Dogen’s Encounter With The Chief Cook


Zen Master Dogen had a couple of major turn arounds while he was in China and both were connected with mushrooms! The first was his encounter with an elderly chief cook who came to buy mushrooms from the boat the young Dogen was on. (When he arrived in China he was not able to immediately disembark and so had to remain on the boat until he was clear to land – immigration difficulties even in those days). The second encounter was when he had gone ashore and had finally arrived at Tendozan. There he came across another elderly monk who was drying mushrooms in the heat of the day. Both encounters were formative and they both pointed to the primacy of simple work and the importance of applying oneself to that as a priority.

We celebrated the Festival of Zen Master Dogen here at Shasta Abbey this morning and Rev. Master Daishin, the Vice Abbot, gave the talk after the ceremony. The title of the talk is Great Master Dogen’s Three Minds and can be downloaded from the Shasta Abbey website. I wholeheatedly recommend listening to it.

Rev. Master Daishin was the Chief Cook while I was training here and I, like most of the novices, benefited from working with him in the kitchen in the 1980’s. The talk reflects his hands on practical approach to monastic life as well as his upbeat sense of fun and joy in living, which have had a huge impact on me. Fantastic. This afternoon I tracked him down to check something he said in the talk that I wanted to quote him on. He was splitting wood, hands on practical as ever. Unfortunately I’m not confident in my memory to quote him now. You will just have to go listen to the whole talk. Mushrooms are mentioned since the Reverend elaborates on Dogens two formative encounters mentioned earlier. I’m so glad too since I was wondering how I’d be able to post this photograph taken at the Monterey Market and have any kind of link to Buddhism. Thank you Zen Master Dogen and thanks to the Rev. Master Daishin too.

This post is for a young Reverend who reads posts here. And for all young Reverends, and trainees generally, everywhere

The following information, in edited form, is from the comment section.

For those who are interested, you can find four talks Rev. Master Daishin gave on the whole chapter of Instructions to the Chief Cook by Great Master Dogen.

The text for the above chapter can be found within Zen Is Eternal Life, by Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett. It’s a free download.

Thanks to the ‘young Reverend’. You should know it is my choice not to mention monks by name, unless I’ve got their permission.

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9 thoughts on “Dogen’s Encounter With The Chief Cook”

  1. I was at a retreat at the Abbey this Spring and ran across something in my mind which I made note of.

    ” All these impediments, all these stumbling blocks that I think are holding me back, are in reality the Fuel and the Fire that help propel me onward.”
    Just then, I heard RM Daishin splitting wood downstairs (in the workshop), and interrupted him to read that to him and ask if this was true. After a pause, he said, “Yes, in a sense it is true.” He continued splitting wood and I went on my way and am still digesting that food of the dharma.
    Very little teaching is formal, most of it is very practical and often we can see the teaching in action, and at work. Literally

  2. Thank you very much, Rev. Master Mugo, for your post, as well as for relating your experience in the kitchen with Rev. Master Daishin. It is very helpful and inspiring for us young monastics.

    An example, true wisdom, and every-day teachings to live by; again, again, and ever again. “I long to be thus….”

    The talk Rev. Master Daishin gave yesterday is, indeed, great.

    For those who are interested, you can also find four talks Rev. Master Daishin gave on the whole chapter on Instructions to the Chief Cook by Great Master Dogen here:

    And the actual text of the chapter is found within Rev. Master Jiyu’s Zen is Eternal Life, which can be found here for free .pdf download (it is 5mb.)

    Thank you again.

  3. I just wanted to say thank you so very much for posting this link to ‘Zen is Eternal Life’. I treasure this book and a PDF version is a wonderful gift and incredibly useful.


  4. Thank you for pointing out this series of talks and the text in Zen is Eternal Life and thank you to Rev. Mugo for the recent photographs of produce, particularly the mushrooms.

    I am currently in a position where I have more available time than usual as I am signed-off work and quietly recovering from a recent surgery. In a physically weakened state I am unable to busy myself with the usual distractions.

    This gives me a wonderful opportunity to spend more time in Zazen and also to be able to listen to talks and do a little study.

    But where to begin? When presented with an opportunity like this I often feel it is hard to know where to start, where to direct my attention so that I make best use of the ‘gift’ of the time I have at my disposal. I know that looking at time in this way is not helpful and I also know that nothing we ‘do’ is a waste of time. However, I have still felt a mild sense of panic about this recently.

    I have now taken Zen is Eternal Life from my shelf and found the relevant text.
    A good place to begin.

    Again – thank you.
    In gassho

  5. Dear Wes. So glad you benefit from this book by Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett. I just didn’t know it was now on the Shasta Abbey site. Every good wish with your site – too. I’d no idea there was so much Buddhism happening in Wales. I lived in Newport for a few years, not involved with practice then. Hope you stop and comment again.

  6. seriously…serious. One thing that you might do while you are recovering is jigsaw puzzles Julie. They are wonderful. And I am glad you are up and well enough to leave a comment here. Good news. I’ve been very behind with answering comments and I am sorry about that.

    Mild sense of panic – about having all this time…? Yes I can understand especially when one is normally active and time is filled up with this that and the other thing. But perhaps now is the ‘time’ to contemplate the business of
    ‘time passing’ and ‘time being filled up’. Perhaps you can go and look at the Shobogenzo chapter Uji, existence/time/flow?

  7. Thanks Helmut. When I was prior of Reading Priory (20 years ago now) I had a novice with me who I was training and people coming to the priory would observe us in action, observe us interacting. Several people said, years later, that they learnt most about practice from seeing us interacting and seeing how we handled difficult or sensitive situations between us and within the life of the Priory. So you are right about teaching coming through action. Some of the most powerful insights for me come via simple interaction – with existence. In here somewhere is the seamless nature of existence – there being no gaps, no ‘teaching’ as such.

  8. Thank you for your comment Rev. Mugo.

    I guess I am feeling pretty serious at present. I think perhaps this is my default setting actually. I remember one year, many moons ago, I resolved to bring more ‘fun’ into my life. But it didn’t happen.

    Hmmm . . . .a jigsaw puzzle – there’s a thought. I used to enjoy them when I was young. The last one I contributed to was at Throssel one January during the Sangha retreat.

    I have several creative projects all lined up ready to ‘occupy’ me, and I really want to do them but I just can’t get to any of them the ‘mild panic’ has me frozen.

    And I think you are right to point me towards Uji – a chapter I find I return to again and again. . . . .and again!

    Thank you.

    In gassho

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