Dogen’s “Instructions for the Zen cook.”

Dogen. Tenzo Kyokun (Instructions for the Zen cook). Translated by Thomas Wright.

It is written in the Chanyuan Qinggui (regulations for Zen monasteries) that “the function of the tenzo is to manage meals for the monks.”

This work has always been carried out by teachers settled in the Way and by others who have aroused the bodhisattva spirit within themselves. Such a practice requires exerting all your energies. If a man entrusted with this work lacks such a spirit, then he will only endure unnecessary hardships and suffering that will have no value in his pursuit of the Way.

The Chanyuan Quinggui also says, “Put your awakened mind to work, making a constant effort to serve meals full of variety that are appropriate to the need and the occasion, and that will enable everyone to practice with their bodies and minds with the least hinderance.”

. . .

Put your attention into the work, seeing just what the situation calls for. Do not be absent-minded in your activities, nor so absorbed in one aspect of a matter that you fail to see its other aspects. Do not overlook one drop in the ocean of virtue. Cultivate a spirit which strives to increase the source of goodness upon the mountain of goodness.

. . .

Those who have come before us have said, “The Way-Seeking Mind of a tenzo   is actualized by rolling up your sleeves.”

. . .

There is is an old saying that goes, “See the pot as your own head; see the water as your lifeblood.”

. . .

When you prepare food, never view the ingredients from some commonly held perspective, nor think about them only with your emotions. Maintain an attitude that tries to build great temples from ordinary greens, that expounds the buddhadharma through the most trivial activity. When making soup with ordinary greens, do not be carried away by feelings of dislike towards them or regard them lightly; neither jump for joy because you have been given ingredients of superior quality to make a special dish. By the same token that you do not indulge in a meal because of its particularly good taste, there is no reason to feel an aversion towards an ordinary one. Do not be negligent and careless just because materials seem plain, and hesitate to work more diligently with materials of superior quality. A person who is influenced by the quality of a thing, or who changes his speech or manner according to the appearance or position of the people he meets, is not a man working in the Way.

. . .

Handle even a single leaf of a green in such a way that it manifests the body of the Buddha. This in turn allows the Buddha to manifest through the leaf. This is a power which you cannot grasp with your rational mind. It operates freely, according to the situation, in a most natural way. At the same time, this power functions in our lives to clarify and settle activities and is beneficial to all living beings.


Mud and Water

The quote included in this entry, a discussion between Zen master Bassui and a lay student, recorded by another student, emphasizes that everyone can realize their own original nature without dogmatically following any teaching.

Bassui. Mud and Water. Translated by Arthur Braverman.

A layman asked: “Though Zen is said to be transmitted outside the scriptures and not through words, there are many more incidents of monks questioning teachers and inquiring of the Way than in the teaching sects. How can Zen be said to be outside the scriptures? And can reading the records of old masters and seeing how they dealt with koans ever be considered outside the realm of words? What is the true meaning of the statement, ‘Outside the scriptures, not through words’?”

The master called to him at once: “Koji” (a term for lay students).

He responded immediately: “Yes?”

The master said: “From which teaching did that yes come?”

The layman lowered his head and bowed.

The master then said: “When you decide to come here, you do so by yourself. When you want to ask a question, you do it by yourself. You do not depend on another nor do you use the teachings of the Buddha. This mind which directs the self is the essence of ‘the transmission outside the scriptures and not through words.” It is the pure Zen of the Tathagata. Clever worldly statements, the written word, reason and duty, description and understanding, cannot reach this Zen. One who looks penetratingly into his true self and does not get ensnared in words, nor stained by the teachings of the Buddhas and patriarchs, one who goes beyond the singular road which advances toward enlightenment and does not let cleverness become his downfall, will, for the first time, attain the Way.

