Shobogenzo Zuimonki

Book 3


One day Dogen instructed,

You should not fail to carry out virtues in secret. If you do good deeds secretly, you will surely receive unseen protection and manifest benefit. You should respect images of the Buddha even if they are very crude, being made of mud, wood, or clay. Even if the sutras are written on coarse scrolls made of yellow paper and attached to a red roll1, you should take refuge in them. Even if there are shameless monks who violate the precepts, you should look up to them and believe in the sangha. If you are respectful and prostrate yourself with faith in your heart, you will surely receive happiness. Although you might meet shameless monks, crude images of the Buddha, or coarse sutra scrolls, if you do not have faith in them and respect them, you will certainly receive punishment. Images of the Buddha, sutra scrolls, and monks are the Buddha’s legacy and are the foundation of happiness for human and heavenly beings. Therefore, if you take refuge in them and revere them, you will surely receive their benefit. If you don’t have faith, you will receive punishment. No matter how uncommonly crude it may be, you should respect the world of the Three Treasures.

It is terribly wrong to be fond of committing evil deeds on the pretext that a Zen monk does not practice good nor accumulate virtue. I’ve never heard of any of our predecessors who have served as exemplars indulging in evil deeds.

Zen master Tanka Tennen2 burned a wooden statue of the Buddha. Although it seemed to be nothing but an evil deed, his deed was a means of showing the dharma. When we read the record of this master’s deeds, we find that his sitting was always in accordance with the prescribed rules and while standing he always followed good manners. His manner was always courteous as if he were meeting a noble guest. Even when he sat for a short while, he sat cross legged and held his hands in the shashu position3. He protected temple property as though caring for his own eyes. He never failed to offer praise when he saw someone practicing diligently. Even if they were small, he appreciated good deeds. His own actions in his daily life were especially wonderful. His record remains as a mirror in Zen monasteries.

This applies not only to Zen Master Tanka Tennen but to all the various masters who have attained the Way, and to patriarchs who have clarified the Way and have been recognized as exemplars; all maintained the behavior prescribed by the precepts, conducted themselves with dignity, and appreciated even minor goodness. I have never heard of any master of the Way who disregarded goodness.

Therefore students, if you wish to follow the Way of the patriarchs, never make light of goodness. Purify your faith. All goodness gathers together where the Way of the buddhas and patriarchs is practiced. Once you have clarified that all dharmas (beings) are the buddha-dharma, you should know that evil is definitely evil and that it causes one to depart from the Way of the buddhas and patriarchs. Good is always good and connects with the Buddha-Way. If this is so, how can you underestimate the world of the Three Treasures?

  1. The Buddhist scriptures were used to be printed on yellow paper and attached to a red stick.
  2. Tanka Tennen (739–824) was a disciple of Sekito Kisen. While he was staying at Erinji during a cold winter, he burnt a wooden statue of the Buddha to warm himself. Monks there renounced him for it.
    He said to them, “I’m burning this to take sharira.” (the Buddha’s relics). Someone said, “How can you get sharira from a piece of wood?”
    Tennen replied, “If we can’t, then why do you find fault with me?” In this story Tanka showed that the statue of the Buddha is not the real Buddha. We should see the formless Buddha beyond the form of the statue.
  3. Shashu is a way of holding the hands. Put the thumb of the left hand in the middle of the palm and make a fist around it. Place the fist in front of the chest. Cover the fist with the right hand. Keep the elbows away from the body forming a straight line with both forearms. In some Zen monasteries, monks keep their hands in this position while walking and standing.