28th Chapter of
The Bodhisattvas Four Embracing Actions
Soto Zen Buddhism International Center
by Koshin Steve Kelly)
means not being greedy
is offering or dana. Second is loving-speech. Third is
beneficial-action. Fourth is identity- action.
Offering means not being greedy. Not to be greedy means
not to covet. Not to covet commonly means not to flatter.
Even if we rule the four continents, in order to offer teachings
of the true Way, we must simply and unfailingly not be greedy.
It is like offering treasures we are about to discard to those
we do not know. We give flowers blooming on the distant mountains
to the Tathagata, and offer treasures accumulated in past
lives to living beings. Whether our gifts are Dharma or material
objects, each gift is truly endowed with the virtue of offering
or dana. Even if this gift is not our personal possession,
nothing hinders our practice of offering. No gift is too small.
But our effort should be genuine.
Zenjis definition of offering (dana) is not
to be greedy. I think this is a wonderful definition.
The basic teaching of the Buddha is that our life is suffering
and we transmigrate within the six realms of samsara because
we live and act based on three poisonous states of mind :
greed, anger/hatred and ignorance. All Buddhist practices
are about cessation of suffering in samsara by being released
from these three poisonous minds. This basic structure is
also true in the case of the four embracing actions. Offering
(dana) is a way to be released from greed. Loving speech
is a way not to be caught up in anger and hatred. Beneficial
action is a treatment for both greed and anger. Identity action
is a practice to be free from the ignorance of self-centeredness
through the wisdom of seeing the heart of being that is empty
of self and interconnected with all beings. Commonly, the
four embracing actions are considered to be methods of guidance
used by bodhisattvas to lead people to become Buddhists. But
in Dogen Zenjis teaching, as it is clearly said in the
section on beneficial action, the practice of the four embracing
actions are not only the way to lead others, but also the
way for the person practicing them to be free from the three
poisonous states of mind. Ignorant people may think
that if we benefit others too much, our own benefit will be
excluded. This is not the case. Beneficial-action is the whole
of Dharma; it benefits both self and others widely.
to be greedy means not to covet. Not to covet commonly means
not to flatter.
be greedy and to covet have almost the same
meaning. To English speaking people, this sentence may sound
like a repetition of the same word. In the original text,
Dogen Zenji uses the Chinese word fu-ton ()
and he put the Japanese equivalent using hiragana (one of
the two Japanese phonetic alphabets made by simplifying Chinese
characters), musaborazarunari ().
Structurally, this is the same as the English sentence,Dana
is offering. Because dana means offering in Sanskrit,
to say dana is offering seems repetitive. When
we study Shobogenzo, however, it is important to understand
that Dogen Zenji was writing in two different languages and
sometimes playing with the Chinese words and expressions in
a way only a non-native speaker can. Unfortunately when we
translate his writings into English, we cannot show his subtle
use of both Chinese and Japanese. Sometimes his sentences
do not make any sense, and sometimes they look like childish
to Dogen, to flatter is another expression of
our greed. Typically, when we have enough power to get the
things we want by ourselves, we covet them and just take them.
But when we dont have enough power to get things we
want, we flatter someone who has the power to give them. By
flattering the superior person, we try to satisfy our personal
it is interesting that Dogen Zenji uses the negative expression
in order to define dana instead of using a positive
one such as Dana is generosity. To be generous
means such and such. By doing this, I think he is urging
us to reflect on our deeper motivation when being generous
to others. Often we can see, even when we are giving something
to someone who is in need and the action looks really generous
on the surface, if we take a close look at our mind, we almost
always see that greed is still working there. We may expect
some return from the receiver or we covet the receivers
gratitude. We may want to think we are generous or expect
others to think that we are great people. Of course on the
level of social morality, it is good to do good things. However,
Buddhism is not merely a teaching of social morality. If the
deeper motivation is greed, no matter how much we give, it
cannot be dana paramita; perfection of offering. To practice
dana is to be free from greed.
