Short English Q & A at the very end (2:07:00)!

Shobogenzo Zuimonki
Book 1 Chapter 6
(quoted from:

Once Ejo asked,

“What is the meaning of not being blind to cause and effect?” ①
Dogen replied, “Not moving cause and effect.”

Ejo asked, “How can we be released then?”

Dogen said, “Cause and effect are self-evident.” ②

Ejo inquired further, “Then does cause bring about effect or does effect bring about cause?”

Dogen said, “If it is so in every case, what about Nansen’s ③ killing the cat? When his students could not say anything, Nansen immediately killed the cat. Later, when Joshu heard about the incident, he put his straw sandal on his head and went out. This was excellent action.”

Dogen added, “If I had been Nansen, I would have said, ‘If you cannot speak, I will kill it; even if you can speak, I will kill it. Who would fight over a cat? Who can save the cat? On behalf of the students, I would have said, ‘We are not able to speak, Master. Go ahead and kill the cat!’ Or, I would have said for them, ‘Master, you only know about cutting it (the cat) into two with one stroke, yet you do not know about cutting it into one with one stroke.’”

Ejo asked, “How do you cut it into one with one stroke?”

Dogen said, “The cat itself.”

Dogen added, “If I had been Nansen, when the students could not answer, I would have released the cat saying that the students had already spoken. An ancient master said, ‘When the great-function manifests itself, no fixed rules exist.’”

Dogen also said, “This action of Nansen’s that is, cutting the cat, is a manifestation of the great-function of the buddha-dharma. This is a pivot-word ④. If it were not a pivot-word, it could not be said that mountains, rivers, and the great earth are the excellent pure and bright Mind ⑤. Or it could not be said that Mind itself is the Buddha. Upon hearing this pivot-word, see the cat itself as nothing but the Buddha-body. Upon hearing this word, students must immediately enter enlightenment.”

Dogen also said, “This action, that is, cutting the cat, is nothing other than Buddha’s action.”

Ejo said, “What shall we call it?”

Dogen said, “Call it cutting the cat.”

Ejo asked, “Is it a crime or not?”

Dogen said, “Yes, it is a crime.”

Ejo inquired, “How are we able to be released from it?”

Dogen said, “Buddha’s action and the criminal action are separate, yet they both occur in one action.”

Ejo asked, “Is this what is meant by the Pratimoksa ⑥ Precepts (case by case emancipation)?”

Dogen said, “Yes, it is. Though it all right, it’s better not to use such a method.”
Ejo asked, “Does the term ‘violation of the precepts refer to the crimes committed after having received the precepts? Or are the crimes committed before receiving the precepts also called ‘violation of the precepts’?”

Dogen replied, “Violation of the precepts applies only to those crimes committed after having received the precepts. Crimes committed before receiving the precepts are just called crimes or evil deeds. They should not be called ‘violation of the precepts’.”
Ejo asked, “Among the forty-eight minor precepts ⑥, there is one which states that crimes committed prior to receiving the precepts are called violations.”

Dogen replied, “That’s not true. What it means is that a person about to receive the precepts should repent ⑦ of evil deeds committed in the past. According to the ten major precepts or the forty-eight minor precepts, such evil deeds are called violations. The crimes committed before are not called ‘violation of the precepts’.”

Ejo asked, “In the Precept Sutra, it says that when a person receives the precepts, he should repent of the misdeeds committed until then. The master has to teach the major and minor precepts and have the student recite them. However, in the next section of the sutra, it says that you should not preach about the precepts to people who have not yet received them. How should we resolve this contradiction?”

Dogen replied, “Receiving the precepts and reciting the precepts are different. Reciting the Precept Sutra for the sake of repentance is nothing other than reading the sutras. Therefore, a person who has not yet received the precepts also recites the Precept Sutra. It cannot be wrong to explain the Precept Sutra to him. What the latter part of the sutra says is that you should not preach the precepts to people who have not received them for the purpose of gaining profit. You should certainly teach the precepts in order to have people repent of their evil deeds.”

