Shobogenzo Zuimonki

Book 5


Dogen instructed,

When my late teacher Myozen 1 was about to go to China, his former teacher Myoyu Ajari 2 , who was living on Mt. Hiei, become seriously ill, and was about to die.

At the time, Master Myoyu asked Myozen, “I am old and sick; my death must be near at hand. Please put off going to China for a while, take care of me as I am very sick, and conduct a funeral service for me when I die? After I have passed away, carry out what you really wish to do.”

Myozen gathered together with his fellow priests and disciples to consult with them. He said, “Since the time I left my parents’ home in my childhood, I have been brought up by this teacher and now I have grown up. My debt of gratitude for his raising me is very great. Also, due solely to his upbringing I learned the dharma-gate which is beyond the ordinary realm of the verbal teachings of mahayana and hinayana, or the provisional and the real. Thanks to him, I came to understand causality, learned right from wrong, surpassed my fellow monks and gained honor, and now I aspire to go to China to seek the dharma because I understand the truth of the buddha-dharma. But this year he has become seriously ill due to old age, and is lying on his death bed. He will not live much longer and he cannot expect to see me again. Therefore, he strongly urges me to postpone my trip. It is difficult to go against my teacher’s request. Moreover, my going to China to seek the dharma for the sake of benefiting sentient beings without holding my life dear, derives from the great compassion of the bodhisattva. Is there any reason to go against the request of my teacher and go to China, or not? Tell me what you think.”

At the time, all of his disciples said, “Give up going to China this year. Your aged master’s illness is critical. He will surely die. If you stay only for this year and go to China next year, you wouldn’t be going against your teacher’s wish and you wouldn’t be neglecting your great debt of gratitude.

What is wrong with going to China half a year or a yearfrom now? It wouldn’t go against the bond between master and disciple, and still you would be able to carry out your wish to go to China.”

At the time, as the least experienced monk, I said, “If you think that your enlightenment of the buddha-dharma is what it should be, you should put off your trip to China.”

My late master said, “That is so. Practice of the buddha-dharma should be like this. If I practice this way for my whole lifetime, I think I will be released (from samsara) and attain the Way.”

I said, “If that is so, you should stay.”

After all of us had given our opinions, Myozen said, “All of you agree that I should stay. My resolution is different. Even if I put off my trip for the time being, one who is certain to die will die. My remaining here won’t help to prolong his life. Even if I stay to nurse him, his pain will not cease. Also, it would not be possible to escape from life-and-death because I took care of him before his death. It would just be following his request and comforting his feelings for a while. It is entirely useless for gaining emancipation and attaining the Way. To mistakenly allow him to hinder my aspiration to seek the dharma would be a cause of evil deeds. However, if I carry out my aspiration to go to China to seek the dharma, and gain a bit of enlightenment, although it goes against one person’s deluded feelings, it would become a cause for attaining the Way of many people. Since the merit is greater, it will help return the debt of gratitude to my teacher.

Even if I were to die while crossing the ocean and failed to accomplish my aspiration, since I would have died with the aspiration to seek the dharma, my vow would not cease in any future life. We should ponder Genjo Sanzo’s 3 (Tripitaka Master ) journey to India. Vainly spending time which is easily lost, for the sake of one person would not be in accordance with the Buddha’s will. Therefore, I have firmly resolved to go to China now.”

So saying, he finally went to China. For my late teacher, having true bodhi-mind was like this. Therefore, students, you should not become involved in useless matters and lose time in vain, using your parents or teacher as an excuse, nor set aside the Buddha-Way which is superior to all other ways. Do not waste time.

At the time Ejo asked, “For the sake of truly seeking the dharma, we must eliminate the hindrance caused by our obligation to our parents or teachers, existing only in the realm of delusion. It is just as you said. And yet, even if we completely renounce our obligation and affection for our parents or our teachers, when we aspire to the practice of a bodhisattva, we should put aside personal benefit and put primary importance on benefiting others. If so, when the aged teacher was seriously ill, and no one but Myozen could nurse him, if he was only thinking in terms of his own practice without helping his teacher, it would seem to go against the bodhisattva practice, wouldn’t it ? A mahasattva 4 (a magnanimous person) does not discriminate between things in doing good. Shouldn’t we consider the buddha-dharma according to the circumstances and the particular situation? By this reasoning, should he not he stayed to help his teacher? Why did he only think of seeking the dharma instead of caring for his aged teacher in his final illness? What do you think?”

Dogen instructed;

“Whether acting for the benefit of others or acting for your own benefit, if you abandon the inferior one and take the superior one it should be the good practice of the mahasattva. To care for infirm aged parents in poverty is only the temporary pleasure of illusory love and deluded sentiment of this brief life. If you go against your deluded sentiments and learn the Way of no-defilement, even though you may receive some resentment, it will become a positive factor [in entering the buddha-dharma which is] beyond the world. Consider this well.”

  1. Butsujubo Myozen (1183–1225). Born into the Soga family, he received his ordination under Myoyu at Shuryogon-in Temple on Mt. Hiei. Later practiced Zen with Zen Master Eisai. Myozen went to China with Dogen, but died in China when he was forty two years old. Dogen brought back Myozen’s ashes, and buried them in Kenninji. In his Sharisodenki, Dogen briefly described and praised Myozen’s life.
  2. Ajari is Acarya in Skt., which means teacher. In Japan this is the title of a qualified teacher in Esoteric Buddhism.
  3. Genjo (600–664). A Chinese priest who went to India, staying there for twelve years. He brought back 657 volumes of Sanskrit texts, and translated 1330 fascicles of scriptures into Chinese. Sanzo means Tri-Pitaka (the three categories of the Buddhist scriptures, sutras, sastras, and vinaya). Sanzo is an honorific title of a priest who has mastered and translated Buddhist scriptures from Sanskrit to Chinese.
  4. Mahasattva literally means a great person. This is another name for a bodhisattva.