practice of Dana in takuhatsu
since the time of Shakyamuni Buddha, Buddhist monks were required
to relinquish the bonds with their families, give up their
livelihood and property and live with three robes and one
bowl. Monks begged in nearby villages for food, eating only
once a day before noon. Their begging was a practice to be
free from desire for possessions and essentially from ego
attachment. This tradition still continues in the Theravada
Buddhism in South Eastern Asia. There are two sorts of offering
in Buddhism: the offering of materials and the offering of
Dharma. Lay people offer materials such as food, clothing
medicine and other requirements to monasteries or monks. Also
lay Buddhists offer things as charity to the needy people
in society. And monks offer Dharma, the spiritual teachings
they study and practice. Monks and laity support each other
through the practice of these two kinds of offering (dana).
Japan, almost all Buddhist temples are supported by temple
members. Temple priests commonly do not practice takuhatsu
except on certain special occasions. Only monks in training
practice it while they are living at a monastery. And usually
people at this time offer money instead of food, except when
they do takuhatsu specifically for rice or some vegetables.
the time I was practicing at Antaiji, because the temple had
no members, our practice was supported solely by our takuhatsu.
We monks did it a few times a month. We walked on the market
streets in Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe and other smaller cities and
towns in the area. When we did takuhatsu, 3 to 5 of us walked
together. Since most of us were in our early 20s, it
was fun, like taking a hike.
also very meaningful practice. At Antaiji, we focused on zazen
practice and Dharma study mainly of Dogen Zenjis teachings.
When we practice in this way, we tend to feel like we are
living a much more meaningful and higher way of life than
the people who are working hard in society to earn money day
after day. We may even look down on people by seeing them
from our lofty position. But when we practice takuhatsu, we
are just beggars on the street. We have a chance to see society
from the bottom.
takuhatsu we walk on the street wearing the traditional
monks black robe, straw sandals and a bamboo hat. We
hold a begging bowl (oryoki) and intoneHooo (It
refers to hau, the begging bowl) in a loud voice. We
usually stop in front of each house or shop on the street
for a short while until the shop owner or other people give
a donation or express their rejection with words or a gesture.
If no one is there or people do not react, we continue on
to the next shop.
people make a donation, we recite the praising verse of dana
that says, Zaiho nise kudoku muryo danbaramitsu gusoku
enman naishi hokkai byodo riyaku. (The virtue of two kinds
of offering; the offering of materials and offering of Dharma,
is boundless. The Perfection of generosity (dana paramita)
is completed and it benefits all living beings in the entire
dharma world. When we are rejected or ignored, we simply
and sincerely make a bow and walk to the next door.
people make a bow with gassho like they do to the Buddha
when they put their donation into our begging bowl. Some people
look down on us and put money in our bowls like they would
with a beggar. Some people shout,Go away! Some
people decline to make an offering by saying, I am sorry
but -----. Some people just ignore us. Some people make
fun of us. We encounter many different reactions from many
different people; rich, mediocre or poor, tough, gentle or
pious, etc. etc. We just see peoples reactions and keep
the same respectful attitude toward everyone. We walk in this
way about five to six hours a day.
first go on takuhatsu, we are taught several important
principles of takuhatsu practice. The most important point
is to keep the same respectful attitude toward all people.
We should not skip any single house or shop on the street.
Whether rich or poor, kind or not kind, we should not have
any preferences toward people. We should not change our attitude
depending upon the amount of donation or their way of treating
us. We should be mindful not to disturb people working at
a shop, people shopping or people walking on the street. Takuhatsu
is a practice of equanimity, freeing us from self-centeredness
and our discriminating minds. Through takuhatsu, our
practice is connected with everyone in society.
as a koan
early 30s while I was living on takuhatsu, I
had a question regarding this definition of dana by
Dogen Zenji. From 1981 to 1984, I lived in a small nunnery
in Kyoto as a care-taker. A friend of mine looks after the
temple and because he had another temple, he generously allowed
me to live there and practice. I also worked on translation
of Dogen Zenjis and my teachers books from Japanese
to English with my American Dharma brother, Daitsu Tom Wright.
