Shobogenzo Zuimonki

Book 1


Dogen instructed,

Impermanence is swift; life-and-death is a vital matter 1. For the short while you are alive, if you wish to study or practice some activity, just practice the Buddha-Way and study the buddha-dharma. Since literature and poetry are useless, you should give them up. Even when you study the buddha-dharma and practice the Buddha-Way, do not study extensively. Needless to say, refrain from learning the Exoteric and Esoteric scriptures of the teaching-schools 2. Do not be fond of learning on a large scale, even the sayings of the buddhas and patriarchs. It is difficult for us untalented and inferior people to concentrate on and complete even one thing. It is no good at all to do many things at the same time and lose steadiness of mind.

  1. Life-and-death or birth-and-death. This is also a translation of shoji, or in Sanskrit, samsara which means transmigration within the six realms of delusions. In Shobogenzo Shoji (Life-and-death), however, Dogen said, “Life-and-death is the precious Life of the Buddha. For human beings, clarifying the reality of life-and-death is the great matter.”
    Impermanence is also usually used in a negative sense, though Dogen quoted the Sixth Patriarch in Shobogenzo Bussho (Buddha-nature), “Therefore, grass, trees, and bushes are impermanent, and are nothing but Buddha-nature. Human beings and things, body and mind are impermanent, and are nothing but Buddha-nature. The earth, mountains, and rivers are impermanent, because they are Buddha-nature. Supreme awareness (Anuttara-samyak-sambodhi) is impermanent, since it is Buddha-nature. The great Nirvana is Buddha-nature since it is impermanent.”
  2. The teaching-schools is a translation of Kyoke or Kyoshu, those schools based on written scriptures. For example, Kegonshu is based on the Kegonkyo (Avatamsaka-sutra). This is in contrast to believers of the Zenke or Zenshu, which insist that Zen is based on Buddha-mind alone, not on the Buddha’s verbal teachings. Exoteric teaching is a translation of Kenkyo, a general term for all the Buddhist teachings, both hinayana and mahayana other than the Esoteric teachings (mikkyo). Mikkyo means the mystic teachings which were directly revealed by the Dharma-body Buddha, Dainichi (Mahavairocana). This school arose in India after the hinayana and mahayana schools. In Japan, Mikkyo was systematized by Kukai (774–835) and became the Shingon School. This is also known as Vajra-yana Buddhism.