Monday, November 07, 2011

One day Dogen instructed,
There is an old saying, “Reflect three times before speaking.” This means that prior to saying or doing something, you should reflect on it three times. This ancient Confucianist wanted to say that after reflecting three times, if it is considered to be good each time, you should say or do it. When wise people in China say to reflect on things three times, they mean many times. Pondering before speaking, considering before acting; if it is good each time you think about the matter, you should speak or do it. 
Zen monks also must be like this.  Since there might be something wrong in what you think and what you say without knowing it, first reflect on whether it is in accordance with the Buddha-Way or not, and ponder over whether it is beneficial to yourself and others. If it is good, do it or say it. Practitioners, if you hold onto this attitude, you will never go against the will of the Buddha your entire lifetime. 
When I first entered Kennin-ji, all the monks in the sangha protected their body, mouth, and mind from evil deeds, according to their capability, and firmly resolved not to say or do anything that was bad for the Buddha-Way or harmful to others. After Abbot Eisai passed away, while the influence of his virtue remained, the monks were like this. These days, there is no one who maintains such an attitude. 
Students today, you must know this, if something is definitely beneficial to yourself and others, as well as to the Buddha-Way, you must forget your own egotistical self and say or do it. You should neither say nor do anything meaningless. When elder monks are talking or doing something, younger ones should not interrupt them. This is a regulation set down by the Buddha. Consider this well (Shobogenzo Zuimonki, Book 4, Chapter 10).
Kennin-ji Temple was founded by Myoan Eisai (1141—1215).  Originally a Tendai priest, Eisai had visited China twice. On his second visit, he stayed for five years and studied Rinzai Zen, later introducing Rinzai to Japan.  Dogen went to Kennin-ji when he was 18 years old and practiced Rinzai for seven years under Myozen, one of Eisai’s disciples, before leaving for China himself.  After he came back from China, he stayed at Kennin-ji again for a few years.  Dogen respected Eisai very much and in Zuimonki praised his deeds, although there is apparently some controversy among scholars as to whether Dogen actually met him or not.

In Book 1, Chapter 17 of Zuimonki, Dogen points out that "while Eisai, the Abbot of Kennin-ji Monastery, was alive, one never heard lewd or idle talk among the monks.  Even after his death, while a few of his disciples were still at the monastery, people did not speak of such things.  Lately, in the last seven or eight years, the young monks sometimes indulge themselves in such talk. This is really shameful."

In Book 3, Chapter 4, Dogen notes, "From the time I first entered Kennin-ji Monastery, over a period of seven or eight years I saw many changes gradually taking place. They had built storerooms in each temple building, each person having his own utensils. Many became fond of fine clothing, stored up personal possessions, and indulged in idle talk. No one cared about the forms of greeting one another nor about prostrating before the Buddha. Looking at these things, I can imagine what other places must be like."

Even in his own temple of Kosho-ji, Dogen noted, "There is an aged nun working for this temple. It seems that she is now ashamed of her humble situation, so she tends to talk to others about how she used to be a lady of the upper class. Even if people believe her, there is not any merit in it. It is entirely meaningless" (Book 4, Chapter 9).

The old Confucian saying, “Reflect three times before speaking” and speaking only if it is considered to be good each time, reminds me of Socrates' Triple Filter Test - namely, "Is it true?  Is it good? Is it necessary?"  Socrates (469 - 399 BC) was born soon after the life of Confucius (551- 479 BC).  It is not known if Confucian teachings had ever reached ancient Athens, and there are those (not including your humble blogger) who contend that Socrates was a reincarnation of Confucius, who in turn might himself have been a reincarnation of Lao Tse.

One day an acquaintance said to Socrates, “Do you know what I just heard about your friend?” 

“Hold on a minute,” Socrates replied. “Before telling me anything about my friend, it might be a good idea to take a moment and filter what you’re about to say.  I call this the Triple Filter Test. The first filter is Truth.  Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to tell me is true?” 

“No,” the man said. “Actually I just heard about it and…” 

“All right,” said Socrates. “So you don’t really know if it’s true or not. Now let’s try the second filter, the filter of Goodness. Is what you’re about to tell me about my friend something good?” 

“No, on the contrary…” 

“So,” Socrates continued, “you want to tell me something bad about him, but you’re not certain it’s true. There’s one filter left, the filter of Usefulness. Is what you want to tell me about my friend going to be useful to me?” 

“No, not really…” 

“Well,” concluded Socrates, “if what you want to tell me is neither true nor good nor even useful, why tell it to me at all?”

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