I had daily zazen and monthly 5-day sesshin. Because I became
a monk while I was a university student studying Buddhism
and Zen and entered a monastery directly from school, I have
no skills to make an income at all. All I knew was zazen practice
and some knowledge of Zen Buddhism. But to be mature as a
zazen practitioner takes a really long time, and in my 20s
and 30s, I felt I had nothing to offer anyone. A few
times a month, I practiced takuhatsu in the market
streets in Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe and other places just as I did
while I was at Antaiji. In that manner, I received approximately
30,000 Yen ($300), just enough income to keep my practice
and translation work going.
As I said
before, when I practiced at Antaiji, I did takuhatsu
together with other monks. It was not difficult. I enjoyed
it like a hike. But doing takuhatsu alone was completely different.
I was often intimidated and felt as if I was just a meaningless
I did takuhatsu alone in a market place in Osaka. Osaka
and Kyoto are quite different cities. In Kyoto, since there
are many temples and monasteries, people know about takuhatsu
and respect Buddhist monks. Osaka, however, has been a city
of merchants from the Tokugawa era, and consequently there
is much less sympathy for monks. Actually, my family had been
merchants in Osaka for the last six generations, about 300
years, and I knew the peoples attitudes towards monks
when I was begging, a boy about ten years old asked me, You
want money, dont you? I thought what he was really
asking was whether I did takuhatsu for the sake of
Dharma, or for the sake of money to live on. I could not give
him an answer. It was a big and difficult koan for me. If
I didnt need money, I would not do takuhatsu.
So, I could not say I did not want money. But, if money was
really what I wanted, there are much better ways than takuhatsu
to get it. Takuhatsu is not an easy way to make money.
It was hot in summer walking wearing four layers of clothing
underwear, juban, kimono, and koromo.
In the winter, walking with bare feet and hands was really
hard practice. However, mentally it was even more difficult.
I often felt I was a meaningless, valueless person in society
and sometimes I really did not want to go. There were days
I felt so guilty living on alms I quit begging and returned
to the temple. I knew it would be much easier to do some work
to make money. At this time, I thought of many good reasons
to quit, not only takuhatsu, but also being a monk.
Takuhatsu practice makes it very clear whether we do
things for the sake of Dharma or for the sake of ourselves.
regarding Dogens definition of offering
my koan regarding Dogen Zenjis definition of
dana became clear to me: by trying not to be greedy,
I felt like I had nothing to offer. As Sawaki Roshi taught,
zazen is good for nothing. Although I was working on translation,
Japanese people were naturally not interested in English translations
of Zen texts. I really felt I just received money from people
without offering them anything. As I have said before, to
be mature as a zazen practitioner takes really a long time.
As long as we are halfbaked, zazen practitioners are really
good for nothing. Until we are quite ripe we are simply not
edible, like an astringent persimmon.
I wanted to live without greed, I did zazen and takuhatsu.
And because of that, I felt I had nothing to offer. I simply
received donations from people. I often felt guilty. And my
sense of unworthiness made me feel small and ashamed. I thought
that my condition was totally contrary to Dogen Zenjis
definition of offering.
20s, I wanted to live like Dogen Zenji and I devoted myself
completely to zazen practice. In my early 30s, I thought I
could not live like Dogen anymore and further I found that
I didnt want to do so. During that period, Ryokan (1758-1831)
became my hero instead of Dogen. Ryokan was trained at a Soto
Zen monastery and received Dharma transmission from his teacher.
But after his teachers death, he never lived in a monastery
or a temple. He traveled all over Japan for many years and
went back to live in his home town. He built a hermitage on
a mountain and simply practiced takuhatsu. He never acted
like a Zen master. He wrote poems both in Japanese and in
Chinese, made calligraphy, and played with children while
on his begging rounds.
also wrote many poems about his takuhatsu. When children found
Ryokan doing takuhatsu in their village, they gathered
together around him and urged him to play with them. Ryokan
often did so and forgot about begging. Ryokans famous
waka poems on takuhatsu show his attitude.
the children in this village
Spring day, never let the shadow fall!
on my way to beg
But passing by a spring field
Spent the whole day
Violets and dandelions are mixed together
Lets make an offering
To all the buddhas in the three times.
