HyC Adventures
The Poetics of Perception
Two Zen Cooks Show Dogen the Way



Two Zen Cooks

Show Dogen the Way


Hyatt Carter



In the year 1223, when he was a young monk in his early twenties, Dogen set sail by ship for China where he hoped to find a true master who would help him further refine his understanding and experience of Zen. After two years of searching, and on the advice of a friend, he sought out Master Rujing under whose guidance he experienced realization that he described as the “falling off of body and mind,” or shinjin datsuraku (身心脱落), an expression that became a key term in Dogen’s Zen.


During his sojourn in China, Dogen enjoyed three encounters with tenzo (典座), or Zen cooks, who deepened his understanding. One was with the tenzo at Tiantong Temple, and the other two encounters, one while still aboard ship,1 were with the tenzo from Ayuwang Monastery. These encounters left him with high appreciation for the role of the tenzo in the Zen community.


Here, in his own words, is Dogen’s description of those three encounters. For ease of scholarly or aesthetic comparison, I have arranged this in a dual-language format with the English translation2 on the left and Dogen’s original Chinese text3 on the right.


Maybe you, like me, will be impressed with Dogen’s way with words when you read the vivid word-picture he paints of the first Zen cook in the opening paragraph. 




When this mountain monk
[Dogen] was at Tiantong Temple, a person named Yong from Qingyuan Prefecture had the job of tenzo. I happened to be passing through the eastern corridor on my way to the Chaoran hut after lunch, when the tenzo was drying mushrooms in front of the buddha hall. He carried a bamboo cane, but had no hat on his head. The sun beat down on the hot pavement and the sweat flowed down and drenched him as he resolutely dried the mushrooms. I saw he was struggling a bit. With his spine bent like a bow and his shaggy eyebrows, he looked like a crane.



I approached and politely asked the tenzo his age. He said he was sixty-eight.


I asked, “Why do you not have an attendant or lay worker do this?”


The tenzo said, “Others are not me.”


I said, “Esteemed sir, you are truly dedicated. The sun is so hot. Why are you doing this now?”



The tenzo said, “What time should I wait for?”


I immediately withdrew. Thinking to myself as I walked away, I deeply appreciated that this job [expresses] the essential function.





Another time, in the fifth month of the sixteenth year of the Katei period [June or July 1223], I was on my ship at Qingyuan. While I was talking with the Japanese captain, an old monk arrived who looked about sixty years old. He came straight onto the boat and asked one of the crew if he could buy some Japanese shiitake mushrooms. I invited him to drink some tea and asked him where he lived. He was the tenzo at the monastery at Ayuwang Mountain.




He said, “I am from the western part of Sichuan, and left home forty years ago. This year I am sixty-one years old. I have spent time at many monasteries in various areas. In recent years I stayed with Guyun Daoquan. Then I went to practice at Ayuwang Monastery, where I have been kept very busy. Last year, after the end of the summer practice period, I was appointed tenzo of the temple. Tomorrow is the fifth day celebration, and I do not have any special food to serve. I want to make noodle soup, but I do not have any mushrooms. Therefore I came here to try to buy shiitake to offer the monks from the ten directions.”




I asked him, “What time did you depart from there?”


The tenzo said, “After lunch.”


I said, “How far distant from here is Ayuwang?”




The tenzo said, “Thirty-four or thirty-five li” [about twelve miles].


I said, “When are you going to return to the temple?”



The tenzo said, “As soon as I finish buying the mushrooms I will go.”


I said, “Today unexpectedly we have met and also had a conversation on this ship. Is this not a truly fortunate opportunity? Allow Dogen to offer food to you, Tenzo Zenji.”


The tenzo said, “It is not possible. If I do not take care of tomorrow’s offering it will be done badly.”




I said, “In your temple aren’t there some workers who know how to prepare meals the same as you? If only one person, the tenzo, is not there, will something be deficient?”



The tenzo said, “During my old age I am handling this job, so in senility I am doing this wholehearted practice. How could I possibly just give away [my responsibilities]? Also, when I came here, I did not ask permission to stay away overnight.”



