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Today I would like to continue discussing Zen Master Dogen’s Tenzo Kyokun. Picking up where we left off yesterday, this is what Dogen says about washing the rice:

      When washing the rice, remove any sand you find. In doing so, do not lose even one grain of rice. When you look at the rice, see the sand at the same time; when you look at the sand, see also the rice. Examine both carefully. Then a meal containing the six flavors and the three qualities will come together naturally.

In this passage, Dogen is talking about rice and sand, of course, but he’s also talking about something else. He’s talking about how we look at something. When you see one side, Dogen suggests, also look at the other side. If you see the positive side, you should also see the negative side.

When we are preparing food, rice is desirable and sand is not desirable, but in other circumstances, sand may be more desirable than rice. We don’t call the rice “good” and the sand “bad.” We do separate the rice from the sand. Or maybe we separate the sand from the rice. Which is it? Rice is what we want. But what about sand? What’s the value of sand? This passage concerns our way of looking at things. We tend to look at things in terms of “right” and “wrong.” Dogen, on the other hand, is talking about taking a more “rounded” look at something. If we do that, he says, “Then these qualities will come together naturally.”

Lecture by Sojun Mel Weitsman Roshi on
Tenzo Kyokun, Instructions for the Cook*

Day two of a Meditation Intensive (Sesshin) in December, 1993

Reprinted from the Berkeley Zen Center Newsletter

This also reflects Dogen’s way of viewing enlightenment and delusion. Enlightenment is something desirable; therefore one might say that delusion is something to “take out.” Dogen suggests we should also look at delusion. We should be careful with the delusion. We should consider what we do with it when we “take it out.” Can we take it out? Dogen gives us the following story to emphasize this point:

                 Xuefeng Yicum was once the tenzo under Dongshan Liangjie. One day while Xufeng was washing rice, Dongshan happened to pass by and asked, “Do you wash the sand and pick out the rice, or do you wash the rice and pick out the sand?” Xuefeng replied, “I wash and throw away both sand and rice together.” “Then what on earth do the residents here eat?” Dongshan pressed again. In reply, Xuefeng turned over the rice bucket. On seeing that, Dongshan said, “The day will come when you will practice under another master.”

This little story has been told with a few variations. In one version, Xuefeng turns over the rice bowl, in another he covers the rice bowl, which is to say he puts a lid on it. Either way, he is demonstrating non-discrimination. In either case, the implication for practice is the same, namely, to see beyond the relative value of things and to be present in what we are doing. As Dogen puts it, “Roll up your sleeves and get in there!”

Over and over again, Dogen emphasizes doing it yourself.  “In order not to lose any of the rice while picking out the sand, do it carefully with your own hands.” In Dogen’s day, Eiheiji was not such a large place. There were generally only 15 to 25 people at one time, a group small enough so that kitchen responsibilities could be carried out by a single person. Consequently, Dogen expected the tenzo to look after things personally.

Dogen is addressing these words specifically to the tenzo, but he is making an important point that applies to everyone. When you are a kitchen worker, the tenzo is responsible for what you do. You should ask him or her how to do things. You should not just do something your own way. The first question that comes from an enlightened mind is simply, “How should I do this?” This is different from saying, “I like to do this in such a way.”

If you do something your own way and it doesn’t turn out well, it’s the tenzo’s responsibility. You risk someone else’s reputation by doing things your own way. On the other hand, to be able to give up your own way and say, “How should I do this?” is to open up to making things work for everyone. You just take your place as an extension of the tenzo’s way of working. When you do what you are asked to do, you can let go of everything else, and just enter the situation harmoniously. In fact, this can be a great relief. You don’t have to think so much. If something goes wrong, it’s the tenzo’s fault! Go ahead. Let the tenzo take responsibility.

This then is the way we work together. “How do you want me to do this?” What ingredients do you want me to use? What utensils? How much vinegar? If you keep promoting your own way, however, it might set up a resistance in the person you are working with. They’re apt to tell you, “No.” Then you might become angry and think you are being shut down. On the other hand, if you keep deferring to the tenzo, the tenzo could end up saying, “You know how to do it. Why don’t you just do it your way?” That’s how it works.

We all want to be creative when we get in the kitchen. The way to be creative is to pay attention, to let go of your own ideas, and let someone else direct us. Then we become the boss. We become the boss because there is no separation between us. In this way, we allow enlightened practice to spring up in the kitchen. Everyone works together in perfect freedom. When this happens, there is a lot of creativity.

