The Wheel of Food and the Wheel of Dharma  

Copyright©2022 Misaki C. Kido

Dōgen’s Chinese Poems (51)
A Wooden Ladle Striking in the Place We Cannot Avoid

雲門三昧現塵塵 (雲門の三昧塵塵を現じ、)
能轉食輪兼法輪 (能く食輪と法輪とを轉ず)
滿桶擔來敎滿鉢 (桶に滿たして擔い來りて鉢を滿たしむ。)
世尊授記用來新 (世尊の授記、用い來って新たなり。)

Yunmen’s every-atom samādhi can turn into
both the wheel of food and the wheel of Dharma.
Bring a full container and fill the [monks’] bowls.
The World-Honored One’s confirmation [of the tenzo’s practice] has been employed, and yet is fresh.[1]

This is verse 50 in Kuchūgen and a part of Dharma Hall Discourse (上堂, jōdō) 138 in Volume 2 of Eihei Kōroku. This discourse was given “In Appreciation of the [Outgoing] Tenzo [Chief Cook].” After a long speech on the practice of being a tenzo, Dōgen Zenji was silent for a while and then recited this verse. This verse in Manzan’s version and Monkaku’s version are the same.

A Wooden Ladle Striking in the Place We Cannot Avoid

This title of the discourse in Dōgen’s Extensive Record does not make sense when we read only this verse.[2] “A wooden ladle” and “the place we cannot avoid” appear earlier in his discourse. Please read the discourse itself for these references. Dōgen Zenji gave this dharma hall discourse in the 12th month, 1245. Dōgen and his sangha had moved from Fukakusa near Kyoto to Echizen in the summer of 1243. In 1244, their new monastery Daibutsuji was built and they moved in there in the fall of the year. After spending the winter, they had the first summer practice period in 1245.

Dōgen gave Dharma Hall Discourse 136 on the occasion of Buddha’s Enlightenment Day (rohatsu). Before the New Year, it seems they changed the monastic officers’ positions. Discourse 137 is in appreciation of the outgoing director (kansu, 監寺), Discourse 138 is in appreciation of the outgoing tenzo (典座), and Discourse 139 is on inviting the incoming director and tenzo.

After writing Shōbōgenzō Ōsakusendaba (A King asked for Sendaba) on the 23rd day of the 10th month in 1245, it seems that Dōgen did not produce any writing for eight months, until the 15th day of the 6th month in 1246. The 15th day of the 6th month in 1246 was the date Chiji-shingi (知事清規, Pure Standards for the Temple Administrators) was presented and also the date that Daibutsuji was renamed as Eiheiji. Probably during this eight-month period, Dōgen was writing Chiji-shingi, educating his monks in the monastic system, and enabling them to work following his instructions as written in the text. When he felt that the monastic system was established and had begun to function in the way he wished, I suppose he felt it was an appropriate time to change the name of the monastery, to Eiheiji. (Eihei (永平) was the name of the Chinese era when Buddhism was officially transmitted to China.) These three dharma discourses were given during the eight-month period in 1245 – 1246. In the section concerning the tenzo within Chiji-shingi, Dōgen uses the same phrases as in the second and the third lines of this verse.[3]

At the beginning of Discourse 138, Dōgen says, “I, Daibutsu, was the first to transmit the Dharma [procedures and attitude] for the tenzo to temples in Japan.”[4] Among the various temple administrative positions, tenzo was particularly important for him. As he wrote in Tenzo-kyōkun, his encounter with the old tenzo of Ayuwang monastery right after arriving in China in 1223 was an eye-opening experience. The conversation with another old tenzo he met at Tiantong monastery was also an unforgettable event in his lifetime.[5]

Yunmen’s every-atom samādhi can turn into
both the wheel of food and the wheel of Dharma.

In the first line, Dōgen introduces a kōan, Yunmen’s Every Atom Samadhi. We find this kōan in Case 50 of the Blue Cliff Record and Case 99 of The Book of Serenity. The main case is very short.

 A monk asked Yun Men, “What is every atom samadhi?”
Men said, “Food in the bowl, water in the bucket.”[6]

“Every atom samadhi” is Cleary’s translation of jinjin-zanmai (塵塵三昧). The name of this samadhi came from Avataṃsaka Sūtra:

They enter concentration on one atom
And accomplish concentration on all atoms,
And yet that particle doesn’t increase:
In one are manifests inconceivable lands.[7]

In the Chinese translation of The Avataṃsaka Sūtra, jin (塵) is an abbreviation of mijin (微塵). According to a Japanese Buddhist dictionary, mijin is a translation of the Sanskrit word anu, the smallest particle we can see with our eyes. Atom is paramanu (Jp. gokumi 極微). When seven paramanu get together, it becomes anu. According to the Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, various schools had their own theories about the smallest particle in their respective Abhidharma systems, but Nāgarjuna’s Madhyamaka school negated the existence of such an atom as substance.[8] Thomas Cleary translated this word as “atom” in his translations of the kōan collections and in The Flower Ornament Sutra. The Sutra says that a Buddha can enter one atom in samadhi, and at the same time, the Buddha is in all atoms. This is an expression of the idea of interconnectedness: one part and all things within the entirety of Indra’s Net interpenetrate each other. This is called Indra’s Net Samadhi. Dōgen writes in Shōbōgenzō Hokke-ten-hokke (Dharma Flowers Turn Dharma Flowers):

When we see minute particles, it is not that we don’t see the [entire] Dharma world. When we verify the [entire] Dharma world, it is not that we don’t verify the minute particles.[9]

In Tenzo-kyōkun, he writes:

Pick a single blade of grass and erect a sanctuary for the jewel king; enter a single atom and turn the great wheel of the teaching.[10]

Commonly, the kitchen is not considered an important part of a monastery. In ancient times, because they cooked with firewood, the walls were black, and the kitchen was usually a dark place. The Buddha hall, Dharma hall, and Sangha hall (Monks’ hall) are more important and usually much larger and magnificent buildings. The tenzo is working in the kitchen like an atom, but he turns the great dharma wheel that penetrates the entire dharma world.

