Zen Road
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Using religion

by Taisen Deshimaru


In the practice of the Buddhist Law, we must receive true instruction from awakened predecessors. We should not be motivated by a spirit of individual utilitarianism… The practitioner should not practice the Buddhist Way thinking of himself; he should not practice for fame or profit; he should not practice to obtain a reward; he should not practice to obtain miraculous powers. We should practice the Buddhist Law only for the Buddhist Law. This is the Way.
- Eihei Dogen, the Gakudoyojinshu (“Applying the Mind to the Study of the Way”)


This is something that Dogen repeats all the time: we must not practice the Buddha-Way, our zazen, with a spirit of profit, ushotoku. Mushotoku is no-profit. This is especially true for zazen, and for everything else as well. In daily life, at work, it is necessary to be ushotoku. But even at work, if, finally, you only want to earn money, you will not succeed. Also in art, in diplomacy, in friendship: if you act with a no-profit mind, mushotoku, the merits really do come.


[Picture of Taisen Deshimaru walking in a garden in brilliant sunlight]

You are doing zazen now, but it is not for you, not for your health, not for your own merit. You are doing it for all humanity. That’s why I always say that zazen directs the whole world. Zazen is beyond the cosmos. You don’t do zazen for yourself. You practice zazen for zazen. That’s the conclusion, that’s the true Way. If you do zazen for yourself, it is not authentic.


Buddhism was not created by Shakyamuni Buddha. The truth of Buddhism existed before Buddha, and it exists for all eternity. Shakyamuni Buddha simply discovered it. For example, the fact that the principle of causality, a cause and its fruit, does not apply to merits.


In most religions, we want to obtain merit. True faith does not consist in getting a ticket to heaven. That’s selfish. We must be beyond egoism. That is what this chapter teaches. This passage explains mushotoku. We should remember it.


Most people ask, “Why do zazen? Is it effective? What does it get you?”
I always answer, “Nothing!”


People want to use zazen. They want to benefit from it. Most people want to use religions and use God, diminishing the body of god or the body of Buddha. We should not use God or religion. We should become useful to religion and to God. People either use religion, or they are useful to it. Religion is collapsing because people want to use it.


If people have a goal, they get attached to it and end up suffering. Or else they must struggle and be aggressive. If we have no goal, we just concentrate here and now, whether we are successful or not. Only concentrated here and now on our work, when we’re working. When we’re practicing zazen, only shikantaza. When we’re eating, only concentrated on eating.


How do we keep Buddhism alive? Some people always find excuses for not coming to zazen: no time…some kind of pain…a cold…a sick parent, etc. It is rare to hear, “I don’t have any money, I can’t feed my children.” It’s not true. Even poor parents always find what they need for their children. That’s parental love; it’s natural.


A person who sincerely seeks the Way will always find the time to come to the dojo, and will prefer, if need be, to sacrifice another activity. If you happen to be sick, come by the dojo, come and say hello to the master, or leave flowers on the Buddha altar, or come and do sampai, or even just write a note. But always stay in touch. All of this expresses the true mind of someone who wants to stay present in the sangha.


In truth, you cannot practice zazen for long with an egotistical goal; you get nothing, you get tired and you end up not practicing anymore.


What should we do? Most people want happiness and good health. But what is happiness? In modern civilization, it is even more complicated to be happy. In prehistoric and ancient times, it was not so complicated. Now, selfish people want happiness, good health, and in the end they suffer. They cannot get it, and they suffer even more. When we don’t have so many desires, there is no suffering. It is mushotoku.


This is the conclusion of this chapter [of the Gakudoyojinshu]. We must practice for Buddhism, for religion. We should not have the goal of obtaining a merit, a miracle, mysterious powers, or enlightenment. Please, practice with mushotoku mind.



Excerpts from L’enseignement oral, édition intégrale, vol. 4, le Gakudoyojinshu d’Eihei Dogen (“The Complete Oral Teaching, vol. 4: Eihei Dogen’s Gakudoyojinshu”), commentaries by Taisen Deshimaru, (Paris: AZI, 1986).


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