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SOTOZEN.COM > Library > Sermons > Beneficial deeds - Rigyo 利行 by Rev. Jiso Forzani part 1


Beneficial deeds - Rigyo 利行 by Rev. Jiso Forzani part 1

The expression "rigyo" is typical of canonical language used by the Sotoshu.  It is found in Dogen Zenji's text, Bodaisatta shishobo 菩提薩埵四摂法 which is the twenty-eighth fascicle in the sixty fascicle version of Shobogenzo.

Scholars investigating the writing, history, and in some cases authenticity of the Shobogenzo fascicles have not yet come to unanimously shared conclusions. Scholars reckon the seventy-five fascicleversion as the most reliable Shobogenzo, with the addition of the separate collection of twelve fascicles. The text we have chosen is not part of this edition. In the list of the Shobogenzo English version in progress as part of the Soto Zen Text Project organized by Sotoshu Administrative Headquarters, Bodaisatta shishobo is temporarily listed among "other fascicles."

We cannot consider here the complex studies of the genesis of each volume of Shobogenzo, but it is enough to point out that the placement of our text is not established for certain. Nevertheless, a large excerpt of it constitutes a relevant part of the fourth section of Shushogi 修証義, a collation of sentences excerpted from Dogen Zenji's texts compiled at the end of the nineteenth century as a kind of compendium, mostly for lay use, of the main points of Sotoshu doctrine.

To be able to speak about the expression rigyo, which is the theme this time, we should try to understand the meaning of the title of the text, Bodaisatta shishobo, which I translate as "The four comprehensive bodisattva's methods."

Bodaisatta is the Chinese translation of the Sanskrit word, "bodhisattva," literally meaning, according to the Sanskrit-English Dictionary by Monier-Williams, "one whose essence is perfect knowledge; one who is on the way to the attainment of perfect knowledge."

The shades of meaning of ancient words still in use, change with the changing of cultural influences and of general sensibility: "Bodhisattva," in time, came to mean only Maitreya, that is to say, the next Buddha, the past incarnations of Shakyamuni on the way to becoming Buddha, those who would realize Buddhahood in the next life, and ones who follow the Way pointed out by Buddha to verify it in their own lives.

Nowadays, if I were to give a synthetic definition of "Bodhisattva's" meaning I would say: everyone who follows the Way that Buddha walked, not for the sake of personal realisation but believing that the goal Buddha pointed out is the best possible also for his/her own life. I will try afterwards to better clarify what this means.

Shishobo is also the Chinese translation of the original Sanskrit expression catuḥ-saṃgraha-vastu. I mention here this etymological reference just to point out that it is an ancient expression, already in use at least ten centuries before Dogen Zenji's time (for instance, we find it in the Lotus Sutra). The reference to the Sanskrit words, however, while being useful for us to better catch some shades of the expression's meaning, does not help us understand what Dogen Zenji meant by using that word, because he didn't know the Sanskrit original.

The word is composed of three Chinese characters which respectively mean: shi 四four; sho 摂to understand, to embrace; bo(ho) 法manner, method. Nearer: sho, usually we read as setsu, a character most readers often meet, because it is part of the compound word sesshin摂心, which in the Zen-world usually describes a communal intensive zazen retreat. Sesshin means for instance "meeting of hearts" and even more simply "spiritual union." Participants in sesshin are spiritually unified by the fact of sitting still silently together with the only goal of sitting still silently together, realizing by this fact a spiritual union both personal and communal. Setsu (read exceptionally in this case sho) means both something that unifies, comprehends, embraces, and the union itself, the very fact of comprehending and integrating. Ho, here read bo for euphonic reasons, is the Chinese character translating the Sanskrit word dharma, with all its meanings. In my understanding, in this case ho has the meaning of method, way of being as way of thinking, of speaking, of behaving.

Briefly, shishobo is the four comprehensive ways of being of a bodhisattva, both because they include all the existential attitudes of the bodhisattva who understands and embraces all four, and because we can recognize a bodhisattva from the fact that he/she comprehends and realizes in his/her way of life those four ways of being. They are respectively called: fuse 布施, aigo 愛語, rigyo 利行, doji 同事.

This is the context where we meet the expression that is the theme of this article, rigyo 利行.

We don't know exactly how Dogen Zenji himself understood this word and in which sense he used it.  I think it is impossible to reconstruct Dogen Zenji's meaning, even if we analyse his words with great care. We see with our own eyes, we analyse with the instruments we have at hand, we understand with our own intellect: Our efforts at objectivity cannot be separated from our subjective position. We have therefore to acknowledge that our understanding is composed of two elements: First, faithfulness to the most accurate study and investigation of Dogen Zenji possible intention. Second, our personal interpretation of that expression, which is necessarily different from what Dogen Zenji "really" meant. This is why it is said that a good translation is a "faithful infidelity."

To be continued.