Shobogenzo Zuimonki

Book 3


One day Dogen instructed,

When Kaimon Zenji1 was the abbot of Tendo Monastery in China, there was a shuso called Gen. He had grasped the dharma and was awakened to the Way; his practice surpassed even that of the abbot. One night, he visited the abbot’s room, lit incense, prostrated himself, and asked to be allowed to be the shuso of the rear-hall.”2
At the time, the master wept, “Since becoming a novice, I have never heard of such a thing. For a monk practicing zazen, it is a great mistake to ask to be the shuso or to receive the title of Elder. You have already awakened to the Way more than I have. Do you seek the position of shuso for the sake of promotion? I would allow you to be the shuso of the front-hall or even the abbot. Your attitude is low-minded. Indeed, by this I can see why the rest of the monks have not yet attained enlightenment. The decline of the buddha-dharma can be seen from such an attitude.”

Afterwards, he shed tears and wept with sorrow. Although Gen left ashamed of himself and actually declined the position, the master appointed him as the shuso. Later Gen recorded the conversation, shaming himself and showing his master’s excellent words.

When I think about this, I see that the ancients put people to shame if they wanted to make themselves important, to become head of the people, or to attain the title of Elder. Just awaken to the Way; be concerned with nothing else.

  1. Kaimon Shisai (?–?) was a disciple of Setsuan Tokko, See 1-3, footnote 1.
  2. The Japanese word is godo shuso. In ancient Zen monasteries there were two shuso (head monks). One was the zendo shuso, the other was the godo shuso. Zendo means the front part of the sodo and godo means the rear part of the sodo. The zendo shuso had the overall responsibility while the godo shuso assisted him. Today, however, only the zendo shuso remains and is now simply called the shuso, while the godo has come to mean the instructor above the shuso.