Gail Sher Dharma Talks

Gail Sher • Dharma Talks

Shobogenzo Shishobo: The Bodhisattva’s Four Embracing Actions

Shobogenzo "Shishobo":
The Bodhisattva’s Four Embracing Actions

Shobogenzo is an abbreviation of the Japanese expression Shobogenzo nehan myoshin, jisso, muso, mimyo no homon. This is one long word. In the traditional Zen story of the transmission of the Dharma from Shakyamuni Buddha to Mahakashapa, when Shakyamuni held up a flower, Mahakashapa was the only person in the assembly who smiled. The Buddha then said, “I have Shobogenzo nehan myoshin, jisso, muso, mimyo no homon; I entrust it to Mahakashapa.” Thus Shobogenzo is the name of the Dharma that was transmitted from Shakyamuni to Mahakashapa, from Mahakashapa to Ananda, and from ancestor to ancestor through many generations up until the present day.

A rough translation of this expression is: True Dharma Eye Treasurey, Wondrous Mind of Nirvana, True Form of Formlessness, Subtle and Wondrous Dharma Gate. It means that the reality of our lives is the compiled treasury of the true Dharma eye (wisdom), the wondrous mind of Nirvana, in which the true form of all beings is without form, and this reality is very subtle and inconceivable.

Dogen Zenji gave the collection of his writings in Japanese this title. When we read Shobogenzo, we must understand that the topic of each and every fascicle is this reality of our life. In the fascicle Shishobo, the four actions (offering, loving words, beneficial action and identity action) are actual practices in our daily lives. We need to see these practices as Shobogenzo, that is, the Dharma transmitted through buddhas and ancestors. These actions should be done with awakening to the true reality of emptiness and interdependent origination. In Dogen Zenji’s teachings, zazen practice itself is awakening and wisdom, and these four actions are how zazen functions in our daily lives and in relation to other people and living beings.

First Talk: Overview of the Four Embracing Actions in Dogen’s Words

Dana (offering) is the foundation of all the Four Embracing Actions. Loving speech is an offering that uses language, beneficial action is an offering using body and mind, and  identity action is a method we can use to make our offerings acceptable to others.

Date/Time: November 5, 2023 | 10:00 a.m. (Pacific Time)

Duration: 60 minutes

Second Talk: General Remarks about Dogen’s Shobogenzo and Offering (Part 1)

When Dogen Zenji expounds these four practices as “Shobogenzo,” he does not merely mean that these are methods for guiding people to enter the Buddhist path.  Dogen teaches that these four practices allow the bodhisattvas themselves to be free from the three poisonous states of mind: greed, anger/hatred and ignorance.  These practices benefit both the person practicing and living beings at the same time.

Date/Time: November 12, 2023 | 10:00 a.m. (Pacific Time)

Duration: 60 minutes

Third Talk: Offering (Part 2)

When we understand the meaning of dana, receiving a body and giving up a body are both offering. Earning a livelihood and managing a business are nothing other than giving.

Date/Time: November 19, 2023 | 10:00 a.m. (Pacific Time)

Duration: 60 minutes

Fourth Talk: Loving Speech

Although the ability to use language makes us human beings and enables us to develop our civilization, we have the ability to speak words that are contrary to reality. Language can be used as a sword to take life, create enmity, and cut off the sense of connection between people.

Date/Time: December 3, 2023 | 10:00 a.m. (Pacific Time)

Duration: 60 minutes

Fifth Talk: Beneficial Action

“We should take pity on a cornered tortoise and care for a sick sparrow. When we see this tortoise or sparrow, we try to help them without expecting any reward. We are motivated solely by beneficial action itself.”  — Dogen

Date/Time: December 10, 2023 | 10:00 a.m. (Pacific Time)

Duration: 60 minutes

Sixth Talk: Identity Action

When a buddha appears in the human realm, that Buddha therefore takes the form of a human being, and when a buddha appears in the animal realm, that Buddha may therefore take an animal form. This is an example of an identity action that a Buddha performs for the sake of helping all beings.

Date/Time: December 17, 2023 | 10:00 a.m. (Pacific Time)

Duration: 60 minutes