Shobogenzo Zuimonki

Book 4


In the second year of Katei (1236A.D.)1, on the evening of the last day of the twelfth month, Master Dogen appointed me [Ejo] to be the shuso2 (head monk) of Koshoji. After an informal speech3 Dogen asked me as the shuso to take up the whisk4 and give a lecture for the first time. I was the first shuso of Koshoji.

In his short speech Master Dogen brought up the matter of the transmission of the buddha-dharma in this lineage.

“The First Patriarch5 came from the West and stayed at Shorin  Temple. He sat facing the wall waiting for someone [to whom he could transmit the dharma] and anticipating the time [when the dharma would spread]. In December of a certain year Shinko came to practice under him. The First Patriarch knew that he was a vessel of the Supreme Vehicle6, so he taught and guided him; both the dharma and the robe were transmitted to him. Their descendants spread throughout the country and the true-dharma has prevailed down to the present day.

“I have appointed a shuso for the first time at this monastery. Today I have asked him to take up the whisk and give a lecture. Do not worry about the small number in this sangha. [To Ejo] Do not mind that you are a beginner. At Funyo7 there were only six or seven people; at Yakusan8 there were less than ten. Nevertheless, all of them practiced the Way of the buddhas and patriarchs. They called this ‘the flourishing of the monasteries’.”

Ponder the fact that someone realized the Way by hearing the sound of bamboo; that another clarified the Mind at the sight of peach blossoms9. How could it be possible to differentiate smart bamboo trees from dull ones, or deluded ones from enlightened ones? How could there be shallow or deep, wise or stupid among flowers? The flowers bloom every year yet not everyone attains enlightenment by viewing them. Stones often strike bamboo yet not everyone who hears the sound clarifies the Way. Only through the virtue of long study and continuous practice, with the assistance of diligent effort in the Way, does one realize the Way or clarify the Mind. This did not occur because the sound of the bamboo was especially wonderful, nor because the color of the peach blossoms was particularly profound. Although the sound of bamboo is marvelous, it does not sound of itself; it cries out with the help of a piece of tile. Although the color of peach blossoms is beautiful, they do not bloom of themselves; they open with the help of the spring breeze.

Practicing the Way is also like this. This Way is inherent in each of us; still our gaining the Way depends upon the help of co-practitioners. Though each person is brilliant, our practicing the Way still needs the power of other people [in the sangha]. Therefore, while unifying your mind and concentrating your aspiration, practice and seek the Way together. A jewel becomes a vessel with polishing; a human being becomes benevolent and wise with refining. What jewel glitters from its inception? Who is brilliant from the outset? You must polish and refine. So do not demean yourselves and do not relax in your practice of the Way.

An ancient said, ‘Do not spend your time in vain.’ Now I ask you, does time stop though you hold it dear? Or does it continue even though you lament? You must know that it is not time that passes in vain; it is the person that spends it in vain. This means that human beings, just the same as time, have to devote themselves to the practice of the Way instead of spending their time in vain.

“Thus, put your minds together in studying and practicing. It is not easy to uphold the dharma by myself [so I have asked the new shuso to assist me]. The Way the buddhas and patriarchs have practiced has always been like this. There were many who attained the Way by following the teaching of the Tathagata (Shakyamuni), but there were some who ascertained the Way through Ananda10. Shuso, you must not deprecate yourself saying that you are not a vessel [of the dharma]. Give a lecture to your fellow practitioners on the story of Tozan’s three pounds of sesame”11.

Dogen got down from his seat, the drum was struck again, and the shuso [I] took the whisk. This was the first ‘taking the whisk’ at Koshoji. I was thirty-nine years old.

  1. In December of 1235, Dogen began to raise donations for building the sodo at Koshoji. Construction was completed in October, 1236. This was the first formal sodo in Japan.
  2. See 3-5, footnote 2.
  3. Shosan literally means ‘small meeting’. Usually Shosan were held in the abbot’s quarters where he would give a talk while jodo is called daisan, the big meeting which is held in the hatto, the dharma-hall.
    In the Eihei-koroku Dogen said, “Shosan is the teaching of the family of the buddhas and patriarchs. In Japan, even the name was unknown. Needless to say, the custom behind the name had never been carried out. Twenty years have passed since I introduced it and began practicing it (in Japan).”
  4. Hinpotsu in Japanese, literally means taking up the whisk. Actually, it refers to a lecture given in place of the abbot by the head monk or other senior monk. It is so called because the person who gives the lecture takes up the whisk of the abbot.
  5. The first patriarch of Chinese Zen, that is, Bodhidharma (?–495, 346–495, ?–528, or ?–536). He transmitted the dharma from India to China. According to legend, Bodhidharma met Butei of Ryo and went to Shorinji where he sat zazen for nine years. During that period, Shinko came and eventually became his disciple. Shinko changed his name to Eka. He became the second patriarch.
  6. Zen monks call Reality the Supreme Vehicle, because it transcends the discrimination between mahayana and hinayana.
  7. Funyo Zensho (947–1024) A Chinese Zen master in the Rinzai School.
  8. Yakusan Igen (751–834) A disciple of Sekito Kisen.
  9. See 2-26, footnote 1. 
  10. Ananda was one of the ten great disciples of the Buddha. He was the attendant of the Buddha for more than twenty years and committed all his sermons to memory. After the Buddha’s death Ananda recited the sermons he had memorized, which were later compiled into a collection of sutras.
  11. Tozan Shusho. A disciple of Unmon Bunen (?–949).
    A monk asked him, “What is the buddha?”
    Tozan said. “Three pounds of sesame.”