Instructions for the Cook (Stanford translation)
INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE TENZO (translated by Anzan Hoshin & Yasuda Joshu)
After I returned to Japan I took up residence in Kennin Monastery for several years. That monstery established the position of cook, but it was in name only; there was no one at all who actually carried it out. As yet unaware that this is the work of the Buddha, how pathetic was their pursuit and practice of the way! Truly it is pitiable that they, without meeting such a person, vainly passed their days and recklessly destroyed the way of practice. Once I observed that the monk who held the position of cook at that monastery did nothing at all to manage the two daily meals. He entrusted all matters large and small to a servant without a brain or human feelings, giving him only general instructions. He never ever went to see whether the work was done properly or not. He acted as if he was the wife of a neighboring house: if he went and saw the other, it would be an embarrassment or an injury. He ensconced himself in his office, sometimes reclining, sometimes chatting and laughing, sometimes reading sûtras, and sometimes reciting prayers. For days on end and many months he did not approach the vicinity of the pots. How much less did he take stock of the utensils or pay attention to the flavors and numbers [of side dishes]. How could he possibly have done his job? Needless to say, he had never even dreamed of the two [daily] occasions for making nine prostrations. When the time came for instructing young postulants, he never knew what to do. How pitiable and how sad was that person who lacked the way-seeking mind. Not once did he come into contact with a companion who was possessed of the virtue of the way. Although he entered into the treasure mountain, he came away with empty hands. Although he reached the treasure ocean, he turned back with empty body. You should know that even if he never aroused the thought of enlightenment, if he had seen a single person who set a worthy example he would have attained that way in his practice. And even if he never saw a single person who set a worthy example, if his thought of enlightenment had been profound, he would have hit upon that way in his practice. But in actuality both were lacking, so there was no way for him to benefit.
As I observed in the various monasteries and temples of the Great Sung Nation, the monks who held the positions of stewards and prefects, although they only served for one year, each embodied the three ways of upholding [the buddha dharma]. During their time [in office] they made use of those [three ways], and in their vying for karmic connections they inspired those [three ways].  Even as you benefit others, concurrently there are ample benefits for oneself.  Elevate the monastery pulpit and renew its high standing.  Standing shoulder to shoulder and competing head to head, follow in the footsteps of esteemed forerunners. You should have a detailed knowledge of these matters. There are fools who look upon themselves as if they were someone else, and there are wise people who regard others as themselves.
An ancient said,
Two-thirds of one’s days having swiftly passed,
Not a single aspect of the spirit dais has been polished;
Craving life, day after day goes by in distress;
If one does not turn one’s head when called, what can be done?
You should know that if you have not met a wise teacher, you are liable to be carried away by your emotions. How pitiable the foolish son who left behind the family fortune handed down to him by his prominent father and vainly labored in front of others handling garbage and excrement. At present, are we not liable to be like this?
Three and a half years ago, when I became the abbot of Antaiji, I had to attend a two-day seminary at the Soto headquarters in Tokyo (which by the way also functions as “Grand Hotel Tokyo”), where they taught you all you need to know to be a full-fledged Buddhist priest. One of the lectures was about “the attitude that a resident priest should have”. Hearing this lecture, first I was surprised to learn that a resident priest gains an income from living in the temple. As both the priest and his whole family live for free in the temple precincts, I wouldn’t be so surprised to hear that he is paying to live in the temple – but why should he be paid? As far as I know, none of the abbots at Antaiji ever received an income for being the abbots of Antaiji. The lecturer proceded to proclaim that he received “only 350.000 Yen” (about 3000 dollars) of income from the temple each month, but as he had no children and also worked part time at Komazawa University, spending the rest of his time growing vegetables at his temple, he “gets along all right”. What the hell is he using 350.000 Yen per month for when he is just a hobby farmer that works as a college professor part time? And what “attitude of the resident priest” did he try to communicate to us? I did not fully understand.
But when you think about it, it is just a matter of course that the resident priests receive an income for representing the local affiliates of the funeral corporation. But then they should pay the corporation also a rent for living in their buildings. And in a place like Antaiji, where everyone eats the food that the tenzo cooks in the temple kitchen, we would have to pay a certain price for each meal, or the monthly board. In return, we would get paid for the work we do in the fields, and maybe should even receive a fixed amount of money for each period of zazen we sit? After all, we are keeping the practice at Antaiji going by doing zazen. Of course this is only a joke, but this is actually what the Soto school is expecting from the priests: They are supposed to seperate their private lifes from their function as a priest, i.e. they work as priests for the temple for a certain part of the day, and for the rest of the time they are “off-duty”. The priest gets paid for his services, the costumers (the parish) pay for it. This has nothing to do with the life we aim at at Antaiji, where all the 24 hours of our daily life should be practice. Practice is our life – we don’t pay for it, and we don’t get paid for it.
I realized just how great the gap between our life here and the situation of the Soto school in general is when I looked at the questionaire that the headquarters sent us the other day. It started with the question concerning the members of the sangha (the community of practioners). The Chinese (and Japanese) term for the Sanskrit “sangha” consists of two characters meaning “thicket” and “forest”. The meaning is that the members of the sangha join together just like the many different kinds of trees and bushes growing in a wild forest. There are small ones and big ones, there are straight ones and crooked ones – all united for the sole purpose of practicing the buddha way. The Soto headquarter’s questionaire on the other hand asked if the desciples of the abbot were “1) his real (i.e. not adopted) children 2) adopted children 3) a spouse of one of his children 4) the children of other members of the family, or 5) others”. That someone from outside the family becomes a student of the resident priest is today considered an exceptional rarity. Blood-relationships used to play no role in the Buddhist sangha, they used to be the exception – today they are the rule. Your career as a Zen priest depends solely on your family background. You are born into the Soto school, otherwise you will forever be an outsider. The questionaire goes on to ask questions like: “Do you think that the souls of the ancestors can curse us?” or “Is it OK to perform a funeral on a tomobiki day (a day which is reserved for the performance of marriages and other events, as any event performed on that day is supposed to ‘pull/affect a friend (Jap. tomobiki)’?” The Soto schools questioning has obviously come quite a long way after the quest of figures like Shakyamuni, Bodhidharma or Dogen Zenji. At the end of the questionaire, there was some space for people to feel in their opinions freely. I wrote:
“How will Soto Zen develope from now on? Will we continue to aim at making more and more money through funerals in order to protect the temple buildings? Or will we take a step back and reflect on what our ancestors aimed at with their practice? Or will the Soto school just disappear, as a redundant relict of old times? It might also happen that the school devides into two different organizations, one that sees it as its task to provide funerals and other service for money to anyone who asks for them. The other aimed at preserving the teaching handed down from Shakyamuni Buddha to Dogen Zenji to us. One day it might happen that the temple where I am abbot – Antaiji – will break free from the dead frame of the Soto school and walk its own way. We need some fresh air, not the smell of dead rituals and dirty money.”