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In Zen, sometimes we talk about reality, or the way everything is, as being horizontal; and other times we talk about things as being vertical. In our life, the horizontal dimension is where everybody is the same–we are all in the same boat, on the same level, just people. The vertical dimension refers to hierarchy; and hierarchy simply means that each thing has its own dharma position–its own place in relation to everything else. The vertical dimension means simply that I am here, you are there; you are there, perhaps reaching down to the person below, and the person here is reaching up to the person who is up here. So everyone is helping everyone else, working together harmoniously with everyone. On the horizontal level, everybody is just the same, no matter what our position or what our function is. We have to understand both of these views.

Sometimes people think, we should get rid of all hierarchy because we are all same. Well we are the same and there is hierarchy. Some people would like to get rid of equality, and just have the hierarchy. [laughter]. You have to have both and balance them. If you only have one or the other, it doesn’t work. Even if you eliminate all position, and simply have equality, someone will be above us. Hierarchy just happens because we are all different.

In the Shobogenzo Zuimonki, Dogen Zenji talked about vegetarianism. I think it is kind of interesting the way he expresses this.

Monastic Weekend Talk

Talk 1, part 2
Chapel Hill Zen Center
April 2002
Sojun Mel Weitsman
Abbot of the
Berkeley Zen Center

“Just because disciplined behavior and vegetarian diet is to be maintained, if you therefore insist upon these as fundamental, establishing them as practice, and think that you can thereby attain the Way, this is also wrong.”
In other words, if you think that by being a vegetarian you will obtain the Way through that discipline, that is wrong.
“It is just that this is the conduct of the patch-robed monks, the tradition of the sons [and daughters] of Buddha; and therefore we follow and practice it.”

I don’t think that Buddha practiced that way in India. Also, in Southeast Asia and in Tibet the monks eat meat, it is part of their diet. I remember when I went to a conference of Buddhist teachers at Spirit Rock (in Northern California), there were Buddhist teachers from every tradition. They had a buffet, a vegetarian buffet for everybody, but the Tibetans had their own buffet. [laughter] You know pot roast, and … [laughter] So, Dogen said,

“Yet I do not mean to say that you should therefore violate precepts and be self-indulgent. To cling in such a manner is an erroneous view; it is that of an outsider. We just conform because it is the standard of the Buddhist family and the tradition of the meditation halls. As for making it into the fundamental concern, however, when I was staying in the temples of China, I never saw such a thing. For the purpose of true attainment of the Way, effort in seated meditation alone is the tradition of the Buddhas and Ancestors. For this reason, a fellow student of mine, Gogenbo, who was a disciple of the Zen master Eisai, taught me to abandon rigid adherence to vegetarianism and continual recitation of the preceptual scripture while in the meditation hall in China.”

Eisai was Dogen’s first Zen teacher. Eisai brought Rinzai Zen to Japan from China, and Dogen studied with him in his last year. Then Dogen practiced with Eisai’s disciple, Myogen, and Dogen went to China with Mygen who became more of a teacher to Dogen than Eisai had been. One of Eisai’s students, Gogenbo, said, well, zazen is the thing. You don’t have to worry about chanting in the Buddha hall or being a vegetarian. There has always been this kind of question in Buddhism, whether to be a vegetarian or not. The Chinese monks were vegetarians. In China, vegetarianism was very strict, and also in Japan up to the Meiji era. In Buddha’s time, I believe, you could eat whatever was served to you, but you would not go out and kill a chicken and eat it. You wouldn’t go out and slaughter a cow and eat it, but if someone served you meat you would eat it, because it is something that was served to you.

Monks like these don’t pick and choose their food. I remember U Silananda, who was a Burmese monk, who was around for some time at Green Gulch. People were standing in line to serve themselves lunch. Nobody had thought about it, and he was just standing there, and then I realized, he is standing there because, as a Burmese monk, he cannot serve himself; he was not allowed, in his tradition, to serve himself. So I said, “would you like something?” And he said, “Yeah.” [laughter]

“Ejo [Dogen’s student] asked, ‘should the standards for the study of the Way in the monastery adhere to the pure rules of Pai Chang?’” (Pai Chang’s rules of the monasteries, although they were lost, were accepted as monastic tradition.)

