ZEN IRODALOM ZEN LITERATURE
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[永平] 道元希玄 [Eihei] Dōgen Kigen (1200–1253)
PDF: Dógen Zen mester magyarul elérhető írásai
A zazen dicsérete
Az ülő meditáció szabályai (Sóbógenzó zazengi)
A zazen ösvénye
A szívében a megvilágosodás szellemével élő lény (bódhiszattva) négy irányadó tevékenysége
Életünk kérdése (Gendzsókóan 現成公案)
PDF: Az Út Gyakorlásában Követendő pontok
真字正法眼蔵 [Mana/Shinji] Shōbōgenzō
仮字正法眼蔵 [Kana/Kaji] Shōbōgenzō
普勧坐禅儀 Fukan zazengi
学道用心集 Gakudō-yōjinshū Advice on Studying the Way
永平清規 Eihei shingi Eihei Rules of Purity
永平廣錄 Eihei kōroku Dōgen's Extensive Record
宝慶記 Hōkyō-ki Memoirs of the Hōkyō Period
傘松道詠 Sanshō dōei Verses on the Way from Sanshō Peak
孤雲懷奘 Kōun Ejō (1198-1280)
修證義 Shushō-gi, compiled in 1890
PDF: The Life of Dōgen Zenji
孤雲懷奘 Kōun Ejō (1198-1280)
正法眼蔵随聞記 Shōbōgenzō zuimonki
Shōbōgenzō zuimonki : a collection of occasional notes on Zen Buddhism made by Rev. Koun Ejō when attending his master, Rev. Kigen Dogen,
an English translation by 元開照雄 Genkai Shōyū
Published by Shōyū Kodani, Kurayoshi-shi, Tottori-ken, 1965. 128 p.
Shōbōgenzō - zuimonki. Sayings of Eihei Dogen Zenji recorded by Koun Ejo, translated by Shohaku Okumura, assisted by Daitsû Tom Wright
Kyôto Sôtô-Zen Center, 1987, 232 p.
Japan, Sotoshu Shumucho, 2004
Online: Shobogenzo Zuimonki: Sayings of Eihei Dogen-Zenji
Translated by Shohaku Okumura
PDF: Okumura, Shohaku and Tom Wright, Shōbōgenzō -Zuimonki. Sayings of Eihei Dogen Zenji recorded by Koun Ejo
Japan, Sotoshu Shumucho, 2004
Record of Things Heard from the Treasury of the Eye of the True Teaching: The Shobogenzo-Zuimonki,
Talks of Zen Master Dogen, as Recorded by Zen Master Ejo.
Translated by Thomas Cleary
Prajna Press, Boulder, 1980, 129 p.
PDF: Reiho Masunaga, A Primer of Sōtō Zen; a translation of Dōgen's Shōbōgenzō zuimonki,
[The present translation is based on the standard version by Menzan Zuihō as edited by Watsuji Tetsurō]
Honolulu, University of Hawaii: East-West Center Press, 1971, 1978, 119 p.
London and Henley: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972.
The First Step to Dogen's Zen - Shobogenzo zuimonki
Translated by 横井雄峯 Yokoi Yūhō (1918-)
東京, 山喜房佛書林 Tōkyō Sankibō Busshorin, 1972, 132 p.
Les enseignements du maître zen Dôgen
Shôbôgenzô zuimonki : notes fidèles de paroles entendues du maître zen Ejō
version japonaise la plus ancienne dite de "Chōenji" (1349)
Traduit du japonais et commenté par Kengan Denis Robert
Vannes: Éditions Sully, 2001. 240 p.
Dōgen’s Primer on the Nonmoral Virtues of the Good Person
by Douglas K. Mikkelson
Journal of Buddhist Ethics, Volume 21, 2014
Shobogenzo Zuimonki: Sayings of Eihei Dogen-Zenji
Translated by Shohaku Okumura (奥村正博, b. 1948)
1. Zen Master Eihei Dogen and Koun Ejo
Shobogenzo Zuimonki consists of the dharma talks of Eihei Dogen Zenji (1200–1253) who transmitted Soto Zen from China to Japan. These talks were originally recorded by Koun Ejo Zenji, Dogen’s dharma successor, and probably edited by his disciples after Ejo’s death.
In this introduction, I’d like to briefly introduce Ejo Zenji since he is not as well known in the West as Dogen Zenji.
Ejo was born of a noble family, the Fujiwara, in Kyoto, in 1198. In 1215, at eighteen years of age, he was ordained as a Tendai monk under Master Enno at Yokawa on Mt. Hiei. He studied the fundamental philosophy of Buddhism; the Kusha (Abhidharmakosa-bhasya) Jojitsu (Satyasidhi-sastra), and Tendai teachings etc. However, he realized that studying for fame and profit or for high position in the Buddhist order was meaningless. Arousing bodhi-mind, he wanted to leave the monastery just as many other Buddhist leaders did in that age.
According to the Denkoroku (The Record of Transmitting the Light) of Keizan Jokin, who received ordination from Ejo and later became the successor of Tettsu Gikai, Ejo once visited his mother. His mother said; “I allowed you to become a monk not because I wanted you to rise to a high position and associate with the upper class. Just do not study or practice for fame and profit. I hope only that you will practice in poverty, wear black robes, hang a bamboo hat on your back, and walk on your own feet [instead of riding in palanquins].”
Upon hearing this, Ejo changed his robes and never went back to Mt. Hiei. He visited Shoku (1177–1247), a disciple of Honen and the founder of the Nishiyama School of Pure Land Buddhism in order to study the nenbutsu. Later, he practiced Zen with Bucchi Kakuan (?–?), a disciple of Dainichi Nonin (?–?).
At that time, Zen and Nenbutsu were the two main movements of the so called “New Buddhism”. One of the two leaders of Zen was Myoan Eisai (1141—1215). Eisai went to China twice, his second time staying there for five years to study Rinzai Zen. He received dharma transmission from Koan Esho (?–?) and introduced Zen to Japan. Another leader of Zen was Dainichi Nonin. He did not go to China, but rather practiced Zen by himself and attained enlightenment. Since he was slandered by people because he had not received dharma transmission, he sent two of his disciples to China with a letter containing his understanding of Zen. Nonin’s disciples visited Setsuan Tokko (1121–1203), and received inka for Nonin. His school was called the Nippon-Darumashu (Japanese Dharma School). Kakuan was Nonin’s successor. Not only Ejo, but also Ekan and his disciples, Gikai, Giin, Gien, and others, who later became Dogen Zenji’s disciples forming the Japanese Soto School, were originally disciples of Kakuan. Ejo practiced with Kakuan several years and received inka from him.
In 1227, Dogen Zenji came back from China after five years of practice there and stayed at Kenninji, where he had practiced Zen with Myozen (1184–1225), a disciple of Eisai, for seven years before leaving for China. In the same year, Dogen Zenji wrote Fukanzazengi to promote the practice of zazen which he studied under Tendo Nyojo.
Hearing of Dogen Zenji’s reputation, Ejo thought to himself; “So far I have practiced and accomplished the method of meditation of the Tendai School, have completed the essential practice of Pure Land Buddhism, and have been practicing Zen at Tonomine [with Kakuan] and attained kensho. What else does he (Dogen) have to transmit?”
In 1228, Ejo visited Dogen Zenji at Kenninji to examine what Dogen Zenji had learned in China.
According to the Denkoroku, for the first two or three days, everything Dogen Zenji said was in total agreement with Ejo’s understanding. So Ejo was delighted because he thought what he had attained was the same as that taught in China, and that his enlightenment was genuine. But later, perhaps since Dogen Zenji recognized Ejo was a sincere practitioner and capable of understanding the true dharma, he started to speak differently. At first Ejo was astonished and tried to argue, but soon realized what Dogen Zenji was saying was much deeper than his own understanding. He aroused bodhi-mind again and desired to practice with Dogen.
Dogen Zenji said, “I have received transmission of the true Way and am attempting to promote it in Japan. I am staying in this temple for the time being, but later I will find my own place to practice. After I have found a place, visit me again. You cannot practice following me here.”
This was the first meeting between Dogen and Ejo. Dogen was twenty-nine and Ejo was thirty-one.
In 1230, Dogen Zenji left Kenninji, and moved to a hermitage in Fukakusa. During that year he wrote Bendowa (Talk on Wholehearted Practice of the Way);
“…I returned home in the first year of Shotei (1227). Spreading this dharma and saving all living beings has become my vow. It feels like I am carrying a heavy burden on my shoulders. For the time being, however, I will set aside my vow of propagating this dharma, as I have to wait for the proper time for it to flourish. Now, for a while, I will live alone moving from one place to another like a cloud or a water-plant and follow the way of the ancient sages. However, suppose there are some sincere practitioners who are not concerned with gaining fame or profit and, who have true aspiration to seek the Way. They will be vainly led astray by false teachers and lose sight of any correct understanding, consequently becoming drunk in their own confusion and sinking into delusion forever. How will it be possible for them to nurture the true seed of prajna (ultimate wisdom)? And how can they ever expect to attain the Way? Since I am now spending a life like a cloud or a water-plant, how will they be able to visit me and practice with me? Feeling compassion for those people, I have decided to compile the things I learned about the way of practice in Chinese Zen monasteries and the teachings I received from my teacher. I wish to leave them for sincere practitioners of the Way to enable them to know about the true dharma of the Buddha.”
It is obvious that Bendowa was for people like Ejo. Doyu Takeuchi, the author of Eihei-niso Koun Ejo Zenji Den (The Biography of Koun Ejo, the Second Abbot of Eiheiji-monastery), has surmised that the eighteen questions and replies in Bendowa were mainly based on the discussion with Ejo at their first meeting at Kenninji.
In the spring of 1233, Dogen Zenji founded Koshoji in Fukakusa. In that year, he wrote Shobogenzo Genjo Koan, and Shobogenzo Makahannyaharamitsu, which became the first and second chapters of the seventy-five-volume version of Shobogenzo. He also refined Fukanzazengi. Thus, Dogen began his active life of propagating the dharma.
In 1234, Ejo visited Dogen Zenji again and became his disciple. In the Denkoroku we read,” [Dogen Zenji] spent two years with no one visiting him. Finally, Ejo came to practice with him. It was the first year of Bunreki (1234). Dogen Zenji was delighted and permitted him to stay. They talked about the Way of the patriarchs for several days and nights.”
Until he moved to Echizen (presently Fukui Prefecture) to found Eiheiji in 1243, Dogen Zenji put all his efforts during the next ten years into founding the sangha at Koshoji. He built the first formal sodo in Japan, educating the monks and writing many chapters of the Shobogenzo as well as other works such as Gakudo-Yojinshu, Tenzokyokun, etc. Ejo received the “Bodhisattva Precepts” on August 15, 1235, and formally became his disciple. Ejo received dharma transmission in 1236, the year the sodo was built at Koshoji. Ejo was appointed the first shuso (head monk) for the first practice period there and gave lectures in behalf of Dogen Zenji. (see 4-5 of Zuimonki) Thus, Ejo became Dogen Zenji’s closest assistant. Zuimonki is a record of Dogen Zenji’s informal dharma talks to his disciples, visiting monks and lay students during the period 1235 to 1237.
Later on, until Dogen Zenji’s death in 1253, Ejo assisted him as his personal attendant (jisha) even when he was in charge of other things. It is said that Ejo missed seeing Dogen for but ten days because of sickness during the twenty years of their association.
After they moved into Eiheiji, Dogen Zenji had Ejo carry out all the ceremonies in his place. When asked why he replied, “My life will not be long. You will live longer than I and surely will propagate my Way. Therefore, I value you for the sake of the dharma.”
After Dogen Zenji passed away in 1253, Ejo took over the abbotship of Eiheiji. Ejo himself died in 1280 when he was eighty-three years old.
Ejo’s sole writing consisted of a work entitled Komyozo-Zanmai, written when he was eighty-one years old. He did, however, work on the compilation of the Shobogenzo and other writings. Today we can read Dogen Zenji’s teachings thanks to his dharma successor, Ejo.
2. Shobogenzo Zuimonki
3. Regarding the text
The Zuimonki manuscript published by Menzan Zuiho in 1770 has received the widest audience. This text is called the rufubon or the popular version. The publication by Iwanami-bunko in 1929 is based on the rufubon.
In 1942, an older version was found by Doshu Okubo at Choenji Temple in Aichi Prefecture. This one is referred to as the Choenji-bon. The Choenji-bon was published by Chikuma Shobo along with a modern Japanese translation with footnotes by Mizuno Yaoko in 1963.
The present English translation is based on the Iwanami-bunko version, although I have also crosschecked it with the Choenji-bon. I also looked at and appreciated A Primer of Soto Zen-A Translation of Dogen’s Shobogenzo Zuimonki by Reiho Masunaga (East-West Center Press, 1971) and Record of Things Heard From the Treasury of the Eye of the True Teaching by Thomas Cleary (Prajna Press, 1980). I attempted this translation not because I thought these earlier translations were not good, but because I wanted to study Zuimonki more deeply for myself. I read Zuimonki for the first time when I was a student and it made a strong impression on me. Actually, that was one of the reasons I became a monk. Since then Zuimonki has been a strong force in my life. When I have a problem I recall Dogen Zenji’s admonitions about the matter as well as those of my teacher’s. And now, I wish to follow this way of life taught by Dogen Zenji.
For the footnotes, I referred to A Dictionary of Japanese Buddhist Terms by Hisao Inagaki, Nagata Bunshodo, 1984.
One day Dogen said,
In the Zoku-kosoden 1(Continued Biographies of Eminent Monks), there's a story about a monk in the assembly of a certain Zen master. The monk worshipped a golden image of the Buddha as well as the relics of the Buddha 2. Even in the dormitory 3, he constantly burned incense and prostrated himself before them, honoring and making offerings.
One day, the master said to the monk, “The image and relics of the Buddha which you worship will eventually be harmful to you.”
The monk was not convinced.
The master continued, “This is the doing of the demon Papiyas4. Throw them away right now.”
As the monk was leaving in anger, the master shouted after him, “Open the box and look inside!”
Although angry, the monk opened up the box; he found a poisonous snake lying coiled up inside.
As I think about this story, the images and relics of the Buddha should be revered since they are the form and bones left by the Tathagata 5; nevertheless, it is a false view 6 to think that you will be able to gain enlightenment only through worshipping them. Such a view will cause you to become possessed by the demon and the poisonous snake.
Since the merit of the Buddha's teaching does not change, reverence of images and relics will certainly bring blessings to human and heavenly beings 7 equal to paying reverence to the living Buddha. In general, it is true that if you revere and make offerings to the world of the Three Treasures 8, your faults will disappear and you will gain merit; the karma that leads you to the evil realms 9 will be removed, and you will be reborn in the realms of human and heavenly beings. However, it is a mistaken view to expect to gain enlightenment of the dharma in this way.
Since being the Buddha's child 10 is following the Buddha's teachings and reaching buddhahood 11 directly, we must devote ourselves to following the teaching and put all our efforts into the practice of the Way. The true practice which is in accordance with the teaching is nothing but shikantaza 12, which is the essence of the life in this sorin (monastery) 13 today. Think this over deeply.
- The Zoku-kosoden was compiled by Nanzan Dosen (Nanshan Daoxuan, 596–667) the founder of the Nanzan-ritsu School. This thirty-volume collection includes the biographies of the monks from the Liang dynasty (502–557) to the beginning of the Tang dynasty (618–907).
- Skt., sarira . After Shakyamuni died, his relics were divided into eight portions and enshrined in the stupas erected by his lay students in the various districts in India. Since then, the Buddha's relics have been an object of worship for lay people.
- Shuryo in Japanese, is a hall for studying, having tea, or taking a rest in Zen monasteries. Kannon Bodhisattva is enshrined in the shuryo .
- Tenma-hajin in Japanese. Tenma means a heavenly demon, the king of the Paranirmitavasavartin-heaven ( takejizai - ten ) and is so called because he causes hindrances to those who follow the Buddhist Way. Hajun (Papiyas in Skt.) is the name of the demon.
- Nyorai in Japanese, one of the epithets for the Buddha. Literally, Nyorai means ‘thus-come' or ‘thus-gone', popularly construed as “the one who has come from (gone to) thusness.”
- A wrong view which goes against the dharma, or which prevents people from seeing reality as it is, or which neglects the principle of cause-and-effect.
- Human-beings and heavenly-beings are still in the realm of samsara. The original Japanese for ‘a blessing' is fukubun which means the causes which bring about happiness in the human and heavenly world. In contrast to fukubun is dobun , the cause for the Way which transcends samsara, that is, the human and heavenly world.
- The Three Treasures in Buddhism are: (1) the buddha, one who is awakened to reality and teaches it, (2) the dharma, the reality and the teaching which points to the reality, and (3) the sangha, the community of people who follow the teaching. The world of the Three Treasures is quite different from the realm of samsara based on delusions or desires.