I then asked the tenzo, “Venerable tenzo, in your advanced years why do you not wholeheartedly engage the Way through zazen or penetrate the words and stories of the ancient masters, instead of troubling yourself by being tenzo and just working? What is that good for?”



The tenzo laughed loudly and said, “Oh, good fellow from a foreign country, you have not yet understood wholeheartedly engaging in the Way, and you do not yet know what words and phrases are.”



Hearing this, I suddenly felt ashamed and stunned, and then asked him, “What are words and phrases? What is wholeheartedly engaging the Way?”



The tenzo said, “If you do not stumble over this question you are really a true person.”


I could not understand at that time.


The tenzo said, “If you have not yet fully gotten it, sometime later come to Ayuwang Mountain. We will have a complete dialogue concerning the principle of words and phrases.”



After saying that, the tenzo got up and said, “It’s getting dark and I am going now.” Then he left to return home.




In the seventh month of the same year [August or September], I rested my monk’s staff at Tiantong Monastery.


At that time, this tenzo [from Ayuwang Mountain] came to visit me and said, “After the summer practice period was over I retired, and I’m returning to my home village. I happened to learn at my monastery that you were here. How could I not come to see you?”



I was deeply touched and overjoyed to welcome him, and during our conversation I brought up the issues that we had mentioned before on the ship concerning words and phrases and wholehearted engagement of the Way.



The tenzo said, “People who study words and phrases should know the significance of words and phrases. People dedicated to wholehearted practice need to affirm the significance of engaging the Way.”



I asked, “What are words and phrases?”


The tenzo said, “One, two, three, four, five.”


Also I asked, “What is wholeheartedly engaging the Way?”


The tenzo said, “In the whole world it is never hidden.”



Although we discussed many topics, I will not record the rest now. For whatever bit I know about words and phrases or slightly understand about wholeheartedly engaging the Way, I am grateful to that tenzo’s kindness. I recounted this conversation to my late teacher Myozen. He was delighted to hear about it.



Later I saw a verse Xuedou wrote for a monk that goes:



One character, three characters, five, and seven characters.

Having thoroughly investigated the ten thousand things, none have any foundation.

At midnight the white moon sets into the dark ocean.

When searching for the black dragon’s pearl, you will find they are numerous.







What that tenzo had said in former years and what Xuedou had expressed naturally match each other. More and more I realize that this tenzo was a true person of the Way. Accordingly, what I previously saw of words and phrases is one, two, three, four, five.



Today what I see of words and phrases is also six, seven, eight, nine, ten. My junior fellow-practitioners, completely see this in that, completely see that in this. Making such an effort you can totally grasp one-flavor Zen through words and phrases.








1. Dogen was still on board the ship where it was docked at the port city of Mingzhou on the Chinese coast when the tenzo came aboard to buy Japanese mushrooms.


Mingzhou (明州) is now named Ningbo () and is located in Zhejiang province.


2. English translation by Daniel Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, in their book Dogen’s Pure Standards for the Zen Community, pages 40-43. This is a translation of Dogen’s  Eihei Shingi (永平清規).


3. The source of the Chinese text is The SAT Daizokyo Text Database, available online at this address: http://21dzk.l.u-tokyo.ac.jp/SAT/database_en.html. Dogen’s Eihei Shingi is # 2584 in Volume 82. The SAT Database texts sometimes have pictures of the Chinese characters rather than the characters themselves; in all such instances I have substituted Chinese characters for the pictures.


For example, where the SAT text has a picture of the Chinese character bié . . .


I have substituted the Chinese character itself:



, or bié in Pinyin, is 8382 in the Unicode system. If you want to see a neat trick, type 8382 in a MS Word document and then, with the cursor flashing in the space after the 2, hold down the Alt key and then press the x key. Voilà . . . 8382 is converted to.



A HyC Presentation




Zen Koans
Four 12th-Century Zen Letters
Dogen's Metaphors of Enlightenment
Dogen Preaches on Nonduality
Dogen's Fukanzazengi: A Tale of Three Texts
Two Zen Cooks Show Dogen the Way
The Karma of Words: A Poem by Bai Juyi
The Zen Koan
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