One day Dogen instructed,
Students of the Way, as beginners, whether you have bodhi-mind or not, you should thoroughly read and study the scriptures, sutras, and śastras1.
I first aroused bodhi-mind because of my realization of impermanence. I visited many places both near and far [to find a true teacher] and eventually left the monastery on Mount Hiei to practice the Way. Finally I settled at Kenninji. During that time, since I hadn’t met a true teacher nor any good co-practitioners, I became confused and evil thoughts arouse.
First of all, my teachers taught me that I should study as hard as our
predecessors in order to become wise and to be known at the court,
and famous all over the country. So when I studied the teachings I
thought of becoming equal to the ancient wise people of this country,
or to those who received the title of Daishi (Great
When I read the Kosoden, Zoku-kosoden3 and so on, and learned about the lifestyles of eminent monks and followers of the buddha-dharma in Great China, they were different from what my teachers taught. I also began to understand that such a mind as I had aroused was despised and hated in all the sutras, śastras, and biographies. I finally realized the truth; even if I think of gaining fame, it would be better to feel small [ashamed] before the ancient wise people and sincere people of later generations, than to be well thought of by inferior people of today.
If I wish to be equal to someone, then it would be better to feel ashamed [standing] before the eminent predecessors of India and China, and [work] toward being their equal. So, I wish to become equal to the various heavenly beings, unseen beings, buddhas, and bodhisattvas.
Having realized this truth, I considered those in this country with the title of ‘Great teacher’ and so on as dirt or broken tiles. I completely reformed my former frame of mind. Look at the life of the Buddha. He abandoned the throne, and entered the mountains and forests. He begged for food his whole life even after he had completed the Way.
In a Precepts text4, it is said, “Knowing that home is not home, abandon home and become a homeless monk.”
An ancient said, “Do not be arrogant and consider yourself equal to superior wise people. Do not deprecate yourself and think of yourself inferior.”
This means that both are [a kind of] arrogance. Though you may be in a high position, do not forget that you may fall. Though you may be safe now, remember that you may have to face danger. Though you may be alive today, do not think that you will necessarily be alive tomorrow. The danger of death is right at your feet.