- Samsara is categorized into six realms: hell, the realm of insatiable spirits, animals, asura demons, human, and heavenly beings. The first three are called the evil realms while the other three are called the good realms. Sometimes, the first four are called the evil realms and the last two are called the good realms.
- Human beings become the Buddha's children by receiving the Buddha's precepts through ordination.
- In the Shobogenzo Sanjushichihon-bodaibunpo Dogen said, “The great teacher Shakyamuni abandoned succeeding to his father's rank of king not because it was ignoble, but because he was to succeed to the rank of buddha which was incomparably precious. The rank of buddha is the rank of a homeless monk. This is the rank revered by all heavenly and human beings. This is the rank of supreme awareness ( annutara-samyak-sambodhi ).”
- Literally, this means ‘just sitting.' In Bendowa , Dogen quoting his teacher wrote, “According to the unmistakenly handed down tradition, this buddha-dharma, which has been singularly and directly transmitted, is supreme beyond comparison. From the time you begin to practice under a teacher, incense burning, bowing, nenbutsu , as well as the practices of repentance or of reading the sutras, are unnecessary. Simply practice zazen ( shikantaza ), dropping off body and mind.”
Shikantaza is zazen which is practiced without expecting any reward, even enlightenment. It is just being yourself right now, right here.
- Literally sorin means a forest in which various kinds of trees are living together. In a monastery, all practitioners with their different characters, capabilities, and backgrounds live together with unified bodhi-mind; thus Zen monasteries are called sorin.
Dogen also said,
[You] should maintain the precepts and eating regulations 1 (one meal a day before noon, etc.). Still, it is wrong to insist upon them as essential, establish them as a practice, and expect to be able to gain the Way by observing them. We follow them just because they are the activities of Zen monks 2 and the lifestyle of the Buddha's children. Although keeping them is good, we should not take them as the primary practice. I don't mean to say, however, that you should break the precepts and become self-indulgent. Clinging to such an attitude is an evil view and not that of a Buddhist practitioner. We follow the precepts or regulations simply because they form the standard for a Buddhist and are the tradition of Zen monasteries. While I was staying at Chinese monasteries, I met no one who took them as the primary concern.
For true attainment of the Way, devoting all effort to zazen alone has been transmitted among the buddhas and patriarchs 3. For this reason, I taught a fellow student of mine, Gogenbo, a disciple of Zen-Master Eisai 4, to abandon his strict adherence of keeping the precepts and reciting the Precept Sutra 5 day and night.
Ejo asked, “When we practice and learn the Way in a Zen monastery we should keep the pure regulations made by Zen Master Hyakujo 6, shouldn't we? In the beginning of the Regulations (Hyakujo-Shingi), it says that receiving and maintaining the precepts is prerequisite. In this tradition, the Fundamental Precept has also been handed down. In the oral and face-to-face transmission of this lineage, the students are given the precepts transmitted from the West (India). These are the Bodhisattva Precepts. Also, it says in the Precept Sutra, that people must recite the Sutra day and night. Why do you have us discontinue this practice?”
Dogen replied, “You are right. Practitioners of the Way certainly ought to maintain Hyakujo's regulations. The form of maintaining the regulations is receiving and observing the precepts and practicing zazen, etc. The meaning of reciting the Precept Sutra day and night and observing the precepts single-mindedly 7 is nothing other than practicing shikantaza , following the activities of the ancient masters. When we sit zazen, what precept is not observed, what merit is not actualized? The ways of practice carried on by the ancient masters have a profound meaning. Without holding on to personal preferences, we should go along with the assembly and practice in accordance with those ways.
- During the Kamakura Period in which Dogen lived, there were some who neglected the precepts and regulations and others who put emphasis on observing them. Representatives of the former were the Pure-land-Buddhists, especially Shinran, an example of the latter was Eisai. It seems that Dogen sought the middle-way, that is keeping the precepts without clinging to them, without expectation of some reward from observing them. Dogen emphasized just keeping them and practicing without the defilements of human sentiments.
- Noso , in Japanese, literally means a monk who wears a patched robe. The patched robe refers to the kesa ( kesaya in Sanskrit) made of abandoned rags. Monks cut abandoned rags into pieces and sewed them together. Since Zen monks wore patched robes, they were called patch-robed monks. Dogen also used the word “ nossu ” in the same way.
- In Shobogenzo Shohojisso Dogen wrote, “The manifestation of the buddhas and patriarchs is the manifestation of ultimate reality. So being buddhas or patriarchs is being just as-it-is. In order to be as-it-is. We have to learn and practice the tradition of the buddhas and patriarchs.”
- Here, Dogen called him Yojo Sojo, which is another name for Zen Master Eisai (1141–1215). Sojo is a title of the first rank in the Buddhist hierarchy. Originally, Eisai was a Tendai priest. When he visited China a second time and stayed there for five years, he studied Rinzai Zen and introduced it into Japan. He founded Kenninji where Dogen later practiced Zen under Myozen, one of Eisai's disciples. Dogen respected Eisai very much and in Zuimonki praised his deeds. There is some controversy among scholars as to whether he actually met Eisai or not.
- This refers to the Bonmokyo (Brahmajala-sutra), translated by Kumarajiva. This sutra presents the mahayana precepts for bodhisattvas, which are called Bodhisattva Precepts or Fundamental Precepts, consisting of ten major precepts and forty-eight minor ones. Recent scholars believe this sutra was written in China.
- Shingi in Japanese : the regulations which students should observe when practicing in Zen monasteries. The first shingi were compiled by Hyakujo Ekai . This is why Hyakujo (720–814) was thought of as being the founder of Zen monasteries. The Hyakujo-shingi no longer exists. In the Zennen-shingi , however, the first chapter is on receiving the precepts and the second chapter is on maintaining them. In the first chapter we read, “In learning Zen and seeking the Way, the precepts are of primary (importance). If you don't depart from evil deeds and protect yourself from wrong, how is it possible to be a buddha or a patriarch? “
- In the chapter on the thirty-fourth minor precept of the Bonmokyo , it is written that the precepts should be maintained and recited day and night.
On one occasion Dogen said,
In the assembly of Zen master Bussho 1, there was a monk who, when he was sick, wanted to eat meat 2. The master allowed him to do so. One night the master himself went to the infirmary and saw the sick monk eating meat in the dim lamplight. A demon was clinging to the monk's head, eating the meat. Although the monk thought he was putting it into his own mouth, it was not him, but the demon who was eating. After that whenever a monk fell ill, the master allowed him to eat meat because he knew he was possessed by demons.
Thinking about this story, we must carefully consider whether to allow it or not. There was also an instance of eating meat in the assembly of Goso Hoen 3. Whether allowing or prohibiting it, all the ancient masters surely had their own deep considerations.
- Bussho is the honorific title of Setsuan Tokko (1121–1203), the teacher of Musai Ryoha (1149–1224). Musai was the abbot of the Tendo Monastery when Dogen went to China. After Musai died, Tendo Nyojo became the abbot of the monastery. This section is not found in the Choenji-bon version of Zuimonki .
- According to the third minor precept of the Bonmokyo , eating meat is prohibited for mahayana Buddhists because it cuts off seeds of great compassion.
- Goso Hoen (?–1104). A Zen master of the Chinese Rinzai lineage. It is said that he and his descendants established the koan Practice.
One day Dogen said,
You should know that if you were born into a family following a certain occupation or if you had entered a certain path, you would first have to devote yourself to learning the work of the family or the path. It is no good to study that which has nothing to do with your path or specialty.
Now, since you have left home and joined the family of the Buddha and become monks, you should learn the practice of the Buddha. To learn the practice and maintain the Way is to abandon ego-attachment 1 and to follow the instructions of the teacher. The essence of this is being free from greed. To put an end to greed, first of all, you have to depart from egocentric self. In order to depart from egocentric self, seeing impermanence is the primary necessity.
Many people in the world want to have a good reputation and to be appreciated not only by others but also by themselves. However they are not always well spoken of or praised. If you gradually abandon your ego-attachment and follow the sayings of your teacher, you will progress. If you argue back [pretending] to know the truth, but remain unable to give up certain things and continue to cling to your own preferences, you will sink lower and lower.
For a Zen monk, the primary attitude for self-improvement is the practice of shikantaza . Without consideration as to whether you are clever or stupid, you will naturally improve if you practice zazen.
- Assuming there is an ego existing in the body which is a temporal compound of various elements, thinking it to be eternal or substantial and attaching oneself to that ego. Egocentricity. This is a fundamental delusion. Our practice is to see egolessness and the impermanence of all existence, and to live on that basis without greedy desires. Concretely, our desires manifest themselves by seeking fame and profit. This is why Dogen put emphasis on practicing the buddha-dharma only for the sake of the buddha-dharma, without expecting any reward, i.e. fame and profit.
It is not possible to study extensively and obtain wide knowledge. Make up your mind and just give up trying to do so. Focus your attention on one thing. Study the things you have to know and the traditional examples of them. Follow the way of practice of your predecessors. Concentrate your efforts on one practice 1. Do not pretend to be a teacher or a leader of others.
- To choose one practice and concentrate on it is a characteristic of Japanese Buddhism; zazen for Dogen, chanting the nenbutsu for Honen and Shinran, and the daimoku (chanting Namu-myoho-rengekyo) for Nichiren etc.
Once Ejo asked,
“What is the meaning of not being blind to cause and effect?” 1
Dogen replied, “Not moving cause and effect.”
Ejo asked, “How can we be released then?”
Dogen said, “Cause and effect are self-evident.” 2
Ejo inquired further, “Then does cause bring about effect or does effect bring about cause?”
Dogen said, “If it is so in every case, what about Nansen's 3 killing the cat? When his students could not say anything, Nansen immediately killed the cat. Later, when Joshu heard about the incident, he put his straw sandal on his head and went out. This was excellent action.”
Dogen added, “If I had been Nansen, I would have said, ‘If you cannot speak, I will kill it; even if you can speak, I will kill it. Who would fight over a cat? Who can save the cat? On behalf of the students, I would have said, ‘We are not able to speak, Master. Go ahead and kill the cat!' Or, I would have said for them, ‘Master, you only know about cutting it (the cat) into two with one stroke, yet you do not know about cutting it into one with one stroke.'”
Ejo asked, “How do you cut it into one with one stroke?”
Dogen said, “The cat itself.”
Dogen added, “If I had been Nansen, when the students could not answer, I would have released the cat saying that the students had already spoken. An ancient master said, ‘When the great-function manifests itself, no fixed rules exist.'”
Dogen also said, “This action of Nansen's that is, cutting the cat, is a manifestation of the great-function of the buddha-dharma. This is a pivot-word 5. If it were not a pivot-word, it could not be said that mountains, rivers, and the great earth are the excellent pure and bright Mind 6. Or it could not be said that Mind itself is the Buddha. Upon hearing this pivot-word, see the cat itself as nothing but the Buddha-body. Upon hearing this word, students must immediately enter enlightenment.”
Dogen also said, “This action, that is, cutting the cat, is nothing other than Buddha's action.”
Ejo said, “What shall we call it?”
Dogen said, “Call it cutting the cat.”
Ejo asked, “Is it a crime or not?”
Dogen said, “Yes, it is a crime.”
Ejo inquired, “How are we able to be released from it?”
Dogen said, “Buddha's action and the criminal action are separate, yet they both occur in one action.”
Ejo asked, “Is this what is meant by the Pratimoksa 7 Precepts (case by case emancipation)?”
Dogen said, “Yes, it is. Though it all right, it's better not to use such a method.”
Ejo asked, “Does the term ‘violation of the precepts refer to the crimes committed after having received the precepts? Or are the crimes committed before receiving the precepts also called ‘violation of the precepts'?”
Dogen replied, “Violation of the precepts applies only to those crimes committed after having received the precepts. Crimes committed before receiving the precepts are just called crimes or evil deeds. They should not be called ‘violation of the precepts'.”
Ejo asked, “Among the forty-eight minor precepts 8, there is one which states that crimes committed prior to receiving the precepts are called violations.”
Dogen replied, “That's not true. What it means is that a person about to receive the precepts should repent 9 of evil deeds committed in the past. According to the ten major precepts or the forty-eight minor precepts, such evil deeds are called violations. The crimes committed before are not called ‘violation of the precepts'.”
Ejo asked, “In the Precept Sutra, it says that when a person receives the precepts, he should repent of the misdeeds committed until then. The master has to teach the major and minor precepts and have the student recite them. However, in the next section of the sutra, it says that you should not preach about the precepts to people who have not yet received them. How should we resolve this contradiction?”
Dogen replied, “Receiving the precepts and reciting the precepts are different. Reciting the Precept Sutra for the sake of repentance is nothing other than reading the sutras. Therefore, a person who has not yet received the precepts also recites the Precept Sutra. It cannot be wrong to explain the Precept Sutra to him. What the latter part of the sutra says is that you should not preach the precepts to people who have not received them for the purpose of gaining profit. You should certainly teach the precepts in order to have people repent of their evil deeds.”
Ejo asked, “Although it is said that a person who has committed the seven-grave-crimes 10 cannot be permitted to receive the precepts, the former part of the sutra says that the seven-grave-crimes should also be repented. What does this mean?”
Dogen replied, “They should certainly be repented. The meaning of the passage, ‘They are not permitted to receive the precepts' is for the purpose of inhibiting the commission of the seven-grave-crimes. The former sentence means that even if one violates the precepts, he will be pure when he receives the precepts again. When he repents, he is pure. It is different from a person who has not yet received the precepts.”
Ejo asked, “If one who has committed any of the seven grave crimes is permitted to repent, can he receive the precepts again?”
Dogen replied, “Yes. The late Master Eisai himself insisted on this. Once a person who has committed one of the seven grave crimes is allowed to repent, he is also permitted to receive the precepts. The teacher should allow a person who has repented to receive the precepts, even one who has committed the seven-grave-crimes. Even if the teacher himself violates the precepts by doing so, as a bodhisattva, for the sake of saving that person, he has to allow him to receive them.”
- This is a quotation taken from a story about Hyakujo Ekai and an old man. (The eighth case of the Shoyoroku , the second case of the Mumonkan ). Whenever Hyakujo gave lectures, there was an old man who was always in attendance. When the monks left after the lecture, he also left. One day the old man did not leave. Hyakujo asked him, “ Who is standing in front of me?” The old man said, “At the time of Kashapa-buddha in the distant past, I was living on this mountain. Once a student asked me whether a person of the great-practice would fall into causality or not. I replied to him, ‘No, (such a person) would not fall into causality. ‘ Because of that answer I became a wild fox for five hundred lives. I beg you to please give me a pivot-word.” Hyakujo replied, “(Such a person) is not blind to causality.”
Dogen made his own commentary on this story in Shobogenzo Daishugyo (The Great Practice) and Shobogenzo Jinshin-inga (Having profound Faith in Cause and Effect).
- In the Choenji-bon version, this passage reads, “Cause and effect are self-evident and occur simultaneously,” making the connection between this sentence and the following one more natural.
- This refers to the story about Nansen Fugan (749–834) and his disciples. (The ninth case of the Shoyoroku , the fourteenth case of the Mumonkan ).
One day the monks of the Eastern and Western Halls in Nansen's monastery were arguing over a cat. Nansen saw it, took the cat and said, “If someone can speak, I won't kill the cat.” None in the assembly spoke. Nansen cut the cat in two. Later, Nansen related the incident to Joshu (778–895) and asked him what he thought about it. Joshu took off his sandal, put it on his head, and left. Nansen said, “If you had been there, you would have saved the cat.”
- This expression is found in the third case of the Hekiganroku (The Blue Cliff Records).
- A powerful word or phrase by which the basis of a person hearing it will be turned around.
- In his Shobogenzo Sokushinzebutsu , Dogen quoted from an old master, “What is the excellent pure and bright mind like? Mountains, rivers, and the great earth, the sun, the moon, and the stars.” And Dogen said, “It should be clearly understood that the Mind is mountains, rivers, and the great earth, the sun, the moon and the stars.”
- In the Yuikyogyo (The Sutra of the Last Discourse), the Buddha said, “Monks, after my death, respect and follow the pratimoksa . If you do, you will be like a person who has been given a light in the darkness, or like a pauper who has acquired a great treasure.”
- See 1-2, footnote 5.
- At the meeting of fusatsu (Skt. uposata ) as well as at the time of receiving the precepts at ordination, one repents of all wrong doings in the past. The following verse on repentance is chanted during sutra chanting.
“All the karma ever created by me
in the past, through greed, anger, or self-delusion
which has no beginning, born of my body, speech, and thought
I now make complete and open confession of it.”
- The seven-grave-crimes are hurting buddha's body, killing one's father, killing one's mother, killing the teacher from whom one has received ordination, killing the teacher with whom one studies, causing disunity in the sangha, killing a sage (arhat).