“This does not necessarily mean that one who studies the scriptures and reads in the words of Buddhas and patriarchs is a monk of the teaching sects, and one who lacks knowledge of the scriptures is a monk of Zen –which is independent of the teaching and makes no use of words. This doctrine of nondependence on the scriptures is not a way that was first set up by the Buddhas and patriarchs. From the beginning everyone is complete and perfect. Buddhas and ordinary people alike are originally the Tathagata. The leg and arm movements of a new born baby are also the splendid work of its original nature. The bird flying, the hare running, the sun rising, the moon sinking, the wind blowing, the clouds moving, all things which shift and change are due to the spinning of the right dharma wheel of their own original nature. They depend neither on the teachings of others nor on the power of words. It is from the spinning of the right dharma wheel that I am now talking like this, and you are listening likewise through the splendor of your Buddha nature. The substance of this Buddha nature is like a great burning fire. When you realize this, gain and loss, right and wrong, will be destroyed, as will your own life functions. Life, death, and nirvana will be yesterday’s dream. The countless worlds will be like foam on the sea. The teachings of the Buddhas and patriarchs will be like a droop of snow over a burning furnace. Then you will not be restrained by dharma, nor will you rid yourself of dharma. You will be like a log thrown on a fire, your whole body ablaze, without being aware of the heat.”

Transmission of light

Keizan. Transmission of light.


Jayata said, “I do not seek the Way, yet I am not confused. I do not pay obeisance to Buddha, yet I do not disregard Buddha either. I do not sit for long periods, yet I am not lazy. I do not limit my meals, yet I do not eat indiscriminately either. I am not contented, yet I am not greedy. When the mind does not seek anything, this is called the Way.”

When Vasubandu heard this, he discovered uncontaminated knowledge.

[. . .]

In this story in particular we find the most essential secret of study of the Way. If you think there is buddhahood to attain and a Way to find, and if you fast and do ascetic exercises with that thought, or sit for periods of time without lying down, or do prostrations and recite scriptures, trying to build up merits for attaining the Way, all of this is raining flowers from a flowerless sky, making holes where there are no holes. Even if you pass eons in this way, you will never have a bit of liberation. Indeed, not craving anything is called the Way, so even if it is contentment you want, this is still based on greed.

If you must indulge in sitting for a long time, this is the error of attachment to the body. If you would eat only once a day, this is still seeing food. And if you would do prostrations and recite scriptures, this is making flowers in the eyes. Therefore every one of these practices is based on illusion; it is not your original self.

[. . .]

What further buddhahood to attain do you see? What sentient beings do you see who can be deluded? There is no one who is deluded, no doctrine to realize. For this reason, though we speak of overturning delusion to attain enlightenment, or of transforming ordinary people into sages, all this is talk for people who are not yet enlightened. What ordinariness is there to transform? What delusion is there to awaken from? This is why Zen master Jiashan said, “Clearly there is no phenomenon of enlightenment; the doctrine of enlightenment deludes people. Stretch out your legs and sleep –there is no falsehood and no reality.” The essence of the Way is truly like this.

[. . .]

Do not hope for enlightenment on another day far in the future. Just look within your own heart, examining carefully –do not seek from another. If you can do this, hundreds of thousands of teachings and boundless buddha works all flow from here, covering the heavens and the earth. Just don’t seek the Way –all you need to do is maintain your true self.

If you do not know of the existence of your true self even though it has always been with you, you are like someone holding something in his hands while at the same time looking for that very thing. What a mistake this is! This is just forgetting one’s true self.

Now as we look at the matter closely, the sublime path of the Buddhas and the pure tradition of the Zen masters too are in this one thing alone. You should not doubt this. When you reach this stage you will not doubt what the Zen masters say.

In the forgoing story it says that when Vasubandu heard this he realized uncontaminated knowledge. If you want to realize uncontaminated knowledge, you should maintain your true self, you should know that from birth to death it is just this. There is not a single mote of dust to reject, not a single doctrine to grasp. And don’t particularly think of realizing uncontaminated knowledge either.

As usual I have a humble saying to explain this story:

The wind traverses the vast sky,

clouds emerge from the mountains;

feelings of enlightenment and things of the world

are of no concern at all.

A cat’s perspective on property.