On a spring
day, while he was doing takuhatsu, children asked him
to play with them. Ryokan played with the children tossing
a ball or picking the wild spring flowers in the field. Sometime
he forgot about takuhatsu completely.
My poor begging bowl!
I left it behind
Picking violets by the roadside.
my begging bowl behind
And yet no one took it.
No one took it! my poor begging bowl!
of poems by Abe Ryuichi and Peter Haskel, Great Fool -
Zen Master Ryokan, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu,
1996, with minor changes by the author).
was not like Ryokans. I never played with children.
During the day time I did takuhatsu, children were
in school except Sundays. At Ryokans time, there were
no schools or daycare for the children in a farming village.
Playing with children was Ryokans offering.
to me, takuhatsu was the way to support my zazen practice
and translation work. I needed to do takuhatsu efficiently.
Otherwise, I lost my time to sit and work on translation.
I tried to do takuhatsu only a few times a month; just
enough to support my practice. But for Ryokan, takuhatsu
was not a method to support his practice. Takuhatsu
itself was his practice.In my begging bowl / Violets
and dandelions are mixed together / lets make an offering
/ to all the buddhas in the three times.
the begging bowl used to receive offerings from people became
a container to make offerings of flowers from the spring fields
to all buddhas in the past, present and future. This is because
Ryokan has no desire to get anything for himself. Ryokan was
completely free from any greed to gain anything for his own
sake. His takuhatsu, playing with children, and talking
with the villagers were all his offering. And even after his
death, his way of life itself was an offering to people in
later generations. Many people have been inspired and encouraged
by his way of life.
this poem is without a title, I am pretty sure Ryokan wrote
it about his takuhatsu.
no-mind, the flower invites a butterfly
With no-mind, the butterfly visits the flower
When the flower opens, the butterfly comes
When the butterfly comes, the flower opens
I am the same
I do not know the people
And the people do not know me
We follow the heavenly emperors law.
through Ryokan that receiving an offering can itself be an
offering only when it is done without selfish concern. Once
while I was begging in Kobe, a middle aged man riding a bicycle
stopped in front of me and offered a 1,000 yen (about $10)
bill, an exceptionally large donation to receive for takuhatsu,
saying, My wife died a few days ago, this offering is
takuhatsu, we dont speak much with people, but in this
encounter without words, I felt a deep and powerful communication.
I felt the virtue of takuhatsu was not only for me
but also for the people making the offering. To receive offerings,
I had to keep my attitude toward life free from my selfishness.
I had to live and practice for the sake of Dharma, not for
myself personally. To keep this attitude is extremely difficult.
Doing takuhatsu is a hard yet wonderful practice to
examine ones way of life and life in society. This is
a terribly difficult koan.
Dogen Zenjis definition of Offering is not to
be greedy, I found a deeper meaning of offering. We
exist only within the network of offering. We receive offerings
from air, water, plants, animals, mountains and rivers and
people. Our practice of offering is just to keep this cycle
of offering circulating instead of only receiving and using
it to satisfy my personal desires. The spring flower offers
nectar to the butterfly. The butterfly carries pollen for
the flower. Each are helping and supporting without calculating
how much they get as a reward. To keep the network of interconnected
origination pure is the true meaning of practicing Dana
paramita. We really dont need to gain things in
order to offer them to others. The way of living without greed
is itself an offering. The best example of this was Shakyamuni
Buddhas life. He gave up his position as a prince and
all family wealth and became a beggar. That was the greatest
offering. Not because someone else could get his position
and wealth but that people after him could study his example
that we can live without greed. This is what Dogen says in
the second paragraph of Shobogenzo Shishobo: When
the Way is entrusted to the Way, we attain the Way. When we
attain the Way, the Way unfailingly continues to be entrusted
to the Way. When material things are treasured, these treasures
actually become dana.