Shobogenzo Zuimonki

Book 3


Also, Dogen instructed,

Zen monks should always bear in mind maintaining the way of practice of the buddhas and patriarchs.

First of all, do not covet property. The depth of the compassion of the Tathagata cannot be fathomed even by analogies. Everything he did was for the sake of all living beings. He never did even the slightest thing which was not beneficial to living beings. Since he was the crown prince of the cakravarti-raja (wheel-turning king)1, he could have ascended the throne and ruled the whole world as he liked. He could have cared for his disciples with treasures and raised them with his wealth. Why did he give up such a position and practice begging by himself? He refused to store up wealth and practiced begging for food because it was more beneficial for living beings in later generations and for his disciples in practicing the Way.

Since then all well known patriarchs in India and China have lived in extreme poverty and practiced begging for food. All the patriarchs in our lineage have solely encouraged not accumulating wealth. Also, in the teaching-schools when people praise our school they primarily praise our [attitude toward] poverty. In the books handed down to this age as well, the poverty [of Zen monks] has been recorded and praised. I’ve never heard of anyone who was rich in material wealth who also carried out the buddha-dharma. All sincere practitioners of the buddha-dharma have worn patched rags and have always begged for food. The reason the Zen School was considered good and Zen monks different from others was that when Zen monks first lived among others in the temple buildings of the teaching or the precept-schools2, they abandoned caring for their bodies and lived in poverty. We should remember this as the primary style of practice in this (Zen) school.

[Not clinging to wealth] is not something we should look for written proof of in the holy scriptures. In my own case, I used to own land for farming as well as other property. I had my own wealth as well. Comparing the conditions of my body and mind then with my present condition of poverty, of barely possessing robes and bowls, I feel that my state of mind [my life] right now is better. This is the actual proof.

  1. The ideal king conceived of in India was the one who ruled the world with the wheel which he obtained at the time of enthronement. There were four kinds of kings, according to the different qualities of the wheel.
  2. Before Zen monasteries were established around the age of Hyakujo Ekai (720–814). Zen monks stayed in the temple buildings of the other schools, or wandered here and there. They didn’t have their own monasteries.