In an evening talk Dogen said,
Do not use foul language to scold or slander monks. Even if they are bad or dishonest, do not harbor hatred against them nor abuse them thoughtlessly. First of all, no matter how bad they may be, when more than four monks gather together 1, they form a sangha, which is a priceless treasure of the country. This should be most highly respected and honored. If you are an abbot or a senior priest or even a master or a teacher, if your disciples are wrong, you have to instruct and guide them with a compassionate and parental heart 2. In doing so, however, when you slap those who should be slapped or scold those who should be scolded, do not allow yourself to vilify them or arouse feelings of hatred.
When my late master Nyojo 3 was the abbot of Tendo Monastery, while the monks were sitting zazen in the sodo (monks hall) 4, he slapped them with his slipper or scolded them with harsh words in order to keep them awake. Yet each of them was thankful to be hit and highly respected him.
Once in a formal speech he said, “I have gotten old. I should have retired from the monastery and moved into a hermitage to care for myself in my old age. Nevertheless, I am the abbot and your teacher, whose duty is to break the delusions of each one of you and to transmit the Way; therefore, I sometimes use harsh language to scold you, or beat you with the bamboo stick. I regret having to do this. However, this is the way to enable the dharma to flourish in place of the Buddha. Brothers, please have compassion on me and forgive me for my deeds.”
Upon hearing these words, all of us shed tears. Only with such a spirit can you teach and propagate the dharma. Even though you may be an abbot or senior priest, it is wrong to govern the community and abuse the monks as if they were your personal belongings. Further, if you are not in such a position, you should not point out others' faults or speak ill of them. You must be very, very careful.
When you see someone's faults and think they are wrong and wish to instruct them with compassion, you must find a skillful means to avoid arousing their anger, and do so as if you were talking about something else.
- In India, a sangha was a group of more than four (or five) people living together for practice.
- Robashin in Japanese, literally means the mind of an old woman. In the Tenzo Kyokun Dogen mentions three-minds; kishin (joyful mind), roshin (parental mind), and daishin (magnanimous mind). He said, “ Roshin is the mind or attitude of a parent. In the same way that a parent cares for an only child, keep the Three Treasures in your mind.”
- Tendo Nyojo (1163–1228) became the abbot of Tendo Monastery in 1224 when he was fifty-eight years old. Dogen met him the following year (1225) and became his disciple. He practiced with Nyojo for about two and half years. Dogen's questions and Nyojo's replies were recorded in Dogen's Hokyoki . Dogen received dharma transmission from Nyojo and returned to Japan in 1227.
- Sodo is the abbreviation of Shosodo (the hall of the holy monk, that is, Manjusri-Bodhisattva), so called because Manjusri is enshrined in the center of the hall. Around the center, there is a platform about two feet high called a tan on which each person has a space of one tatami (straw mat). There, the monk eats, sleeps, and practices zazen. This kind of sodo was probably established during the Tang dynasty, around the time of Hyakujo Ekai (Baizhang Huihai).
Dogen also related the following story:
When the late General of the Right Imperial Guard (Minamoto Yoritomo) 1 was first the assistant secretary of the Hyoe-fu 2, he once attended a special party. He took a seat near the privy councilor 3. There was a man who was making a disturbance.
The Vice-minister 4 told Yoritomo to restrain him.
Yoritomo replied, “Give your order to Rokuhara 5. He is the general of the Taira Clan.”
The Vice-minister said, “But, you are right here.”
Yoritomo said, “It is not my position to restrain him.”
These were admirable words. He was able to govern the country because of such an attitude. Students of the Way today should have the same attitude. You should not scold others if you are not in the position to do so.
- Minamoto Yoritomo (1147–1199) was the first shogun (general) of the Kamakura Shogunate. He was the third child of Minamoto Yoshitomo. Yoritomo was appointed General of the Right Imperial Guard in 1190, and became the Seii-dai-shogun in 1192. He was the first samurai who actually took political power.
- This was an office of the samurai class which guarded the Imperial Court and the emperor when he went out.
- Privy councilor is a translation of Daifu . Yoritomo was appointed assistant secretary of the Hyoe-fu in 1159, when he was thirteen years old. During the following year the Minamoto-clan was defeated by the Taira-clan, Yoritomo's father was killed, and he was expelled to Izu. Dogen's grandfather Matsudono Motofusa became the privy councilor in 1160. It is supposed that Dogen heard this story from his grandfather. ( Shobogenzo Zuimonki , Mizuno Yaoko P.63)
- The Vice-minister is a translation of Dainagon .
- Rokuhara is the name of a place in Kyoto where the Taira-clan had their estate. The Taira-clan was the rival of the Minamoto-clan and had more power at that time. The clans continued to fight until Yoritomo established his own shogunate government in Kamakura. In Japan from ancient times, people have been called by the name of the geographical place they lived in.
In an evening talk Dogen said,
Once there was a general whose name was Rochuren 1. While residing in the country ruled by Heigenkun , he subdued the enemies of the court. Although Heigenkun praised him and wanted to reward him with much gold, silver, and other things, Rochuren refused, saying, “I put down enemies only because that is the role of a general. I did not do it to gain some reward or possessions.” So saying, he never received the reward. Rochuren was famous for his righteousness and integrity.
Even in secular society, those who are wise carry out their tasks solely for the sake of fulfilling their roles. They do not expect any reward. Students of the Way must have the same mental attitude. Once you have entered the Buddha-Way 2 , you should practice the various activities just for the sake of the buddha-dharma 3 . Do not think of gaining something in return. All teachings, Buddhist or non-Buddhist, exhort us to be free from the expectation of gaining a reward.
- A famous Chinese general in the age of the Warring States (403-221 B.C.). This story is taken from Shiki (Shiji), compiled by Shibasen. For Japanese, this sort of Chinese hero was like the Greek or Roman hero for European people.
- Way ( Do in Japanese, Dao in Chinese) is a translation of the Sanskrit words marga or bodhi . Marga is the path along which we should walk (practice) to become a Buddha. Bodhi is awareness or enlightenment. So Buddha Way has two meanings combined, one is the way leading to enlightenment and the other is the buddha's enlightenment itself. So, the Buddha Way is the way we should walk in our daily activities in the direction of the Buddha, while each one of the activities is nothing other than a manifestation of the Buddha's enlightenment. This is the meaning of Dogen's expression shusho-ichinyo (practice and enlightenment are one).
- Buddha-dharma means (1) the truth or reality to which the Buddha awakens, (2) the teachings which show us the reality, and (3) the law or morals which form the way of life in accordance with that reality or teaching. Another meaning of this word is existence or things (the myriad dharma).
In a dharma talk, Dogen said,
Even if you are speaking rationally 1 and another person says something unreasonable, it is wrong to defeat him by arguing logically. On the other hand, it is not good to give up hastily saying that you are wrong, even though you think that your opinion is reasonable.
Neither defeats him, nor withdraw saying you are wrong. It is best to just leave the matter alone and stop arguing. If you act as if you have not heard and forget about the matter, he will forget too and will not get angry. This is a very important thing to bear in mind.
- The original Japanese is dori , which means, (1) principle, truth, (2) reason, argument.
Impermanence is swift; life-and-death is a vital matter 1. For the short while you are alive, if you wish to study or practice some activity, just practice the Buddha-Way and study the buddha-dharma. Since literature and poetry are useless, you should give them up. Even when you study the buddha-dharma and practice the Buddha-Way, do not study extensively. Needless to say, refrain from learning the Exoteric and Esoteric scriptures of the teaching-schools 2. Do not be fond of learning on a large scale, even the sayings of the buddhas and patriarchs. It is difficult for us untalented and inferior people to concentrate on and complete even one thing. It is no good at all to do many things at the same time and lose steadiness of mind.
- Life-and-death or birth-and-death. This is also a translation of shoji , or in Sanskrit, samsara which means transmigration within the six realms of delusions. In Shobogenzo Shoji (Life-and-death), however, Dogen said, “Life-and-death is the precious Life of the Buddha. For human beings, clarifying the reality of life-and-death is the great matter.”
Impermanence is also usually used in a negative sense, though Dogen quoted the Sixth Patriarch in Shobogenzo Bussho (Buddha-nature), “Therefore, grass, trees, and bushes are impermanent, and are nothing but Buddha-nature. Human beings and things, body and mind are impermanent, and are nothing but Buddha-nature. The earth, mountains, and rivers are impermanent, because they are Buddha-nature. Supreme awareness ( Anuttara-samyak-sambodhi ) is impermanent, since it is Buddha-nature. The great Nirvana is Buddha-nature since it is impermanent.”
- The teaching-schools is a translation of Kyoke or Kyoshu , those schools based on written scriptures. For example, Kegonshu is based on the Kegonkyo (Avatamsaka-sutra). This is in contrast to believers of the Zenke or Zenshu , which insist that Zen is based on Buddha-mind alone, not on the Buddha's verbal teachings. Exoteric teaching is a translation of Kenkyo , a general term for all the Buddhist teachings, both hinayana and mahayana other than the Esoteric teachings ( mikkyo ). Mikkyo means the mystic teachings which were directly revealed by the Dharma-body Buddha, Dainichi (Mahavairocana). This school arose in India after the hinayana and mahayana schools. In Japan, Mikkyo was systematized by Kukai (774–835) and became the Shingon School. This is also known as Vajra-yana Buddhism.
There is a story about how Zen master Chikaku 1 aroused bodhi-mind and became a monk. He had been a government officer. He was a man of talent and righteousness. While he was a provincial governor, he appropriated official money unlawfully and gave it to the people. One of the officers around him reported this to the emperor.
Upon hearing this, the emperor was astonished; all of his ministers also thought it strange. Still, since the crime was not a minor one, the decision was made to put him to death.
The emperor said, “This officer is a man of talent and a wise man. He dared to commit this crime. He might have had some profound motivation. When his head is about to be cut off, if he looks regretful and full of grief, cut it off quickly. If not, undoubtedly he had a deeper motivation so do not kill him.”
When the Imperial envoy brought him out to cut off his head, he did not show regret or grief; rather he looked joyful. He said to himself, “I give this life to all living beings.”
The Imperial envoy, surprised and amazed, reported it to the emperor.
The emperor exclaimed, “It's exactly as I thought! He must have had some deeper reason.”
When the emperor asked the officer what his motivation was, he said, “I wanted to retire from government office, throw my life away by giving it to all living beings to form an association with them, be born into the family of Buddha (become a monk), and practice the Buddha-Way whole-heartedly.”
The emperor was moved by his reply and allowed him to become a monk. Therefore, he was given the name Enju, meaning ‘prolonged life', since he had been saved from capital punishment.
Monks today also have to arouse aspiration like this at least once. Arousing such an aspiration means thinking little of your own life, having deep compassion for all living beings, and entrusting your bodily life to the Buddha's teaching. If you have already aroused such aspiration, protect it; do not lose it even for a moment. It is impossible to realize buddha-dharma without arousing such aspiration.
- Chikaku Zenji is the honorific title of Yomyo Enju (904-975). He served as a government officer and became a monk when he was twenty eight years old. He was one of the disciples of Tendai Tokusho, the second patriarch of the Hogen School of Chinese Zen.
In an evening talk Dogen said,
In the tradition of the patriarchs, the true way of understanding dharma-talks [on Zen practice] is to gradually reform what you have known and thought by following your teacher's instruction.
Even if up to now, you have thought that a buddha has excellent characteristics 1 like Shakyamuni 2 or Amitaba 3 , radiates a halo, has the virtue of preaching the dharma and benefiting living beings, you should believe your teacher if he says that buddha is nothing but a toad or an earthworm, and throw your former ideas away. However, if you look for some excellent characteristics, a halo, or other virtues of a buddha on the toad or the earthworm, you still have not reformed your discriminating mind. Just understand what you see right now is buddha. If you continually reform your discriminating mind and fundamental attachment in this way according to your teacher's instruction, you will naturally become one with the Way.
Students today, however, cling to their own discriminating minds. Their thinking is based on their own personal views that buddha must be such and such; if it goes against their ideas, they say that buddha cannot be that way.
Having such an attitude and wandering here and there in delusion, searching after what conforms to their preconceptions, few of them ever make any progress in the Buddha-Way.
Suppose that you have climbed to the top of a hundred-foot pole 4 , and are told to let go and advance one step further without holding bodily life dear. In such a situation if you say that you can practice the Buddha-Way only when you are alive, you are not really following your teacher. Consider this carefully.
- According to various Buddhist legends, the Buddha had thirty-two major physical characteristics and eighty marks of physical excellence.
- Shakyamuni (the sage of the Shaka clan), the founder of Buddhism. Born to King Suddhodana and Queen Maya in Kapilavastsu, in central India, he was called Siddhartha and also Gautama. He married and had a son, but abandoned his family to seek the Way of salvation when he was twenty-nine years old (nineteen years old, according to another tradition). After nine years of practice, he attained enlightenment and was called Buddha (the Awakened One). He preached the Way to many people and thus the Buddhist order (sangha) was formed. He died at the age of eighty. There are different opinions as to his dates; e.g. 565–486 B.C. according to J. Takakusu, 463–383 B.C. according to H. Nakamura. Theravada has a different tradition, according to which the Buddha's dates are 624–544 B.C.
- Amitaba is one of the most popular buddhas in Mahayana Buddhism. According to the Muryoju-kyo ( Sukhavati Vyuha ), Amitaba was previously a king. When he met a buddha called Sejizaio (Lokesvararaja), he too wished to become a buddha. He then renounced the world and became a monk, his Buddhist name becoming Hozo (Darmakara). He took forty eight vows and performed various bodhisattva practices to fulfill them. After many aeons of time, he fulfilled them, and became the Buddha of Infinite Light and Life. His land in the West, which derived from his vows and practices, is called Gokuraku (Skt. Sukhavati) or paradise. The eighteenth vow was that anyone who had sincere faith in him (Amitaba) and recited his name, that is, chanted the nenbutsu , would be reborn in the Western paradise through his power. Amitaba is a transcendental buddha, as opposed to the historical Buddha Shakyamuni, and is generally regarded as the reward-body (J., hojin Skt., sambhogakaya ). The school of Buddhism centering around Amitaba is known as Pure Land Buddhism ( jodokyo ). It arose in India, grew in China, and developed more fully in Japan.
- This was taken from a verse of the Chinese Zen Master Chosa Keishin (854–935).
The immovable person at the top of the hundred-foot pole,
Although he has entered [the Way], he is not truly [a man of the Way],
[He should] advance one step further from the top of the hundred-foot pole.
The ten-direction world is the whole body [of the person].
In an evening talk Dogen said,
Even people in the secular world must concentrate on one thing and learn it thoroughly enough to be able to do it in front of others rather than learn many things at the same time, without truly accomplishing any of them.
This holds all the more true for the buddha-dharma, which transcends the secular world, and has never been learned or practiced from the beginningless beginning. We are still unfamiliar with it. Also, our capacity is poor. If we try to learn many things about this lofty and boundless buddha-dharma, we will not attain even one thing. Even if we devote ourselves to only one thing, because of our inferior capacity and nature, it will be difficult to clarify buddha-dharma thoroughly in one lifetime. Students, concentrate on one thing.
Ejo asked, “If so, what thing or what practice should we choose to devote ourselves to among the various ways of practice of the buddha-dharma?”
Dogen replied, “It depends upon one's character or capability, however, up to now, it is zazen which has been handed down and concentrated on in the communities of the patriarchs. This practice is suitable for all people and can be practiced by those of superior, mediocre, or inferior capabilities. When I was in China, in the assembly of my late master Tendo Nyojo, I sat zazen day and night after I heard this truth. When it was extremely hot or cold, monks there stopped sitting for a while because they were afraid of getting sick. At the time, I thought to myself, “I may become sick and die. Still, I should just practice zazen. What is the use of clinging to this body? How can I refrain from practice when I am not sick? Dying from illness because of practice accords with my original wish. First of all, I am fortunate to be able to practice and die in an assembly under a good teacher in great China, and to be buried by such great people with an authentic Buddhist funeral. If I were to die in Japan, it would be impossible to have a funeral service performed by such people according to the Buddhist rituals. If I were to die during practice before clarifying enlightenment, I would be born into the family of Buddha again because of having established the relationship. It is meaningless to live long without practicing. It is useless. Furthermore, even if I wished to keep my body secure and healthy, I might drown in the ocean or meet an accidental death; how regrettable it would be' 1 !
With such resolve, I continually sat upright day and night. Yet I never once got sick. Now, each of you should practice exclusively and wholeheartedly. Ten out of ten of you will attain the Way. My late master Tendo encouraged us in this way.”
- Just after Dogen met Tendo Nyojo, his Japanese teacher Myozen who came to China with him died in the infirmary of the monastery. Also the voyage between China and Japan was very hazardous. So there was no exaggeration in Dogen's resolution.
