The others are not me

- through Sophie Solere

Published on

Or how to find the right match between being and action.

As Chinshu and Tosui made their way to Katada to continue their begging rounds, they discovered a dead body by the side of the road; the poor man known to the master had died during the night and already a nauseating odor was beginning to tickle the nostrils of the two travellers. Tosui decided to bury him without delay. Once the task was done, he noticed a bowl of moldy soup left nearby, in which rotted vegetables were floating; he swallowed the infamous broth with a good appetite and handed the rest of the bowl to the young Chinshu. The latter, although disgusted, took it upon himself and swallowed two or three mouthfuls with difficulty, grimacing as the devil. Unable to finish this pittance, Tosui asked him to return the bowl to him which he finished until the last drop, feasting on the smallest piece of this dish so unappetizing. At the sight of his master greedily swallowing this greenish, filthy and fetid porridge, Chinshu could not suppress a final spasm and vomited everything on the spot. Pale and trembling, he collapsed on the side of the road. Tosui then addressed him in these terms: “I warned you, and this from the beginning, you cannot follow me. You are not capable of it. Your determination blinded you and you didn't want to take my advice. Here ends our journey together. Return to the monastery and forget me, even in dreams. Have a good trip ! At these words, the master took the road to the lake without waiting or looking back. The story says that after many years of practice, the young Chinshu became a respected and virtuous teacher.

Covetousness and thirst for achievement

The young and naive reader that I was able to be saw in Tosui a champion of asceticism and of the most bare and rigorous path possible, and in poor Chinshu a weakling, undetermined disciple who could not manage to go beyond their own categories and master their reactions. Today, this story obviously inspires me to read a whole different story. The materialism of the student is, here, not so much in his inability to adapt to precariousness and the greatest simplicity as to manifest the desire to compete with his master by leading a life that he judges superior to all the others, including his own. This lust is the heart of the problem. To desire a virtuous life, to be proud of achievements and righteous actions is still and always powder in one's own eyes, flowers in one's eyes. The thirst for achievement is a bewilderment, probably the most subtle and vicious of all. It is up to everyone to manifest in their own way and not by borrowing from others their own form and understanding of the path. An episode that has remained famous recounts the decisive encounter of Dôgen, the one who brought back the practice of zazen stripped of the self in Japan, with a modest cook. This anecdote remains resounding for the young abbot he will become since he will write a few years later a booklet dealing with the art of cooking and Zen, the Tenzo Kyokun, Instructions for the cook, in which he tells this anecdote: in the still warm light of late autumn, Dogen saw a hunched and leaning form on mushrooms that she was arranging to offer them to the rays of the sun. T'ien-t'ung's cook was old, tired and leaning on a bamboo cane; bareheaded under the solar brazier, he meticulously arranged the deformed bodies, pedicles and hats in order to dry them. He had bushy eyebrows as white as clouds or foam, and in this oven facing the imposing Buddha hall and with his head uncovered, he was dripping with sweat from the effort and the pain.

The teaching of the master and his acolyte, as well as that of the old cook, reminds us that we are only what we do and always do what we are.

- How old are you ?
"Sixty-eight," replied the old man, giving the young monk a mischievous look.
“But at your age, you should seek help,” Dôgen exclaimed.
“The others aren't me,” replied the cook, his nose still in the mushrooms.
– I understand that you want to live according to the Law, but the sun is beating down at this hour, why work now?
– If I don't work now, when will I?
Dogen found nothing to answer and left the old man to his business.

What could appear as evidences and truisms remains however rarely understood and experienced. The old man gives himself completely to an activity that takes the place of his universe and existence, unconditionally and without the slightest compromise. No excuse, neither his age nor the heat of the sun, could slow down an activity for which he would consider no other pair of hands and eyes. This modest task requires all his attention and his compassion, nothing can divert him from it.

The teaching of the master and his acolyte, as well as that of the old cook, reminds us that we are never anything but what we do and always do what we are, just the adequacy of being and action. Everyone is in their rightful place.

photo of author

Sophie Solere

Sophie Solère is an economic and social journalist who has been interested for years in the environment and interdependence. She works for Buddhist News, a media platform dedicated to Buddhist spirituality and wisdom. By practicing yoga and meditative dance, Sophie discovered the power of spiritual journeys, which offer so many paths to (re)find yourself. She is dedicated to sharing inspiring stories and valuable advice on spiritual practice and the environment with Buddhist News readers.

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