The deeds of even a benevolent ruler disappear quickly like foam on water or the windblown flame of a candle. Rather than be as such a ruler, it would be of more value to the buddhadharma for you to prepare meals and offer them to the Three Treasures.

Roshin is the mind or attitude of a parent. In the same way that a parent cares for an only child, keep the Three Treasures in your mind. A parent, irrespective of poverty or difficult circumstances, loves and raises a child with care. How deep is love like this? Only a parent can understand it. A parent protects the children from the cold and shades them from the hot sun with no concern for his or her own personal welfare. Only a person in whom this mind has arisen can understand it, and only one in whom this attitude has become second nature can fully realize it. This is the ultimate in being a parent. In this same manner, when you handle water, rice, or anything else, you must have the affectionate and caring concern of a parent raising a child.

Shakyamuni took twenty years off his life expectancy to care for us in later generations. What is the significance of this? It was simply a demonstration of Parental Mind. The Tathagata did not do this in expectation of some reward or fame. He did it unconditionally, without thought of profit or gain.

Magnanimous Mind is like a mountain, stable and impartial. Exemplifying the ocean, it is tolerant and views everything from the broadest perspective. Having a Magnanimous Mind means being without prejudice and refusing to take sides. When carrying something that weighs an ounce, do not think of it as light, and likewise, when you have to carry fifty pounds, do not think of it as heavy. Do not get carried away by the sounds of spring, nor become heavy-hearted upon seeing the colors of fall. View the changes of the seasons as a whole, and weigh the relativeness of light and heavy from a broad perspective. It is then that you should write, understand, and study the character for magnanimous.

 

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If the tenzo of Jiashan had not known the deeper implications of magnanimity, he never would have been able to help Fu Shangzuo of Daiyuan on his way toward actually practicing the dharma through his sudden burst of laughter during one of Daiyuan’s lectures. If Guishan had not been able to write the character for magnanimous, he would undoubtedly not have demonstrated his deep understanding before his master by picking up a piece of dead firewood and blowing on it three times before returning it to the master. Nor would Dongshan, if he had not thoroughly understood magnanimity, have responded to the question of what the Buddha is by his now famous act of picking up three pounds of sesame.

Be very clear about this. All the great teachers down through the ages have learned the meaning of magnanimity not merely from writing the character for it, but through the various events and circumstances of their lives. Even now we can clearly hear their voices expounding the most fundamental truths and the ramifications of those truths for our lives. They were men whose eyes were opened to what is most vital in a life of practice, enabling us to have contact with the buddha [the Reality of life.] Their very lives manifested the sole purpose of the true Self. Whether you are the head of a temple, a senior monk or other officer, or simply an ordinary monk, do not forget the attitude behind living out your life with joy, having the deep concern of a parent, and carrying out all your activities with magnanimity.

Written by Dogen in the spring of 1237 at Kosho-ji for followers of the Way in succeeding generations


Eihei Dogen (1200-1253) was the founder of the Japanese Soto School of Zen and the author of the Shobogenzo, an important collection of dharma essays on various aspects of Zen practice and realization.

Excerpted from “Instructions for the Zen Cook” from From the Zen Kitchen to Enlightenment by Eihei Dogen, translated with commentary by Kosho Uchiyama, copyright © 1994 by Weatherhill. Reprinted by permission of Shambhala Publications.