It is rather easy to lay down one's own life, and cut off one's flesh, hands, or feet in an emotional outburst. Considering worldly affairs, we see many people do such things even for the sake of attachment to fame and personal profit.
Yet it is most difficult to harmonize the mind, meeting various things and situations moment by moment. A student of the Way must cool his mind as if he were giving up his life, and consider if what he is about to say or do is in accordance with reality or not. If it is, he should say or do it.
Students of the Way, do not worry about food and clothing. Just maintain the Buddha's precepts and do not engage in worldly affairs. The Buddha said to use abandoned rags 1 for clothing and beg for food. In what age will these two things ever be exhausted? Do not forget the swiftness of impermanence nor be disturbed vainly by worldly affairs. As long as your dewlike human life lasts, think exclusively of the Buddha-Way and do not be concerned with other things.
Someone asked, “Although fame and profit are difficult to give up, since pursuing them is a great obstruction to practicing the Way, they should be abandoned. Hence, I gave them up. Although clothing and food are minor things, they are big matters for practitioners. Wearing clothes made of abandoned rags and begging for food are the practices of superior people. Moreover, that has been the custom in India. The monasteries in China have permanent property 2 belonging to the community, so they do not need to worry about such things. However, the temples in this country have no such property and the practice of begging has not been transmitted at all. What should inferior people like me who cannot endure such practice do? If someone like me tries to gather alms from lay believers, he will be committing a sin by receiving a donation without having virtue. Earning one's living as a farmer, merchant, warrior, or craftsman is an improper way of life for a monk. And, if I leave everything to fate, I will remain very poor as a result of inferior karma. When I suffer from hunger or am benumbed by the cold, I will be troubled and my practice will be hindered.
Someone advised me saying, ‘Your way of practice is extreme. You don't understand this age and do not reflect upon your capability. Our nature is inferior and this is the degenerate-age 3 . If you continue to practice in such a way, it will become a cause of backsliding from the Way. Seek the support of some patron, take care of your body by living in a quiet place without worrying about food or clothing, and practice the Buddha Way peacefully. This is not greed for property or belongings. You should practice after having provided for your temporal means of livelihood.'
Although I listened to his advice, I do not yet believe it. How should we consider these things?”
Dogen replied, “Just study carefully the conduct of Zen monks, along with the lifestyle of the buddhas and patriarchs. Although the customs of the three countries are different, those who truly study the Way have never practiced in the manner you have described. Just do not be attached to worldly affairs but study the Way in a straightforward manner.”
The Buddha said, “Do not keep anything except robes and a bowl. Give away any extra food you have received through begging to hungry living beings.”
Do not store up even what you have been given, nor run around searching for things. In a non-Buddhist text it is said that if we learn the Way in the morning we should not mind dying in the evening 4 . Even if we might die of cold or starvation, we should follow the Buddha's teaching if only for one day or one hour.
In ten thousand kalpas and thousands of lives, how many times are we born and how many times do we die? This cycle of lives is samsara, caused only by blind clinging to worldly affairs. To die of starvation following the Buddha's teachings for this one life brings about eternal peace and joy (Nirvana). Moreover, I have never read in the collection of all the Buddhist sutras of a single buddha or patriarch who transmitted the dharma in the three countries, dying of starvation or cold. In this world, inherently each person receives a certain amount of food and clothing as a gift. It does not come by being sought after nor does it stop coming by not seeking after it. Just leave it to fate and do not worry about it. If you refrain from arousing bodhi-mind in this life, excusing yourself on the grounds that this is the degenerate-age, in what life will it be possible to attain the Way?
Even if you are not as superior as Shubhuti 5 or Mahakashapa 6 , you should practice to your fullest capability. In a non-Buddhist text it is said that a man who loves women will do so even though they might not be as beautiful as Mosho or Seishi (Xi-shi) 7 , and that a person who admires horses will do likewise even if they are not as great as Hito or Rokuji 8 . One who likes the taste (of food) will like (whatever it might be), regardless of whether or not it is as delicious as dragon's liver or phoenix marrow. We simply have to use as much wisdom as we possess. Even laymen have this attitude. Buddhist practitioners must be like this.
Moreover, the Buddha offered twenty years of his life to us living in this degenerate-age. Consequently, the offerings and support by human and heavenly beings to the monasteries in this world have not ceased. Though the Tathagata had mighty powers and virtues and was able to use them at will, he spent a summer practice period eating wheat used for horse fodder 9 . How can his disciples today help but look up to this (example)?
Someone asked, “Rather than meaninglessly receive the offerings of human or heavenly beings while breaking the precepts, or wastefully spend the legacy of the Tathagata without arousing bodhi-mind, wouldn't it be better to live as a layman, engaging in ordinary jobs, keeping oneself alive to continue the practice of the Way?”
Dogen replied, “Who said to break the precepts or be without bodhi-mind? You have to force yourself to arouse bodhi-mind and practice the buddha-dharma. Moreover, it is said that the legacy of the Tathagata is equally given without concern as to whether one maintains the precepts or breaks them; regardless of whether one is a beginner or an advanced practitioner. Nowhere is it written that you have to return to the mundane life or stop practicing, because you have broken the precepts or lack bodhi-mind. Who has such bodhi-mind from the beginning? Arousing what is difficult to arouse, practicing what is difficult to practice…in this way, you will naturally progress in the buddha-dharma. Each one of us has buddha-nature. Do not meaninglessly deprecate yourself.
“Also, in Monzen 10 , it is written, ‘Prosperity of the country is brought about by a single wise man. The way of the ancients dies out because of a later fool.' This means that if a single man of wisdom appears, the country will flourish, and if a single fool appears, the way of the ancients will disappear.
Consider this well.”
- Funzoe in Japanese (Skt., Pamsukola ). In India, the kesa ( kasaya ), the robes of the Buddhist monks were made of abandoned rags found in garbage pits, graveyards and so on. In Shobogenzo Kesakudoku (The Virtues of the Kasaya), Dogen said, “As the unchanging way of the buddhas, funzoe (abandoned-rag robes) are best (for monks' clothing).”
- In Chinese Zen monasteries, since monks worked to support themselves, they owned land and other things called Jojumotsu . Later on, Zen monasteries were supported by the emperor, the government, or the nobility, and received these things from them.
- Masse in Japanese, is the period of mappo , in which the Buddha's teachings decline. It is the last of the three periods following the Buddha's death. During the period of the true-dharma, ( shobo ) lasting 500 (some say 1,000) years, the Buddha's teaching is properly practiced and enlightenment can be attained. During the period of the semblance-of-the-dharma ( zoho ), lasting 1,000 (some say 500) years, the teaching is practiced but enlightenment is no longer possible. During the period of the last decadent-dharma ( mappo ), lasting 10,000 years, only the teaching exists though it is not practiced and there is no enlightenment.
People believed that the last period began in 1052 A.D., which greatly influenced Japanese Buddhism in the Heian and Kamakura periods.
- This is a quotation taken from the 4th chapter of The Analects of Confucius, (Ch., Lunyu , J., Rongo ).
- Subhuti was one of the ten great disciples of the Buddha. It is said that he had a profound understanding of sunyata (emptiness).
- Mahakashapa was also one of the ten great disciples of the Buddha. According to the Zen tradition, he received dharma-transmission from the Buddha and became the first patriarch of India.
- Both of them were symbols of Chinese beauty. They lived in the period of Shunju (Chunqiu, Spring and Autumn, 770–476 B.C.)
- Hito (Fei-tu, Flying Rabbit) and Rokuji (Lu-er, Green Ear) were famous horses.
- A certain king once invited the Buddha and his five hundred disciples to spend a ninety-day summer practice period in his country. The Buddha and his assembly went to the country, but the king forgot to make daily offerings of food, so they suffered from malnutrition. There was a man owning five hundred horses, who offered half of his horse fodder to the Buddha and his disciples. The Buddha received the offering in order to continue the practice period.
- Monzen is an anthology of classical Chinese literature compiled around 530 A.D. It was popular in Japan as a text for students of literature.
In a miscellaneous talk, Dogen said,
Men and women in secular society, both young and old, often pass the time talking about lewd things. They do so to amuse their minds and beguile themselves. It seems as though idle talk entertains their minds and diverts them from boredom for a while. Monks, however, should completely avoid such talk.
Even in secular society, when well educated and sincere people discuss some serious matter with due courtesy they do not engage in such talk. They do so only when they are drunk or unrestrained. Needless to say, monks must concern themselves only with the Buddha-Way. Only a few eccentric and immoral monks engage in such indecent talk. In the monasteries in China, since they never engage in small talk, they do not speak of such matters. In our country also, while Eisai, the Abbot of Kenninji Monastery was alive, one never heard such talk. Even after his death, while a few of his disciples were still at the monastery, people did not speak of such things. Lately, in the last seven or eight years, the young monks sometimes indulge themselves in idle talk. This is really shameful.
In the Scriptures, it is said, “Though coarse and violent actions may sometimes cause people to wake up, worthless speech obstructs the true Way.” Be it even a word which comes to the lips unintentionally, useless talk hinders the Way. Still more, lewd talk will excite the mind. You must be most careful. Without forcing yourself not to use such language, if you realize it is bad, you will be able to reform gradually.
In an evening talk Dogen said,
Most people in the world want to show off their good deeds and hide their bad deeds. Since this frame of mind goes against the minds of the unseen deities 1 , their good deeds go unrewarded, and their bad deeds done in secret bring about punishment. Consequently, they conclude that there is no recompense for good deeds, and little merit in the buddha-dharma. This is a false view. We must certainly revise it. Do good things secretly while people are not watching, and if you make a mistake or do something bad, confess and repent of it. When you act in this manner, good deeds you have done in secret will have recompense, and wrongdoings will be revealed and repented so that punishment can be dispelled. Therefore, there will naturally be benefit in the present, and you will be sure of the future result.
At the time, a certain layman came and asked, “These days, although lay people make offerings to monks and take refuge in the buddha-dharma, much misfortune occurs; for this reason evil thoughts have arisen and people think they should no longer have faith in the Three Treasures. What do you think about this?”
Dogen replied, “This is not the fault of the monks or the buddha-dharma, but of the lay people themselves. The reason is as follows. For example, they revere and make offerings to monks who observe the precepts and eat in accordance with the regulations (one meal before noon) while in public eyes, but they withhold offerings to shameless monks who break the precepts, drink liquor, and eat meat, judging them to be worthless. This biased discriminating mind goes entirely against the spirit of the Buddha. Because of this, their faith and reverence is in vain and there is no reward. In various parts of the precepts-texts, there are admonitions against this frame of mind. You should make offerings to any monk regardless of whether or not he has any virtue. In particular, never judge his inner virtue by his outward appearance. Although monks in this degenerate age look somewhat strange in their outward appearance, there are worse minds and deeds. Therefore, without discriminating between good monks and bad ones, respect all the Buddha's disciples, make offerings and take refuge with a spirit of equality. Then you will surely be in accordance with the Buddha's spirit, and the benefits will be extensive.
Also, consider the four phrases, ‘unseen action, unseen response; seen action, seen response; (unseen action, seen response; seen action, unseen response)'. There is also the principle of karma and its effect in the three periods of time; karma returning in the present life, in the next life, or in some later life 2 . Study these principles very closely.”
- Unseen deities such as Brahma-deva, Indra, the dragon-kings, Yama. Etc. Originally, these were deities borrowed from Hinduism and other religions. Buddhists came to think of them as the protective deities of the buddha-dharma.
- In Shobogenzo Sanjigo (The Karma of the Three Periods of Time), Dogen commented on this principle of karma and its effect, “In learning and practicing the Way of the buddhas and patriarchs, from the outset, we should study and clarify this principle of karma and its effect on the three periods of time. Otherwise, we will fall into false views. Not only that, we will also fall into the evil realms and suffer for a long time.”
In an evening talk Dogen said,
“Suppose someone comes to talk about his business, and asks you to write a letter to solicit something from someone, or to help him in a lawsuit, etc. but you turn down his request excusing yourself on the grounds that you are not a man [of the secular world 1 ], that you have retired and have nothing to do with mundane affairs, and that it is not appropriate for a recluse to say something that is not suitable to lay people. Although this may seem like the way of a recluse, you should examine your deeper motivation. If you reject the request because you think you are a monk who has left the secular world and people might think ill of you if you say something unsuitable for a recluse, this still shows ego-attachment to fame and profit.
“In each situation that you are faced with, just consider carefully; do anything which will bring even a little benefit to the person who is before you, without concern for what people will think of you. Even if you become estranged from your friends or quarrel with them because they say you did something bad and unbecoming of a monk, it is not important. It would be better to break off with such narrow-minded people. Even though outwardly it may seem to other people that you are doing something improper, the primary concern should be to break off your ego-attachment inwardly and throw away any desire for fame. A buddha or bodhisattva cuts off even his own flesh and limbs when someone asks him for help. How much more, then, should you be willing to help someone who asks you just to write a letter. If you reject his request, being concerned with your reputation, you are showing deep attachment to your ego. Although others may think that you are not a holy man and say inappropriate things, if you throw away your concern for fame and bring even a little benefit to others, you correspond with the true Way. We find many examples of ancient sages who appear to have had this attitude. I also consider this true. It is an easy thing to help a little by writing a letter when your supporters or friends ask you to say something which is a little bit unexpected.”
Ejo responded, “That is really true. Of course it is all right to tell others what is good and beneficial to them. But, how about the case in which someone wants to take another's property by some evil means, or someone tries to slander another? Should we still transmit such messages?”
Dogen replied, “It is not for us to decide whether it is reasonable or not. We should explain to the person that we are sending the letter because someone asked us to do so, and tell him to deal with it reasonably. The person who receives the letter and has to deal with the problem should decide whether it is right or wrong. It is also wrong to ask the person to do something unreasonable about matters which are out of our field.
And, although it is apparently wrong, if you have a friend who respects you and whom you feel you could not go against, either for good or bad, and he requests your support to do something wrong and unacceptable through you, listen to his request once, and in your letter write that you have been asked importunately, and that the matter should be dealt with reasonably. If you treat each situation in this way, no one will hold a grudge. You must consider things like this very meticulously in every encounter or situation. The primary concern is to cast aside the desire for fame and ego-attachment in whatever situation.”
- The word Dogen used is hinin which literally means ‘non-human'. In ancient Japan, monks were sometimes called hinin , because they abandoned the secular world. In the age of Dogen, people who left degenerate temples were called hinin , yosutebito (one who abandons the world), or tonseisha (escaper from the world). They practiced in various ways and eventually formed the so-called New Buddhism of the Kamakura period. Here Dogen criticizes some of those who were indifferent towards helping others on the excuse of being hermits.
In an evening talk Dogen said,
“Nowadays, almost all people, both lay and clerical, want to make it known to others when they do something good, and prevent others from noticing when they do something bad. Because of this, they lose correspondence between their inner and outer selves. You should aspire carefully to make the inside correspond with the outside, repent of faults, and hide your real virtue. Do not adorn your outward appearance. Offer good things to others and accept bad things yourself.”
Someone asked, “Surely, we should maintain an attitude of hiding our true virtue and not adorning our appearance. And yet, for buddhas and bodhisattvas, it is essential to have great compassion and benefit living-beings. If ignorant monks or lay people find faults, they will become guilty of slandering the priesthood. Even if they do not understand true inner virtue, if they see monks of good appearance, respect them, and make offerings to them, there must be some merit which brings about happiness. How should we think about this?”
Dogen replied, “Although you do not adorn your outward appearance, it is irrational to become self-indulgent. If you carry out bad deeds in front of lay people on the pretext of hiding your true virtue, this is certainly a terrible violation of the precepts.
“Although some merely wish to gain fame as people of bodhi-mind, and not have their faults known by others, the heavenly beings, the guardian deities, and the three-treasures, are secretly watching them. What is being admonished against here is an attitude which feels no shame before unseen beings, and covets the esteem of worldly people. You should consider things only for the sake of the flourishing of the dharma and the benefit of living beings, all the time and in whatever situation. Speak after making careful consideration; act after giving attentive thought; do not act rashly. Ponder over what is reasonable in whatever situation you encounter. Our life changes moment by moment, it flows by swiftly day by day. Everything is impermanent and changing rapidly. This is the reality before our eyes. You do not need to wait for the teaching of masters or sutras to see it. In every moment, do not expect tomorrow will come. Think only of this day and this moment. Since the future is very much uncertain, and you cannot foresee what will happen, you should resolve to follow the Buddha-Way, if only for today, while you are alive. To follow the Buddha-Way is to give up your bodily life and act so as to enable the dharma to flourish and, to bring benefit to living beings.”
Someone asked, “According to the Buddha's teachings, should we practice begging for food?”
