Monday, September 07, 2009

Two Stories

Two stories from Shobogenzo Zuimonki, Book 2, Chapter 2:
Once, while the late Sojo (Archbishop) Eisai was at Kenninji, a poor man came and said, "My family is so destitute that we have had nothing to eat for several days. My wife and children are about to die of starvation. Please have compassion on us."

At the time, there was no clothing, food, or other possessions in the temple. Although Eisai contemplated what to do, he was at a loss. There was a little bit of thin copper allocated for making the halo for the Buddha which was under construction. The abbot took it and broke it apart, rolled it up, and gave it to the poor man, telling him to exchange it for food to relieve his family’s hunger.

The man was very delighted and left.

Eisai’s disciples, however, reproached him [Eisai] saying, "That is nothing other than the halo for the statue of the Buddha. You gave it away to the layman. Is it not a sin to use the Buddha’s property for personal use?"

The Sojo replied, "Yes, it is. Yet think of the Buddha’s will. The Buddha cut off his flesh and limbs and offered them to living beings. Even if we gave the whole body of the Buddha to people who are actually about to die of starvation, such an action would certainly be in accordance with the Buddha’s will."

He went on, "Even if I fall into hell because of this sin, I have just saved living beings from starvation."

* * * *

Once, some monks in Eisai’s assembly said, “The buildings of Kenninji are located very close to the river. Surely the time will come when they will be destroyed by a flood.”

The Sojo replied, “We should not worry about the inevitable destruction of this building in the future. Even at the Jetavana Monastery in India, only the cornerstones remain. However, the merit of having founded a monastery is never lost. Also, the virtue of practicing the Way right now, even only for one year or half a year, must be enormous.”
In both of these stories, Dogen is pointing to the importance of our actual practice, how we live our life, over strict compliance with the Precepts, be they using the Buddha's property for personal use or failing to protect the sangha's assets. While Dogen advised his followers elsewhere that the precepts should be followed, they are not the way to true awakening. He advocated a Middle Way between strict adherence and abandonment of the Precepts

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