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Friday, January 17, 2003


Dogen tells the story of Great Master Zhenji, who met with a newly arrived monk.
"Have you been here before?"

The monk said, "Yes, I have been here."

The master said, "Have some tea.."

Again, he asked another monk, "Have you been here before?"

The monk said, "No, I haven't been here."

The master said, "Have some tea."

The temple director then asked the master, "Why do you say, 'Have some tea,' to someone who has been here and 'Have some tea,' to someone who has not?"

The master said, "Director." When the director responded, the master said, "Have some tea."

Dogen concludes that "the everyday activity of buddha ancestors is nothing but having rice and tea."

Here in the West, when we, or at any rate some of us, read this sort of thing, we tend to get very excited by it, and to visualize becoming Buddhas ourselves by trying out this kind of everydayness -- sounds easier than sitting with our legs painfully crossed. But, of course, there's a trick to it, as one might suspect from reading of the long years Dogen put in, sitting crosslegged, before he felt himself to be, and was certified by his own master as, qualified to say something on the subject.

On the one hand, it's very hard to come to one-pointedness of mind (everyone says so), and on the other, nothing could be easier (everyone says that too -- as one master commented, "here I've been all these years selling water right by the river."). Dogen's genius, though, is that he doesn't try to mystify us by embracing either the difficulties and complexities of practice nor the easiness and simplicity of practice. He demystifies, by telling us to relax and simply do what's next. If you want to be a Zen monk, shave your head and wear a robe; that's a start, nothing to be ashamed of. Little steps. Come, he says, patting the tatami and the seat cushion. Sit.


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