Shobogenzo Zuimonki

Book 5


One day Dogen instructed,

For the sake of the buddha-dharma, do not withhold your bodily life. Even lay people cast away their lives for the Way without concern for their families; they are loyal and maintain their straightforwardness. People like this are called loyal ministers or wise men.

In ancient times, when Koso  of the Kan 1 dynasty went to war with a neighboring country, one of his minister’s mother lived in the enemy country. The officials of the Imperial army suspected that the minister might be of two minds. The emperor was also afraid that he might go over to the enemy because of his mother, which would result in losing the war.

At the same time, his mother thought her son might change allegiance because of her, and admonished, “Do not betray your country because of me. If I remain alive, you might be divided in your loyalty.”

She threw herself upon a sword and died. Since her son was never of two minds, it is said that he devoted himself to his duties in the war with loyalty and firm determination. This holds true even more so for a Zen monk aspiring to practice the Buddha-Way. When you are completely without a divided heart, you are truly in accordance with the Buddha-Way.

In practicing the Buddha-Way, there may be some who inherently have compassion and wisdom from the outset. Others who lack such qualities will be able to attain the Way if they study sincerely. They need only cast away both body and mind, dedicate themselves to the great ocean of the buddha-dharma, leave everything to the teachings of the buddha-dharma, and cease from holding onto their personal biased views.

In the reign of the founder of the Kan dynasty, a wise minister remarked, “Remedying the disorder of the political way is like untying a knotted rope. Do not be in a hurry. Loosen it only after having examined the knot closely.”

The Buddha-Way is the same. You should practice it after having deeply understood the principles of the Way. The dharma-gate is understood thoroughly only when you have strong bodhi-mind. No matter how intelligent and brilliant you may be, if you lack bodhi-mind, do not detach from egocentricity, and are unable to abandon fame and profit, you will not be able to become a man of the Way nor be able to understand reality.

  1. Emperor Koso (reigned 206–195 B.C.) was the founder of the Former Kan dynasty (206 B.C.–8 A.D.). This story is about Oryo  and his mother.