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True Zen Teachings

Shukke Kudoku

by Taisen Deshimaru Roshi. January 24, 1981

Starting today, I begin the translation and commentary of "Shukke Kudoku" by Master Dogen.

Shukke literally means someone who has left his home, his family and renounced the world. Kudoku means merit. In the Shobogenzo, you also find "Kesa Kudoku" which is about the merits which appear when you wear the kesa.

"Shukke Kudoku" is a chapter about the merits of shukke. It is a little long, but rather simple, without much commentary. Dogen first cites Nagarjuna who comments on the shastra of the Maka Hannya Haramita, then he gives his opinion.

I have always said that the most important thing is to shave the head and become a monk. Some let their hair grow in the winter and shave it in summer. These are seasonal monks, like vegetables. Apples fall in autumn and grow in summer - this is the opposite. But it is difficult to shave the head if we have work that requires us to harmonize with society and makes it impossible to retreat into the mountain. Besides, if you take refuge in the mountain you end up sick. Most of those who flee society do so because they are incapable of harmonizing with it. They go to Nepal and when they return to Paris, it is even more difficult. In the end they become crazy and must go to an asylum.

How do we resolve this problem? That is the subject of this chapter of the Shobogenzo.

What is the difference between the bodhisattva ordination and the monk's? What difficulties are met by one who seeks the Way from within his family? Mahayana allows it, but it is very difficult. Even more so than receiving the monk's ordination.

Nowadays, those who receive the monk's ordination are not true shukke. Ordination day they do sampai towards their family, make the vow to separate from them, and right after the ceremony, they kiss - C'est la vie. I said yesterday that in Japan most monks live with their family in the temple which becomes their home. The monks who go to the dojo go home after zazen, like businessmen. Only I, after the death of Kodo Sawaki, really left my family. I came to Paris, to France, to Europe fourteen years ago. I am exactly a shukke.

Dogen described the merits of zazen in "Bendowa", the first volume of the Shobogenzo. Next, he described the merits of shukke then those of the kesa.

The merits of zazen are infinite. Zazen itself is satori. Jacques Brosse wrote a very good introduction to his book for the Japanese, Satori. He said, "Zazen itself is satori, it is a holy posture, the highest posture. Zazen can save us from the crisis of modern civilization. Infinite merits result from it, mushotoku."

Kodo Sawaki always said, "The greatest happiness consists of shaving the head, receiving the monk's ordination, wearing the kesa and practicing zazen. This is the greatest reason for our life on earth, the ultimate stage."

This is the essence of the Shobogenzo. Dogen concentrated on zazen, shukke and kesa. The transmission received from Kodo Sawaki concerns these three elements. These are the very essence of the Buddhism transmitted from patriarch to patriarch. It is difficult to become a true monk and to leave your family. But it is easier than seeking the Way as a shukke while living with your family. Both are possible.

Still, those who receive ordination, then let their hair grow and get married fall into difficulties. But still later, the merits of ordination reappear. Nagarjuna certified that it is preferable to be a seasonal monk than a layman. It is still better to be a authentic shukke without family.

Do not criticize the shaved monk, do not mock him. This would be the worst of things, leading to your fall into hell. On the other hand, those who respect shaved and ordained monks can obtain the true Way. It is the same for those who respect the kesa. Dogen is very simple: just shave the head, wear the kesa and do zazen.

But shaving is difficult, this means leaving your family. Your family will definitely be unhappy. Some married monks shave their head, and the wife does too. It is as if they entered their coffin together. If the wife dies, the husband should die also. Merits result from it. This is the case with R. and P. But it would be better to live alone, more merits follow.

Why is it easier to obtain the Way while being shukke? If you practice the Way (that's to say if you practice zazen) in a family, the mind gets complicated, many bonnos appear. Doing zazen in a dojo, bonnos do not appear, you become pure. When people do zazen in this dojo, they are pure. In Japan, I wanted to do zazen in my apartment, but my wife would be sleeping, so it was very difficult. In Paris, even if I am asleep, the inkin comes to find me, I hear the gong, my disciples are waiting for me. P. comes with the inkin and A.-M. brings me the kesa. Under these circumstances, it is very easy to do zazen, automatically I can do zazen.

If the home is in a busy place, it harbors a lot of activity. The root of bonnos, it is at the center of many sins.

Family becomes the source, the root of bonnos. You must make money. It requires desires and vital energy. A.C. wanted to become monk. His wife did zazen too, but when they lived together, their life became complicated. His wife was unhappy. Now he is going through hell. But soon, they surely will understand both, and he will come back. He came to visit me, I told him, "Concentrate on your family, on your work, c'est la vie. Later surely M.-J. will understand. You have both received the monk's ordination, merits will definitely result from it later. "

Kodo Sawaki told me, "Do not stay with me, live close to your family." He refused to give me the monk's ordination.

And if you leave your home for an empty field or a deserted place, concentrating your mind you can obtain no-mind.

What does this passage mean? It does not mean that you must retreat to a deserted place, but that the holy dojo itself is an empty field, a deserted place. People always misunderstand. They want to go to Nepal, to India. Alchemy is a spiritual discipline, but some do nothing but look for gold. This dojo is truly holy, it is the highest holy place in the world. If you practice in the dojo, you can brush aside exterior objects. This is what this poem by Nagarjuna explains:

For a man sitting alone in the forest,
Bonnos disappear peacefully
Without attachment
It is possible for him to obtain unified mind.

The forest means the dojo.

Those who seek honors, profit, beautiful clothes, a warm bed do not have true peace. Their desires cannot be satisfied. But for the poor monk, wearing the kesa, begging from the faithful, daily life is simple so his mind stays always simple. With his eye of wisdom, he can observe and truly understand all phenomena.

It is difficult to be patient alone. But in a holy dojo, it is easy. The atmosphere is strong. Others support you.

From: Deshimaru, Taisen. Shukke Kudoku: Edition Integrale no. 11. AZI-Paris.


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