Shobogenzo Zuimonki

Book 1


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.

  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. Shuryo in Japanese, is a hall for studying, having tea, or taking a rest in Zen monasteries. Kannon Bodhisattva is enshrined in the shuryo.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.”
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. Human beings become the Buddha’s children by receiving the Buddha’s precepts through ordination.
  11. 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).”
  12. 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.
  13. 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.