As I’ve mentioned, Dogen places a great deal of emphasis on thoroughness. He says things like, “roll up your sleeves,” “do it carefully with your own hands,” and “pay full attention.” For Dogen, doing something thoroughly doesn’t mean just doing it well. For him, “thoroughly” means non-dualistically and wholly. It means to do whatever we’re doing in such a way that we connect with the entire universe. Buddha-nature is expressed in our activity when we do things this way. Done this way, every activity becomes an expression of enlightenment.

Next Dogen mentions the water used for washing the rice. He says, “you should not carelessly throw away the water that remains after washing the rice.” I doubt whether anything in Dogen’s monastery was just “thrown away.” The rice water was used in some way. It is hard to picture Dogen “throwing away” anything. When he took a drink of water from a stream, for example, he would pour half the water back into the stream. He would drink half and return half. He did this as a gesture of acknowledgement. Not just taking, but giving back.

We practice this at the end of our meals. When we have finished eating, servers come around with water for us to wash our bowls. After we finish washing our bowls, the water is collected and offered to a tree or plant outside. When we put the water into the collection bucket, we keep a little bit in our bowl, which we drink, as a way of sharing it with the hungry spirits. This fosters a mindful acknowledgement of the last portion, together with an awareness that everything is taken care of and nothing is really thrown away. Be careful with things! You can’t really throw anything away! Everything has to be taken care of. This too is Dogen’s “thoroughness.”

Later on, we read:

                Conscientiously wash out the rice container and the soup pot, along with any other utensils that were used. Put those things that naturally go in a high place onto a high place, and those that would be most stable on a low place onto a low place; things that naturally belong on a high place settle best on a high place, while those which belong on a low place find their greatest stability there.

Here Dogen brings up another matter, namely, the kind of stability that comes from finding a place where everything fits in relation to everything else. When we place something, we should be aware of how it goes together with the things around it. Take the altar here in the zendo. I look at the altar each time I come into the zendo. I look to see how everything is arranged. Are the figures on the altar balanced with one another? Are the bowls centered and in line with the Buddha? The bowls, the figures, the flowers– they all have a place. How do we know where to position them? Is it arbitrary?

If we know that everything has a place, and that each thing is related to everything else in function and position, we can know where they should go. This applies to us as well. How do we take our position, know where to stand, how to stand? It goes for anything, be it objects or people. How do we find our place in this moment? In short, how do we fit into this world moment by moment?

Above all, we should be aware that we don’t live in isolation. We live in juxtaposition with other things. Our whole life, moment by moment, involves how we fit in juxtaposition with what’s around us. That’s our life–how we harmonize with what’s around us.

In the zendo, the altar can serve as a kind of focal point for harmony. The objects on the altar are to be arranged with each other to allow a harmonious balance. When we approach the altar, we are to do this in a harmonious way. This goes for everything we do in the zendo. It all goes together. The bells are to be sounded in a harmonious way to complement our movement and our chanting.

When we leave, we are to consider how we move with things. How do we find our place with any movement we engage in? This can be Dogen’s  “a high thing goes in a high place and low thing goes in a low place.” In other words, everything has a proper place and a way to be. Heavy things on the bottom, light things on top. Everything treated with respect. When you walk into a place that has that atmosphere, you immediately feel good. There’s not much separation between the objects and the subjects, the people and the things. You immediately feel that everything has been taken care of.

Dogen goes on to make a comment about complaining. In this he mentions the kusu, who is the person in charge of the overall affairs of the community.

When the tenzo receives food from the kusu, he must never complain about its quality or quantity, but always handle everything with the greatest care and attention. Nothing could be worse than to complain about too much or too little of something, or of inferior quality.

It’s okay to recognize when something is not of such good qualityCor to recognize when something is wonderful, for that matterCbut it’s not so good to complain about it. We may see that something is not so good, but we find a way to use it nonetheless. What’s most important is how we actually find a place for things.

Making an observation is different from making a criticism. People are sometimes too quick to take things personally. Often I come around and make some comment and somebody assumes I am making a comment about them. In fact, I am just saying, “Oh, it’s like this or that,” but inevitably someone feels criticized and concludes they “did it wrong.” I’m just talking about the thing! I’m not talking about the person. It is not a complaint. It is not saying that the person is good or bad. In the same way we can observe, “This is not the highest quality lettuce,” but then we go on to give our full attention to the manner in which we use it.

* All Tenzo Kyokun quotations from the translation by Thomas Wright in Refining Your Life: From the Zen Kitchen to Enlightenment (NewYork: Weatherhill, 1983).

© Copyright Sojun Mel Weitsman, 2002

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