August, 2003 NUMBER 12

Shobogenzo: Bodaisatta Shishobo
True Dharma Eye Treasury: The Bodhisattva’s Four Embracing Actions
Lecture (1)
Shohaku Okumura
Director, Soto Zen Buddhism International Center

The Connection between Shishobo and the Shobogenzo

Shobogenzo Shishobo (The Bodhisattva’s Four Embracing Actions) is the 28th fascicle in Dogen Zenji’s 60- fascicle version of the Shobogenzo. The process through which the Shobogenzo was compiled is clear. Six different editions of the Shobogenzo were hand copied before the Tokugawa period (1603-1867). These are the 75-fascicle version, the 12-fascicle version, the 60-fascicle and 28- fascicle version, the 84-fascicle version, and the 83-fascicle version. The 75-fascicle version and the 12-fascicle version have no overlapping sections and the 60-fascicle version and the 28-fascicle version also have none. Present day Soto Zen scholars think that the first and second versions are one set and the third and fourth versions are another.

There are various opinions one of which is that Dogen Zenji himself compiled the 75-fascicle version (Some scholars think that either Ejo or Senne compiled this version and not Dogen Zenji and that in his final years, Dogen Zenji had planned to write more fascicles in order to make a 100-fascicle Shobogenzo). At that time, he wrote twelve more fascicles. However, Dogen Zenji passed away before completion of the project. According to this opinion, the 75-fascicle version that was written before 1246 and the 12-fascicle version that was written or revised later were left as separate works. The 12-fascicle version was stored at Yokoji in Ishikawa Prefecture and was not discovered until 1930.

Traditionally, it is said that when Giun Zenji (1253- 1333) became the 5th abbot of Eiheiji, following the death of the 4th abbot Gien (? - 1314), no versions of the Shobogenzo existed at Eiheiji because of damage caused by fire. Giun tried to collect as many fascicles as possible and this was the origin of the 60-fascicle version. Twenty-eight fascicles were stored at Eiheiji and later this version was called the Himitsu (Secret) Shobogenzo. It is said that Giun sorted the fascicles and left out the ones in which Dogen Zenji had made harsh criticism of certain Zen masters or schools. People who had the 75-fascicle version tried to collect the fascicles that were not included in that 75- fascicle version, while people who had the 60-fascicle version tried to collect those fascicles that they did not have. In this way, the 84-fascicle-version and 83-fascicleversion were made.

In the Tokugawa Period, Manzan Dohaku (1636-17 15) searched through as many manuscripts as possible and compiled the 89-fascicle version in 1684. Kozen (1627- 1693), the 35th abbot of Eiheiji, made a more thorough search and compiled a 95-fascicle version in 1690, putting the fascicles in the chronological order. Kozen tried to publish this version of the Shobogenzo, but he passed away before completing the project. In 1722, the Sotoshu authority, supported by the Tokugawa shogunate government, prohibited the publication of the Shobogenzo.

Gento Sokuchu (1729-1807) began the project of publishing the entire collection of the Shobogenzo when he became the 50th abbot of Eiheiji in 1795. Daigu Shunryo (? -1803) and Sodo Ontatsu (? - 1813) assisted him and spent much time on the project. The 95-fascicle version of the Shobogenzo was published with wood-block printing in 1816, almost 100 years after Kozen first tried to do so. The compilers attempted to collect as many fascicles as possible in order to make it closer to the set of 100 fascicles that Dogen Zenji had originally planned. Because of this, the collection of 95 fascicles included writings of Dogen Zenji’s that were not originally included in the Shobogenzo such as Bendowa, Ji-kuin-mon, Ju-undo-shiki, and so forth.

Up until the 1970s, when I was a student at Komazawa University, the 95-fascicle version was considered to be the most reliable collection of Shobogenzo because it was published with Prof. Sokuo Eto’s editing from Iwanamibunko, one of the most influential publishers for academics and intellectuals in modern Japan. During the last decades however, Dogen scholars are now considering the 75-fascicle version and the 12-fascicle version as the basis of the Shobogenzo and have added some fascicles from other collections such as 60-fascicle version. Shobogenzo Bodaisatta Shishobo was not included in the 75-fascicle version or the 12-fascicle version. It was the 28th fascicle of the 60-fascicle version, and the 45th fascicle of the 95- fascicle version.

