The Shushogi is a 19th century compilation, originally for the Japanese laity, of some of Great Master Dogen’s works. Chapter 4 is entitled ‘Awakening to the mind of the Bodhisattva’. The chapter is about the four wisdoms of charity, tenderness, benevolence and sympathy. I would like to concentrate on tenderness, mainly because it can appear to be an undervalued part of zen practice. This may be partly, I think, to an over dependence on or misreading of the koan collections in zen. Although in many cases they describe actions that come from a deep well of compassion, the many cases of raised fists, shouts, punches and kicks which are used to shake the student free of ingrained ways of behaviour and thinking can be misunderstood when not seen from the perspective of a master/disciple relationship or even a cultural context. This can lead to wrong action rooted in a self which rather than being transformed becomes an endless cycle of similar behaviour.
Here is what Dogen has to say from the Shushogi:
‘By praising those who exhibit virtue, and feeling sorry for those who do not, our enemies become our friends and they who are our friends have their friendship strenghtened: this is all through the power of tenderness. Whenever one speaks kindly to another their face brtightens and their heart is warmed; if a kind word be spoken in his absence, the impression will be a deep one: tenderness can have a revolutionary impact upon the mind of man.’
All this can seem obvious and straight forward yet within practice and for sincere and genuine reasons we can easily judge others efforts. We can believe ourselves to be in the right and that we can put them right if only what others did would reflect itself in what we do ourselves. To give a kindly smile or word can to some of us at any particular time seem a bit lax or insipid and a sterner countenance is needed. Well maybe it is, but it can still arise from tenderness and compassion. I don’t believe Dogen is talking about just being nice but he is saying be gentle.
Tenderness can be seen and experienced when we know there is nothing to hold onto or gain. Tenderness is comfortable in its true home where it can roam freely within the precepts. With good strong roots tenderness can bend with the wind rather than snap or get blown away. If we can sit with open hands and a generous heart, the begging bowl that is this body/mind, and can accept all that is placed in it, this then is a charitable act, a tender act, a benevolent act and a sympathetic act, to ourselves as well as others. To look and see tenderly is to know that all is soft and yielding yet may have the appearance of being hard and unforgiving. Whilst we may not see fully and clearly see, it shouldn’t put us off taking steps to do so. We all have the potential to awaken to the mind of the bodhisattva.
Rev. Gareth Milliken
Shushogi from Zen is Eternal Life Rev. Master Jiyu Kennett Shasta Abbey Press