Dogen replied, “Yes, we should. Yet we have to take into consideration the customs and the conditions of each country. In whatever situation, we should choose what is best for the benefit of living beings in the long run and for the progress of our own practice. As for the manners of begging, since the roads in this country are dirty, if we walk around wearing Buddhist robes, they will become soiled. Also, since people are poor, it may be impossible to beg in the same way as in India, that is, at every house along the street with no regard for whether they are poor or rich. [If we cling to such a way], our practice might regress and we would be unable to function magnanimously for the benefit of living beings. Only if we keep practicing the Buddha-Way in a humble manner following the customs of the country will people of all classes support us by making offerings of their own accord and will practice for ourselves and for the benefit of others be fulfilled.
What is best for the sake of the Buddha-Way and for the benefit of others should be considered in each situation. Forget personal profit and do not be concerned with your reputation.”
Students of the Way, you must be very careful on several levels in giving up worldly sentiment. Give up the world, give up your family, and give up your body and mind. Consider this well. Even among those who retreat from the world and live secluded in the mountains or forests, there are some who fear that their family, which has continued for many generations, will cease to exist, and who become anxious for their family members or their relatives.
Although some people depart from home and give up family or property, they have not yet given up their bodies if they think that they should not do anything physically painful and avoid practicing anything which may cause sickness, even though they know it to be the Buddha-Way.
Further, even if they carry out hard and painful practices without clinging to their bodily lives, if their minds have not yet entered the Buddha-Way and if they resolve not to act against their own will even if such actions are the Buddha-Way, they have not yet given up their minds.
Practitioners, only if you subdue the mind1, is it easy to abandon yourself and the world. Being concerned about your worldly reputation regarding speech and behavior, refraining from doing evil because people will think ill of you, or doing good at every opportunity because people will respect you as a Buddhist practitioner, you are still being moved by worldly sentiments. Moreover, wantonly committing evil deeds shows that you are an entirely depraved person.
Finally, forget evil intentions, forget your own body, and carry out your activities solely for the sake of the buddha-dharma. Just be alert in every encounter. As for beginners in practice, subdue evil in your mind, and carry out good with your body without being concerned whether they are worldly or human sentiments. This is the meaning of abandoning body and mind.
- Jobuku in Japanese means taming, training, controlling, or subduing the mind. In the Tenzo Kyokun , Dogen compares our minds to wild horses and our emotions to monkeys swinging in the trees.
Once, while the late Sojo (Archbishop) Eisai1 was at Kenninji, a poor man came and said, “My family is so destitute that we have had nothing to eat for several days. My wife and children are about to die of starvation. Please have compassion on us.”
At the time, there was no clothing, food, or other possessions in the temple. Although Eisai contemplated what to do, he was at a loss. There was a little bit of thin copper allocated for making the halo for the Yakushi-Buddha2 which was under construction. The abbot took it and broke it apart, rolled it up, and gave it to the poor man, telling him to exchange it for food to relieve his family's hunger.
The man was very delighted and left.
Eisai's disciples, however, reproached him [Eisai] saying, “That is nothing other than the halo for the statue of the Buddha. You gave it away to the layman. Is it not a sin to use the Buddha's property for personal use?”
The Sojo replied, “Yes, it is. Yet think of the Buddha's will. The Buddha cut off his flesh and limbs and offered them to living beings3. Even if we gave the whole body of the Buddha to people who are actually about to die of starvation, such an action would certainly be in accordance with the Buddha's will.”
He went on, “Even if I fall into hell because of this sin, I have just saved living beings from starvation.”
Students today should also consider the innermost heart of this venerable predecessor. Do not forget it.
Once, some monks in Eisai's assembly said, “The buildings of Kenninji are located very close to the river. Surely the time will come when they will be destroyed by a flood.”
The Sojo replied, “We should not worry about the inevitable destruction of this building in the future. Even at Gion-shoja4 (the Jetavana Monastery) in India, only the cornerstones remain. However, the merit of having founded a monastery is never lost. Also, the virtue of practicing the Way right now, even only for one year or half a year, must be enormous.”
Now, as I think about it, since founding a monastery was a truly great event in his lifetime, it was completely natural to try to avoid future disaster, and yet, along with that frame of mind, Sojo Eisai had such an attitude deep in his heart. We really ought to consider this carefully.
- See1-2, footnote 4.
- Yakushi (Medicine Master) is the name of a popular buddha whose full name is Yakushi-Ruriko (Master of Medicine of the Emerald Light); Skt., Bhaisajya-guruvaidurya-prabha, Buddha of the Land of the Emerald in the East. As a bodhisattva, Yakushi-Ruriko made twelve vows, one of which was to cure disease.
- In the Jataka , a collection of stories on the previous lives of the Buddha, there is one in which the bodhisattva offered his own body to a starving tiger. Many similar tales are found in this collection.
- The Jeta Grove monastery; (Skt., Jetavana-vihara). The first Buddhist monastery donated to the Buddha by his lay student Sudatta (J., Shudatsu).
In an evening talk Dogen said,
During the reign of Taiso of the To dynasty1, Gicho 2, one of the ministers, remarked to the emperor, “Some people are slandering your Majesty.”
The emperor replied, “As a sovereign, if I have virtue3, I am not afraid of being slandered by people. I'm more afraid of being praised despite the lack of it.”
[Here is an example of how] even a lay person had such an attitude. Monks should, first of all, maintain this attitude. If you have compassion and bodhi-mind, you need not worry about being defamed by ignorant people. You have to be very careful of being thought of as a man of the Way despite having no bodhi-mind.
Dogen also related,
Buntei 4 of the Zui dynasty said to himself, “I must nurture virtue secretly and wait until I have matured.”
What he meant was to practice virtue, wait until he himself had matured, and then, govern the people with benevolence. As a monk, if you have not yet aroused this spirit, you should be cautious. Only if you practice the Way inwardly, will the virtue of the Way naturally manifest itself outwardly. Without expectation or desire to be known by people, if you just follow the teachings of the Buddha or the Way of the patriarchs, people will believe in the virtue of the Way of their own accord.
There is a trap for students here; [others as well as oneself] may believe that being respected by other people and amassing a large amount of property is a manifestation of the virtue of the Way. You must realize in your heart that to believe such a thing is to be possessed by demons. Be most careful about this. In a certain scripture, this is called the ‘deeds of demons'. Considering the examples of the three countries (India, China, and Japan), I have never heard that being rich and revered by ignorant people was a manifestation of the virtue of the Way. Since ancient times, all people with bodhi-mind have been poor, endured physical pain, wasted nothing, were compassionate, and led by the Way. These people have been called true practitioners.
Manifesting virtue does not mean having an abundance of material wealth, nor being proud of receiving large offerings.
There are three steps in the manifestation of virtue. Firstly, it becomes known that the person is practicing the Way. Next, people who aspire to the Way come to that person. And lastly, people learn the Way and practice with him in the same way. This is called the manifestation of the virtue of the Way.
- Taiso of the To dynasty (597–649) was the second emperor of the dynasty. He reigned from 627 to 649.
- One of the ministers of Taiso (580–643).
- Jin in Japanese (Ch., ren) is the most important concept of Confucianism. This may be understood as benevolence, kindheartedness, perfect virtue, philanthropy etc.
- Buntei was the founder of the Zui dynasty (541-604). He reigned from 589 to 604.
In an evening talk, Dogen said,
A student of the Way must abandon human sentiments1. To abandon human sentiments is to practice following the buddha-dharma. Most people in the world are being dragged about by the hinayana mind2, discriminating good from evil, distinguishing right from wrong, seeking after what is good while discarding what is bad. This is caused by the hinayana mind. First of all, just give up worldly sentiments and enter into the Buddha-Way. To enter the Buddha-Way, refrain from making judgments based on discrimination between good and evil, don't hold dear your physical and mental conditions; follow the verbal teachings and ways of acting without being concerned with good and evil. What you think is good or what others in the world think is good is not always good. Therefore, forget others' views; cast aside your own mind and follow the teachings of the Buddha. Even though your body suffers and your mind is in distress, resolve to abandon body and mind, and practice what the Buddha and patriarchs, our venerable predecessors, practiced, even if it is painful or causes you distress. Even if you think something is good and accords with the Buddha-Way and want to practice it, do not carry it out if it has not been done by the buddhas and patriarchs. In doing so, you grasp the dharma-gate (teachings on dharma) perfectly.
Cast aside both mind and thoughts based on the various teachings you have learned in the past, and gradually turn your mind into the words and deeds of the buddhas and patriarchs you are encountering right now. In doing so, your wisdom will grow and satori will open by itself. Abandon even your understanding of what you have learned from writings of the teaching-schools if there is reason to do so, and see things from the perspective I have mentioned. Studying the dharma-gate is nothing but parting from (samsara) and attaining the Way.
If deep in your heart you think what you have accomplished through studying for many years with great effort cannot be given up easily, such a mind itself is one bound by life-and-death (samsara).
Consider this carefully and thoroughly.
- In this case, human sentiments, refer to both thoughts and emotions based on egocentricity, discrimination, and preference. These are the roots of delusions.
- Here, hinayana mind means the attitude of practicing only for the sake of self emancipation or of escaping from samsara by one's own effort. As the spirit of a bodhisattva, we should vow to save all living beings. In Shobogenzo Hotsubodaishin (Arousing Bodhi-mind), Dogen said, “To arouse bodhi-mind is to vow and work for the salvation of all living-beings before saving oneself.”
In an evening talk, Dogen said,
The biography of the late Sojo Eisai of Kenninji was written by the vice-minister Akikane1, a lay monk. At first he refused to do it saying, “It should be written by a Confucian scholar, because such scholars forget their own bodies and devote themselves to studying from early childhood. Therefore, there are no mistakes in their writings. For ordinary people, working for the government and social intercourse are their primary concerns; they study on the side. Although there have been some eminent people, there have been mistakes in their writings.”
As I think of this, ancient people forgot their bodies in order to study even non-Buddhist texts.
Also Dogen said,
The late Sojo Koin2 said, “Bodhi-mind is studying the dharma-gate (teaching) of ‘the three-thousand worlds in a single moment of thought,' and keeping them in one's mind. This is called bodhi-mind. To meaninglessly wander around in confusion with a bamboo-hat3 hanging around one's neck is called a deed influenced by a demon.”
- Minamoto Akikane (?–1215) Lay monk is a translation for nyudo (one who has entered the Way), which means a person who has received ordination and become a monk, yet lives at home with one's family. Vice-minister is a translation for chunagon .
- Koin (?–1216) became the abbot of Onjoji (or Miidera) in Otsu. Later he became a student of Honen and practiced Nenbutsu (Pureland-Buddhism). When Dogen was a teenager, he visited Koin to ask the question he had while studying Buddhism on Mt. Hiei. According to Dogen's biography, Koin suggested Dogen visit Eisai to resolve his question and to practice Zen.
- When monks traveled they wore bamboo hats. What Koin meant was that running around here and there without studying and practicing the fundamental teachings was a mistake.
In an evening talk, Dogen said,
The late Sojo Eisai often admonished, “Monks, do not think that I give you the clothing, food, and other provisions you use. They are all offered by various heavenly beings. I merely play the role of distributor. Also, each one of you is fully endowed with the necessities for your lifetime. Do not run around seeking after them. Do not think that I feed you or that you have to be grateful to me.” I think these are most admirable words.
Also, in great Song China, when the assembly was under the direction of Zen Master Wanshi1, Tendo Monastery had enough provisions for one thousand people. Thus, seven hundred people inside the sodo and three hundred people outside the sodo 2 could be fed. However, due to the excellence of the master, many monks gathered like clouds from all over the country. There were one thousand people inside the sodo and five or six hundred people outside.
One of the officers remarked to Wanshi, “The temple provisions are sufficient for only one thousand people. We do not have enough food for everyone staying here. Please take this into special consideration and send the extra monks away.”
Wanshi replied to him, “Each one of them has his own mouth. It is not your business. Do not worry about it.”
I believe that everyone has a certain amount of food and clothing granted from birth. It does not come about by worrying over it, nor will it cease to come by not seeking it. Even lay people leave such things to fate; being concerned with loyalty and filial piety. How much more should monks who have left home be unconcerned with trivial matters [besides practice]. We have the fortune given to us by Shakyamuni; we also have the food and clothing offered by the deities. Moreover, we have the natural share of life we were allotted when we were born. Without chasing after it or worrying over it, we are sure to receive as much as we need. Even if we chase after and secure a great fortune, what will happen to it when impermanence suddenly comes? Therefore, students must not be concerned with extra matters. Simply practice the Way wholeheartedly.
Also, someone said, “We are living in the last-period (of the dharma) 3, and ours is a country remote from the Buddha's land. The buddha-dharma can flourish here and its benefit spread widely only by living at ease in a quiet hermitage without worrying about food and clothing coming from lay supporters, and by practicing the Buddha-way only after being sufficiently provided for.” Now, as I think about this, it is not so.
When people gather together to study who are only able to see the form [of things] and who cling to their egos, surely not a single one among them will arouse bodhi-mind. Even if a thousand or ten thousand people who were attached to profit and indulging, only in their desire for possessions were to gather together, it would be worse than if no one were to come. This is because only the karma which causes falling into the evil realms of samsara (hell, the realm of insatiable spirits and animals) would accumulate naturally of itself and there would be no aspiration [to practice] the buddha-dharma. If we remain pure and poor and practice the Way while enduring hardship in begging for food, eating wild nuts or fruit, and enduring hunger, a single person hearing about us and coming to practice will be one possessing true bodhi-mind. I think this is the way the buddha-dharma can truly flourish. To have no [disciples] because of hardship or pure poverty and to have many people gather together because of abundant food and clothing while lacking the buddha-dharma is six of one and half a dozen of the other.
Dogen also said,
Most people today mistakenly think that constructing buddha-images and building stupas helps the buddha-dharma flourish. Even though we might erect huge temples adorned with polished jewels and gold, we cannot attain the Way by these works. This is nothing more than merit for lay people enabling their wealth to enter into the world of the buddha and allowing people to do good. Although they might receive a great result from a small cause, for monks to be involved in such things has nothing to do with the flourishing of the buddha-dharma. To learn even a single phrase of the dharma-gate (teaching) or to practice zazen even for a single period while living in a thatched hut or under a tree shows the true flourishing of the buddha-dharma.
At present I am appealing for donations and working as much as possible to construct a sodo.4 Still, I do not think that this necessarily contributes to the flourishing of the buddha-dharma. Only because there are few people who are studying the Way right now and because I am spending my days leisurely, do I think it better to engage in these activities than be idle. I hope this will enable deluded people to form a connection with the buddha-dharma. Moreover, I am working on this project for the sake of founding a dojo for zazen practice for people studying the Way in this age. I will have no regrets even though what I have wished for and begun might not be realized. I do not mind if but one single pillar is erected as long as people in later generations think that someone had the aspiration to carry out such a project.
- Wanshi Shogaku (1097–1157) was a contemporary of Daie Soko (1089–1163) who advocated the koan practice of the Rinzai School and criticized Soto Zen, calling it mokusho-jazen (an evil zen of silent-illumination). Later, Wanshi wrote Mokushomei in which he used the expression positively and clarified the essence of mokusho-zen (silently-illuminating zen). Dogen called this shikantaza . He respected Wanshi deeply and praised him in his writings, calling him Wanshi-kobutsu (Wanshi the Old Buddha).
- In Zen monasteries there are people who stay inside the sodo and concentrate on practice while others take care of the various things needed to support the practice. They take turns each practice period; one period living in, the next period supporting it.
- See 1-16, footnote 3.
- At the time Dogen was working on raising funds to build a sodo or Juundo (second sodo).
Once, someone urged Dogen to go to Kanto1 to help the Buddha-dharma flourish.
Dogen refused. “If someone aspires to practice the buddha-dharma, he will come and study it even if he has to cross mountains, rivers, and oceans. If he lacks such resolution, there is no certainty that he will accept it, even if I go and urge him (to practice it). Shall I fool people merely for the sake of material support? Isn't this just greed for wealth? Since it would just tire me out, I feel no necessity to go.”
- Kanto refers to the eastern part of Japan, in this case Kamakura, where the shogunate (government) was located. At the time, the samurai who took over political power from the court in Kyoto accepted Zen Buddhism. Several Chinese Zen masters came from China; for example, Rankei Doryu, Mugaku Sogen, etc, and a number of Zen temples were founded there. The person was suggesting that Dogen go there to gain the support of the shogunate government. Later, however, after Dogen moved into Eiheiji, he did visit Kamakura and stayed there for half a year.
Dogen also said,
People who study the Way should not read the scriptures of the teaching-schools, nor study non-Buddhist texts. If you wish to study, read the collections of sayings [of the ancient Zen masters]. Put aside all other books for the time being. These days, Zen monks are fond of reading literature, composing poetry and writing dharma-discourses. This is wrong. Write down what you think in your mind, even though you cannot compose poetry. Write down the teachings of the dharma-gate, even though your style is unpolished. People without bodhi-mind will not read it if it is not polished. Such people would only play with words without grasping the reality [behind them], even if the style were embellished and there were excellent phrases in it.