Shishobo was written in 1243

This fascicle was written on the 5th day of the 5th month in 1243 during the summer practice period at Koshoji monastery, founded ten years earlier in 1233 in Fukakusa near Kyoto. (Presently, Fukakusa is a part of Kyoto City.) A few days after that practice period was completed on 15th day of the 7th month, Dogen Zenji and the monks in his monastery left Koshoji and went to the remote district of Echizen to establish another monastery. Some scholars think that Tendai monks from Hieizan Enryakuji attacked Dogen Zenji’s sangha and burned down Koshoji. Other scholars conjecture that Dogen Zenji moved to the deep mountains following his own teacher Tendo Nyojo Zenji’s advice, accepting invitations from his patron Hatano Yoshishige, who had a property to offer in Echizen, and one of Dogen’s disciples Ekan, who had a temple named Hajakuji in Echizen. Still other scholars think he left Kyoto to avoid competition with the Rinzai master Enni Ben’nen who had returned from China in 1242 and was supported by Kujo Michiie, a high-ranking aristocrat who built Tofukuji monastery. This monastery was located several miles away from Koshoji toward the city of Kyoto and Kujo invited En’ni to be the abbot there.

The reason is not clear to us, but Dogen and his disciples left Koshoji very suddenly. When they moved to Echizen, they did not have a temple to practice in. They stayed at a small old temple named Yoshimine-dera. Tettsu Gikai, who later became the third abbot of Eiheiji, was the tenzo at the time. Since there was no kitchen at the temple, Gikai prepared meals at a house at the foot of the steep hill on which Yoshimine-dera was located. He then had to carry the food up the long steep hill in the deep snow during their first winter in Echizen. If their move had been well planned, they would have stayed at Koshoji until the new monastery was ready. It seems likely to me they had an urgent reason to leave Koshoji, so quickly that they had no time to make prior preparations in Echizen.

While Dogen Zenji stayed at Yoshimine-dera and Yamashibu, another small temple in the same area, through the fall of 1243 until the fall of 1244, he wrote 33 fascicles of the Shobogenzo. The construction of the new temple Daibutsuji (in 1246, Dogen renamed it as Eiheiji) was started in the spring of 1244 and completed in the fall of the same year.

I think it is important to remember that this fascicle Shishobo was written two months before their move from Kyoto to Echizen. I suppose that Dogen Zenji and his sangha were in some precarious situation, probably one of conflict with the Tendai establishment.

About the title: Shobogenzo Bodaisatta-Shishobo

Shobogenzo (True Dharma Eye Treasury) is an abbreviation of the expression “Shobogenzo nehan myoshin, jisso, muso, mimyo no homon (),” as it is expressed in Japanese. This is one long word. In the traditional Zen story of the transmission of the Dharma from Shakyamuni Buddha to Mahakashapa, when Shakyamuni held up a flower, Mahakashapa was the only person in the assembly who smiled. The Buddha then said, “I have Shobogenzo nehan myoshin----------, I transmit (entrust?) it to Mahakashapa.” This “Shobogenzo” is the name of the Dharma that was transmitted from Shakyamuni to Mahakashapa, from Mahakashapa to Ananda, and from ancestor to ancestor through many generations up until the present day.

A rough translation of this expression is: True Dharma Eye Treasury (), Wondrous Mind of Nirvana (), True form of Formlessness(), Subtle and Wondrous Dharma Gate (). This is an expression of the reality of our life that is the treasury of the true Dharma eye (wisdom), the wondrous mind (life) of Nirvana, in which the true form of all beings is without form, and this reality is very subtle and unconceivable.

Dogen Zenji titled the collection of his writings in Japanese with this name. When we read Shobogenzo, we must understand that the topic of each and every fascicle is about this reality of our life. In this fascicle of Shishobo, the four actions (offering, loving words, beneficial action and identity action) are our actual practices in our daily lives. We need to see these practices as “Shobogenzo,” that is the Dharma transmitted through buddhas and ancestors. These actions should be done with awakening to the true reality of emptiness and interdependent origination. In Dogen Zenji’s teachings, zazen practice itself is awakening and wisdom. And these four actions are how zazen functions in our daily lives and in relation to other people and living beings.

A Bodhisattva

The word “Bodhisattva” (Japanese. Bodaisatta, Pali. Bodhisatta) originally referred to Shakyamuni Buddha when he was practicing before he attained Buddhahood. Later Buddhists thought that Shakyamuni Buddha had been practicing in countless lives and in various forms in order to attain Buddhahood. In the stories of the Buddha’s practice in his past lives, he was called a “Bodhisattva,” a person who is seeking the attainment of awakening. And the “Buddha” is the one who has attained awakening.