Natsume Soseki. I am a cat.

In the first place it is my opinion that sky was made to shelter all creation, and that the earth was made so that all things created able to stand might have something to stand on. Even those human beings who love argument for the arguing’s sake could surely not deny the fact. Next we may ask to what extent did human effort contribute to the creation of heaven and earth; and the answer is that it contributed nothing. What right, then, do human beings hold to decide that things not of their own creation nevertheless belong to them? Of course the absence of right need not prevent such creatures from making that decision, but surely there can be no possible justification for them prohibiting others from innocent passage in and out of so-called human property. If it be accepted that Mr. So-and-so may set up stakes, fence off sections of this boundless earth and register that area as his own, what is to prevent such persons from roping off the blue sky, from staking claims on heaven, an enclosure of the air? If natural law permitted proprietal parceling of the land and its sale and purchase for so much a square foot, then it would also permit partition of the air we breathe at so much a cubic unit and its three-dimensional sale. If, however, it is not proper to trade in sky, if enclosure of the empyrean is not regarded as just in natural law, then surely it must follow that all land-ownership is unnatural and irrational. That, in fact, is my conviction: therefore I enter wherever I like. Naturally I do not go anywhere I do not want to go: but, provided they are in the direction I fancy, all places are alike to me. I slope along as it suits me, and feel no inhibition about entering the properties of people like the Goldfields if I happen to want to. However, the sad fact is that, being no more than a cat, I cannot match mankind in the crude matter of simple physical strength. In the real world the saying that “Might is right” has very real force; so much so that no matter how sound my arguments may be, the logic of cats will not command respect. (Page 14-16 of 2nd book)

The Gateless Gate.

Mumon. The Gateless Gate. Transcribed by Nyogen Senzakai and Paul Reps.

1. Joshu’s Dog

A monk had asked Joshu, a Chinese Zen master: “Has a dog Buddha-nature or not?”

Joshu answered: “Mu” [Mu is a negative symbol in Chinese, meaning ‘No thing’ or ‘Nay’.]

Mumon’s comment: To realize Zen one has to pass through the barrier of the patriarchs. Enlightenment always comes after the road of thinking is blocked. If you do not pass the barrier of the patriarchs or if your thinking road is not blocked; whatever you think, whatever you do, is like a tangling ghost. You may ask: What is a barrier of a patriarch? This one word, Mu, is it.

This is the barrier of Zen. If you pass through it you will see Joshu face to face. Then you can work hand and hand with the whole line of patriarchs. Is this not a pleasant thing to do?

If you want to pass the barrier, you must work through every bone of your body, though every pore of your skin, filled with this question: What is Mu? and carry it day and night. Do not believe it is the common negative symbol meaning nothing. It is not nothingness, the opposite of existence. If you really want to pass this barrier, you should feel like drinking a hot iron ball that you can neither swallow nor spit out.

Then your previous lesser knowledge disappears. As a fruit ripening in season, your subjectivity and objectivity naturally become one. It is like a dumb man who has had a dream. He knows it but cannot tell it.

When he enters this condition his ego shell is crushed and he can shake heaven and move the earth. He is like a great warrior with a sharp sword. If a Buddha stands in his way, he will cut him down; if a patriarch offers him any obstacle, he will kill him; and he will be free in his way of birth and death. He can enter any world as if it were his own playground. I will tell you how to do this with this koan:

Just concentrate your whole energy into this Mu, and do not allow any discontinuation. When you enter this Mu and there is no discontinuation your attainment will be as a candle burning and illuminating the whole universe.

Has a dog Buddha-nature?

This is the most serious question of all,

If you say yes or no,

You lose your own Buddha-nature.


7. Joshu washes the bowl.

A monk told Joshu: “I have just entered the monastery. Please teach me.”

Joshu said: “have you eaten your rice porridge?”

The monk replied: “I have eaten.”

Joshu said: “Then you had better wash your bowl.”

At that moment the monk was enlightened.

