‘Together buddhas extend their hands; ancestors transmit to each other. Tell me, what do they transmit, and what do they give? Everyone, if you know the place to settle down, you will see all the buddhas of the three times and all generations of ancestral teachers, holding hands and pulling, without affirming advancement. If you hesitate in deliberation, this mountain monk with be in your nostrils. At that very time, how is it?

After a pause Dogen said: Although the colors of Eihei mountain are marvelous, in front of us is the highest peak.’ (Extensive Record, 290)

So, do you know the place to settle down, or are you hesitating in deliberation?

Uchiyama Roshi

‘The idea of transforming delusion to attain enlightenment is easy to understand in terms of our ordinary way of thinking, yet it is not in accord with the buddha-dharma. In Buddhism, the dichotomy of delusion and enlightenment is transcended from the very beginning. We have to practice and actualize right now, right here in the buddha-dharma (reality of life) that transcends both delusion and enlightenment. This is Great Enlightenment (daigo).
Therefore, from the first, we are neither deluded not enlightened. Reality itself exists before we divide and name delusion and enlightenment. We are practicing this reality right here and right now. This is called attaining or actualizing enlightenment (kaigo). We practice with enlightenment as our base. Practice and enlightenment are simply one (shusho ichinyo).’ (The Wholehearted Way)

I remember writing down that last Japanese phrase when I was taking notes on my first reading of this book, more than a dozen years ago. I was not sure what it meant, and probably did not feel confident about the difference in the other terms either. Nowadays I do know that this is the key point of the way Dogen talks about practice and handed it down to us.


‘What is called the mind of the Way is not to abandon or scatter about the great Way of the buddha ancestors, but deeply to protect and esteem their great Way. Therefore having abandoned fame and gain and departed your homeland, consider gold as excrement and honor as spittle, and without obscuring the truth or obeying falsehoods, maintain the regulations of right and wrong and entrust everything to the guidelines for conduct. After all, not to sell cheaply or debase the worth of the ordinary tea and rice of the buddha ancestors’ house is exactly the mind of the Way.
Furthermore, reflecting that inhalation does not wait for exhalation also is the mind of the Way and is diligence. Contemplating the ancients enables the eye of the ancestors’ essence to observe intently and enables the ear of both past and present to listen vigilantly, so that we accept our bodies as hollowed out caverns of the whole empty sky, and just sit, piercing through all the skulls under heaven, opening wide our fists and staying with our own nostrils. This is carrying the clear, transparent sky to dye the white clouds and conveying the waters of autumn to wash the bright moon, and is the fulfillment of the practice of contemplating the ancients. If such an assembly has seven or eight monks it can be a great monastery. This is like being able to see all the buddhas in the ten directions when you see the single Buddha Shakyamuni. If the assembly is not like this, even with a million monks it is not a genuine monastery, and is not an assembly of the buddha way.’ (Eihei Shingi)

For some reason I had an urge to reread the Bendoho section of Dogen’s Pure Standards, and it plunged me back into the world of monastic life – there are distinct echoes of how he set out the expected conduct for his young monks at Eiheiji eight hundred years ago in the way we did things at Tassajara, even if some of the practices – like sleeping in the zendo, are not observed. I continued through to the section on standards for the temple administrators. Obviously, I have read and re-read the section for the tenzo many times, as it reworks the message of the Tenzokyokun, and I also remember referring to the sections for the director, from which this quote is taken, when I started that job. There are of course ways that I miss temple life, but after all, the ordinary tea and rice of the buddha ancestors’ house is not the exclusive property of the monastery.


‘This mountain monk has not lectured for the sake of the assembly for a long time. Why is this? Every moment the Buddha hall, the monks’ hall, the valley streams, and the pine and bamboo endlessly speak on my behalf, fully for the sake of all people. Have you all heard it or not? If you say you heard it, what did you hear? If you say that you have not heard it, you do not keep the five precepts.’ (Extensive Record, discourse 49)


‘In this floating life, fame and profit exist only for a moment. Why should we wait long kalpas for the causes and conditions for nirvana? Therefore sages who have attained the way and verified the result [of practice] quickly abandon fame for the mountains and wild lands. Wise ones who have reached the other shore and entered the [ultimate] rank rapidly take themselves to forests and streams. Doesn’t this seem better for fully grasping the matter of mind and objects? Because of this, they erase the traces of the way within their lifetimes. The true person beyond study does not postpone [abandonment of worldly pursuits].
However, I do not yearn for mountains and forests, and do not depart from the neighborhoods of people. Lotus flowers blossom within the red furnace; above the blue sky there is a white elm. There are actually no clouds in the sky and no mist in the mountain, so the moon advancing towards suchness is high and clear. There may be bamboo fences and flowery hedges, but the wind that follows conditions does not obstruct the echoes [of the Dharma]. Why should I necessarily stay in lofty halls or great temples, and be bound up in the snares and nets of right and wrong? It is better to play within the streets and marketplaces, and go beyond the threshold of names and forms. Who would cherish this stinking skin-bag and consider it precious? Who would consider it desirable to reject these trivial, complicated dwellings?’ (Extensive Record, vol 8, Hogo 1)

Now, of course Dogen was living at Eiheiji when he articulated this, and spent most of his life extolling the superiority of monastic practice, but perhaps he was tweaking a student’s nose to stop any sense of clinging.

Suzuki Roshi

‘In Zen sometimes we say that each one of us is steep like a cliff. No one can scale us. We are completely independent. But when you hear me say so, you should understand the other side too – that we are endlessly interrelated. If you only understand one side of the truth, you can’t hear what I am saying. If you don’t understand Zen words, you don’t understand Zen, you are not yet a Zen student. Zen words are different from usual words. Like a double-edged sword, they cut both ways. You may thin I am only cutting forward, but no, actually I am also cutting backward. Watch out for my stick. Do you understand? Sometimes I scold a disciple – “No!” The other students may thing, “Oh, he has been scolded,” but it is not actually so. Because I cannot scold the one over there, I have to scold the one who is near me. But most people think “Oh, that poor guy is being scolded.” If you think like that you are not a Zen student. If someone is scolded you should listen; you should be alert enough to know who is being scolded. That is how we train.’ (Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness)

This passage was invoked quite often when I trained at Zen Center, even if I didn’t see it played out that many times by teachers (unless I was just being too dumb to notice). The lesson is a valid one; since Suzuki Roshi is discussing the Harmony of Difference and Equality in his talk, lines from later in the poem serve as a reminder: ‘Hearing the words, understand the meaning,’ or as Dogen says so often, ‘investigate further.’