Mahayana Buddhists thought that there are numberless buddhas in the past, present, and future, and that there are myriad Buddha-lands throughout the ten directions. This is what we chant in the dedication following each sutra that is chanted during various kinds of service in Soto Zen tradition. “Jiho-sanshi-ishifu (all buddhas throughout the ten directions and three times) shison-busa-mokosa (all bodhisattvas mahasattvas).” There are countless Bodhisattvas who are practicing to attain Buddhahood in the past, present, and future in every buddha-land. In this usage, a bodhisattva is a buddha-to-be.

In Mahayana sutras there are some great bodhisattvas who could be a buddha by virtue of their practice, but they intentionally vow not to become buddhas in order to save living beings within samsara. They are also the symbol of a certain virtue of the Buddha. They include the following three:

Manjshuri (Monju-bosatsu, in Japanese) is considered to be the symbol of Buddha’s wisdom. He sits on a lion, holding a sword to cut off all delusions. Manjshuri is enshrined at the center of the monks’ hall in Zen monasteries.

Avalokiteshvara (Kanzeon-bosatsu or Kan-jizai-bosatsu, in Japanese) is the symbol of Buddha’s compassion and can be transformed into 33 different forms, appearing to living beings in the most suitable form to save each of them. This transformation depends upon the necessity of each and every sentient being according to the teaching of identityaction in Shishobo.

Ksitigarba (Jizo-bosatsu) took a vow to save all beings transmigrating within the six realms of samsara between the time of Shakyamuni Buddha and Maitreya Buddha, who will appear in this world 5.7 billion years later. In Japan, a set of six statues of Jizo Bodhisattva are enshrined at the entrance of many cemeteries in order to save people who are going to be reborn in each of the six realms.

These great bodhisattvas mentioned above are actually transformations of the Buddha. They are not buddhas-tobe. However, ordinary people like us who have aroused bodhi-citta (Way-seeking mind), received the bodhisattva precepts, made the four bodhisattva vows, and practice according to the Buddha’s teachings are also called bodhisattvas. In the title of Shishobo, bodhisattva refers to all Mahayana practitioners including ordinary human beings like us. In this fascicle, Dogen Zenji teaches us that these four actions are the essence of the practice for all bodhisattvas, including all of the above usages of the word.


Shishobo (Four embracing actions, Skt., Catursangraha- vastu, Pali, sangaha vatthu) appears in various sutras and commentaries of the sutras not only in Mahayana sutras such as the Lotus Sutra, and so forth, but also in the Pali scriptures.

I first translated this title as “Four Embracing Dharmas” because the word bo (same word as ho, ) is often used as a translation of the Sanskrit word Dharma (Pali, Dhamma). In English, we often use the Sanskrit word Dharma instead of using an English equivalent because there isn’t any one English word that conveys the many meanings and connotations of this word. But when I checked the original expression in Sanskrit, the word is not dharma but vastu and so I feel that “embracing dharma” is not the right translation. Now I temporarily translate it as “actions,” although “Vastu” means “affair”, “matter”, or “thing”. Sometimes this word was translated into Chinese as ji (),the second part of doji (), and so I translated that word as identity-action.

Rev. Hozan Alan Senauke provided me with translations of this expression used by other translators, such as, “Foundations for Social Unity,” “Ways of Showing Favor,” “Four Methods of Guidance,” and “Four Integrative Methods.” “Method” is another meaning of the Chinese word ho ().

According to Menzan’s Shobogenzo Shotenroku (the Collection of the Sources of Expressions Dogen Zenji used in Shobogenzo) Shishobo is defined in the 17th volume of the SanzoHossu (Dharma Numbers in the Three Baskets) as:

“Each of these four items of Shishobo () have the adjective sho (“embracing, unifying, integrative”). In this case, sho () has the meaning of shoju (), which is “to embrace and accept.” When a bodhisattva wishes to guide living beings and transform them, then without fail he or she should embrace and accept living beings and allow them to trust him or her. Then he or she guides them to the true Mahayana Way. In the Vimarakilti Sutra, it is said that first we attract living beings with what they desire and then enable them to enter the Buddha’s wisdom.

