Shobogenzo Zuimonki

Book 1


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.

  1. In India, a sangha was a group of more than four (or five) people living together for practice.
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.
  4. 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).