28th Chapter of
The Bodhisattvas Four Embracing Actions
Soto Zen Buddhism International Center
by Rev. Zenshin Bradley)
Buddha said, When a person who practices dana comes
into an assembly, other people watch that person with admiration.
We should know that the mind of such a person quietly reaches
others. Even if we offer just one word or verse of Dharma,
it will become a seed of goodness in this lifetime and in
other lives to come. Even if we give humble things
a single penny or a stalk of grass we plant a root
of goodness in this and other ages. Dharma can be a material
treasure, and a material treasure can be Dharma. This depends
entirely upon the givers vow and wish.
paragraph Dogen Zenji says that our practice of dana influences
our personality and creates a peaceful and supportive atmosphere
for other peoples practice. If we have a tendency to
take advantage of others and to try to gain something from
everyone we meet, our greed and aggressiveness will make others
feel defensive in our presence. Yet one who practices dana
allows others to feel safe and peaceful in his presence. We
should know that the mind of such a person quietly reaches
others means that people will respect one who practices
dana and her practice will quietly influence others, allowing
them to be friendlier. This happens because the virtue of
dana is boundless, reaching beyond the separation of self
philosophy, perfuming (Jap. kunju, ,
Skt. vasana) is an important concept that refers to
the influence of our actions on our personality. It is a keyword
in the philosophy of the Yogacara school and is used in the
teachings of Mahayana Buddhist texts such as The Awakening
of Faith in Mahayana (
T. Suzukis translation of The Awakening of Faith
(the version translated to Chinese by Cikshananda) we read;
perfuming we mean that while our worldly clothes
[viz., those which we wear] have no odor of their own, neither
offensive nor agreeable, they acquire one or the other according
to the nature of the substance with which they are perfumed.
suchness is a pure dharma free from defilement. It acquires,
however, a quality of defilement owing to the perfuming
power of ignorance. On the other hand, ignorance has nothing
to do with purity. Nevertheless, we speak of its being able
to do the work of purity, because it in its turn is perfumed
by suchness. (The Awakening of Faith The Classic Exposition
of Mahayana Buddhism, Asvaghosa, translated by Teitaro Suzuki,
Dover Publications, New York, 2003. This translation was
originally published by the Open Court Publishing Company,
Kenshusho participants going out for takuhatsu
to this text, perfuming is the way suchness and ignorance
influence each other and either defile or purify our lives.
In quoting an ancient, Dogen Zenji says in Shobogenzo-Zuimonki
4-4, Associating with a good person is like walking
through mist and dew; though you will not become drenched,
gradually your robes will become damp. Here Dogen is
talking about the equivalent of perfuming. He
is saying that if we keep practicing the four embracing actions,
we become influenced by these actions and become damp
with the moisture of our own activities. Our own
activities as well as the activities of others perfume self
and other, and in this way our lives and this world evolve
together. Together we may create for ourselves either samsara,
which includes heaven and hell, or nirvana.
Awakening of Faith also explains how suchness, in a concrete
way, perfumes ignorance and in turn reduces the delusive desires
of the three poisonous minds, which are the root of the suffering
experienced in samsara:
beings since their first aspiration (cittotpada)
till the attainment of Buddhahood are sheltered under the
guardianship of all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas who, responding
to the requirement of the occasion, transform themselves
and assume the actual forms of personality.
for the sake of all beings Buddhas and Bodhisattvas become
sometimes their parents, sometimes their wives and children,
sometimes their kinsmen, sometimes their servants, sometimes
their friends, sometimes their enemies, sometimes reveal
themselves as devas or in some other forms.
Buddhas and Bodhisattvas treat all beings sometimes with
the four methods of entertainment, sometimes with the six
paramitas, or with some other deeds, all of which
are the inducement for them to make their knowledge (bodhi)
embracing all beings with their deep compassion (mahakaruna),
with their meek and tender heart, as well as their immense
treasure of blissful wisdom, Buddhas convert them in such
a way as to suit their [all beings] needs and conditions;
while all beings thereby are enabled to hear or see Buddhas,
and, thinking of Tathagatas or some other personages, to
increase their root of merit (kucakamula). (P.91-92)
that buddhas and bodhisattvas transform themselves to appear
as our parents, friends, enemies, etc., the text tells us
that all activities of all beings in our lives are the functioning
of buddhas and bodhisattvas. These activities are intended
to help us awaken to the reality of all beings and to help
us see and hear the Dharma so that we may be liberated from
the suffering of samsara. From the other point of view, when
we engage in practices that are in accordance with the bodhisattva
vows, we can help others to reduce their pain and sorrow and
to be liberated from delusion. Practices such as offering
dharma teachings can become the functioning of buddhas and
bodhisattvas and help those around us to attain the Buddha
Way. Thus we can all help each other by participating in the
buddhas and bodhisattvas liberating work for all
beings. In a sense, all people and all beings are working
to liberate each other, and all people and all beings are
constantly revealing the reality of life to each other in
order to liberate all people and all beings. This is what
Dogen Zenji describes in his Jijuyu-zanmai as the function
of our zazen practice.
