Shobogenzo Zuimonki

Book 4


One day Dogen instructed,

There is an old saying, “Reflect three times before speaking.” This means that prior to saying or doing something, you should reflect on it three times. This ancient Confucianist wanted to say that after reflecting three times, if it is considered to be good each time, you should say or do it. When wise people in China say to reflect on things three times, they mean many times. Pondering before speaking, considering before acting; if it is good each time you think about the matter, you should speak or do it.

Zen monks also must be like this. Since there might be something wrong in what you think and what you say [without knowing it], first reflect on whether it is in accordance with the Buddha-Way or not, and ponder over whether it is beneficial to yourself and others. If it is good, do it or say it. Practitioners, if you hold onto this attitude, you will never go against the will of the Buddha your entire lifetime.

When I first entered Kenninji, all the monks in the sangha protected their body, mouth, and mind from evil deeds, according to their capability, and firmly resolved not to say or do anything that was bad for the Buddha-Way or harmful to others. [After Abbot Eisai passed away], while the influence of his virtue remained, the monks were like this. These days, there is no one who maintains such an attitude.

Students today, you must know this, if something is definitely beneficial to yourself and others, as well as to the Buddha-Way, you must forget your own [egotistical] self and say or do it. You should neither say nor do anything meaningless. When elder monks are talking or doing something, younger ones should not interrupt them. This is a regulation set down by the Buddha. Consider this well.

Even lay people have the determination to forget themselves and think of the Way. Long ago, there was a person whose name was Rin-Shojo in the country of Cho1. Although he was of humble birth, because of his wisdom, he was taken into service by the king of Cho to administer the affairs of the country.

Once as envoy of the King, he was sent to take a piece of jade called Choheki2 to the country of Shin. Since the king of Shin had said he would exchange fifteen cities for the jade, Shojo was dispatched to carry it. At that time, the rest of the ministers conspired against him; “If such a precious gem is entrusted to a man of low birth like Shojo, it would look like there is no one capable in this country [to whom it could be entrusted]. It is shameful for us. We will be looked down upon by people of later generations. We should kill him while he is on his way and steal the jade.”

At the time, someone secretly told this to Shojo and advised him to decline the mission in order to save his life.

Shojo said, “I dare not decline. It will be my pleasure to be known by later generations that Shojo, envoy of the king, was killed by evil ministers while on his way to Shin with the jade. Even though I might be killed, my name as a wise man would remain.”
So saying, he left for Shin. When the other ministers heard of his remark, they said, “We cannot kill a person like this.” So, they gave up the plot.

Finally Shojo met the king of Shin and gave him the jade. However, he realized that the king of Shin was not about to give the fifteen cities for it. Shojo thought out a plan and said, “There is a flaw in this jade. I’ll show you.”

So saying, he took the jade back, and continued, “From your demeanor, your Majesty, you seem to begrudge the fifteen cities. If so, I will break this jade with my head hitting it against the bronze pillar!”

Glowering at the king with angry eyes, he moved toward the bronze pillar as if he were really going to break the jade. The king of Shin said, “Don’t break the jade. I’ll give the fifteen cities. Keep the jade while I make the arrangements.”

Afterward, Shojo had one of his men secretly take the jade back to his own country.
Later, the kings of Cho and Shin met at a place named Menchi  for a party. The king of Cho was a skillful lute player. When the king of Shin asked him to play, the king of Cho played without consulting Shojo. When Shojo heard, he was angry because his king had obeyed the order of the king of Shin. He said, “I will make the king of Shin play the flute.” He approached the king of Shin and asked, “Your Majesty, you are skilled at playing the flute. The king of Cho would appreciate listening to you very much. Please play.”

The king of Shin refused. A general of Shin reached for his sword and rushed toward Shojo. Shojo glared furiously at the general who became frightened and retreated without drawing his sword. Finally, the king of Shin played the flute.

Later Shojo became the prime minister and administered the affairs of the country. One time, another minister envious of Shojo’s higher status, tried to kill him. Shojo fled and hid himself here and there. Appearing to be afraid of the minister, Shojo purposely avoided any encounter with the minister even when he had to go to the court.

One of Shojo’s retainers said, ”It is easy to kill that minister. Why do you hide yourself in fear?”

Shojo said, “I’m not afraid of him. With my eyes I have defeated the general of Shin. I also took back the jade from the king himself. Of course I can kill the minister. However, raising an army and gathering troops should be for defending our country against our enemies. As its ministers, we are now in charge of protecting the country. If the two of us quarrel and fight with each other, one of us will die. Then, one half will be lost. If that happens, neighboring countries will take delight and attack us for sure. Therefore, I hope for the two of us to remain unharmed to protect our country together. This is why I don’t fight with him.”

Upon hearing this, the minister became ashamed of himself and called on Shojo to express his regret. The two of them then cooperated in the task of governing the country.

Shojo forgot himself and carried out the Way. Now in maintaining the Buddha-Way, we should have the same attitude. It is better to die for the Way than to live without it.

  1. Cho was one of seven strong countries during the Period of the Warring States (465–221B.C.). In 221B.C., China was unified by the Shin dynasty.
  2. Heki is a round flat piece of jade with a hole in the center used for ceremonial purposes in ancient China.