A monk asked Yunmen, what is this samadhi in which a buddha can be in one particle and at the same time in all particles. Yunmen’s answer is simple, “Rice in the bowl, water in the bucket.” He picked day-to-day, concrete examples from daily monastic life. Since rice in the bowl and water in the bucket have something to do with the tenzo’s work in the kitchen and offering the food to the assembly, Dōgen uses this kōan in his speech to appreciate what the outgoing tenzo has been doing.

“The wheel of food” is a translation of jikirin (食輪) and “the wheel of Dharma” is horin (法輪). Of course, “dharma wheel” is Buddha’s teachings as the expressions of the Dharma he awakened to. It seems the word jikirin was originally used in the Vinaya. When a monastery was established, two important aspects were how to turn the dharma wheel and how to maintain the monastic community as an administration. In the common usage of these terms, often the aspects of turning the dharma wheel and administration are considered to be two separate aspects of monastic life, which sometimes contradict each other. If the abbot is tough and the practice style is strict in order to keep the pure dharma wheel turning, not many monks stay at the monastery, and the monastery may also lose the support of lay people. In order to keep the wheel of food turning extensively, the abbot needs to be popular with lay society such as the emperor, aristocrats, high-class government officers, rich merchants, etc. To do so, the monastery may need to hold popular events or ceremonies for lay supporters; then sincere monks may leave the monastery.

But here, Dōgen is saying that in the tenzo’s work, both the wheel of food and the wheel of dharma are being turned simultaneously. These two wheels are not contradictory at all.

For him, the wheel of dharma and the wheel of food are both turned in the monks’ practice. In Chiji-shingi, Dōgen writes:

What is called the mind of the Way is not to abandon or scatter about the great Way of the buddha ancestors, but deeply to protect and esteem their great Way. Therefore having abandoned fame and gain and departed your homeland, consider gold as excrement and honor as spittle, and without obscuring the truth or obeying falsehoods, maintain the regulations of right and wrong and entrust everything to the guidelines for conduct. After all, not to sell cheaply or debase the worth of the ordinary tea and rice of the buddha ancestors’ house is exactly the mind of the Way.[11]

In Tenzo kyōkun, he quotes the Zennen-shingi:

“Just serve the community and do not worry about poverty. If you do not have a limited heart you will have boundless fortune.”[12]

Bring a full container and fill the [monks’] bowls.
The World-Honored One’s confirmation [of the tenzo’s practice] has been employed, and yet is fresh.

Dōgen uses Yunmen’s answer regarding every atom samadhi in the third line to describe the tenzo’s work at each meal. The tenzo and the kitchen crew bring cooked food to the Monks’ hall and offer it to the monks. This is the actual turning of the food wheel at the same time as the dharma wheel. Right within this activity, the tenzo is actualizing the interconnectedness of practice in the kitchen and practice in the zendo.

“The World-Honored One’s confirmation” is the Buddha’s prediction (juki, 授記) of a certain person becoming a buddha in a future lifetime. This is an important concept in The Lotus Sutra, in which Shakyamuni Buddha gave the prediction to all of his disciples and other people that they would attain buddhahood sometime in the future.

In Shōbōgenzō Juki (Prediction), Dōgen Zenji writes:

We should not study that we become buddhas after receiving the prediction; we should not study that we receive the prediction after becoming buddhas. At the time of conferring prediction, there is making buddha; at the time of conferring the prediction, there is practice … We should certainly know that the prediction actualizes the self; the prediction is the self that is actualized.[13]

For example, in his past life, when his name was Sumedha, Shakyamuni met and received the prediction from Dīpankara Buddha. However, we are living after Shakyamuni’s death and before Maitreya Buddha’s birth, which is the period without a buddha. Therefore, it is not possible to receive a prediction. However, Dōgen says, our practice with sincere heart for the sake of the Dharma is itself meeting Buddha and receiving the prediction

— • —

[1] (Dōgen’s Extensive Record volume 2, dharma hall discourse 138, p.167) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc.,
[2] The titles of the dharma hall discourses in Dōgen’s Extensive Record were made and added by the translators. In the original text, those titles do not exist.
[3] Dōgen’s Pure Standards for the Zen Community (translated by Taigen Dan Leighton & Shohaku Okumura, SUNNY, 1996), p. 178.
[4] Dōgen’s Extensive Record, p. 166.
[5] Dōgen’s Pure Standards for Zen Community, p.40.
[6] Thomas Cleary’s translation (The Blue Cliff Record, Shambhala, 1977) p. 294. Another translation by him is in case 99, Yunmen’s “Bowl and Bucket” in Book of Serenity (Lindisfarne Press 1988), p.425.
[7] The Flower Ornament Scripture: A Translation of the Avataṃsaka Sūtra, (Thomas Cleary) p.339
[8] Vasubandhu’s comment on the idea of paramanu is in his The Treatise in Twenty Verses on Consciousness Only (BDK English Tripitaka, Three Texts on Consciousness Only, (Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 1999), p.398-p.400. All
[9] Okumura’s unpublished translation.
[10] Dōgen’s Pure Standards for the Zen Community, p. 37.
[11] Dōgen’s Pure Standards for the Zen Community, p. 156.
[12] Dōgen’s Pure Standards for the Zen Community, p.44.
[13] Okumura’s unpublished translation

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

— • —

For further study:
See Dōgen’s Extensive Record.

> More of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese Poems

Copyright©2022 Sanshin Zen Community

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