Shobogenzo Zuimonki

Book 1


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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.”
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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? “
  7. 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.