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Shodoka. Poem 69
by Taisen Deshimaru Roshi
We are hungry, and even before a royal table
we do not eat.
We are sick, and even if we meet the king of doctors,
we do not follow his advice.
How can we be healed?
The king's dinner doesn't satisfy us if we don't eat it. When we're sick, even if the king of doctors cares for us, how can we heal if we don't follow his advice?
It is necessary to practice.
It is essential to practice zazen. If we try to understand religion or teaching only through books or through the brain, we cannot penetrate it deeply. Some understand Zen intellectually but don't practice. They think zazen is very difficult or only possible in a monastery. To the day they die, they never stop changing opinions, and become incapable of finding the final, essential truth of existence.
The king's table: they admire it before them, but they do not touch it.
Others begin the practice of zazen, and after a little while, think they understand everything. Then they stop. Westerners do not know very well how to persevere.
Master Dogen wrote in the beginning of the Shobogenzo, "Everyone possesses 'this', Buddha-nature. But if we do not practice, we cannot have satori, as the practice itself is satori." The meaning of Yoka's poem is the same. No one can taste the experience of satori in your place.
Zazen is to seize one's real self, to find true inner freedom. If we only face outwards, how can we find this true self and this inner freedom? To face outwards is like fooling around in the playground.
Some think, "Zazen is good. I understand it. So I don't need to practice anymore." So they prefer to dedicate themselves to their work, to their family and use them as excuses. Others say, "Zazen is painful, zazen is expensive, I don't like Sensei, the discipline is too severe." They always finds many reasons to prefer knowledge to practice, to study the outer rather than study the self.
Some think they don't need any help. Big mistake. You must practice to know yourself, to return to the normal condition. We are offered a good meal, but we are incapable of eating it. We stay hungry. Another meets a great doctor, but doesn't understand the remedy given and cannot heal.
Zazen means to become intimate with oneself. Zazen is a good meal, an excellent remedy.
It must be practiced.
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