The world without increase or lessening2 min read

If as the Sutra says it is neither increased nor lessened, then we may suppose that it must be an amount. In such case, is it large or small? But no. Long and short, square and round, these are the qualities of relative size, but the world of Emptiness transcends the relational amounts.

So Zen master Dogen says: ‘Turning in the fingers a vegetable stalk, he establishes the temple of the Lord of Dharma; in every grain of dust entering, he revolves the wheel of the Law.’ In the monastery there is the Tenzo or one who is in charge of the food, and this is in the instructions for the Tenzo. Those in charge of the food, when they pick up the stalks in their fingers, must do it with the same firmness as establishing the temple of the Dharma-Lord, who is the Buddha. When the cook takes up the vegetable stem, it must be with the same power as building a mighty temple for the installation of the Buddha. Sweeping an almost invisible grain of dust, he must express the power by which the Buddha turned the wheel of the Law by his preaching. From the world of ultimate Emptiness, the world of quantity is transcended.

The spiritual training of Dogen is all Buddhism of action. Our Buddhism has to be manifest in every movement of the hand and every pace of the foot. Taking up the food must be with the firmness of establishing a mighty temple, lifting and lowering the chopsticks must be with the power which turns the wheel of the Law. Not in great matters alone is there to be the great manifestation—in the tiniest thing we must grasp the power which pervades the universe.

In the instructions to the kitchen Dogen says that everyday foods must be called by their elegant and respectful names, and in this too is to be manifested the power which turns the wheel and establishes the temple. Such elegant words may seem over-refined, but he directs that vulgar words must not be used and even a grain of rice must be spoken of with respect. The world of calculation and quantity is transcended and this is the world of real Emptiness.

Neither born nor dying, neither defiled nor pure, neither increased nor lessened: the triple transcendence has been taught to Shariputra, and then the Buddha says: ‘Therefore in Emptiness there is neither form nor sensation, thinking, impulse nor consciousness.’ This is the flavour of Emptiness. In our daily lives we have been leaving tracks of great evil but now there be not the least trace left by our steps. It seems to be rather negative, but this word ‘nor’ reveals the form of Suchness in which our steps leave no trace behind us.

by Abbot Obora of the Soto Zen sect