“‘If so, I see that he considered the accepting and maintenance of precepts as prerequisite. Also I see that the transmitted tradition hands down the ‘Fundamental Precepts. In the oral teaching and face-to-face transmission of our school as well, the precepts handed down from the West are given to students; these are the Bodhisattva Precepts. However, in the preceptual scripture it says, ‘recite this day and night.’ Why have us abandon this recitation?’”

So, in other words, this refers to the recitation, not to the meat eating.

“Dogen said, ‘It is so; students should certainly observe the regulations of Pai Chang. However, their form is the receiving of precepts, observance of precepts, sitting meditation, and so forth. When it says to recite the preceptual scripture day and night and to wholeheartedly keep the precepts, it means that one should follow the practice of the Ancients and concentrate only on sitting. When sitting in meditation, what precept is not maintained? What merit is not produced? The practices carried out by the ancients all had a profound intent. Without retaining your own subjective appreciation, you should follow the community and act in accord with the behavior of the Ancients.’”

He is saying that zazen includes all of these practices... to sit, to recite the scriptures all day long. I remember a Korean monk I knew in the 1960’s, Dr. Soo who made a big calligraphy which said, “The blue sky and the green mountain are the Zen sutra.” This gives the feeling that the way you live your life is reciting the scripture. You are creating the Lotus Sutra through your activity. You are writing the sutra through your activity. We also study the sutra, but to study the scripture all day long is simply input. So, how you express the practice is actually writing the sutra. The living sutra is zazen, and a little bit of chanting, and remembering and honoring and appreciating and acting out the practice in our life.

“When sitting in meditation, what precept has not been maintained?” How do you maintain precepts when you are not sitting in zazen. That’s a bigger point. We are always sitting in zazen–sitting zazen is not just something you do on this cushion. Walking is zazen, eating is zazen, whatever we do, so we are creating the scripture with our life. Then he says,

“In the community of the meditation master Fo Ch’ao, there was a monk who wanted to eat meat when he was sick. Fo Ch’ao allowed him to eat it. One night the master himself went to the infirmary and looked in; there in the dim lamplight the monk was eating meat, while at the same time a demon was sitting on the sick monk’s head eating that very same meat. Though the monk thought that it was going into his own mouth, it was the demon, not he himself that was eating it. Henceforth whenever a sick monk wanted to eat meat, the master knew he was possessed by a demon and so he allowed it. [laughter] “As I reflect upon this, there should be due consideration as to whether or not to permit something. In the community of Wu Tsu Fa Yen there were instances of eating meat. Whether permitting or forbidding, the attitudes of the ancients all had to have had particular intent.”

In other words, if there is a reason for something, you shouldn’t just stick by the rule, you should be flexible, because the rule is to help us, not to hinder us, and if we need some other kind of help, we should be able to use that kind of help if we need it. But also, the demon was his sickness, so he is feeding the sickness. When he said he saw the demon on his head, he saw he was feeding the illness, he wasn’t feeding himself.

I was at Tassajara in the summer of1970, and I was Suzuki Roshi’s attendant. One day he couldn’t find his eating bowl so he asked me to look for it. He said “I want you to look.” Everyone’s eating bowl looked the same, right? [laughter]. “I want you to go through the zendo and open up everybody’s oryoki bowls and see if they are mine.” [laughter] I had somebody help me because it was a big task, and, well, how do I know if they were his anyway? We couldn’t find his bowl. He said, “It must be because of the anchovies. In my salad I had some anchovies (somehow they were served to him). Maybe that is the reason my bowl disappeared.” [laughter]

There is also the story of Suzuki Roshi and the student who was very proud of the fact that he was a vegetarian would’nt touch anything other than vegetables. When they left Tassajara, they went to a café and Suzuki Roshi ordered a hamburger and this guy ordered a vegetarian dish. When it came, Suzuki Roshi switched the plates. The reason he did that was, not because he didn’t like the fact that the person was a vegetarian, but that he was proud of being a vegetarian. It was the pride that was the problem. So he says, in effect, eating meat is not eating meat; not eating meat is eating meat. Meaning, if you are proud of what you do, if you have pride in what you are doing, that is eating meat. It is better to eat meat and not be proud of it than to not eat meat and be proud of it.

