Shobogenzo Zuimonki

Book 2


One day Dogen instructed,

“Once, while in China, I was reading a collection of sayings by an ancient master. At the time, a monk from Shisen, a sincere practitioner of the Way, asked me, “What is the use of reading recorded sayings?”

I replied, “I want to learn about the deeds of the ancient masters.”

The monk asked, “What is the use of that?”

I said, “I wish to teach people after I return home.”

The monk asked, “What is the use of that?”

I replied, “It is for the sake of benefiting living beings.”

The monk queried further, “Yes, but ultimately, what is the use?”

Later, I pondered his remarks. Learning the deeds of the ancient masters by reading the recorded sayings or koans1 in order to explain them to deluded people is ultimately of no use to my own practice and for teaching others. Even if I don’t know a single letter, I will be able to show it to others in inexhaustible ways if I devote myself to just sitting and clarifying the great matter2. It was for this reason that the monk pressed me as to the ultimate use [of reading and studying]. I thought what he said was true. Thereupon, I gave up reading the recorded sayings and other texts, concentrated wholeheartedly on sitting, and was able to clarify the great matter.

  1. In Chinese Zen, the Zen masters’ deeds and sayings were recorded and recognized as koans which literally means a government decree, or a law which should be studied and followed.
  2. The most important thing to be done in one’s life: deliverance from transmigration and awareness of the Way.