In a talk on various subjects, Dogen instructed:
Students of the Way, do not worry about food and clothing. Although Japan is a small country, far removed (from the Buddha’s country), there are quite a few people who were famous as scholars of the Exoteric and Esoteric Teachings, and who have become known to later generations. There are also many people who devote themselves to poetry, music, literature, and the martial arts. I have never heard of even one of them who had an abundance of food and clothing. They became known because they all endured poverty and forgot about other matters, so they could devote themselves completely to their own profession.
This is all the more true of people learning the Way in this tradition of the patriarchs. They have abandoned their occupations in society, and never seek after fame and profit. How could they become wealthy? Although this is the degenerate age, there are thousands of people in the monasteries in China who are learning the Way. There are some who came from remote districts or left their home provinces. In any case, although they never worry about their poverty, almost all of them are poor. Their only concern is that they have not yet attained the Way. Sitting either in a lofty building or under it, they practice [zazen] wholeheartedly as if they had lost their mother.
I personally met a monk from Shisen who had no possessions because he had come from a remote district. All he had was a few pieces of ink stick. They cost about two or three hundred mon in China, which is about twenty or thirty mon in Japan. He sold them, bought very low quality Chinese paper, and made an upper robe and lower robe with it. Whenever he stood up or sat down, he made strange noises, though he never paid any attention to it.
Someone said to him, “Go back home and bring some personal belongings and clothing.”
He replied, “My home is far away. I don’t want to waste time on the road home, and lose time to practice the Way.”
He practiced the Way all the more, without being concerned with cold weather. This is why many prominent people have appeared in China.
I have heard that at the time of the founder of the monastery on Mt. Seppo, the temple was so poor they sometimes had no food to cook or sometimes had to eat green beans steamed with rice. They lived such a poor life while learning the Way. In later years there were never less than fifteen hundred monks staying at the monastery.
Ancient people practiced in such a way. Today, we should also be like this. This degeneration of monks is often caused by wealth and fame. In the time of the Buddha, Dêvadatta aroused jealousy since he received daily offerings of five hundred cartloads of provisions. Wealth was harmful not only to himself, but made other people commit evil deeds. How can sincere people who learn the Way become wealthy? Even if it is an offering made from pure faith, if it accumulates in abundance, you must see it as a debt and want to return it.
People in this country make donations for the sake of gaining personal profit. It is only natural in the human world to give more to people who approach with a flattering smile. However, if you do so to curry favor with others, it will surely become an obstacle to your practice of the Way. Just endure the hunger and the cold and devote yourself completely to the practice of the Way.
One day Dogen instructed:
An ancient person said, “Listen, see, attain.”
Further, “If you haven’t attained, see. If you haven’t yet seen, listen.”
He meant that seeing is superior to listening, attaining is superior to seeing. If you haven’t attained, you should see. If you haven’t seen, you should listen.