‘If you talk about a person’s cleverness or stupidity, it shows that you have yet to arouse the determination to study Buddhism. When an ordinary person falls off a horse, many things rush to their mind even before they hit the ground. In any way, when any great threat to life and limb occurs, everybody devotes their full thought and knowledge in an effort to escape from harm. At such times, nobody, whether they be clever or stupid, thinks any different from anybody else.
Therefore, if you can spur and arouse your determination with the thought that you might die tonight or tomorrow, or that at any time you might meet with some terrible misfortune, you can expect to gain enlightenment. A dull person, if they earnestly give rise to the determination, will gain enlightenment faster than someone who is merely intelligent and eloquent. During the Buddha’s lifetime, Ksudrapanthaka had trouble reading even a single line of verse, yet since he sought the Way intently, he gained enlightenment during one period of retreat. You are alive only right now. Anyone can gain enlightenment if they study Buddhism earnestly, vowing that they must awaken before death cuts off their fleeting life. ‘ (Shobogenzo Zuimonki)
It was reading Zen Seeds that brought my attention to the analogy of someone falling of a horse. Shundo Aoyama comments, ‘in that brief moment before they hit the ground, all their ability and learning is useless, and there is no time to think, no time for daydreams or self-reproach.’
While I normally render quotes intact, even when they go against my preferences for English spelling, in this case I changed from the default ‘he’ to a neutral ‘they’, as the passage seemed particularly clunky in the original. I also wondered about the ‘gain enlightenment’: having just read Realizing Genjokoan, where Shohaku maintains that Dogen did not talk about enlightenment – at least in the way that Rinzai teachers did – it seemed out of place, but then these talks were very early in his teaching career, and it also points to the essential limitations of translation.