When this mountain monk [I, Dôgen] was at Tiantong Monastery, the position [of cook] was held by cook Yong, of the same province [as the monastery]. Once, after the midday meal I was passing through the east corridor on my way to the Chaoran room [where my teacher Myôzen was being nursed] when I saw the cook in front of the buddha hall airing mushrooms. He carried a bamboo staff in his hand, but had no hat on his head. The sun was hot, the ground tiles were hot, and sweat streamed over him as he worked diligently to dry the mushrooms. He was suffering a bit. With his backbone bent like a bow and his shaggy eyebrows, he resembled a crane.
I approached and asked the cook his dharma age. He said, "Sixty-eight years." I said, "Why do you not employ postulants or laborers?" He said, "They are not me." I said, "Venerable sir, your attitude is indeed proper, but the sun is so hot; why are you doing this [now]?" The cook said, "What time should I wait for?" I took my leave, but as I walked along the corridor, I began to realize how important an opportunity this position affords.
Again, in the fifth
month of the sixteenth year of the Jiading era , I was on the ship at
Qingyuan. While I was talking with the Japanese captain, there was an old monk
who arrived. He was about sixty years old. He came directly onto the ship and
inquired of the Japanese passengers if he could buy Japanese mushrooms. I
invited him to drink tea and asked where he was from. He was the cook of the
I asked him, "What time did you leave there?" The cook replied, "After the midday meal (i.e., the last meal of the day)." I inquired, "How long is the road from Yuwang to here?" He said, "Thirty-four or thirty-five li." I asked, "When will you return to the monastery?" He said, "If I can buy the mushrooms now, I will set off right after that." I said, "Today I did not expect to meet you and have a conversation on this ship. It is most fortunate, is it not, to form this karmic bond? Dôgen [I] will treat the cook Zen master [you] to a meal." The cook said, "It is impossible. If I do not oversee the preparations for tomorrow's meal offering, it will not turn out well." I said, "Are there not co-workers in the monastery who understand the meals? What will be deficient if only one officer, the cook, is not present?" The cook said, "I took up this position in my later years; it is this old man's pursuit of the way. How could I hand it over to others? Besides, when I came I did not ask to stay away overnight."
I again asked the cook:
"You are venerable in years; why don't you sit in meditation to pursue the
way or contemplate the words of the ancients? It is troublesome being cook; all
you do is labor. What good is that?" The cook laughed and said, "My
good man from a foreign country, you do not yet understand pursuit of the way
and do not yet know about written words." When I heard him speak in this
manner, I suddenly felt ashamed and taken aback. I asked him, "What are
written words? What is the practice of the way?" The cook said, "If
you do not slip up and pass by the place you ask about, how could you not be a
man?" At the time, I did not understand. The cook said, "If you still
don't understand, come to
From: Tenzo Kyokun - Instructions for the Cook by Eihei Dogen - Translated by Griffith Foulk