I have been fond of studying literature since childhood, and even now I have a tendency to contemplate the beauty in the words of non-Buddhist texts. Sometimes I even refer to Monzen or other texts; still, I think it is meaningless and should be completely abandoned.
One day Dogen instructed,
“Once, while in China, I was reading a collection of sayings by an ancient master. At the time, a monk from Shisen, a sincere practitioner of the Way, asked me, “What is the use of reading recorded sayings?”
I replied, “I want to learn about the deeds of the ancient masters.”
The monk asked, “What is the use of that?”
I said, “I wish to teach people after I return home.”
The monk asked, “What is the use of that?”
I replied, “It is for the sake of benefiting living beings.”
The monk queried further, “Yes, but ultimately, what is the use?”
Later, I pondered his remarks. Learning the deeds of the ancient masters by reading the recorded sayings or koans 1 in order to explain them to deluded people is ultimately of no use to my own practice and for teaching others. Even if I don't know a single letter, I will be able to show it to others in inexhaustible ways if I devote myself to just sitting and clarifying the great matter2. It was for this reason that the monk pressed me as to the ultimate use [of reading and studying]. I thought what he said was true. Thereupon, I gave up reading the recorded sayings and other texts, concentrated wholeheartedly on sitting, and was able to clarify the great matter.
- In Chinese Zen, the Zen masters' deeds and sayings were recorded and recognized as koans which literally means a government decree, or a law which should be studied and followed.
- The most important thing to be done in one's life: deliverance from transmigration and awareness of the Way.
In an evening talk, Dogen said,
Do not expect to be respected by others unless you have true inner virtue. Since people in this country are ignorant of such virtue and praise others highly based only on their outward appearances, students without bodhi-mind are easily dragged down into the evil paths (the six realms of samsara), and become the kindred of demons. It is easy to be respected. To halfheartedly pretend to have abandoned your body and parted from the world is only a matter of outward appearance. Such is not a sincere attitude. One who appears to be an ordinary person of the world, and goes on harmonizing his inner mind is a person of true bodhi-mind.
Therefore, an Ancient said, “Empty inside, following along outside.” This means being without ego-centric mind inside and getting along with others outside. If you completely forget your own body and mind, enter into the buddha-dharma, and keep practicing in accordance with the laws of the buddha-dharma, you will be good both inwardly and outwardly in the present and the future.
Even though you have entered into the buddha-dharma and have abandoned yourself and the world, it is wrong to thoughtlessly abandon that which should not be abandoned. In this country, among those who are famous as men of the buddha-dharma or of bodhi-mind, there are some who do not consider how others see them and behave badly without any reason, saying they have abandoned the self. Or they do such things as becoming drenched while walking in the rain, and think they have become free of attachment to the world. They are entirely useless both inwardly and outwardly. Nevertheless, people in the world often consider them respectable and free from attachment to the ordinary world.
In their midst, if one maintains the precepts of the Buddha, keeps the regulations, practices for oneself, and instructs others in following the Buddha's teachings, people think that he clings to fame and profit and ignore him. Yet for us that is the way to follow the Buddha's teaching and cultivate inner and outer virtue.
In an evening talk, Dogen said,
“Students of the Way, it is of no value to be known by people in the secular world as a person of wisdom or wide knowledge. If there is even a single person who is really seeking the Way, you should not refuse to explain the dharma of the buddhas and patriarchs to whatever extent you are able. Even if someone has made an attempt on your life, if he asks sincerely to hear the true Way, you must not hold a grudge but explain the dharma to him. Except in such cases, it is entirely useless to display your knowledge of the scriptures of the Exoteric or Esoteric teachings or of non-Buddhist texts. If someone comes and asks you about these things, you needn't feel bad at all in replying that you don't know. Since you feel ashamed of being despised for your ignorance and you consider yourself stupid, if you study the Buddhist and non-Buddhist classics widely to become a man of knowledge and study various things to understand secular affairs or to show your knowledge, this is a terrible mistake. This is truly meaningless for studying the Way. On the other hand, pretending not to know what you know is also wrong precisely because it is a difficult (pose to take) and is unnatural, creating a respectable image and giving an appearance of humility. It is best not to know from the outset.
In my childhood, I was fond of studying non-Buddhist classics1 and other texts. Until I went to China and received the dharma transmission, I had been reading both Buddhist and non-Buddhist books, in order to become familiar with the local Chinese language. I thought it was important, and in fact, it was an extraordinary thing in secular society. People also appreciated it as unusual and wonderful.
Although in a sense it was necessary, when I reflect on it now, it was a hindrance to studying the Way. When you read Buddhist scriptures, if you understand the meaning of the sentences phrase by phrase, you will grasp the reality expressed through the words. However, people tend to pay attention to the writing styles—such as antitheses, rhythms, and tones. They judge them as good or bad, and then think about the meaning as an afterthought. Therefore, it is better to understand the meaning from the beginning without caring about such things. In writing dharma-discourses as well, trying to write in accordance with the rules of rhetoric or being unable to write without thinking of rhyming and [maintaining proper] tones are the fault of having too much knowledge.
Let the language and style develop as they may; what is most important is to write down in detail the truth you want to communicate. Even though people in future generations might think that your rhetorical technique is poor, it is essential for the Way to enable them to understand reality. It is the same for other fields of study.
I have heard that Ku-Amidabutsu of Koya2 was an eminent scholar of both Exoteric and Esoteric Buddhism. After he abandoned3 his temple and entered the Nenbutsu School4, a Shingon priest visited him and asked about the doctrine of the Esoteric teachings of the school. He replied, “I have forgotten everything. I don't remember a single word.” Thus, he did not answer the priest's question. This should be the ideal bodhi-mind. He must have remembered something, but he did not talk about things he thought were useless. I think that people who wholeheartedly practice nenbutsu must be like this. Students today should also cultivate this attitude. Even if you used to know about the philosophy of the teaching-schools, it would be better to forget it completely. Needless to say, you should not begin studying it now.
People of the Way who truly devote themselves to practice should not read even the collections of the recorded saying of the Zen masters. You should understand through this example the uselessness of other kinds of books.
- According to Kenzei-ki (the oldest biography of Dogen), Dogen was reading Riko Hyakuei (The Hundred Poems of Liqiao) by the time he was four years old. At seven, he was reading Moshi , Saden , and at nine, he was reading Kusharon (Abhidharma Kosa). The text says that Dogen was as brilliant as Monju. When he became sleepy while studying, he stuck a needle in his thigh. He studied unusually hard encouraging his mind.
- Ku-amîdabutsu is another name for Myohen (1142–1224). He studied Sanron (Nagarjuna's philosophy), and Shingon (Esoteric Buddhism). He practiced in Nara and on Mt. Koya. Later he became a disciple of Honen, the founder of Japanese Pure-Land Buddhism, and changed his name to Ku-Amidabutsu.
- The word Dogen used is tonsei which literally means to escape from the world. Originally it meant to leave the secular world and become a monk. But in the Kamakura period it denoted a person who had already become a monk and had left even the society of monks to concentrate on practice.
- This school concentrated on the recitation of Amida's name, ‘Namu-Amidabutsu', which means, “[I pay] homage to Amida Buddha.”
In an evening talk, Dogen said,
With regard to actions and speech in society, today in this country many people are concerned with personal fame and reputation. They think good-bad, right-wrong, and consider that if they do one thing others will think well of them or if they do something else others will think poorly of them. They even worry about the future. This is entirely wrong. People in the secular world are not necessarily good.
Let people think whatever they may think. Let them even call you crazy. If you spend your whole life practicing in accordance with the Buddha-Way and refrain from what goes against the buddha-dharma, you needn't worry about what people think about you. Tonsei 1, (retreat from the world), means being free from the sentiments of worldly people. Just learn about the deeds of the buddhas and patriarchs and about the compassion of the bodhisattvas, repent of your actions which are secretly illuminated by various devas and protective deities, and go on practicing in accordance with the Buddha's regulations. You needn't care about anything else.
On the other hand, it is wrong to shamelessly indulge yourself and do evil things, trying to excuse yourself on the grounds that it does not matter if others think ill of you. Just practice wholeheartedly in accordance with the buddha-dharma, paying no attention to how others see you. In the buddha-dharma such indulgence and shamelessness is prohibited.
- See2-11, footnote 3.
Dogen also said,
Even according to secular morality, when changing clothes, sitting, or lying down in places where no one can see you, or in a dark room, failing to hide what should be hidden, having no propriety is criticized as being shameless before the devas and demons. You should hide what should be hidden, and be discreet about that which requires discretion just as if someone were watching.
In the buddha-dharma, the precepts speak of the same attitude. Therefore as a practitioner of the Way, (you should) keep the Buddha's precepts in mind, refraining from committing evil even though no one might see you or notice (what you do); do not discriminate between inside or outside or between bright or dark.
One day, a student asked,
“Although many years have passed since aspiring to learn the Way, I have not yet had any realization. Many of the ancient teachers said that the Way does not depend on intelligence or sagacity. Therefore, I don't think we should demean ourselves because of our inferior capacity. Is there something about this that has been handed down in the tradition which I should keep in mind?”
“You are right about not relying on intelligence, talent, quick-wittedness, or sagacity in learning the Way. Still, it is wrong to mistakenly encourage a person to become blind, deaf, or ignorant. Since studying the Way does not require having wide knowledge or highly talented abilities, you should not show disdain toward anyone because of their inferior capacity. True practice of the Way must be easy. Nevertheless, even in the monasteries in great Song China, there are only one or two people out of several hundred or thousands of practitioners who realize the dharma and attain the Way in the assembly of one teacher. Therefore, there must be things handed down which we should keep in mind.
I believe this. It depends only on whether one's aspiration is firmly determined or not. A person who arouses true aspiration and studies as hard as his capacity allows will not fail to attain [the Way]. We have to be careful to concentrate on and directly carry out the following practice: first of all, just maintain the aspiration to earnestly seek [the Way]. For example, a person who desires to steal a precious treasure or to beat a powerful enemy or win over a beautiful woman of high nobility will constantly seek an opportunity to accomplish these tasks in any situation or occasion, though various things are changing, since his mind is always occupied with this desire. If his desire is that enthusiastic, he will not fail to fulfill it.
In the same way if the aspiration to seek the Way is earnest enough when you practice shikantaza (just sitting), study the koans or meet your teacher, though the aim is high you will hit the mark, and though it is deep you will fish it out. Without arousing such aspiration, how can you complete the great matter of the Buddha-Way in which the samsara of life-and-death is cut off in a single moment? Only if you have a mind unconcerned about inferior intelligence or dull faculties, or ignorance or dullness, will you surely attain enlightenment.
Next, to arouse such an aspiration, think deeply in your heart of the impermanence of the world. It is not a matter of meditating using some provisional method of contemplation. It is not a matter of fabricating in our heads that which does not really exist. Impermanence is truly the reality right in front of our eyes. We need not wait for some teaching from others, some proof from some passage of scripture, or some principle. Born in the morning and dead in the evening, a person we saw yesterday is no longer here today —these are the facts we see with our eyes and hear with our ears. This is what we see and hear about others. Applying this to our own bodies and thinking of the reality (of all things), though we expect to live for seventy or eighty years, we die when we must die.
During our lifetime, though we may see the reality of sorrow, pleasure, love of our families, and hatred of our enemies, these are not worthy matters. We could spend our time letting go of them. We should just believe in the Buddha-Way and seek the true joy of Nirvana. Much more so for the aged whose lives are already more than half over. How many years still remain? How can we relax our study of the Way? This is still not close enough to reality. In reality, it is only today or even this moment that we can thus think of worldly affairs or of the Buddha-Way. Tonight or tomorrow we may contract some serious disease, or may have to endure such terrible pain as to be unable to distinguish east from west. Or we may be killed suddenly by some demon, encounter trouble with brigands, or be killed by some enemy. Everything is truly uncertain.
Therefore, in such an unpredictable world, it is extremely foolish to waste time worrying about various ways of earning a living in order to postpone one's death, uncertain as it is, to say nothing of plotting evil against others.
Precisely because this is reality, the Buddha preached it to all living beings, the patriarchs taught only this truth in their sermons and writings. In my formal speeches and lectures too, I emphasize that impermanence is swift; life-and-death is the great matter. Reflect on this reality again and again in your heart without forgetting it, and without wasting a moment. Put your whole mind into the practice of the Way.
Remember that you are alive only today in this moment. Other than that, [practice of the Way] is truly easy. You needn't discuss whether you are superior or inferior, brilliant or dull.
In an evening talk, Dogen said,
People not escaping from the secular world seems to be the result of clinging to bodily life. Actually, however, they are not thinking of themselves at all. They are not considering things from a broader perspective. This is also due to not having met good teachers or friends. If they seek profit they should desire the profit of eternal happiness and offerings from dragon-gods1 or heavenly beings. If they think of fame, they should aspire to obtain the fame of a buddha, a patriarch or an ancient sage. Doing so, wise people in future generations will respect them.
- A dragon-god (Skt., naga ) is one of the eight gods and demi-gods who protect Buddhism. A kind of snake-like creature believed to have supernatural power to form clouds and cause rain to fall at will. Of the dragons which protect Buddhism, the eight dragon-kings are often mentioned in Buddhist texts.
In an evening talk, Dogen said,
An ancient sage remarked, “If I learned the Way in the morning, I wouldn't mind dying in the evening.” Students of the Way should have this same attitude. During aeons of life-and-death, how many times have we been born and have we died in vain? If we do not save ourselves, when, by rare chance, we have been born [in a human body] and are able to encounter the buddha-dharma, when will we (be able to save ourselves)? Even though we might cherish our body and hold it dear, we cannot keep it forever. Abandoning our life which we must leave behind sooner or later, if only for a day or a few moments for the sake of the buddha-dharma, will surely be the cause of eternal happiness.
It is regrettable to spend our days and nights vainly thinking of our livelihood tomorrow without casting aside the world which should be cast aside, without practicing the Way which should be practiced. Just make up your mind to learn the Way and die today. If you don't have the materials to keep you alive until tomorrow it doesn't matter if you die of cold or hunger. First of all, arouse such resolution. In doing so you will be able to practice the Way without fail.
Without this sort of aspiration, you will be unable to attain the Way regardless of how many millions of years or thousand times of life-and-death you practice. If you ostensibly continue practicing the buddha-dharma but secretly worry about such things as clothing for winter or summer and livelihood for tomorrow or the next year, then despite the appearance of learning the Way opposed to the ordinary world (it is equally useless). There could be such a person, but as far as I know such an attitude cannot be in accordance with the teaching of the buddhas and patriarchs.
In an evening talk, Dogen said,
Students of the Way, it goes without saying that you must consider the inevitability of death. Even if you don't consider this right now, you should be resolved not to waste time and refrain from doing meaningless things. You should spend your time carrying out what is worth doing. Among the things you should do what is the most important? You must understand that all deeds other than those of the buddhas and patriarchs are useless.
Once Ejo asked,
“As an activity of Zen practitioners, mending or patching old or tattered clothing instead of throwing it away, seems to be clinging to things. Yet abandoning old clothing and wearing new robes shows that we are seeking after new things. Both of these are wrong. Ultimately, what should we do?”
“If we are free from holding on to what we have yet do not seek after what we don't have, either way is all right. Still, it would be better to mend torn clothing, in order to keep it for as long as possible and not pursue acquiring new clothing.”
During an evening talk, Ejo asked,
“Shall we carry on the obligation of fulfilling our gratitude to our fathers and mothers?1
Dogen replied, “Filial piety is most important. Yet there is a difference between lay people and monks in how to fulfill it. Lay people follow the teachings in the Kokyo 2 etc. and serve their parents in life and in death. All people in the world know that. Monks abandon their debt of gratitude and enter the realm of non-doing ( mui )3. Our manner of paying off the debt of gratitude should not be limited to one particular person. Considering that we have debts of gratitude to all living beings equal to our own fathers and mothers, we must transmit all the merits of our good deeds to the whole dharma-world. If we limit it specifically to our own parents in this lifetime, we go against the Way of non-doing.
In our day-to-day practice and time-to-time study, following the Buddha-Way continuously is the only true way of fulfilling our filial piety.
Lay people hold memorial services and make offerings during chuin 4 (the forty-nine days after a person's death).
As Zen monks, we should know the depth of the real debt of gratitude to our parents. We should see that debt as being the same as our gratitude to (the rest of) all living beings. Choosing one particular day to practice something good and transmitting the merit to one special person doesn't seem to accord with the Buddha's compassion. The passage about the anniversary days of the death of one's parents and siblings in the Precept-Sutra5 refers to lay people.
In the monasteries in China monks hold ceremonies on the anniversary of their master's death but not on the anniversaries of their parents' deaths.
