Dogen

‘All day and all night, things come to mind and the mind attends to them; at one with them all, diligently carry on the Way.’ (Tenzokyokun)

I have always been charmed by this phrase, from early in Dogen’s Instructions to the Cook, and it comes to mind often. I have a fond memory from Tassajara, when one of the garden crew cited it to me with a smile, as she fixed an irrigation pipe in the courtyard one morning, outside of regular work hours; she had realised it needed attending to, and she was doing it.

There is a deceptive simplicity to the phrase. Within the context of the fascicle, it illustrates the virtue of taking care of everything in its own time, and is surrounded by explanations of when and how to do today’s work, and work for tomorrow.

I remember a former tenzo at City Center jokingly inquiring when the tenzo is ever supposed to sleep, since Dogen stipulates ‘before midnight’  and ‘after midnight,’ but I see that he is just making a distinction between the things that have to be done first, and the things that can be done when those are done.

In my years in Zen Center kitchens, I got very familiar with the Tenzokyokun, as we chanted sections of it each morning as part of the kitchen service.  As tenzo myself, a dozen years ago now, I tried to find a way to comment on each passage as it came round, time and again; I have used this deep familiarity to offer classes several times on its themes.

These days I see another angle to the phrase, albeit one that is heavily supported by the central premise of the Tenzokyokun – that work is practice just as much as sitting or studying sutras are. We practise not to achieve calm but alignment with circumstances, whatever they are. We are not dismissing thoughts, but letting them arise and fall and dealing with what they present. Our mind is never empty, but we allow our ‘mirror wisdom’ (a phrase that has been percolating for me recently) to reflect what is there, and then move on. This is carrying on the Way.

3 thoughts on “Dogen

  1. This reminds me a lot of the book “Sweeping Changes” by Gary Thorp, and the short essays in some of Edward Epse Brown’s cookbooks. “…work is practice just as much as sitting or studying sutras are. We practice not to achieve calm but alignment with circumstances, whatever they are. ” It’s a good teaching for this morning (and every morning).

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