Mumon’s comment: Joshu is the man who opens his mouth and shows his heart. I doubt if this monk really saw Joshu’s heart. I hope he did not mistake the bell for the pitcher.

It is too clear and so it is hard to see.

A dunce once searched for a fire with a lighted latern.

Had he known what fire was,

He could have cooked his rice much sooner.


19. Everyday life is the path.

Joshu asked Nansen: “What is the path?”

Nansen said: “Everyday life is the path.”

Joshu asked: “Can it be studied?”

Nansen said: “If you try to study, you will be far from it.”

Joshu asked: “If I do not study, how can I know it is the path?”

Nansen said: “The path does not belong to the perception world, neither does it belong to the non-perception world. Cognition is a delusion and non-cognition is senseless . If you want to reach the true path beyond doubt, place yourself in the same freedom as sky. You name it neither good nor not-good.”

At these words Joshu was enlightened.

Mumon’s comment: Nansen could melt Joshu’s frozen doubts at once when Joshu asked his questions. I doubt though if Joshu reached the point Nansen did. He needed thirty more years of study.

In spring, hundreds of flowers, in autumn, a harvest moon;

In summer, a refreshing breeze, in winter, snow will accompany you.

If useless things do not hang in your mind,

Any season is a good season for you.


38. An oak tree in the garden.

A monk asked Joshu why Bodhidharma came to China.

Joshu said: “An oak tree in the garden.”

Mumon’s comment: If one sees Joshu’s answer clearly, there is no Shakyamuni Buddha before him and no future Buddha after him.
Words cannot describe everything.

The heart’s message cannot be delivered in words.

If one receives word literally, he will be lost.

If one tries to explain with words, he will not attain enlightenment in this life.


40. Tipping over a water vase.

Hyakujo wished to send a monk to open a new monastery. He told his pupils tat whoever answered a question most ably would be appointed. Placing a water vase on the ground, he asked: “Who can say what this is without calling its name?”

The chief monk said: “no one can call it a wooden shoe.”

Isan, the cooking monk, tipped over the vase with his foot and went out.

Hyakujo smiled and said: “The chief monk loses.” And Isan become master of the new monastery.

Mumon’s comment: Isan was brave enough, but he could not escape Hyakujo’s trick. Afterall, he gave up a light job and took a heavy one. Why, can’t you see, he took off his comfortable hat and placed himself in iron stocks.

Giving up cooking utensils,

Defeating the chatterbox,

Though his teacher sets a barrier for him

His feet will tip over everything, even the Buddha.


49. Amban’s Addition.

Amban, a layman Zen student, said: “Mumon has just published forty-eight koans and called the book Gateless Gate. He criticizes the old patriarchs’ words and actions. I think he is very mischievous. He is like an old doughnut seller trying to catch a passerby to force doughnuts down his mouth. The customer can neither swallow nor spit out the doughnuts, and this causes suffering. Mumon has annoyed everyone enough, so I think I shall add one more as a bargain. I wonder if he himself can eat this bargain. If he can, and digest it well, it will be fine, but if not, we will have to put it back in the frying pan with his forty-eight also and cook them again. Mumon, you eat first, before someone else does:

“Buddha, according to a sutra, once said: ‘Stop, stop. Do not speak. The ultimate truth is not even to think.'”

Amban’s comment: Where did that so-called teaching come from? How is it that one could not even think it? Suppose someone spoke about it then what became of it? Buddha himself was a great chatterbox and in the sutra spoke contrarily. Because of this, persons like Mumon appear afterwards in China and make useless doughnuts, annoying people. What shall we do after all? I will show you.

Then Amban put his palms together, folded his hands, and said: “Stop, stop. Do not speak. The ultimate truth is nit even to think. And now I will make a little circle on the sutra with my finger and add that five thousand other sutras and Vimalakirti’s gateless gate all are here!

If anyone tells you fire is light,

Pay no attention.

When two thieves meet they need no introduction:

They recognize each other without question.

Natsume Soseki on the gospel of living artistically.

Natsume Soseki. The Three cornered world.

