Expanding Family Ties

Poem on our debts of gratitude

Liberated beings

六つの道 Mutsu no michi
遠近迷ふ Ochikochi mayou
輩は Tomogara wa
吾が父ぞかし Waga chichi zo kashi
吾が母ぞかし Waga haha zo kashi

Those fellows who stray around in delusion
here and there,
within the six realms,
are actually my fathers
and my mothers.

In the 20th minor precept in Bonmokyo (The Brahma Net Sutra), it is said,

“A disciple of the Buddha should have a mind of compassion and cultivate the practice of liberating sentient beings. He must reflect thus: throughout the eons of time, all male sentient beings have been my father, all female sentient beings my mother . . . If a Bodhisattva sees an animal on the verge of being killed, he must devise a way to rescue and protect it, helping it to escape suffering and death. The disciple should always teach the Bodhisattva precepts to rescue and deliver sentient beings. On the day his father, mother, and siblings die, he should invite Dharma Masters to explain the Bodhisattva sutras and precepts. This will generate merits and virtues and help the deceased either to achieve rebirth in the Pure Lands and meet the buddhas or to secure rebirth in the human or celestial realms. If instead, a disciple fails to do so, he commits a secondary offense.”

I think it is important to understand this minor precept as the root source of the various practices still done by lay Buddhists in East Asian Buddhist counties. Based on this precept, hojo-e (releasing living beings ceremony) has been practiced at Buddhist temples. After the ceremony they release captured birds or fish. At some Buddhist temples, there are hojo-ike (a pond to release captured fish and so on). There are many stories about rescuing captured living beings. Dōgen Zenji mentioned a few examples in Shobogenzo Bodaisatta-shishobo (Bodhisattva’s Four Embracing Actions).

Considering that we have debts of gratitude to all living beings just as we do to our own fathers and mothers, we must transmit all the merits of our good deeds throughout the dharma-world.
—Dōgen Zenji

Inviting a Buddhist priest on the occasion of a family member’s funeral ceremony, on the ceremony held every 7th day during 49 days of the deceased’s death, or for other memorial services has been a practice based on this precept.

As for his own personal reasons, Dōgen might feel connected with all beings wandering here and there in the six realms of samsara, because of the sadness and loneliness he experienced from losing his own parents when he was very young.

In Shobogenzo Zuimonki, he said,

“The virtue of filial piety and obedience is most important to fulfill. Yet there is a difference in how to perform filial piety between lay people and monks who left home. Lay people keep the teachings in the Xiaojing and so on, and serve their parents while they are alive and hold services after their death. Everyone in the world knows that. Monks abandon their debt of gratitude and enter the realm of non-doing (mui). Within the family of non-doing, the manner [of paying off the debt of gratitude] should not be limited to one particular person. Considering that we have debts of gratitude to all living beings just as we do to our own fathers and mothers, we must transmit all the merits of our good deeds throughout the dharma-world. We don’t limit [the dedication] specifically to our own parents in this lifetime. This is the way we do not go against the Way of non-doing.

In our continuous day-to-day practice and moment to moment study, simply following the Buddha Way is the true way of fulfilling our filial piety . . . We should see that our debts of gratitude to all living beings are as important as [the debt to our own parents].” (3-15)

Although Dōgen said in Zuimonki that monks do not have memorial services for their own parents, in Eihei Koroku (Dōgen’s extensive Record), we see that Dōgen gave memorial dharma discourses for his father and mother in his later years. (See Dharma discourse 363, 409, 478, 524)

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shohaku Okumura Roshi

> Other Waka by Dōgen


Copyright 2016 Sanshin Zen Community

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