Bodaisattva Shishobo (1): four dimensions of Bodhisattva action

[Four ways for a bodhisattva to act include] unconditional giving, compassionate words, [carrying out deeds that] benefit all beings and union with [or, identity with] the action (2). Unconditional giving means to not be covetous. To be uncovetous may be more commonly understood as not currying favor. Even though we may rule over vast domains (3), to offer the Way directly and with certainty is simply not to be covetous (4). It is like offering something we are about to throw away to a person we do not know (5). An offering of flowers to the Tathagata one after another without cessation (6), or offering something of value from a former lifetime to all sentient beings, whether it be something spiritual or material, the virtuous functioning of unconditional giving is commensurate with and inherent in each individual act (7). Although there is nothing that we possess by nature, this is no obstacle to unconditional giving. We should not look lightly on something we are about to give away, even though it may seem trivial to us, as the [inherent] virtue of that gift will surely bear fruit (8).


[ASR] Aoyama Shundo roshi
[DTW] Daitsu Tom Wright
[ZGDJ] Zengaku dai jiten (Complete dictionary on Zen)
[BDJ] Bukkyo dai jiten (Complete dictionary on Buddhism)

1) The title Bodaisattva Shishobo refers to four aspects of bodhisattva actions—shishobo 四摂法 actions intimately connected toward being/becoming one on the way-seeking path of a bodaisattva or bodhisattva (Japanese, bosatsu) 菩提薩多. These should not be understood as some sort of moral imperatives. Rather they should be understood as principles or truths that are already working within us, if we only open our eyes to them. In Sanskrit, catuhsamgrahavastu. They are mentioned both in the Hoke-kyo or Lotus Sutra and the Avatamsaka or Garland Sutra. The shishobo are sometimes called shishoji 四摂事. Also, shishoshomon 四摂初門.
2) In Japanese, the four kinds of actions mentioned are fuse 布施, aigo愛語, rigyo 利業, and douji 同事.
3) In Japanese, shi[dai]shu 四「大」洲, or the four continents. Dogen is using this expresssion as a metaphor for suggesting that even if we were to control the whole world ~.
4) It is interesting to note Dogen’s use of offer or in Japanese, hodokosu 施す, one of the characters in the word I translated as unconditional giving or fuse 布施. In these opening sentences, Dogen translates the original two-character Chinese word into a more understandable Japanese expression for his Japanese readers, musaborazu, that is, the negative form of covetous and then, further, he defines it with the word hetsurau, that is, to curry favor with or flatter.
5) [ASR] Perhaps a concrete example of what Dogen is saying here is giving up our seat on a train to a complete stranger without particularly being conscious that we are “giving up” anything. Waiting to be thanked or being miffed at not being thanked is not the spirit of fuse or unconditional giving. An invisible but concrete example of such giving might be the wind which gives us the air and oxygen we breathe. Unconditional giving is inherent in the wind itself, but the wind is not thinking it is giving us anything. [DTW] In this and the succeeding sentence, Dogen takes the word unconditional giving or fuse out of the simply moral or charitable realm and shows the inherency or naturalness, of unconditional giving prior to our awareness of it as a conscious act. [Text note] An illustration of not being possessive of things nor expecting thanks from the person we’ve given something to. This is also the practice of ‘not gaining’ or mushotoku 無所得.
6) [ZGDJ] The original phrase, enzan no hana 遠山の花, literally means flowers from the mountain Enzan, but in this case, implies doing something again and again without stopping. The flower is being used metaphorically for any gift that might be given. Here, Enzan is not referring so much to a particular place as it is suggesting the frequency of something, in this case, repeated action of giving. Enzan is used elsewhere in Zen to suggest enlightenment piled on enlightenment, that is, enlightenment is not a one shot thing, but rather must be experienced again and again more deeply. In our daily lives, it means that no matter how careful we are with our lives, there are still many things which we do not see and need to awaken to in order to live out our lives more fully.
7) What Dogen is emphasizing here is that unconditional giving is present before any conscious or even sub-conscious thought of our giving something arises.
8) [Text note] Do not “offer” something because you no longer need it or care for it and merely wish to throw it away. The value of the gift will be recognized by the receiver.


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