The first is Dana embracement (, Skt. Dana-sangraha-vastu). A bodhisattva embraces and accepts all living beings with the two kinds of offering: material offerings and Dharma offerings.If some living beings wish for something material, a bodhisattva embraces those living beings by offering material things. When living beings seek the Dharma, a bodhisattva embraces those living beings by offering Dharma. When living beings receive the benefits of those two kinds of offerings, they arouse the mind of intimacy and love the bodhisattva. They trust the bodhisattva and accept the Way and will be able to abide in the truth. Therefore this is called offering- embracement.

The second is Loving words embracement (, Skt. Priyavadyta-sangraha-vastu). According to the nature of living beings, a bodhisattva comforts them with kind words. When living beings hear these affectionate words, they arouse the mind of intimacy. Then they trust the bodhisattva, accept the Way, and abide in the truth. Therefore it is called loving-words-embracement.

The third is beneficial-action-embracement (, Skt. arthacarya-sangraha-vastu). A Bodhisattva does good activities with body, thought, and speech to benefit all living beings. Because of this the living beings arouse the intimate mind of love and trust, relying on bodhisattvas. They accept the Way and abide in the truth. It is therefore called beneficial-action-embracement.

The fourth is identity-action-embracement (, Skt. samanarthata-sangraha-vastu). A bodhisattva clearly sees the nature of each living being with the eye of the Dharma and then the bodhisattva manifests itself in the form depending upon what they wish. The bodhisattva shares these identity actions for their sake and because of these actions, they trust and rely on the bodhisattva, love the Way, and abide in the truth. It is therefore called identity-action-embracement.”

According to this definition, these four actions are the ways a bodhisattva helps living beings to enter the Way of Buddha and abide in the truth. In this sense, the translation used by Kaz Tanahashi in Moon in a Dew Drop, “Methods of Guidance,” is a good translation. However, when Dogen Zenji expounds these four practices as “Shobogenzo”, I think, he does not merely mean that these are methods guiding people to enter the Buddhist path. Dogen teaches that these four practices allow the bodhisattvas themselves to be free from the three poisonous states of mind: greed, anger/hatred, and ignorance. These practices benefit both the person practicing and living beings at the same time. So, I don’t think the translation of “guiding method” is the best one in the case of Dogen Zenji’s Shishobo.

Giun’s capping phrase and praising verse

Giun Zenji (1253-1333), the fifth abbot of Eiheiji, wrote a capping phrase and a praising verse for each fascicle of the 60-fascicle version of Shobogenzo. I would like to introduce the phrase and verse he wrote for Shishobo.

Giun’s capping phrase:
“Adding flowers on the golden brocade.”

This phrase appears in a poem by the famous politician and poet of the Song dynasty China, O Anseki (Wang Anshi, 1021-1086). Weaving is one of the oldest art and craft forms in human culture. All peoples in any part of the world, whether primitive or developed countries, hot or cold places, dry or wet climates, have a weaving technique for making cloth. Production of clothing allowed human beings to live in severe climates, areas where it was not possible for humans to live without clothing.

The way the warp and the woof are woven using vertical and horizontal threads has been used as a good metaphor for interdependent origination. Depending upon how the warp and the woof are woven, different patterns are created. This is like the network of life on earth. Depending upon causes and conditions, time and space, many different kinds of scenery appear. We create numberless stories on the stage of time and space and also beyond the limit of time and space that is eternity. In Japan, the warp is often compared to time and the woof is compared to space. Each and every thing that happens day to day is like the woven pattern of a tapestry.

The network of interdependent origination is the golden brocade on which many different patterns are designed and created moment by moment. In China and other East Asian countries, golden brocade is the most exquisite fabric using silk with gold or other bright colors and often has beautiful patterns. Here in this verse, golden brocade does not refer to something more valuable than other things, but it is rather something priceless and beyond any comparison or evaluation. It is something that human beings can not create. Human activities are also part of the patterns on the golden brocade.

This capping phrase means to add beauty to the golden brocade that is already beautiful. In Zen literature, this phrase has been used in two opposite ways. One is a meaningless and unnecessary action. If something is already beautiful, to add more beauty is unnecessary. It is like to trying to search for your own face even though you already one. The other meaning is to keep making effort to continually refine the beauty. When Giun used this expression as the capping phrase for this fascicle of the Shobogenzo, he meant that to practice Shishobo is to make the already perfect network of independent origination into something even more perfect. This is another expression of “practice upon enlightenment” (shojo no shu), that bodhisattvas are born, live, and die within the network of interdependent origination. The practice of awakening to that reality of interdependence and expressing that reality is the practice of Shishobo.

