The Denkōroku (伝光録) is a book written by Keizan who was a successor to Dogen Zenji. The Denkōroku is The Book of the Transmission; it has chapters for each of the ancestors of the transmission of the Dharma.

The first chapter is the chapter on Shakyamuni Buddha and it ends with a little poem. Each of the chapters in Denkōroku ends with a verse. This first verse is as follows:

The branch of an old plum tree grows straight
Its thorns spread with time

This is a typically cryptic poem. What does it mean?

The old plum tree is the Dharma. It’s very old. In fact, it has been there from time immeasurable. A branch grows straight. This branch was Shakyamuni Buddha. Shakyamuni Buddha appeared in the world, a straight branch on an old plum tree.

If you reflect a moment, you realise that straight branches on old plum trees are rather rare. Shakyamuni Buddha was a very special case; and people recognised that he was a very special case. They came flocking to hear his teachings. Also, of course, as soon as it was seen that people were flocking to hear his teachings, some people became jealous and there were all sorts of arguments and splits and divisions and protests: young people wanted to go off and follow the Buddha and parents were outraged and locked them up in cupboards and wouldn’t let them go; some went on hunger-strike. There was all the normal pandemonium and commotion that you might expect when there is some stir in the social world.

So, although here we had this most miraculous and amazing phenomenon of a straight branch on an old plum tree, there were many thorns. There were thorns in every direction. As time goes on, there have been more thorns.

The Buddhadharma passes from generation to generation and it continues in essence to be a straight branch. It is straight in its morality, in its ethicality. It is straight in its appreciation of the nature of mind. It is straight in its being a pure and deep faith that transcends all the vicissitudes of ordinary life.

This is a straight branch and it is connected directly to the old plum tree of the Dharma which has its roots deep in the soil, the soil which is the soil of the whole universe, the whole cosmos, the whole of meaning.

But the plum tree has thorns. On the one hand, you can say these thorns are a lot of trouble, they cause a lot of upset, people get prickled by them. On the other hand, the thorns are also something of a protection for the fruit of the tree. The plum tree bears beautiful fruit. The Dharma’s fruit appears in the world and it is in a certain way protected by the prickles.

So, Keizan wrote this verse

The branch of an old plum tree grows straight
Its thorns spread with time

to conclude his chapter in the Denkōroku about Shakyamuni Buddha, the founder of our great tradition. This is, what we turn to, this is, what we go back to, this is the object of our refuge. We take refuge in that straight branch which takes us right back to the old plum tree.


Namo Amida Bu
Thank you very much



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