- The Japanese word is Hoon . Ho means to repay. On means kindness, favor, grace. Hoon can be translated as ‘to requite a kindness' or, as in this case, pay a debt of gratitude. Filial piety was one of the most important concepts in Confucian thought in China, Korea, and Japan.
- Kokyo (Scripture on Filial Piety) is one of the most important classics of Confucianism. In this text, Confucius insisted that filial piety is the foundation of all virtues and social morality.
- Mui does not mean not-active. It means to act freely, like fish swimming in the water, or birds flying in the sky without a trace.
- An intermediate state between death and the next life. It is said that a dead person remains in this suspended state for seven weeks.
- In the Bonmo-kyo (Brahmajala-sutra) we read, “On the anniversary day of the death of your father, mother, or brothers, invite a priest to give a talk on the sutra of the bodhisattva precepts…”
One day Dogen instructed,
The distinction between being brilliant or dull applies only when thorough aspiration has not yet been aroused. When a person falls from a horse various thoughts arise before he hits the ground. When something occurs which is so serious that one's body may be damaged or one's life may be lost, no one will fail to put all his intellect to work. On such occasions, whether brilliant or dull, anyone will think and try to figure out what is best to do.
Therefore, if you think you will die tonight or tomorrow or that you are confronting a dreadful situation, encourage your aspiration and you will not fail to attain enlightenment. A person who seems superficially dull but has a sincere aspiration will attain enlightenment more quickly than one who is clever in a worldly sense. Although he could not recite even a single verse, Cudapanthaka1, one of the disciples of the Buddha, gained enlightenment during one summer practice period because he had earnest aspiration.
We are only alive now. Only if we learn the buddha-dharma, earnestly wishing to attain enlightenment, will we be able to do so before dying.
- Cudapanthaka (J., Shurihandoku) was one of the Buddha's disciples. He was dull and unable to memorize even one verse in four months. The Buddha gave him the job of cleaning the monks' sandals, and this enabled him to attain enlightenment.
One evening, Dogen instructed,
At a Zen monastery in China sometimes they sift the wheat and rice, etc, throwing away the bad grains and keeping the good ones to cook. A certain Zen master admonished in a verse, “Though you split my head into seven pieces, do not winnow the rice.” What he meant was that monks shouldn't fuss about arranging fine meals, rather they should eat whatever is available. When it is fine they should eat it as it is, and when it is poor, they should eat it without dislike. Get rid of your hunger and support your life with the faithful donations from patrons or pure food from temple belongings alone and devote yourself to the practice of the Way. Do not choose good from bad on the basis of taste. Now each of you in my assembly should also have this attitude.
On one occasion someone asked,
“How do you feel about the following view? Upon hearing that one's own self is the buddha-dharma and that it is futile to seek anything outside of oneself, what if a student were to believe this deeply, give up practice and studying, and spend his whole life doing good and bad according to his nature?”
“In this view, the person's words and reality are contradictory. Giving up practice and abandoning study because of the futility of seeking anything outwardly, sounds as though something is being sought after by the act of giving up. This is not non-seeking.
Just realize that practice and study themselves are the buddha-dharma. Without seeking anything, refrain from engaging in worldly affairs or evil things even if you have the mind to do so. Do not think of or hate the boredom of the practice of the Way. Just practice wholeheartedly. Practice without even seeking after the completion of the Way or the attainment of the result. This attitude is in accordance with the principle of non-seeking.
Through Nangaku's1 polishing a tile to make a mirror, he was admonishing Baso's seeking to become a Buddha. Still he did not restrain Baso from sitting zazen. Sitting itself is the practice of the buddha. Sitting itself is non-doing. It is nothing but the true form of the Self. Apart from sitting, there is nothing to seek as the buddha-dharma.
- When Baso Doitsu (701–788) was sitting by himself in a hermitage, his teacher Nangaku Ejo (677–744) visited him and asked “What do you intend to become by sitting zazen?”
Baso said, “I intend to become a Buddha.”
Nangaku then picked up a piece of tile and began to polish it on a stone in front of the hut.
Baso asked, “Master, what are you doing?”
Nangaku replied, “I am polishing the tile to make a mirror.”
Baso said, “How can you make a mirror by polishing a tile?”
Nangaku replied, “How can you become a buddha by practicing zazen?”
One day Dogen said in his instructions,
Many monks these days say that they should follow worldly customs. I don't think this right. Even in the secular world, wise people say that it is impure to follow the way of the world. For example, Kutsugen1 said “Everyone in the world is drunk; only I am sober.” He refused to go along with the ordinary ways of people and finally threw himself into Soro River and drowned.
Much more even, does the buddha-dharma go entirely against worldly ways. Lay people eat in abundance; monks eat once a day. Everything is contrary. And finally, monks become people of great peace and joy (Nirvana). For this reason the way of monks is totally opposed to the way of the secular world.
- Kutsugen (343?–227?B.C.) was a politician and a poet in China. He lived in the Period of the Warring States.
One day Dogen instructed,
In the order of governing the world, from the emperor down to the common people, each person who has an occupation carries out his own function. Being unsuitable for a position is called “disorganization of the world.” When the manner of governing is in accordance with the will of heaven, the world is at peace and the people are at ease. That is why the emperor rises at one o'clock in the morning and starts the work of governing the world. It is not an easy thing. This is the case with the buddha-dharma too, only the functions and the activities to carry out are different. In the case of the emperor, he personally performs the duties of governing with all his intelligence, considering the precedents from previous ages, while seeking ministers endowed with virtue and ability. When his way of governing is in accordance with the will of heaven it is called a “well-governed world.” If the emperor is negligent in his duties, he goes against the will of heaven, the world becomes disorderly and the people suffer.
The emperor, nobility, high officials, senior officials, common officials, and common people are all in charge of some respective function. A person who executes his duties can be called humane. If someone goes against his duties, he will receive punishment from heaven because he has caused disorder in heaven.
Therefore, students of the buddha-dharma, even though you have left home and parted from the secular world you should not want to spend an easy life. You should not waste time even for a moment. Although in the beginning it may seem profitable, later on it will be the cause of evil influences. Following the way of monks (who have left home), you should fulfill your duties and throw yourself into your practice. In governing the secular world, even if one pursues the precedents, rules, or examples of former rulers, sometimes one has to follow the examples of one's contemporaries since there is no certain way which has been handed down by the ancient sages or other great people. For the children of the Buddha, however, there are definite precedents and scriptural teachings. There are also teachers who have received the transmission of such traditions. We are capable of reflection. In each action of moving, standing, sitting, and lying down, if we think of the precedents and follow our predecessors in our practice, there is no reason to fail in attaining the Way. In the secular world people wish to be in harmony with the will of heaven. Buddhist practitioners wish to be in harmony with the will of Buddha. The tasks are the same but the result (for the Buddhist) is superior. For great peace and joy (Nirvana) which is never lost once attained depends only upon having the aspiration to make this phantom-like body follow the will of Buddha in this lifetime. Nevertheless, the Buddha's teachings never encourage making our body suffer meaninglessly. If you follow the demeanor and behavior prescribed in the precepts, your body will be at ease, your behavior will be appropriate, and you will not disturb other people. Therefore abandon bodily pleasures caused by egocentric views and thoroughly follow the Buddha's precepts.
Also Dogen said,
When staying at Tendo Monastery in China, while the old master Nyojo was abbot there, we sat zazen until about eleven o'clock at night and got up at about half-past two to sit zazen. The abbot sat with the assembly in the sodo , never taking even one night off.
While sitting, many monks fell asleep. The abbot walked around hitting them with his fist or his slipper, scolding them and encouraging them to wake up. If they continued to sleep, he went to the shodo 1, rang the bell, and called his attendants to light the candles. On the spur of the moment he would say such things as; “What is the use of sleeping? Why do you gather in a sodo ? Why did you become a monk and enter this monastery?”
Consider the emperor and officials of the government. Who among them leads an easy life? The emperor governs with justice. The ministers serve with loyalty on down to the commoners. Who leads an easy life without laboring? You have avoided these labors and entered a monastery, but now spend your time wastefully. What on earth for? Life-and-death is the Great Matter. Everything is impermanent and changes swiftly. The teaching-schools and the Zen-schools both emphasize this. This evening or tomorrow morning you may become sick or die. Still you have no idea how your death may come or what kind of sickness you may contract. It is utterly foolish to pass the time you are alive meaninglessly sleeping or lying down while you fail to practice the buddha dharma. Since you are like this, the buddha-dharma is dying. When people devotedly practiced zazen, the buddha-dharma flourished throughout the country. As of late, the buddha-dharma is falling into decay because no one promotes zazen.”
I personally saw him encourage the monks in his assembly in this way, and I saw him make them sit zazen.
One time, his immediate attendant said, “The monks in the sodo are tired and sleepy. They may fall ill or lose their aspiration because of the long hours of sitting. Please shorten the time of zazen.”
Angrily the abbot replied, “We must never do that. People without bodhi-mind who temporarily stay in the sodo would sleep even if we sat for only half an hour or less. Practitioners with bodhi-mind who aspire to practice are happier the longer they are able to sit and therefore, practice much harder. When I was young I visited various teachers in different regions. I was encouraged by an old master among them who said to me, “In the past I used to hit the monks so hard that I almost broke my fist. But since I am now old and weak I cannot beat them so hard. Consequently no good monks develop. Since few teachers encourage sitting, the buddha-dharma is dying. I'll beat them even harder!”
- A hall behind the sodo where the head monk gives talks on behalf of the abbot.
Dogen also said,
Is the Way attained through mind or body? In the teaching-schools it is said that since body and mind are not separate, the Way is attained through the body. Yet it is not clear that we attain the Way through the body, because they say “since” body and mind are not separate. In Zen the Way is attained through both body and mind.
As long as we only think about the buddha-dharma with our minds we will never grasp the Way, even in a thousand lifetimes or a myriad of eons. When we let go of our minds and cast aside our views and understandings the Way will be actualized. One sage clarified True Mind (Reality) when he saw peach blossoms and another realized the Way when he heard the sound of tile hitting a bamboo.1 They attained the Way through their bodies. Therefore, when we completely cast aside our thoughts and views and practice shikantaza , we will become intimate with the Way. For this reason the Way is doubtlessly attained through the body. This is why I encourage you to practice zazen wholeheartedly.
- This refers to Reiun Shigon (?–?) and Kyogen Shikan (?–840) who were the disciples of Zen Master Isan Reiyu (771–853).
Students of the Way, let go of1 body and mind and enter completely into the buddha-dharma. An ancient said,” At the top of a hundred foot pole, how do you advance one step further?”2 In such a situation, we think that we would die if we were to let go of the pole and so we cling firmly to it.
Saying “advance one step further” means the same as having resolved that death would not be bad and therefore one lets go of bodily life. We should give up worrying about everything from the art of living to our livelihood.
Unless we give up worrying about such things it will be impossible to attain the Way even if we seem to be practicing earnestly as though trying to extinguish a fire enveloping our heads. Just let go of body and mind in a decisive manner.
- Hoge in Japanese means to let go, throw away, give up, abandon, lay down, etc. Someone asked Joshu, “I have nothing. How is that?”
Joshu replied, “Throw it away ( hoge-jaku ).”
- See 1-13, footnote 4.
Once, a certain nun asked,
“Even lay women practice and study the buddha-dharma. As for nuns, even though we have some faults, I feel there is no reason to say that we go against the buddha-dharma. What do you think?”
“That is not a correct view. Lay women might attain the Way as a result of practicing the buddha-dharma as they are. However, no monk or nun1 attains it unless he or she has the mind of one who has left home. This is not because the buddha-dharma discriminates between one person and another, but rather because the person doesn't enter the dharma. There must be a difference in the attitude of lay people and those who have left home. A layman who has the mind of a monk or nun who has left home will be released from samsara. A monk or a nun who has the mind of a lay person has double faults. Their attitudes should be quite different. It is not that it is difficult to do, but to do it completely is difficult. The practice of being released from samsara and attaining the Way seems to be sought by everyone, but those who accomplish it are few. Life-and-death is the Great Matter; impermanence is swift2. Do not let your mind slacken. If you abandon the world, you should abandon it completely. I don't think that the names provisionally used to distinguish monks and nuns from lay people are at all important.
- Shukke (Leaving home) in Japanese, means one who has renounced home-life to become a monk or a nun.
- These phrases originally appear in the Rokuso-Dankyo, (The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch).
In an evening talk, Dogen said,
Among lay people these days I see that those who have attained successful results1 [by their deeds] and have enabled their families to prosper are all honest, straight-forward, and kind to others. Because of that, their families will survive and prosper in later generations. Even if dishonest people and those who harm others seem to receive a good reward and are able to maintain their livelihood for a while, their fortunes will decline in the end. Or even if they seem to spend their own lifetimes without trouble, their descendents will inevitably wane.
Furthermore, doing good for others because of one's desire to be well thought of or to ingratiate oneself seems better than doing evil. However, such actions are not truly doing good for others since one is still thinking of oneself.
One who does good for others or for the future without being noticed and without considering for whom his acts are good is truly a good person. A monk should cultivate a mind even much more superior to this.
Have compassion for living beings without distinguishing between the intimate and the unrelated and maintain an attitude of saving all equally. Never think of your own profit in terms of worldly or supraworldly benefit2. Even though you are neither known nor appreciated, just do good for others according to your own heart and do not show others that you have such a spirit.
The secret of keeping this attitude is, first of all, abandoning the world and casting aside your own body. No desire to be well thought of by others arises, but only if you have truly thrown away your own body. However, if you think “let others think what they may” and you do evil, indulging in this or that, you go against the will of the Buddha. Simply do good without expectation of reward or fame, be truly gainless3, and work for the sake of benefiting others. The primary point to bear in mind is to separate from your ego. To keep this mind you have to awaken to impermanence. Our life is like a dream. Time passes swiftly. Our dewlike life easily disappears. Since time waits for no one, try to do good to others and follow the will of the Buddha as long as you are alive.
- Kaho in Japanese, means effect, reward, or retribution for some act done.
- Supraworldly benefit (In Japanese, Shusseken no riyaku ) means benefit for clarifying the Way, not benefit for fulfilling one's desires.
- Mushotoku in Japanese, means nothing to gain, or no desire to gain anything, or being free from the discrimination between subject (one who gains) and object (things to be gained). This expression is found in the Diamond-Sutra . “The Lord (Shakyamuni) said, ‘So it is, Subhuti, so it is. Not even the least dharma is there found or got at. Therefore is it called ‘utmost (anutara), right and perfect enlightenment'.” (Translated by Edward Conze). In the Heart Sutra we find, …there is no knowledge, no attainment, [and] no realization, because there is no attainment.” (Translated by D. T. Suzuki)
In an evening talk Dogen said,
Students of the Way should be thoroughly poor. When we look at people in the secular world, men of property inevitably have two kinds of troubles; anger and dishonor. If they have some treasure, others wish to steal it, and when they try to protect it anger immediately arises. Or in talking about some matter, argument and negotiation eventually escalate to conflict and fighting. Proceeding in this way anger will arise and result in dishonor. Being poor and unselfish, releases people from these problems and they find peace. Proof is right in front of our eyes. We don't need to search for it in the scriptures. Not only that, ancient sages and wise predecessors criticized being wealthy, and heavenly deities, buddhas, and patriarchs have all denounced it. Nevertheless, foolish people accumulate wealth and bear so much anger; this is the shame of shames. Our wise predecessors, ancient sages, buddhas, and patriarchs have all been poor yet aspired to the Way.
These days the decay of the buddha-dharma is occurring right before our eyes. From the time I first entered Kenninji Monastery1, over a period of seven or eight years I saw many changes gradually taking place. They had built storerooms in each temple building, each person having his own utensils. Many became fond of fine clothing, stored up personal possessions, and indulged in idle talk. No one cared about the forms of greeting one another nor about prostrating before the Buddha. Looking at these things, I can imagine what other places must be like.
A person of the buddha-dharma should not possess any treasure or property other than robes and a bowl. What is the need for a closet? You should not own things which have to be hidden from others. You try to hide things because you are afraid of thieves; if you abandon them you will be that much more at ease. When you don't want to be killed even though you have to kill, your body suffers and your mind is anxious. However, if you make up your mind not to retaliate, even if someone tries to kill you, you will not need to be careful or worry about thieves. You will never fail to be at ease.
- Dogen began to practice with Myozen at Kenninji, in 1217, when he was eighteen years old. He stayed there until he went to China in 1223. After he came back from China he stayed at Kenninji again for a few years.