Student 1: I have a question about the demon. The first time that I read that, I thought that the demon signified the monk’s self-indulgence, which was sort of odd because why did the abbot let him eat meat if he was just indulging him?
Sojun Roshi: No. It is dealing with his sickness.
Student 1: So it was a curative thing?
SR: Yes.
Student 1: Do you think Dogen approved of Huiko cutting off his arm to study with Bodhidharma?
SR: Yes, I think he did. There are a lot of contradictory expressions in Dogen, and I think it depends on the situation. I think this story of Huiko cutting off his arm and presenting it to Bodhidharma is symbolic. I mean, it can’t be real. I think that cutting off the arm means cutting off the ego, but it is expressed in a dramatic way. It is like Nansen cutting the cat. I think that both of them are symbolic. When we read about the Zen masters–the student came up and hit the teacher and the teacher hit the student–all this is not necessarily symbolic, but it is not like they hurt each other either. It is more like they had some kind of physical contact. They use the word “hit” a lot but it doesn’t mean “hit,” it means hitting the mark. Sometimes they say “I hit” and that means “I penetrate the mark, the moment.” When we read in translation, we should remember that there were expressions in the T’ang dynasty that were particular to that time. The words had a different kind of meaning hundreds of years ago, but we think “oh jeez, these guys were really violent.” But the terms don’t mean necessarily what they say literally.

One of the legends about Huiko is that his arm was cut off by bandits. He seemed to have one arm. Why go to that extreme? It is an extreme story when you are willing to go through with it in order to achieve the way. I would not have tried to impress my teacher by cutting off my arm. He would be appalled and I think Bodhidharma would be appalled. [laughter] ...this cat brings me his arm, “Hey boss….” Oh, then Bodhi says, “well, you can be my student now.” [laughter] I think it is symbolic of cutting off the ego. “I’m willing to drop everything now” ... that’s the story.

In an evening talk Dogen said,

“Without real inner virtue, one should not be esteemed by others. Since people in this country esteem others on the basis of outer appearances, without knowing anything about real inner virtue, students who lack the mind of the Way are thus dragged down into evil ways, and become subject to temptation. It is easy to be esteemed by others. To put on a shallow pretense of having abandoned one’s status and turned away from society is merely a fabrication of outer appearance.”
He is talking about monks who put on robes and then are esteemed by people. But actually their inner virtue does not correspond to their appearance.

“While simply having the appearance of an ordinary person of the world, one who goes on harmonizing the inner mind is a genuine aspirant of the Way... What this means is to have no selfish thought in the inner mind, while the outer appearance goes along with others. If one utterly forgets such things as ‘my body’ and ‘my mind’ and enters into the Way of Buddhas, acts in accord with the standards of the Buddhist Way, inside and outside are both good, now and afterwards are both good.

“Even in the Way of Buddhas, it is wrong to rashly abandon that which is not to be abandoned, with the intention of abandoning one’s self or abandoning the world. Among those in this country who pose as Buddhists and devotees of the Way too, he who acts badly for no reason, in the name of abandoning the self, without regard with how others may see him, or, in the name of non-attachment to the world, does such things as walk in the drenching rain in spite of the fact that it is both inwardly and outwardly useless to do such a things, people of the world immediately think what a venerable man he is, how detached from the world he is, and so forth.”

This is like people who go to great lengths to do austere practice or flashy or impressive practice.

“In their midst, if one observes the regulations of the Buddha, heeds the standards of discipline, and carries out one’s own practice and the conversion of others in accord with the Buddha’s regulations, people will paradoxically say, ‘that person smells of [greed for] fame and profit and will have nothing to do with him. But that, on the other hand, for oneself is following the Buddha’s Teachings and perfecting inner and outer virtue.”

Even if people say something bad about you, continue your practice. When someone makes a derogatory remark about your practice or what you are doing, sometimes you may feel the specter of doubt rise up. “Maybe they are right. Maybe I should do something else.” One should be very firm in the Way in order to not be upset in the face of criticism, to be able to just continue without blaming or without feeling retaliatory. Even if doubt does arise, just continue; if you just continue, your confidence will arise.

Transcribed by Mary Johnston

© Copyright Sojun Mel Weitsman, 2011

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