four methods of entertainment in the text above
are Suzukis translation of Shishobo (four embracing
actions). These practices are not simply intended to help
and guide other people, but they also help to liberate us
as we work together with all beings.
if we offer just one word or verse of Dharma, it will become
a seed of goodness in this lifetime and in other lives to
come. Even if we give humble things a single penny
or a stalk of grass - we plant a root of goodness in this
and other ages.
dana in this way, we may offer either dharma teachings
or material gifts, depending upon our vows and our conditions.
Traditionally, Buddhist monks study, practice, set an example
of Buddhist living, and offer the Dharma to lay people, while
lay people support monks practice by offering them material
goods. Depending upon our vow, we can be either a full-time
practitioner or a lay practitioner. However, today many lay
people are well educated and can therefore share their knowledge
of the Dharma. Such offerings can be dana if given
as part of the practitioners bodhisattva vow, and even
a practitioners most simple actions can be dana
as well. Even if we dont have formal knowledge of the
Dharma or if we dont have material goods to offer, a
simple offering such as a smile can be very helpful dana
in certain situations.
the second of the four embracing actions is loving-speech.
Loving-speech can be a great practice of dana, as I
once learned in the 1970s when I was practicing at Pioneer
Valley Zendo and working at a tofu shop in a nearby town.
We worked in the evening, and since I did not have a drivers
license I had to sleep at the shop after work rather than
go back to the zendo. Because it was the warmest spot in the
shop, I slept next to the furnace on a pile of bags containing
soybeans. This spot was warm but noisy, and consequently I
could not sleep well. One cold winter morning I awoke and
decided to stop by a coffee shop before beginning to hitchhike
home. I did not feel particularly bad but I had not slept
well the night before. The waitress at the coffee shop, a
woman in her sixties, looked at my face as she served me coffee
and said, Smile! It is a beautiful day! For a
while I did not understand why she had said such a thing.
I just said, Thank you! Later, because of the
waitress words I noticed that although it was very cold,
it really was a beautiful day. When I started to walk after
having the coffee, I thought, When she looked at my
face, she thought I was desperate. Now I feel that her
words were one of the greatest offerings of dana that I ever
received. Whenever I am having a hard time and forget to smile,
I remember the kind words of that waitress.
by a Chinese Emperor
his beard, a Chinese emperor harmonized his ministers
mind. Offering sand, a child gained the throne. These people
did not covet rewards from others. They simply shared what
they had according to their ability. To launch a boat or build
a bridge is the practice of dana-paramita. When we understand
the meaning of dana, receiving a body and giving up a body
are both offering. Earning a livelihood and 12 managing a
business are, nothing other than giving. Trusting flowers
to the wind and trusting birds to the season may also be the
meritorious action of dana. When we give and when we receive,
we should study this principle: Great King Ashokas offering
of half a mango to hundreds of monks was a boundless offering.
Not only should we urge ourselves to make offerings, but we
must not overlook any opportunity to practice dana. Because
we are blessed with the virtue of offering, we have received
our present lives.
Dogen gives examples of the practice of dana. The first
is a story of a Taiso, the second emperor of the Tong Dynasty
[597-649]. He was the second son of the founding emperor of
Tong, who with the help of Taiso united China. Taiso skillfully
governed his country with benevolence for twenty-three years,
and later generations considered his administration to be
an ideal model of Chinese sovereignty. Dogen Zenji refers
to stories of Taiso four times in Shobogenzo Zuimonki.
For example, in section 2-3 of that text we read:
the reign of Taiso of the Tang dynasty, Gicho (Wei Zheng),
one of the ministers, remarked to the emperor, Some
people are slandering your Majesty. The emperor replied,
As a sovereign, if I have virtue, I am not afraid
of being slandered by people. Im more afraid of being
praised despite the lack of it.
commented on this passage saying, Here is an example
of how even a lay person had such an attitude (about virtue).
Monks should, first of all, maintain this attitude.
to another story, when one of Taisos ministers was sick
a doctor recommended roasted bear to cure him. Hearing this,
the emperor slaughtered his own bear and gave it to the minister.
