39/16 Shisho



The Certificate of Succession

Shi means “succession” or “transmission.” Sho means “certificate.” So shisho means “the certificate of succession.” Buddhism is not only theory, but also practice or experience. Therefore it is impossible for a Buddhist disciple to attain the Buddhist truth only by reading Buddhist sutras or listening to a master’s lectures. The disciple must live with a master and study the master’s behavior in everyday life. After a disciple has learned the master’s life and has realized the Buddhist truth in his or her own life, the master gives a certificate to the disciple, certifying the transmission of the truth from master to disciple. This certificate is called shisho. From a materialistic viewpoint, the certificate is only cloth and ink, and so it cannot hold religious meaning or be revered as something with religious value. But Buddhism is a realistic religion, and Buddhists find religious value in many concrete traditions. The certificate is one such traditional object which is revered by Buddhists. Therefore Master Dogen found much value in this certificate. In this chapter he explains why the certificate is revered by Buddhists, and records his own experiences of seeing such certificates in China.