by Hōkō Karnegis
In Dogen Zenji’s Shobogenzo, there is a chapter called “108 Gates of Dharma Illumination.” It’s mostly a long quote from another text called the Sutra of Collected Past Deeds of the Buddha. The third of the 108 gates is delight; the text says:
Delight is a gate of Dharma illumination; for it is the mind of peace and tranquility.
We need to be tranquil in order to experience real delight. Thrill-seeking might seem fun or rewarding for the moment, but it doesn’t lead to lasting happiness. Of course, if we’re agitated because we’re angry or fearful we can’t experience delight either. All of these things we might characterize as disturbance, and peace and tranquility is freedom from disturbance.
That doesn’t mean we remain perfectly still and silent and somber all the time. It isn’t that we can’t dance or sing or cry or engage in whatever is happening in this moment. It means we can do all of those things and yet not be disturbed. When we are not disturbed, we have peace. When we have peace, then delight can arise.
How do we avoid being disturbed? We avoid grasping and judging. As soon as we grab something, give it a name and decide whether it’s a good or bad thing for our small selves, we have disturbance.
Certainly, we can enjoy the pleasant things that our lives present us, but can we encounter each thing as it is, engage with it appropriately and let go of it and move on? If so, we can be delighted with whatever we’re doing and whatever circumstance we’re in. We’re not separating ourselves from what’s happening or protecting our equanimity by being standoffish. We’re wholeheartedly entering into this moment and this reality. We can be Jizos going into hell, and still we can stand up straight and still delight can arise.
How would it be if we could enjoy each moment as it arises? If I can just vacuum the carpet, without grumbling or wishing I was done and on to something more interesting, delight can arise–and it’s not delight at having a clean carpet. There’s still attachment in that kind of good feeling. There’s no need to look for the silver lining or to make things OK, no need to think “I hate doing this, but it’s good for me.“ Don’t get stuck there!
This teaching that delight is a gate of Dharma illumination shows up all the time in our tradition. For instance, in Dogen Zenji’s Tenzo Kyokun, we find:
When tenzos are engaged in cooking, although they encounter coarse [ingredients] they should not arouse negligence; although they encounter delicacies they should be all the more diligent. Therefore, to fulfill these duties for one day and one night is to delight in participating in practice.
The term used in the gate statement is kanki 歓喜; both kanji mean joy or delight. The word Dogen used for “delight in participating in practice” is zuiki 随喜, which as a term means deep gratitude or happiness. Zui is through, during or while; ki is the same joy or delight. Thus the impression is “delight while engaged in something.”
Zuiki comes from Chapter 18 of the Lotus Sutra, “The Merit of Appropriate Joy.” This section describes various incidences of someone hearing the dharma, experiencing delight, sharing that dharma with others and experiencing the resulting merit, described as delight in participating in practice. Traditionally, there are four ways to engage with the dharma: hearing, teaching, reading and reciting or chanting.
It strikes me that when we hear the dharma and start to practice, we start to see how we create suffering in ourselves and others with our greed, anger and ignorance. We begin to get better at heading off this kind of disturbance, become more peaceful and tranquil, and are more likely to respond to dharma practice by experiencing delight. Whether we’re hearing a talk, helping someone else with his or her practice, reading a dharma book or participating in a service, delight can arise naturally. When there’s a lot of static in our lives, it’s harder to take in the teachings and really be aware of what’s happening in our bodies and minds. When we aren’t agitated, dharma can get in. That helps us calm down and experience delight, and we can practice and take in more dharma. The more dharma, the more delight!
This delight is not about our personal happiness or getting our needs met. It’s a selfless delight that we’re able to take into the world for the benefit of others. Like the tenzos engaged in cooking, not judging ingredients, having equanimity while working in the kitchen, we can make effort not to pick and choose and to maintain stability throughout our own lives That’s delighting in participating in practice and being able to benefit others.
My teacher, Shohaku Okumura, writes about delight in the section on the informal meal chant in his book Living by Vow. The chant goes, “As we take food and drink, I vow with all beings to rejoice in zazen, being filled with delight in the dharma.” (Nyaku onjiki ji tougan shujou, zennetsu ijiki houki juman.)
“Delight in the dharma” is houki 法喜. Hou is dharma and ki is the same delight as above. Okumura Roshi writes:
When we eat, we should be happy. This happiness is the enjoyment of dharma. We consider the taste of food to be the taste of dharma. When we receive or eat a meal, we shouldn’t grasp the taste. Usually when we eat, we encounter our food with our desires. These desires are the cause of delusion or samsara. The Buddha and Dogen Zenji teach us to become free from desires caused by objects. This is Dogen’s teaching of shinjin datsuraku, or dropping off body and mind. Our joy when we receive food is not the fulfillment of our desire. It is the joy of dharma and zazen. I think this is the most essential teaching about food and eating.
In zazen, we just observe our desires and delusions coming up without acting on them. It’s a great chance to create the conditions for delight to arise, because the heart and mind settle down. A genuine selfless delight is an indication of some degree of tranquility and an encouragement to our practice. Thus it becomes a gate of dharma illumination.
Ancient Way editor Hōkō Karnegis is the vice abbot of Sanshin Zen Community in Bloomington, IN; previously she was the communications director at Hokyoji Zen Practice Community in southern Minnesota. For more about Hōkō, please visit her website or Facebook page.