The raindrops, which had before been like chaff flying in the wind, were now getting larger and longer, and I was able to see each separate shaft clearly. My haori of course was saturated, and the rainwater, which had soaked right through to my underclothes, had become tepid with the heat of my body. I felt really wretched, and so pulling my hat resolutely down over my eye, I set off at a brisk pace.

When I think of it as happening to someone else, it seems that the idea of me soaked to the skin, surrounded by countless driving streaks of silver, and moving through a vast grey expanse, would make an admirable poem. Only when I completely forget my material existence, and view myself from a purely objective standpoint, can I, as a figure in a painting, blend into the beautiful harmony of my natural surroundings. The moment, however, I feel annoyed because of the rain, or miserable because my legs are weary with walking, then I have already ceased to be a character in a poem, or a figure in a painting, and I revert to the uncomprehending, insensitive man in the street I was before. I am then even blind to the elegance of the fleeting clouds; unable even to feel any bond of sympathy with a falling petal or the cry of a bird, much less appreciate the great beauty in the image of myself, completely alone, walking through the mountains in spring.

. . .

Life is an inescapable rat-race in which you are constantly being spurred on by materialistic values to wrangle and squabble with your neighbor. For us who live in this world with its East and West, and who have to walk the tight-rope of advantage and disadvantage, love which is free of self-interest is an enemy. And yet, visible wealth is as worthless as dust, and fame which has been avidly grasped is, it seems to me, like stolen honey which looked sweet while in the making, but in which the cunning bee has left his sting. The so-called pleasures in life derive from material attachments, and thus inevitably contain the seeds of pain. The poet and the artist, however, come to know the absolute purity by concerning themselves only with those things which constitute the innermost essence of the world of relativity. They dine on summer haze, and drink the evening dew. They discuss purple, and weigh the merits of crimson, and when death comes they have no regrets. For them, pleasure does not lie in becoming attached to things, but in becoming part of them by a process of assimilation. And when at last they succeed in this, they find there is no room for their ego. Thus, having risen out of materialism, they are free to devote themselves to the real essentials of life, and thereby obtain boundless satisfaction. [. . .] My sole purpose has been to point out the gospel contained in this state of affairs, and to invite all those who so desire to take advantage of it. Let me be more precise: the road which leads to the realm of poetry and art is open to everybody without exception.

Zen poems.

Pen-ming (early 12th century Chinese nun). Zen Sourcebook.

Don’t you know that afflictions are nothing more than wisdom,
But to cling to them is nothing more than foolishness?
As they rise and melt away again, you must remember this:
The sparrow hawk flies through Silla without anyone noticing!

Don’t you know that afflictions are nothing more than wisdom
And that the purest of blossoms emerges from the mire?
If someone were to come and ask me what I do:
After eating my gruel and rice, I wash my bowl.
Don’t worry about a thing!

Don’t worry about a thing!
You may play all day like a silly child in the sand by the sea,
But you must always realize the truth of your original face!
When you suffer the blows delivered by the patriarch’s staff,
If you can’t say anything, you will perish by the staff,
If you can say something, you will perish by the staff.
In the end, what will you do
If you are forbidden to travel by night but must arrive by dawn?

Musi Soseki. (1275-1351) Toki no-ge (Satori poem) Zen Sourcebook.
Year after year
I dug in the earth
looking for the blue of heaven
only to feel
the pile of dirt
choking me
until once in the dead of night
I tripped on a broken brick and kicked it into the air
and saw that without a thought
I had smashed the bones
of the empty sky.
Hsiang-Kang (1597-1654) Zen Sourcebook.
How very elegant it is, with not even a single leak or hole!
When thirsty I drink; when hungry I eat, leaving not a crumb.
I understand that once washed, nothing more need be done,
Yet how many lost souls insist on attaching a handle to it!
Understand the ordinary mind, and realize one is naturally complete,
Ask urgently who you were before your father and mother were born.
When you have seen through the method that underlies them all,
The mountain blossoms and flowing streams will rejoice with you.