I am not sure if roasted bear is truly a good medicine, but
in this story it is probably a symbol of the emperors
authority. Even if the roasted bear did not really cure the
ministers body, the fact that it was the emperors
bear, prepared by the emperor himself, touched the minister
and increased his loyalty to the emperor.
by the Indian King Asoka
Zenji also refers to two stories from the Sutra of King Asoka
Jap. Aikuo-kyo, Taisho:50] about the offerings
of the king. One is the story of a boy who offered a handful
of sand to Shakyamuni Buddha, and the other tells of King
Asokas offering half of a mango to the sangha.
to Japanese scholarly references, King Asoka was the grandson
of Candragupta, the king of India who fought against Seleukos,
the retainer of Alexander the Great. Alexander invaded India
in 326B.C.E. and conquered its northwestern region before
returning to the West in 325. Alexander died in the year 323B.C.E.
in Babylon, but Seleukos who established his empire in Syria
in 306B.C.E., invaded India in 305. After the war with Seleukos
ended, Candragupta destroyed the kingdom of Magada and founded
the Maurya Dynasty in its place. King Asoka, the grandson
of Candragupta, reigned between 268-232B.C.E. He fought against
his brothers to become King after his fathers death,
and after he was enthroned he conquered many kingdoms. It
is said that he was a very violent ruler who was good at making
war. In the 9th year of his reign, he defeated Kalinga in
a battle that united most of India but produced more than
100,000 casualties and caused much suffering for many people.
The king experienced great sadness upon witnessing such vast
suffering, and as a result he came to believe that war was
wrong. He is said to have come to the realization that only
the truths of Buddhist teachings (dharma-vijiya), rather
than war and competition, can produce real victories in life.
After King Asoka took refuge in Buddhism, he lived near a
Buddhist sangha for more than a year and practiced enthusiastically.
The king worked to spread Buddhism by ordering the building
of stone pillars inscribed with Buddhist teachings, and many
of these carvings have been discovered. He declared that he
would govern his kingdom based on the paramita teachings
of the Dharma: affection (daya), few delusive
desires (alpasrava), generosity in giving (dana), truth
(satya), purity (sauca), and gentleness (mardava).
King Asoka sent Buddhist envoys to Syria, Egypt, Macedonia,
and other countries, and his son, Mahinda, and daughter, Sanghamitta,
established Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Thus Buddhism traveled
to many places outside of India because of King Asokas
support. Yet the kings Buddhist policies and excessive
financial support of Buddhist orders eventually caused the
decline of his government. His son and ministers eventually
turned against him and his empire disappeared shortly after
are stories about King Asoka that Dogen Zenji introduces from
the Sutra of King Asoka. Of course these stories are merely
traditional images of the great benevolent king (cakravarti-raja)
who supported Buddhism rather than presentations of historical
story from section one of the sutra creates a connection between
King Asoka and Shakyamuni Buddha by relating an event from
a past life of the king:
the World-honored One was begging for food on a big street,
he met two boys there playing with sand. The boys saw the
32 features on the Buddhas body, and the first boy took
a handful of sand and put it in the Buddhas begging
bowl as an offering. The second boy did a gassho and
joyfully composed a verse about the Buddha; With natural
boundless compassion, a circle of light ornaments my body.
Having already departed from life-and-death, now I wholeheartedly
concentrate my mind. And of the first boy he recited,
Because I think of the Buddha, I offer this sand with
time, the first boy made a vow saying, I vow to do Buddhas
work within Buddhas dharma. Because of this root of
goodness, please make me the king of a country.
Buddha penetrated the boys mind and saw that the boys
vow would bear excellent fruit because it was a seed planted
in Buddhas field of happiness (fukuden). Shakyamuni
then accepted the sand with compassion.
he said to Ananda, One hundred years after my entering
Nirvana, this boy will be born in the city of Pataliputra
and be named Asoka. He will be the Quarter Wheel-Turning King.
He will take refuge in the true Dharma, make offerings to
Buddhas relics, build Eighty-four thousand stupas, and
he will be beneficial to numberless people.
Shakyamuni Buddha handed the sand to Ananda saying, Mix
this sand together with cow dung and put it on the ground
where the Buddha practices walking meditation.
was King Asokas first practice of dana for the Buddha,
Dharma and Sangha. Although he only offered a handful of sand,
because of his wholehearted vow he received an excellent reward
in being reborn as the wheelturning king.
story is from Chapter 5 of the Sutra of King Asoka:
King Asoka was an old man, a minister said to the prince,
The great King Asoka will pass away soon. Now the
king wants to donate forty thousand gold pieces to the Rooster
Temple. For all kings, their source of power is their material
wealth. Prince, you should prevent the king from wasting
such a huge amount money. The prince accepted this
advice and seized control of government money from the king,
who was then forced to cancel his donation to the temple.
