One day Dogen said,
In the Zoku-kosoden1(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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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,
- 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.