In the Realm of Broken Wooden Ladle Buddha is the title given to a short talk by Eihei Dogen, founder of the soto school of zen buddhism. He gave the talk in 1247 at a monastery he founded in northern Japan. The image of broken wooden ladle buddhas has spoken to my heart and comforted me for many years.

We are all buddha. We are all thusness. From a buddhist perspective, our consciousness or sentience “thinks up” or posits a division or separation between me and other, subject and object. From another perspective, existence is all one dynamic, inseparable and universal unfolding – thusness. Whenever you read buddha you could read thus or thusness.

On one hand, you and I are mundane, unique and imperfect sentient beings. We have been battered and scarred by the travails we’ve encountered over our relatively short lives. We have also been polished and burnished by the nurturing, kindness and love we’ve received. We all need a little help now and then. Sometimes a lot of help.

On the other hand, we are buddha – undivided reality unfolding throughout space and time.

Buddha. Broken ladle. One and the same. That’s our position. It’s a paradox.

Here’s the talk. See what you think.

The millions of billions of transformation bodies [of buddhas] abide throughout a monk’s staff, carry water and gather firewood to make offerings to buddhas as numerous as there are sitting cushions, and, on the tip of a whisk, simultaneously all attain unsurpassed complete perfect enlightenment.[1]  They are all equally named Broen Wooden Ladle Tathagatha, Worthy of Offerings, Omniscient, Foot of Bright Practice, Well-Gone One, World Liberator, Supreme One, Tamer of Strong Persons, Teacher of Humans and Heavenly Beings, World-Honered Buddha.[2]  The Country [of this buddha] is named Clump of Soil; the kappa is named Fist.  The duration of the True Dharma Age and Semblance Dharma Age are both twelve hours, and the Buddh’s longevity is that of a dried turd from three thousand great thousands of worlds.[3]  Do you all understand?

If you state your understanding you are making mistake after mistake.  If you say you do not understand, even the five precepts are not maintained.

[1] Dogen plays with three conventional sutra phrases: a buddha remaining throughout kalpas, making offerings to buddhas as numerous as grains of sand in the Ganges River, and attaining enlightenment while sitting under the bodhi tree.  Dogen substitutes a monk’s staff for endless kalpas, sitting cushions for grains of sand, and the top of a whisk for underneath the bodhi tree.
[2] Starting with “Tathagata,” these are the standard ten epithets for a buddha, in this case describing the new buddha invented here by dozen, named Broken Wooden Ladle, who might be a reference to all of the humble monks at Eheiji.
[3] “True Dharma Age and Semblance Dharma Age” refers to the first phases of a buddha age before its degeneration.  “Dried turd” is a reference to a famous response by Yunmen as to what Buddha is.  See, for example, Dharma hall discourse 229, and case 21of the Mumonkan; Aitken, Gateless Barrier, pp. 137-141; and Clearly, Unlocking the Zen Koan, pp. 102-105.

From: Dan Leighton & Shohaku Okamura, Dogen’s Extensive Record: A Translation of the Eihei Koroku, pp. 232-233.