One day Dogen instructed,
When Kaimon Zenji1 was the abbot of Tendo Monastery in China, there was a shuso called Gen. He had grasped the dharma and was awakened to the Way; his practice surpassed even that of the abbot. One night, he visited the abbot's room, lit incense, prostrated himself, and asked to be allowed to be the shuso of the rear-hall.”2
At the time, the master wept, “Since becoming a novice, I have never heard of such a thing. For a monk practicing zazen, it is a great mistake to ask to be the shuso or to receive the title of Elder. You have already awakened to the Way more than I have. Do you seek the position of shuso for the sake of promotion? I would allow you to be the shuso of the front-hall or even the abbot. Your attitude is low-minded. Indeed, by this I can see why the rest of the monks have not yet attained enlightenment. The decline of the buddha-dharma can be seen from such an attitude.”
Afterwards, he shed tears and wept with sorrow. Although Gen left ashamed of himself and actually declined the position, the master appointed him as the shuso . Later Gen recorded the conversation, shaming himself and showing his master's excellent words.
When I think about this, I see that the ancients put people to shame if they wanted to make themselves important, to become head of the people, or to attain the title of Elder. Just awaken to the Way; be concerned with nothing else.
- Kaimon Shisai (?–?) was a disciple of Setsuan Tokko, See 1-3, footnote 1.
- The Japanese word is godo shuso . In ancient Zen monasteries there were two shuso (head monks). One was the zendo shuso , the other was the godo shuso . Zendo means the front part of the sodo and godo means the rear part of the sodo . The zendo shuso had the overall responsibility while the godo shuso assisted him. Today, however, only the zendo shuso remains and is now simply called the shuso , while the godo has come to mean the instructor above the shuso .
One evening Dogen instructed,
After acceding to the throne, Taiso of the To dynasty lived in the old palace. Since it was in disrepair, moisture entered inside and the emperor became ill from the chilly winds and mist. When his ministers proposed building a new palace, the emperor replied,
“This is the busy farming season. The people would certainly be troubled. We should wait until autumn to build it. Being afflicted by moisture is due to not being accepted by Earth. Being affected by wind and rain is due to not living in accordance with Heaven. If I go against Heaven and Earth, I cannot maintain my health. I will be in accordance with Heaven and Earth when I no longer cause the people to suffer. If I act in harmony with Heaven and Earth my body will not be afflicted.”
So saying, he did not build the new palace and dwelt in the old one after all. Here even a lay person thought of the people more than his own health. So much more should (you as) children of the Buddha succeed to the way of the Tathagata and have compassion towards all living beings as if each of them were your only child1. Don't scold or cause people trouble even if they are your attendants or servants. Moreover, show respect for your fellow students and practitioners, your seniors or other elder people, as if they were the Tathagata; this is all clearly written in the precepts.
Therefore, students today should also think of doing good for others without distinguishing between people of the upper or lower class, or the intimate or unrelated, even though their deeds are not seen and are not known to others. Whether it be a great or small matter, you should not be a nuisance to others and hurt others' feelings.
During the time the Tathagata was alive, many non-Buddhists slandered and hated the Tathagata. One of the disciples of the Buddha asked,
“Tathagata, you have always held gentleness as being fundamental and have had compassion in your heart. All living beings should equally respect you. Why are there some who do not follow you?”
The Buddha replied, “When I led an assembly in the past, I often admonished my disciples by scolding them and finding fault with them. Because of that, things like this happen in the present.”
This passage can be found in the scriptures on the precepts. Therefore, even if you lead a group of practitioners as an abbot, when you admonish your disciples and remonstrate with them, you should not use abusive or critical words. Those who have aspiration will follow you, even if you admonish and encourage them with gentle words. Students, you should never scold family members, fellow practitioners, or others with harsh words. Be careful about this.
- In the Lotus Sutra we find the following verse.
Now this triple world,
All is my domain;
The living beings in it
All are my sons. (The Threefold Lotus Sutra, translated by Bunno Kato)
Also, Dogen instructed,
Zen monks should always bear in mind maintaining the way of practice of the buddhas and patriarchs.
First of all, do not covet property. The depth of the compassion of the Tathagata cannot be fathomed even by analogies. Everything he did was for the sake of all living beings. He never did even the slightest thing which was not beneficial to living beings. Since he was the crown prince of the cakravarti-raja (wheel-turning king)1, he could have ascended the throne and ruled the whole world as he liked. He could have cared for his disciples with treasures and raised them with his wealth. Why did he give up such a position and practice begging by himself? He refused to store up wealth and practiced begging for food because it was more beneficial for living beings in later generations and for his disciples in practicing the Way.
Since then all well known patriarchs in India and China have lived in extreme poverty and practiced begging for food. All the patriarchs in our lineage have solely encouraged not accumulating wealth. Also, in the teaching-schools when people praise our school they primarily praise our [attitude toward] poverty. In the books handed down to this age as well, the poverty [of Zen monks] has been recorded and praised. I've never heard of anyone who was rich in material wealth who also carried out the buddha-dharma. All sincere practitioners of the buddha-dharma have worn patched rags and have always begged for food. The reason the Zen School was considered good and Zen monks different from others was that when Zen monks first lived among others in the temple buildings of the teaching or the precept-schools2, they abandoned caring for their bodies and lived in poverty. We should remember this as the primary style of practice in this (Zen) school.
[Not clinging to wealth] is not something we should look for written proof of in the holy scriptures. In my own case, I used to own land for farming as well as other property. I had my own wealth as well. Comparing the conditions of my body and mind then with my present condition of poverty, of barely possessing robes and bowls, I feel that my state of mind [my life] right now is better. This is the actual proof.
- The ideal king conceived of in India was the one who ruled the world with the wheel which he obtained at the time of enthronement. There were four kinds of kings, according to the different qualities of the wheel.
- Before Zen monasteries were established around the age of Hyakujo Ekai (720–814). Zen monks stayed in the temple buildings of the other schools, or wandered here and there. They didn't have their own monasteries.
Dogen also said,
An ancient has said that if you are not an equal of the person, do not speak of his conduct. This means that if you have not learned and understood another's virtues, when you see the person's faults you should not criticize him. You should think that he is a good person though his action is bad; good people also do bad things. Accept only his virtues, not his faults. The saying that a wise man looks at another's virtues and not his faults means the same thing.
One day Dogen instructed,
You should not fail to carry out virtues in secret. If you do good deeds secretly, you will surely receive unseen protection and manifest benefit. You should respect images of the Buddha even if they are very crude, being made of mud, wood, or clay. Even if the sutras are written on coarse scrolls made of yellow paper and attached to a red roll1, you should take refuge in them. Even if there are shameless monks who violate the precepts, you should look up to them and believe in the sangha. If you are respectful and prostrate yourself with faith in your heart, you will surely receive happiness. Although you might meet shameless monks, crude images of the Buddha, or coarse sutra scrolls, if you do not have faith in them and respect them, you will certainly receive punishment. Images of the Buddha, sutra scrolls, and monks are the Buddha's legacy and are the foundation of happiness for human and heavenly beings. Therefore, if you take refuge in them and revere them, you will surely receive their benefit. If you don't have faith, you will receive punishment. No matter how uncommonly crude it may be, you should respect the world of the Three Treasures.
It is terribly wrong to be fond of committing evil deeds on the pretext that a Zen monk does not practice good nor accumulate virtue. I've never heard of any of our predecessors who have served as exemplars indulging in evil deeds.
Zen master Tanka Tennen2 burned a wooden statue of the Buddha. Although it seemed to be nothing but an evil deed, his deed was a means of showing the dharma. When we read the record of this master's deeds, we find that his sitting was always in accordance with the prescribed rules and while standing he always followed good manners. His manner was always courteous as if he were meeting a noble guest. Even when he sat for a short while, he sat cross legged and held his hands in the shashu position3. He protected temple property as though caring for his own eyes. He never failed to offer praise when he saw someone practicing diligently. Even if they were small, he appreciated good deeds. His own actions in his daily life were especially wonderful. His record remains as a mirror in Zen monasteries.
This applies not only to Zen Master Tanka Tennen but to all the various masters who have attained the Way, and to patriarchs who have clarified the Way and have been recognized as exemplars; all maintained the behavior prescribed by the precepts, conducted themselves with dignity, and appreciated even minor goodness. I have never heard of any master of the Way who disregarded goodness.
Therefore students, if you wish to follow the Way of the patriarchs, never make light of goodness. Purify your faith. All goodness gathers together where the Way of the buddhas and patriarchs is practiced. Once you have clarified that all dharmas (beings) are the buddha-dharma, you should know that evil is definitely evil and that it causes one to depart from the Way of the buddhas and patriarchs. Good is always good and connects with the Buddha-Way. If this is so, how can you underestimate the world of the Three Treasures?
- The Buddhist scriptures were used to be printed on yellow paper and attached to a red stick.
- Tanka Tennen (739–824) was a disciple of Sekito Kisen. While he was staying at Erinji during a cold winter, he burnt a wooden statue of the Buddha to warm himself. Monks there renounced him for it.
He said to them, “I'm burning this to take sharira .” (the Buddha's relics). Someone said, “How can you get sharira from a piece of wood?”
Tennen replied, “If we can't, then why do you find fault with me?” In this story Tanka showed that the statue of the Buddha is not the real Buddha. We should see the formless Buddha beyond the form of the statue.
- Shashu is a way of holding the hands. Put the thumb of the left hand in the middle of the palm and make a fist around it. Place the fist in front of the chest. Cover the fist with the right hand. Keep the elbows away from the body forming a straight line with both forearms. In some Zen monasteries, monks keep their hands in this position while walking and standing.
Dogen also said,
Now if you wish to practice the Way of the buddhas and patriarchs, you should practice the Way of the previous sages and emulate the conduct of the patriarchs with no (expectation of) profit; expect nothing, seek nothing, gain nothing.
Even if you quit seeking and give up expectations of buddhahood, if you stop practicing and continue engaging in your former evil deeds, you will still be guilty of seeking and will fall back into the old nest1.
Without having the slightest expectation, maintain the prescribed manner of conduct. Think of acting to save and benefit living-beings, earnestly perform all good deeds, and give up former evil ones. Do this solely for the sake of becoming the foundation of happiness for human and heavenly beings. Without stagnating in good deeds of the present, continue practicing your whole lifetime. An ancient called this ‘breaking the bottom of the lacquer pail'2. The Way of the buddhas and patriarchs is like this.
- The old nest is what we are always going back to. A kind of frame we are unable to get out of, that is, the tendency or the system of values formed by our upbringing, experiences, and so on. It is the Karmic (or conditioned) self.
- A container for lacquer. It is so black that you cannot distinguish between things. This is a metaphor for delusions, ignorance, and ego-attachment. Breaking the lacquer pail means to get free from conditioned human sentiments.
Dogen also said,
Now if you wish to practice the Way of the buddhas and patriarchs, you should practice the Way of the previous sages and emulate the conduct of the patriarchs with no (expectation of) profit; expect nothing, seek nothing, gain nothing.
One day a monk came and asked about what to be careful of in learning the Way. Dogen replied,
“First of all, a person studying the Way should be poor. If you possess great wealth, you will definitely lose aspiration.
If a lay person learning the Way still clings to wealth, covets comfortable housing, and keeps company with relatives, despite having the aspiration he will confront many obstacles in learning the Way.
Although many lay people have learned the dharma since ancient times, even those who were known as good practitioners were no match for monks. Since monks do not possess any property except for three robes and one bowl, never worry about where to live, and are not greedy for food and clothing, they will obtain benefit as long as they devote themselves to learning the Way according to their capacity. This is because being poor is being intimate with the Way.
Hoon1 was a layman but he was not inferior to the monks; his name has remained among Zen practitioners. When he began to learn Zen, he took all his family possessions and was about to throw them into the sea. People tried to dissuade him by saying, “You should give them to others or use them for the sake of Buddhism.”
He replied to them, “I am throwing them away because I think they are harmful. Since I know them to be harmful, how can I give them to others? Wealth is poison which sickens both body and mind.”
In the end, he threw them into the sea.
After that, he made bamboo baskets and sold them to earn his living. Though he was a layman, because he abandoned his wealth, people thought he was a good person. So much more should a monk completely give up wealth.
- Hoon (?–808) was a lay disciple of Baso Doitsu.
A monk said,
“In the monasteries in China, since there are provisions belonging to the sangha which comprise the permanent property of the temple and are used to support the monks' practice, the monks need not worry about their livelihood. Because there are no such things in this country, abandoning all possessions will become an obstacle to practicing the Way. I think it is a good idea to have people who offer clothing and food to support our practice. What do you think?”
“I disagree. Unlike in China, sometimes people in this country support monks beyond reason and offer things beyond their means. I don't know about others, but I have experienced this and found this to be true. I have spent more than ten years without any possessions and I have never worried about how to obtain them. To think of accumulating even a little bit of wealth is a great obstacle. Without thinking of how to gain or store up things you will naturally receive as much as you need to stay alive for a while. Each person has his allotted share; heaven and earth bestow it on us. Even though you don't run around seeking it, you will receive it without fail.
Needless to say, children of the Buddha will receive the legacy of the Tathagata, they will obtain it without seeking it. These things will naturally be there only if you abandon everything and practice the Way. This is clear proof.”
Dogen also said,
Students of the Way often say that if they do such and such people in the world will reproach them. This is totally wrong. Even though people criticize you, if it is the activity of the buddhas and patriarchs and in accordance with the sacred teachings, you should follow and practice it. Even if people in the world praise you, if it is not prescribed in the sacred scriptures nor what the patriarchs have done, you should not practice it. [This is because] even if people in the world, be they intimates or strangers, praise or criticize you and you follow their opinions, when you face death and fall into the evil-realms pulled by your own evil deeds, none of them can save you. Moreover, even if you are reproached and hated by everyone, if you practice relying solely on the Way of the buddhas and patriarchs you will surely be saved. So do not refrain from practicing for fear of being slandered by others. Furthermore, those who slander you or praise you are not necessarily those who have penetrated and attained the practice of the buddhas and patriarchs. How is it possible to judge the Way of the buddhas and patriarchs by worldly values of good and evil?
Therefore, do not depend on the sentiments of worldly people. If an action should be carried out according to the Buddha-Way, practice it wholeheartedly.
A monk said,
“My aged mother is still alive. I am her only son. She lives solely by my support. Her love for me is especially deep and my desire to fulfill my filial duties is also deep.
I am somewhat engaged in worldly affairs and have relationships with people; with their help I obtain clothing and food for my mother. If I leave the world and live alone in a hermitage, my mother cannot expect to live for even one day. Yet it is difficult for me to stay in the secular world without being able to enter the Buddha-Way completely because of the necessity of taking care of her. Still, if there is some reason I should abandon her and enter the Way, what might it be?”
“This is a difficult matter. No one else can decide for you. After carefully considering it, if you truly aspire to practice the Buddha-Way it would be good for both you and your mother to somehow prepare or find a means to ensure your mother's livelihood and enter the Buddha-Way. What you earnestly wish for you will definitely attain. If you wish to beat a strong enemy, to gain favor with some noble lady, or to obtain some precious treasure, if your desire is strong enough you will surely find some means to attain your wish. It will certainly be completed with the unseen help of the beneficent deities of Heaven and Earth.
The Sixth Patriarch1 was a woodcutter in Shinshu Prefecture. He sold firewood to support his mother. One day at the market place he aroused bodhi-mind while listening to a customer recite the Diamond-Sutra2. He left his mother and went to Obai3. It is said that he obtained ten ounces of silver and used it to supply clothing and food for his mother. I think this was given from Heaven because of the sincerity of his aspiration. Ponder this thoroughly. This is most reasonable.
Taking care of your mother until she dies and afterwards entering the Buddha-Way without any problems would seem to be the natural order of events and the ideal way of fulfilling your true aspiration. Yet no one knows what will happen, since there is no certainty that an old person will die sooner than a younger person. Your mother may live a long time and you may die before she does. In such a case, since your plan did not work, you would regret not having entered the Buddha-Way and your mother would feel guilty for not having permitted you to do so. There would be no merit for either of you and both of you would feel guilty. Would that be of any value?
If you abandon your present life and enter the Buddha-Way, even if your mother dies of starvation, wouldn't it be better for you to form a connection with the Way and for her to permit her only son to enter the Way? Although it is most difficult to cast aside filial love even over aeons and many lifetimes, if, having being born in a human body you give it up in this lifetime, when you encounter the Buddha's teachings you will be truly fulfilling your debt of gratitude. Why wouldn't this be in accordance with the Buddha's will? It is said that if one child leaves home to become a monk, seven generations of parents will attain the Way.
How can you waste an opportunity for eternal peace and joy by clinging to your body in this uncertain ephemeral world? Consider this and ponder these points thoroughly on your own.
- Huineng (638–713) was the Sixth Patriarch of Zen in China. He lived in Sokei. The story of his life was recorded in the Rokuso-Dankyo (The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch).
- Vajracchedika-prajnaparamita-sutra . (Translated into Chinese by Kumarajiva (343–413). This is usually called the Diamond Sutra in English.
- Obai is the name of the place where the monastery of the Fifth Patriarch was located.
(Book 4 to 6) >