Ejo asked, “Although it is said that a person who has committed the seven-grave-crimes ⑧ cannot be permitted to receive the precepts, the former part of the sutra says that the seven-grave-crimes should also be repented. What does this mean?”
Dogen replied, “They should certainly be repented. The meaning of the passage, ‘They are not permitted to receive the precepts’ is for the purpose of inhibiting the commission of the seven-grave-crimes. The former sentence means that even if one violates the precepts, he will be pure when he receives the precepts again. When he repents, he is pure. It is different from a person who has not yet received the precepts.”
Ejo asked, “If one who has committed any of the seven grave crimes is permitted to repent, can he receive the precepts again?”

Dogen replied, “Yes. The late Master Eisai himself insisted on this. Once a person who has committed one of the seven grave crimes is allowed to repent, he is also permitted to receive the precepts. The teacher should allow a person who has repented to receive the precepts, even one who has committed the seven-grave-crimes. Even if the teacher himself violates the precepts by doing so, as a bodhisattva, for the sake of saving that person, he has to allow him to receive them.”


① This is a quotation taken from a story about Hyakujo Ekai and an old man. (The eighth case of the Shoyoroku , the second case of the Mumonkan). Whenever Hyakujo gave lectures, there was an old man who was always in attendance. When the monks left after the lecture, he also left. One day the old man did not leave. Hyakujo asked him, “ Who is standing in front of me?” The old man said, “At the time of Kashapa-buddha in the distant past, I was living on this mountain. Once a student asked me whether a person of the great-practice would fall into causality or not. I replied to him, ‘No, (such a person) would not fall into causality. ‘ Because of that answer I became a wild fox for five hundred lives. I beg you to please give me a pivot-word.” Hyakujo replied, “(Such a person) is not blind to causality.”
Dogen made his own commentary on this story in Shobogenzo Daishugyo (The Great Practice) and Shobogenzo Jinshin-inga (Having profound Faith in Cause and Effect).

② In the Choenji-bon version, this passage reads, “Cause and effect are self-evident and occur simultaneously,” making the connection between this sentence and the following one more natural.

③ This refers to the story about Nansen Fugan (749–834) and his disciples. (The ninth case of the Shoyoroku, the fourteenth case of the Mumonkan).
One day the monks of the Eastern and Western Halls in Nansen’s monastery were arguing over a cat. Nansen saw it, took the cat and said, “If someone can speak, I won’t kill the cat.” None in the assembly spoke. Nansen cut the cat in two. Later, Nansen related the incident to Joshu (778–895) and asked him what he thought about it. Joshu took off his sandal, put it on his head, and left. Nansen said, “If you had been there, you would have saved the cat.”

④ A powerful word or phrase by which the basis of a person hearing it will be turned around.

⑤ In his Shobogenzo Sokushinzebutsu, Dogen quoted from an old master, “What is the excellent pure and bright mind like? Mountains, rivers, and the great earth, the sun, the moon, and the stars.” And Dogen said, “It should be clearly understood that the Mind is mountains, rivers, and the great earth, the sun, the moon and the stars.”

⑥ In the Yuikyogyo (The Sutra of the Last Discourse), the Buddha said, “Monks, after my death, respect and follow the pratimoksa. If you do, you will be like a person who has been given a light in the darkness, or like a pauper who has acquired a great treasure.”

⑦ At the meeting of fusatsu (Skt. uposata) as well as at the time of receiving the precepts at ordination, one repents of all wrong doings in the past. The following verse on repentance is chanted during sutra chanting.
“All the karma ever created by me
in the past, through greed, anger, or self-delusion
which has no beginning, born of my body, speech, and thought
I now make complete and open confession of it.”

⑧ The seven-grave-crimes are hurting buddha’s body, killing one’s father, killing one’s mother, killing the teacher from whom one has received ordination, killing the teacher with whom one studies, causing disunity in the sangha, killing a sage (arhat).