If not me, who? If not now, when?

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( Dogen's Instructions for the Cook - XXI)

In the following section, Master Dogen recounts his encounters in China with two old Tenzo  ...

The stories speak for themselves today ... so I'll let them ...

(I'll have a little to say about the last lines tomorrow)


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 [1223], 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 monastery on Mount Ayuwang. He said, "I come from Sichuan, but I left my home village forty years ago. This year I am sixty-one years old. In the past I have trained in quite a few different monasteries. In recent years, I stayed for a while with Guyun. I was able to register at Yuwang [monastery], but for some time I felt out of place. At the end of the summer retreat last year, however, I was appointed cook of that monastery. Tomorrow is the fifth day [feast], but the entire menu does not yet include a single delicacy. I need to cook noodle soup, but still have no mushrooms, and thus have made a special trip here to try to buy mushrooms to offer to the monks of the ten directions.

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 Yuwang Mountain at some other time, in the future. On that occasion we can discuss the principle of written words." Having spoken thus, the cook got up and said, "It is late in the day and I am in a hurry, so I am going back now."

From: Tenzo Kyokun - Instructions for the Cook by Eihei Dogen - Translated by Griffith Foulk

(remember: recording ends soon after the beginning bells;
a sitting time of 20 to 35 minutes is recommended)

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