Aria from Mountains and Rivers

Soprano and piano

5 minutes


Text from Dogen Zenji, adapted by Jaime Manrique and Joel Feigin

Program Note

Aria from Mountains and Rivers for soprano and piano was originally written in 1988 as part of the sound track for Mountains and Rivers, a video by John Daido Loori Roshi, my Zen teacher at the time.  Based on the Mountains and Rivers Sutra from Shobogenzo, the masterpiece of the 13th century Zen master Dogen Zenji, who brought the Soto lineage from China to Japan, The video features beautiful footage of the changing landscape of the Catskill Mountains as they move from the end of winter through the seasons and finally back to winter again.  In addition to the music, the soundtrack featured Daido Roshi reading excerpts from Dogen’s text.  In 1993 I revised a section of the soundtrack into a concert piece.

The “mountains and rivers” of Dogen’s title refer to the two truths of the relative and absolute—our usual world and the same world understood from the standpoint of its essential being, its “suchness”.  These two worlds are inseparable: for example, waves can sometimes be very turbulent, but the ocean in its depths is always at peace; and yet both the waves and the ocean are nothing other than water: there is ultimately no difference between them.

Another unfamiliar term is a “kalpa”, which is traditionally the time it would take a small bird to wear Mt. Everest down to a level plane if it brushed against it lightly once a century.  For Dogen, this is the time-scale on which the “true practice of birth” unfolds.