Shobogenzo Zuimonki

Book 3


A monk said,

“My aged mother is still alive. I am her only son. She lives solely by my support. Her love for me is especially deep and my desire to fulfill my filial duties is also deep.
I am somewhat engaged in worldly affairs and have relationships with people; with their help I obtain clothing and food for my mother. If I leave the world and live alone in a hermitage, my mother cannot expect to live for even one day. Yet it is difficult for me to stay in the secular world without being able to enter the Buddha-Way completely because of the necessity of taking care of her. Still, if there is some reason I should abandon her and enter the Way, what might it be?”

Dogen instructed,

“This is a difficult matter. No one else can decide for you. After carefully considering it, if you truly aspire to practice the Buddha-Way it would be good for both you and your mother to somehow prepare or find a means to ensure your mother’s livelihood and enter the Buddha-Way. What you earnestly wish for you will definitely attain. If you wish to beat a strong enemy, to gain favor with some noble lady, or to obtain some precious treasure, if your desire is strong enough you will surely find some means to attain your wish. It will certainly be completed with the unseen help of the beneficent deities of Heaven and Earth.

The Sixth Patriarch1 was a woodcutter in Shinshu Prefecture. He sold firewood to support his mother. One day at the market place he aroused bodhi-mind while listening to a customer recite the Diamond-Sutra2. He left his mother and went to Obai3. It is said that he obtained ten ounces of silver and used it to supply clothing and food for his mother. I think this was given from Heaven because of the sincerity of his aspiration. Ponder this thoroughly. This is most reasonable.

Taking care of your mother until she dies and afterwards entering the Buddha-Way without any problems would seem to be the natural order of events and the ideal way of fulfilling your true aspiration. Yet no one knows what will happen, since there is no certainty that an old person will die sooner than a younger person. Your mother may live a long time and you may die before she does. In such a case, since your plan did not work, you would regret not having entered the Buddha-Way and your mother would feel guilty for not having permitted you to do so. There would be no merit for either of you and both of you would feel guilty. Would that be of any value?

If you abandon your present life and enter the Buddha-Way, even if your mother dies of starvation, wouldn’t it be better for you to form a connection with the Way and for her to permit her only son to enter the Way? Although it is most difficult to cast aside filial love even over aeons and many lifetimes, if, having being born in a human body you give it up in this lifetime, when you encounter the Buddha’s teachings you will be truly fulfilling your debt of gratitude. Why wouldn’t this be in accordance with the Buddha’s will? It is said that if one child leaves home to become a monk, seven generations of parents will attain the Way.

How can you waste an opportunity for eternal peace and joy by clinging to your body in this uncertain ephemeral world? Consider this and ponder these points thoroughly on your own.

  1. Huineng (638–713) was the Sixth Patriarch of Zen in China. He lived in Sokei. The story of his life was recorded in the Rokuso-Dankyo (The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch).
  2. Vajracchedika-prajnaparamita-sutra. (Translated into Chinese by Kumarajiva (343–413). This is usually called the Diamond Sutra in English.
  3. Obai is the name of the place where the monastery of the Fifth Patriarch was located.