When this phrase is used in the first sense, it is used in a way that is a little paradoxical or cynical. It means that bodhisattva practice is not something special, so we should not be proud of it. We just express our reality of life in order to express the reality of life.

Wanshi and Dogen

In Eiheikoroku (The Extensive Record of Eihei Dogen) Vol.2 135, Dogen Zenji quotes Wanshi (Ch. Hongzhi) Zenji’s Dharma hall discourse on the day of the winter solstice. Wanshi said, “In a bowl, the bright pearl rolls on its own without prodding.” And “For a luminous jewel without flaw, if you carve a pattern on it, its virtue is lost .” He meant that if we add something artificial to the natural beauty of the bright pearl, we damage it.

Dogen Zenji comments in the following way about Wanshi’s saying, “I, old man Daibutsu (Dogen), do not agree. Great assembly, listen carefully and consider this well. For a luminous jewel without flaw, if polished its glow increases.” (Translation by Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura). Dogen Zenji disagreed with Wanshi and urged his students to consider this point very carefully. In our practice of following the Buddha’s teachings, the already beautiful jewel becomes more and more beautiful. Some Soto scholars put emphasis on the difference between Wanshi and Dogen, or silent illumination Zen in China and Dogen Zen on this point.

Wanshi Zenji’s statement implies that Buddha-nature is perfect as it is; don’t interfere with it by adding artificial human activities. Dogen Zenji’s comment implies that even though Buddha-nature is perfect as it is, our practice can clarify and extend its manifestation. In both cases, practice and enlightenment are one, but for Wanshi the emphasis is on enlightenment that is perfect from the beginningless beginning, and practice is its natural function, like the pearl rolling on its own. For Dogen, the emphasis is on practice, which expresses and actually deepens enlightenment. This has the same meaning as the capping phrase that Giun chose for Shishobo.

Giun’s praising verse:
The great gate of offering is open and enriches the nine heavens,
Going beyond love and hatred expressed in speech is the wheel of the Dharma.
Beneficial actions for beings and the wind of identity actions reach far beyond a thousand miles.
On the rootless tree, the spring of four seasons has come.

The first three lines are Giun’s summary of the Shishobo. The bodhisattva practice of offering will enrich all living beings including the bodhisattva himself. When a bodhisattva goes beyond love and hatred, their speech can turn the Dharma Wheel. This is Giun’s definition of “loving words.” In this case, love is not in dualistic opposition to hatred. Usually, our love is directed toward a certain person or people as objects and that love can then become hatred toward another group of people. Such love easily transforms into hatred depending on causes and conditions. To speak true loving words, we need to go beyond love and hatred. This is Buddha’s compassion. One word of the Buddha’s compassion is the Dharma wheel.

Beneficial action benefits all beings and the wind of identity-action reaches beyond the 1000 miles that is the human realm of duality.

Timeless spring on the rootless tree

This final line of Giun’s verse shows that this practice of Shishobo is the practice of emptiness that brings about eternal or timeless spring. The literal translation of Giun’s expression is “the spring of four seasons.” This means that all four seasons become the timeless, unconditioned spring of Nirvana. The rootless tree is a symbol of emptiness used in Buddhist literature, the same as a bamboo or a banana tree. These four practices of Bodhisattva bring Nirvana to the human world, where we are always creating pain and suffering. We, human beings often stain, pollute or even destroy the beauty of the golden brocade by our actions based on the three poisonous states of mind. In this sense, the four embracing actions are practices enabling us to
awaken to the preciousness of the network of interdependent origination and to heal ourselves and others from the damages caused by our deluded actions.

At the end of Shobogenzo Genjo-koan, Dogen Zenji said, “To say we should not use a fan because the nature of wind is ever present, and that we should feel the wind even when we don't use a fan, is to know neither ever-presence nor the wind's nature. Since wind's nature is ever present, the wind of the Buddha's family enables us to realize the gold of the great earth and to transform the [water of] the long river into cream.”

Our practice of zazen and daily activities actualizes the everlasting nature of wind and causes the actual wind that makes our life and world into cream and gold. What Giun says here has the same meaning. Our practice adds beauty to already beautiful golden brocade.

Giun’s capping phrase and praising verse provide us a good preparatory understanding for our study of Dogen Zenji’s Shobogenzo Shishobo.


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