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Chapter 2: Concerning the Religious Life
Nowadays, the public has become familiar with the Shobo-genzo of Dogen Zenji. However, another important text also written by Dogen, the Eihei Shingi, is for the most part yet unknown. Both Nishiari Zenji and my own teacher, the late Kodo Sawaki Roshi, have said repeatedly that monks of the Soto tradition must treasure the Eihei Shingi more than the Shobo-genzo. One thing I shall always remember is the time Sawaki Roshi cautioned me to carry the Eihei Shingi with me whenever I traveled to different temples. He even showed me precisely how to wrap it in the pack that monks carry with them when they travel.
The reason we should value the Eihei Shingi so highly is because in it, Dogen Zenji takes his disciples by the hand and teaches them about everyday religious life. In contrast to the Shobo-genzo, which is a profound philosophical teaching, the Eihei Shingi is more of an oral teaching that guides the disciples in a more practical way.
Because of that, it may appear on the surface that it was written strictly with practicing monks in a monastic situation in mind, and that it has no bearing on the daily lives of most people. However, if we get under the surface to touch its deeper meaning, there can be no doubt that a vibrant and practical teaching has been set down; a teaching relevant to all of us, regardless of where we might be living.
The Tenzo Kyokun is the first section of the Eihei Shingi. Tenzo refers to the office in charge of preparing meals for the community, while kyokun means teaching, so literally, Tenzo Kyokun means instructions or teachings for the cook. As a book concerned with the duties of cooking, it is, in a sense, a cookbook, though it is not the type that might be used by prospective brides, for it is a profound religious work. I feel it is one of the most valuable religious texts of all time, since it deals not only with the handling of food, but also with our attitude toward all matters and people we encounter in our day-to-day lives. Even more basically, it is a text that shows us concretely how to prepare and manage our personal lives. In this commentary I have selected those passages from the text that I feel are of special importance. From them I hope we can discover together a truth beyond relativities, and can learn how to work seeing the true value of our lives.
The Tenzo Kyokun is a cookbook on life, but what is the basic ingredient with which we prepare this life? For Dogen Zenji, it was nothing other than zazen. Religious life comes into existence by our asking how we can live with zazen as the standard for our lives, while in turn being protected by zazen. Looking at it from a slightly different angle, religious life becomes vital when zazen begins to function in our everyday activities. Just how zazen functions and guides us in a down-to-earth way is what this text is about.
In this respect, the zazen of Dogen Zenji is religious in the very deepest sense. It differs from that of any number of books on Zen flooding the market today which depict zazen simply as a method to train hara (equated by some with the solar plexus, or with the manipura chakra), or as some sort of health plan, or as a method for cultivating the mind.