Shobogenzo Zuimonki

Book 1


In an evening talk Dogen said,

In the tradition of the patriarchs, the true way of understanding dharma-talks [on Zen practice] is to gradually reform what you have known and thought by following your teacher’s instruction.

Even if up to now, you have thought that a buddha has excellent characteristics 1 like Shakyamuni 2 or Amitaba 3 , radiates a halo, has the virtue of preaching the dharma and benefiting living beings, you should believe your teacher if he says that buddha is nothing but a toad or an earthworm, and throw your former ideas away. However, if you look for some excellent characteristics, a halo, or other virtues of a buddha on the toad or the earthworm, you still have not reformed your discriminating mind. Just understand what you see right now is buddha. If you continually reform your discriminating mind and fundamental attachment in this way according to your teacher’s instruction, you will naturally become one with the Way.

Students today, however, cling to their own discriminating minds. Their thinking is based on their own personal views that buddha must be such and such; if it goes against their ideas, they say that buddha cannot be that way.

Having such an attitude and wandering here and there in delusion, searching after what conforms to their preconceptions, few of them ever make any progress in the Buddha-Way.

Suppose that you have climbed to the top of a hundred-foot pole 4 , and are told to let go and advance one step further without holding bodily life dear. In such a situation if you say that you can practice the Buddha-Way only when you are alive, you are not really following your teacher. Consider this carefully.

  1. According to various Buddhist legends, the Buddha had thirty-two major physical characteristics and eighty marks of physical excellence.
  2. Shakyamuni (the sage of the Shaka clan), the founder of Buddhism. Born to King Suddhodana and Queen Maya in Kapilavastsu, in central India, he was called Siddhartha and also Gautama. He married and had a son, but abandoned his family to seek the Way of salvation when he was twenty-nine years old (nineteen years old, according to another tradition). After nine years of practice, he attained enlightenment and was called Buddha (the Awakened One). He preached the Way to many people and thus the Buddhist order (sangha) was formed. He died at the age of eighty. There are different opinions as to his dates; e.g. 565–486 B.C. according to J. Takakusu, 463–383 B.C. according to H. Nakamura. Theravada has a different tradition, according to which the Buddha’s dates are 624–544 B.C.
  3. Amitaba is one of the most popular buddhas in Mahayana Buddhism. According to the Muryoju-kyo (Sukhavati Vyuha), Amitaba was previously a king. When he met a buddha called Sejizaio (Lokesvararaja), he too wished to become a buddha. He then renounced the world and became a monk, his Buddhist name becoming Hozo (Darmakara). He took forty eight vows and performed various bodhisattva practices to fulfill them. After many aeons of time, he fulfilled them, and became the Buddha of Infinite Light and Life. His land in the West, which derived from his vows and practices, is called Gokuraku (Skt. Sukhavati) or paradise. The eighteenth vow was that anyone who had sincere faith in him (Amitaba) and recited his name, that is, chanted the nenbutsu, would be reborn in the Western paradise through his power. Amitaba is a transcendental buddha, as opposed to the historical Buddha Shakyamuni, and is generally regarded as the reward-body (J., hojin Skt., sambhogakaya). The school of Buddhism centering around Amitaba is known as Pure Land Buddhism (jodokyo). It arose in India, grew in China, and developed more fully in Japan.
  4. This was taken from a verse of the Chinese Zen Master Chosa Keishin (854–935).
    The immovable person at the top of the hundred-foot pole,
    Although he has entered [the Way], he is not truly [a man of the Way],
    [He should] advance one step further from the top of the hundred-foot pole.
    The ten-direction world is the whole body [of the person].