Date and Place Written: 1240, Kannon-dori-kosho-horin-ji temple (Fukakusa)
Fascicle number and English title in Hubert Nearman translation: 84. On the Spiritual Merits of the Kesa
Fascicle number and English title in Nishijima/Cross translation: 12. The Merit of the Kaṣāya.
Fascicle number and English title in Tanahashi translation: 13. Power of the Robe
Fascicle number in 12, 28, 60 and 75 fascicle editions: 3 (12), 41 (60)
Commentaries: none known
Dōgen sets out that the Buddha’s robe (Skrt. kaṣāya, Jp. kesa) was transmitted in Zen from Bodhidharma onwards, being brought east from India, and passing from Buddhist patriarch to Buddhist patriarch through five Chinese masters until the Sixth Patriarch Dajian Huineng (Jp. Daikan Enō; 638-713). It was held in high regard by emperors who brought it to their court.
Dōgen talks about the robe being passed along the main lineage of succession and says it can liberate all of us from our afflictions and karma. He imbues it with magical qualities, allowing dragons to escape heat and ridding a bull of wrongdoing.
The kaṣāya is identified as three robes: the five-stripe robe, seven-stripe robe and nine-stripe robe and it is explained how to wear it. Receiving the kaṣāya is said to be the result of past good conduct. Dōgen calls it the robe of liberation [which is the phrasing used in the Takkesage, Verse of the Robe, chanted daily in Zen centres after the first period of Zazen].
The kinds of rags used to make a kaṣāya are described although it is presented as being beyond the material it is made from. Instructions are given for washing the kaṣāya (soak for two hours in boiled fragrant water, and then in boiled water containing ashes until it cools. After, mix aloes, sandalwood or other incense into some cold water and rinse the kaṣāya, hanging it on a washing pole to dry it. The kaṣāya is then folded when dry and put in a high place, incense is burned and petals scattered, circumambulations and prostrations are performed. The Verse of the Robe is chanted before placing it back on).
Sections of the Compassionate Lotus Sutra (Skrt. Karuna Pundarika Sutra, Jp. Hige-kyō) are quoted praising the kaṣāya and its five sacred merits (anyone wearing a kaṣāya will be (1) affirmed as a future buddha, (2) not regress in their practice, (3) will satisfy hunger and thirst, (4) will be compassionate in hostile situations and (5) will be protected from harm).
Coarse cotton is considered the standard material for making the kaṣāya, but fine cotton or silk is okay to use, with patterned cloth and sheer silk also approved of by the Buddha. The kaṣāya should be dyed blue, yellow, red, black or purple. It should not be a primary colour. The Buddha is quoted as naming nine kinds of robe (of 9, 11, 13, 15, 17, 19, 21, 23 and 25 strips). The uttarāsaṃgha (outer) robe is said to have seven stripes, each with two long segments and one short segment [this is the kesa most often worn by Japanese Zen monks].
Secular robes used to be ‘single-stitched’ but now all kaṣāya are back-stitched in the manner of authentic transmission.
The Verse of the Robe (Jp. Takkesage) is given and the Buddha is quoted saying that shaving the head and wearing the kaṣāya will protect a person through their life. A sutra is quoted with the Buddha telling bhikṣu Wisdom-Brightness of the ten merits of the kaṣāya. The Middle-length Discourses (Pali: Majjhima Nikāya) are quoted, comparing the gathering of rags to the conduct of a man who has good bodily conduct but foul speech, or good speech yet poor behaviour. The merits of the man should be taken and the rest rejected, just as the good pieces of the rags should be kept and the remainder discarded.
Ten sorts of rags are described (rags chewed by an ox, rags gnawed by rats, burned rags, menstrual rags, rags from childbirth, rags offered at a shrine, rags from a graveyard, rags offered in prayers, rags from old uniforms, rags from a funeral). Dōgen exhorts us to collect these rags and consider them as pure for making the kaṣāya. Alternatively, we can make the kaṣāya from fabric bought at the market or otherwise obtained, and all should be considered as rags. These rags are neither for a humble robe or ostentatious garment, they are just for the Buddha-Dharma, and to wear the kaṣāya is to have received the authentic transmission of the Treasury of the True Dharma Eye [Shōbōgenzō].
Dōgen ends by describing the joy he felt in watching Chinese monks place the kaṣāya on their head and chant the Verse of the Robe, such that it brought him to tears. It led him to vow to become a successor of the Buddha-Dharma and to bring the authentic transmission back to Japan with him.
Kōans and Stories
A monk once asked Huineng if the robe he received from the fifth Zen ancestor should be seen as cotton or silk, or some other kind of material?
Huineng replied that it is not cotton and it is not silk [pointing to the Buddha’s robe being beyond the material].
The bhikṣuṇi Utpalavarṇā is discussing home leaving with a noblewoman and tells her that even if someone breaks the precepts and falls into hell, having taken the precepts is a direct cause for obtaining the truth of awakening. Utpalavarṇā also recounts that she put on a kaṣāya as a joke in a previous life and that led to her being a bhikṣuṇi now.
“The authentic transmission into China of the robe and the Dharma, which are authentically transmitted from buddha to buddha and from patriarch to patriarch, was done only by the founding Patriarch of Sugaku Peak [Bodhidharma]”
“Remember, to wear the kaṣāya is the noblest and highest virtue.”
“Truly we have been born in a remote land in the age of the Latter Dharma, and we must regret this. But at the same time, how should we measure the joy of meeting the robe and the Dharma which have been transmitted from buddha to buddha, from rightful successor to rightful succesor? Which other lineage has authentically transmitted both the robe and the Dharma of Śākyamuni in the manner of our authentic transmission? Having met them, who could fail to venerate them and to serve offerings to them?”
“Having been born to meet the spread of this Dharma, if we cover our body with the kaṣāya only once, receiving it and retaining it for just as kṣaṇa or a muhūrta, that will surely serve as a talisman to protect us in the realization of the supreme state of bodhi. When we dye the body-and-mind with a single verse, it becomes a seed of everlasting brightness which finally leads us to the supreme state of bodhi. When we dye the body-and-mind with one real dharma or one good deed, it may be also like this.”
“Mental images arise and vanish instantaneously; they are without an abode. The physical body also arises and vanishes instantaneously; it too is without an abode. Nevertheless, the merit that we practice always has its time of ripening and shedding. The kaṣāya, similarly, is beyond elaboration and beyond non-elaboration, it is beyond having an abode and beyond having no abode: it is that which buddhas alone, together with buddhas, perfectly realize.”
“The Buddha says:
When we shave our head and wear the kaṣāya,
We are protected by the buddhas.
Each person who transcends family life
Is served by gods and men.”
“These rags [the kaṣāya fabric] are neither for a humble robe nor for a beautiful garment; they are just for the Buddha-Dharma. To wear them is just to have received the authentic transmission of the skin, flesh, bones and marrow of the buddhas of the three times, and to have received the authentic transmission of the right-Dharma-eye-treasury. We should never ask human beings and gods about the merit of this transmission. We should learn it from the practice of Buddhist patriarchs.”