King Asokas only remaining valuable was a golden plate
he used for dinning. After finishing his meal, the king
sent the golden plate to the Rooster Temple, leaving himself
with only half of a mango as his last possession. At that
time the King summoned his ministers and said, On
behalf of all people in this country, tell me who is the
lord of this land! A minister stood up, did a gassho
and said, Heaven is the only lord of the land. No
particular person can be lord. Upon hearing this,
King Asoka shed tears like rain.
king then called one of his close attendants and said to
him, Now I have lost my power and my freedom. Please
do a final favor for me now--do just this one thing; take
this mango half to the Rooster Temple and tell the monks,
King Asoka prostrates himself at the feet of the monks
of the assembly. In the past he owned all the land of the
continent; now he only owns half of a mango. This mango
is his last offering; monks, please accept this offering.
It is small but this offerings virtue will benefit
the monks assembly boundlessly.
monks accepted the mango half from the king, cut it into
tiny pieces, and put the pieces into a stew to serve the
assembly. At that time, the aging King Asoka was nearing
death. From his bed his attendants propped him up so that
he could look around in all four directions. Then the king
faced the direction of the temple, did a gassho and said,
Now, in addition to the treasures I have given, I
offer the entire Earth and its great oceans to the Sangha.
two offerings of the Great King Asoka, the first made as a
boy and the final made as a dying man, were worthless by the
standards of societys market value. But because these
small offerings were made with purity of heart, Dogen Zenji
praised them more than the incalculable number of offerings
the King made as a powerful ruler.
also find praise for this spirit of offering in the teachings
of Jesus Christ:
sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting
money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums.
A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which
are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said
to them, Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put
in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.
For all of them have contributed out of their abundance;
but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had,
all she had to live on. (Mark 12/41-44)
people did not covet rewards from others. They simply shared
what they had according to their ability. To launch a boat
or build a bridge is the practice of danaparamita. When we
understand the meaning of dana, receiving a body and giving
up a body are both offering. Earning a livelihood and managing
a business are, nothing other than giving.
I read this story about King Asoka, I think that when he had
great power he gave Buddhist temples more than was required
and more than he was capable of. Because of his immeasurable
donations, Buddhist temples became wealthy and prosperous
and Buddhism spread throughout India and beyond. However,
as a result of the Kings contributions, the genuine spirit
of practice began to decline in his kingdom because many people
joined the Sangha seeking wealth and status rather than true
spiritual practice. The financial condition of his government
and of his nation also suffered as a result of the kings
actions. Since he had responsibility as a ruler to govern
the nation, he should have managed his countrys resources
more carefully. If he had governed the nation according to
the teachings of the Dharma, his work as a benevolent ruler
would have been the practice of dana. This is what Dogen Zenji
meant when he said, To launch a boat or build a bridge
is the practice of dana-paramita. To make those
very large material donations to the Buddhist order may have
been excessive or even contrary to the genuine spirit of the
Dharma. If the king wished to make contributions to the Dharma
beyond his means as a ruler, he should have resigned the throne
and became a Buddhist monk. It must be very difficult for
a person with great power and wealth to know his own limitations,
and this is why King Asoka shed tears like rain
when his ministers turned against him in his final days. But
the King truly rose to excellence when he kept his faith in
the Dharma after losing his power as a ruler. I feel fortune,
as Ryokan did, that I do not have such a problem. One of Ryokans
waka poems echos the great Kings words
during his final offering of the Earth and its oceans:
have I to leave as a keepsake? In spring, the cherry blossoms
In summer, the warblers song In autumn, the maples
three lines of this poem were inspired by Dogens poem
entitled Original Face (Honrai no memmoku ):
Spring, the cherry blossoms, In summer, the cuckoos
song, In autumn, the moon, shining, In winter, the frozen
snow: How pure and clear are the seasons!
is what Dogen meant when he said, Trusting flowers
to the wind and trusting birds to the season may also be the
meritorious action of dana. Just living together
with all beings without trying to possess them is the meritorious
action of dana. It is truly important to understand
that Dogen Zenji did not praise King Asoka as the great patron
of Buddhism simply because of the kings great monetary
contributions. There are many examples of great patrons of
Buddhism who, like Asoka, hindered the Buddhist Sangha with
their excessive donations while creating problems for their
societies. That is why Dogen says that Asokas offering
of a handful of sand and his giving half of a mango were the
kings greatest practices of dana.