because no matter how long it has been hidden, forgotten, and covered with dust, it never loses its power of illumination and reflection. The precious mirror is not an ordinary mirror, so the analogy must be stretched. An ordinary mirror has a finite shape and size. It has sides, a front and a back. The precious mirror, however, has no boundaries. It cannot be defined in terms of shape and size...Samadhi refers to the power of the precious mirror ... all attachments fall away. The power that manifests is two-fold: it benefits oneself by removing vexations, and it benefits others by helping them to find their own precious mirror. This is the power, the samadhi – of the precious mirror. ...”

[Prof. Morton Schlutter:] “One text that is sometimes cited as evidence for a Silent Illumination approach in the earliest Ts’ao-tung [Soto] tradition is the famous Pao-ching san-mei. This beautiful poem does seem like a celebration of the inherently enlightened nature of all sentient beings and, in holding up the Buddha’s contemplation under the tree as a model, it can be understood to advocate indirectly a meditation in which this enlightened nature becomes apparent.

[Maezumi-roshi:] ... The jewel is one's true entity; the mirror, the objective spheres reflecting the parts of one's own life. The samadhi is the unity, the Buddha's wisdom that Guatama himself proclaimed at the moment of his enlightenment: "How miraculously wondrous! All beings have the Tathagata's wisdom and virtue." The intimacy is simply realizing that your true nature and the phenomenal world are meeting right here, now, as your life.

Many larger Soto Zen temples and monasteries in Japan chant this daily, as a part of their long Morning Service. We do not actually chant this at Treeleaf simply because I wish to keep our ceremonies simple and minimalist, and we do not chant everything. In theme, it is not unlike the Sandokai/Harmony of Relative and Absolute, which we do chant, but the Hokkyo Zanmai is much more obtuse and mysterious in expression. For example, in one translation:

It is like facing a jewel mirror; form and image behold each other –
You are not it, in truth it is you.
Like a babe in the world, in five aspects complete;
It does not go or come, nor rise nor stand.
"Baba wawa" – is there anything said or not?
Ultimately it does not apprehend anything because its speech is not yet correct.
It is like the six lines of the illumination hexagram: relative and ultimate interact -
Piled up, they make three, the complete transformation makes five.
It is like the taste of the five-flavored herb, like a diamond thunderbolt.
Subtly included within the true, inquiry and response come up together.
Communing with the source, travel the pathways,
embrace the territory and treasure the road.

That takes some explaining, which is why the Hokkyo may be better suited to Dharma Talks and explanation as to the meanings and teaching, rather than chanting. For example, if you would like to read a wonderful study of the meaning, line by line, comparing a variety of translations in English, I recommend this very detailed paper comparing many sources:

Jewel Mirror Samadhi Translation Study (LINK) (https://drive.google.com/file/d/1GRSywzU_pvgZ1EgIj5d2QCR16Vy1lpyU/view?usp=sharing)

It offers, for example, the following discussion of some of the above references, such as the "six lines of the "illumination/double li" hexagram, more often found in i-ching/yin-yang teachings, which some Zen folks borrowed to represent the relationship of the "absolute" and "relative" in the long and short lines:

7924 = Double Li (Fire)


[Prof. Whalen Lai:] Why is the double li hexagram chosen? This question is important because the choice by Tung-shan [Dongshan] could not have been accidental. The trigram li has always been regarded with awe, because along with the trigram kan, it makes up the two most stable yin-yang combinations possible. Kan and li are the ruling dynamic forces in the universe as it is operating now. They occupy the key top and bottom positions in the circle known as the Diagram of Later Heaven, also produced in the Sung period .... The pure yang and the pure yin trigrams are actually less important in the on-going operation of change because they are “dead” and “unchangeable” as pure types. They belong to the primordial universe and to the Diagram of the Former Heaven – a static diagram. That Ts’ao-tung Ch’an [Soto Zen] should have chosen li, one of the two key trigrams, seems logical. The question remains: Why li and not kan? Various explanations have been offered, but the best one in my opinion is that li is the trigram for mind, hsin 心 and enlightenment, ming 明. For a Buddhist tradition that emphasized “pointing to the mind of men (such that in) seeing their (buddha-) nature they would be enlightened,” the choice of the trigram li could not be better. Perhaps, there is another hidden reason which, as far as I know, has not been noted before. Li means literally “departure from,” “freedom from,” etc. and the concept li-nien – its root being in the Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana – had been central in the formative years of the Ch’an tradition…Finally, the li trigram is an appropriate picture of the mind and may even hold the key to better understanding the Ts’ao-tung Ch’an tradition that had been derided by Lin-chi opponents in the past and now. The Ts’ao-tung concept of mind is not that of a passive mind, but a passive mind in dynamic function. The central line in the trigram li is passive (yin) and this is the ruling chung-wei in the trigram. However, out of this passive core evolves the dynamic total li trigram with active (yang) lines above and below. The li trigram in fact is the trigram for the element fire 火. The message then seems to be: at the heart of the most dynamic functionings of the mind is the passive core. Capture this passive core and utilize its dynamic possibility and the world is in your hand…Indeed, it is the Ch’an of Silent Illumination: the silent passivity belongs to the core of the mind, but the active illumination is the yang function of this same mind. Within fire (yang) is the yin element. ...

[mindblowing] Okay then! (In other words, according to Dr. Lai, the symbol of the "li" hexagram somehow conveys nicely the identity of relative and absolute, the unmoving in all activity and activity in all stilless, etc. etc., better than the other symbols which are either a little "too stable" or too skewed to one or the other. Gotcha! :encouragement: )

Also, when it is chanted in Japanese, it has a lovely, unique "long extended/short syllables" melody that I have not heard recreated well in English:


The San Francisco Zen Center seems to chant it sometimes, perhaps once a week I think. Here is their version. It seems almost to lose the melody and rhythm, however, and is as much a reading as a chant (maybe it needs a little more jump somehow? :p ):


Shasta Abbey/Order of Buddhist Contemplatives has a version which (as they do, finding common ground with British Anglican sensibilities) recreates the melody as "Plainsong" (a kind of "Gregorian Chant"), complete with church organ ...


Some other western Soto Zen Sangha chant it as part of their ceremonies, but I think that most do not on a regular basis.

Kokuu has a lovely prose reading here:


Perhaps I should offer a Talk on this for a monthly Zazenkai, or make it the theme for our Rohatsu Retreat this year. Hmmm. It has been a long time since I did so. Hmmm ...

Gassho, J



09-27-2022, 07:42 AM
Thanks for sharing this. I'm always interested in a lot of the early Zen texts.

Gassho gassho1

Tai Do
09-27-2022, 01:15 PM
Thank you, Jundo.

Tomás ESP
09-27-2022, 08:42 PM
Communing with the source, travel the pathways,
embrace the territory and treasure the road.

Love it, thank you for sharinggassho1

Gassho, Tomás

Shōnin Risa Bear
09-28-2022, 02:11 AM
Kenshin assigns me one reading along with the Heart Sutra for my daily dedication service. Currently I'm doing Genjokoan (which makes for a rather long service!). I think my favorite (what, playing favorites!?) has been the Jewel Mirror and I look forward to its return in the rotation.


ds sat with a sprinkling of lah

Tai Do
09-28-2022, 01:12 PM
Indeed, Shonin; I also love the Hokkyo Zanmai and all it’s imagery. By the way, May I borrow your practice of rotation between chants for daily service at home?

02-18-2023, 11:08 AM
Thank you

02-18-2023, 11:43 AM
gassho2 gassho2 gassho2

gassho1 aprapti