Shobogenzo Zuimonki

Book 5


Dogen instructed,

An ancient master said, “At the top of a hundred foot pole, advance one step further.”

This means you should have the attitude of someone who, at the top of a hundred foot pole, lets go of both hands and feet; in other words, you must cast aside body and mind.

There are various stages involved here. Nowadays, some people seem to have abandoned the world and left their homes. Nevertheless, when examining their actions, they still haven’t truly left home, or renounced the world.

As a monk who has left home, first you must depart from your ego as well as from [desire for] fame and profit. Unless you become free from these things, despite practicing the Way urgently as though extinguishing a fire enveloping your head, or devoting yourself to practice as diligently as the Buddha who stood on tiptoe 1 (for seven days), it will amount to nothing but meaningless trouble, having nothing to do with emancipation.

Even in the great Song China, there are people who have departed from attachment [to their family] which is hard to let go of, abandoned worldly wealth which is difficult to give up, joined communities of practitioners, and visited various monasteries. Some of them, however, have been spending their lives in vain because they practice without understanding this key point. They neither realize the Way nor clarify the Mind.

Although in the beginning they arouse bodhi-mind, become monks and follow the teachings, instead of aspiring to become buddhas or patriarchs, they only concern themselves with making it known to their patrons, supporters, and relatives about how respectable they are or how high the status of their temple is. They try to get people to revere them and make offerings to them. Furthermore, they claim that other monks are all vicious and immoral; that only they are men of bodhi-mind and good monks. They try to persuade people to believe their words. People like this are not even worth criticizing; they are like the five evil monks (at the time of the Buddha) who lacked goodness 2. Without exception, monks with such a frame of mind will fall into hell. Lay people who don’t know what they really are, think that they are respectable men of bodhi-mind.

There are some who are a little better than these people. Having abandoned their parents, wives, and children, and no longer coveting offerings from patrons, they join the communities of practitioners to practice the Way. However, though they feel ashamed of being idle, since they are by nature lazy, they pretend to be practicing when the abbot or the shuso is watching. However, when no one is around, they waste their time, neglecting to do what they should be doing. They are better than lay people as irresponsible as themselves, but still cannot cast away their ego, or (their desire for) fame and profit.

There are also those who are not concerned with what their teacher thinks or whether the shuso or other fellow practitioners are watching or not. They always bear in mind that practicing the Buddha-Way is not for the sake of others but only for themselves; such people desire to become buddhas or patriarchs with both body and mind. So they truly practice diligently. They really seem to be people of the Way compared with the people mentioned above. However, since they still practice trying to improve themselves, they have not become free from their ego. They want to be admired by buddhas and bodhisattvas, and desire to attain buddhahood, and complete awareness. This is because they still cannot throw away their selfish desire for fame and profit.

Up to this point, none of these people have yet advanced beyond the hundred foot pole; they remain clinging to it.

Just cast body and mind into the buddha-dharma, and practice without desire either to realize the Way or to attain the dharma. Then you can be called an undefiled practitioner. This is what is meant by not staying where buddha exists; and running quickly from where no-buddha exists 3.

  1. This refers to a story in the life of Shakyamuni Buddha in a previous lifetime. When he was a bodhisattva, upon seeing an ancient Buddha in samadhi, he recited verses of praise standing on his tiptoes for seven days. From this story, ‘standing on one’s tiptoes’ has come to mean being very diligent in practice.
  2. According to a Buddhist legend, there were five evil monks who were so lazy that they did not practice or chant sutras, etc. Since no one supported them, they pretended to practice zazen to gain offerings from lay people.
  3. A monk went to bid farewell to Joshu .
  4. The master asked, “Where are you going?”
    The monk replied, “I’m going to visit various places to learn the buddha-dharma.”
    Joshu took up the whisk and said, “Do not stay where buddha exists; run quickly from where no-buddha exists.”
    The place ”no-buddha exists” means being free even from attachment to the buddha. In the Fukanzazengi, Dogen said, “Do not seek to become buddha.”