Shobogenzo Zuimonki

Book 2


During an evening talk, Ejo asked,

“Shall we carry on the obligation of fulfilling our gratitude to our fathers and mothers?1
Dogen replied, “Filial piety is most important. Yet there is a difference between lay people and monks in how to fulfill it. Lay people follow the teachings in the Kokyo2 etc. and serve their parents in life and in death. All people in the world know that. Monks abandon their debt of gratitude and enter the realm of non-doing (mui)3. Our manner of paying off the debt of gratitude should not be limited to one particular person. Considering that we have debts of gratitude to all living beings equal to our own fathers and mothers, we must transmit all the merits of our good deeds to the whole dharma-world. If we limit it specifically to our own parents in this lifetime, we go against the Way of non-doing.

In our day-to-day practice and time-to-time study, following the Buddha-Way continuously is the only true way of fulfilling our filial piety.

Lay people hold memorial services and make offerings during chuin4 (the forty-nine days after a person’s death).

As Zen monks, we should know the depth of the real debt of gratitude to our parents. We should see that debt as being the same as our gratitude to (the rest of) all living beings. Choosing one particular day to practice something good and transmitting the merit to one special person doesn’t seem to accord with the Buddha’s compassion. The passage about the anniversary days of the death of one’s parents and siblings in the Precept-Sutra5 refers to lay people.

In the monasteries in China monks hold ceremonies on the anniversary of their master’s death but not on the anniversaries of their parents’ deaths.

  1. The Japanese word is Hoon. Ho means to repay. On means kindness, favor, grace. Hoon can be translated as ‘to requite a kindness’ or, as in this case, pay a debt of gratitude. Filial piety was one of the most important concepts in Confucian thought in China, Korea, and Japan.
  2. Kokyo (Scripture on Filial Piety) is one of the most important classics of Confucianism. In this text, Confucius insisted that filial piety is the foundation of all virtues and social morality.
  3. Mui does not mean not-active. It means to act freely, like fish swimming in the water, or birds flying in the sky without a trace.
  4. An intermediate state between death and the next life. It is said that a dead person remains in this suspended state for seven weeks.
  5. In the Bonmo-kyo (Brahmajala-sutra) we read, “On the anniversary day of the death of your father, mother, or brothers, invite a priest to give a talk on the sutra of the bodhisattva precepts…”