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Kigen Dogen


The word 'Zen' stems from the Chinese Ch'an, which in turn derives from the Sanskrit dhyana, "meditation"). [EB, "Dogen", "Zen", "Soto"]

Zen derives from Chinese Buddhism, where Taoism and Buddhism interacted for centuries. Taoism refers to the Way, Tao (Dao), and Buddhism speaks of dhyana (Zen), silent meditation. "Meditation is the Way" is largely correct. Moreover, it also very common in Zen to let terms like Zen and Tao (Pinyin: Dao) intermingle.

Buddhism adapted a lot during its expansive periods. It has been said that Taoism would hardly have survived in China without Buddhism, which incorporated some parts of it in Chinese Ch'an (Zen). Garma C. C. Chang writes:

It is thought that Ch'an (Zen) was first introduced into North-West [China] by the Indian monk Bodhidharma (470-543), in the early part of the sixth century, and was established by the Sixth Patriarch, Hui Neng (638-713), around the beginning of the eighth century. Hui Neng had several prominent disciples, two of whom, Huai Jang (?-740), and Hsing Ssu (?-775), were extremely influential. Both of them had one outstanding trainee, namely Ma Tsu (?-788) and Shih Tou (70O790), respectively; and they, in turn, had several remarkable disciples who founded, either directly or indirectly, the five major Zen sects existing in those times, i.e., Lin Chi, Tsao Tung, I Yang, Yun Men, and Fa Yen.

As time went on all five of these major sects were consolidated into either the Tsao Tung (Japanese: Soto) or the Lin Chi (Japanese: Rinzai) sect. The Tsao Tung and Lin Chi are thus the only sects of Zen extant today. [Prz 63-64]

Kigen Dogen (1200–1253), who is also called Eihei Dogen and Joyo Dogen, was born into a family of the court nobility. He was a leading Japanese Buddhist during the Kamakura period (1192–1333) in Japan. Between 1221 (1223) and 1227 he studied Ts'ao-tung (Soto) meditation in China, where he gained enlightenment under the Zen master Ju-ching.

Afterwards Dogen introduced Zen to Japan in the form of the Soto school. In Chinese it is Ts'ao-tung. Dogen wrote several instructive works. The most famous is his Shobogenzo. There are many metaphysical concerns and outlooks in the (Kana) Shobogenzo. The title may be translated into "The Treasure House for What the Spiritual Eye of Wise Discernment Perceives from the Vantage Point of the True Teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha and His Heirs." It is a major work in Soto Zen.

Many relish in quotations by the Zen-master Eihei Dogen. We could find the time to live exploringly, tentatively by some of his fit and salient points too. and hope not to go wrong.

One of the carrying ideas of Dogen is to keep attuned to the Highest Within through thick and thin, and to adjust one's living to sides to that Supreme Level all along. Besides, Dogen first and foremost taught prolonged meditation, "Zen sitting", zazen as a means to Buddha-enlightenment and spontaneity.

Zazen very often involves sitting in meditation. Simply said, zazen - or Zen sitting - is the practice of progressing and deepening contemplation (meditation) in a carefully balanced posture.

Basically, Dogen lines up with Buddha teachings.

LoBe wary of deepening attachment to good doctrine: Rise higher

General instructions for zazen often include sitting in a quiet room, breathing rhythmically and easily, with legs fully or half crossed, spine and head erect, hands folded one palm above the other, and eyes open. Logical thinking and often all sorts of thinking are to be suspended during that session (of approximately 30 minutes), along with desires, attachments, and judgements. The mind is supposed to reach a state of relaxed attention thereby.

LoWriting on Zen topics

Dogen wrote a number of works. He became the leading Zen monk during the Kamakura period (1192–1333). His main work is Shobogenzo; it was written in years between 1231 and 1253. Modern editions of Shobogenzo contain ninety-five discourses, whereas earlier collections in the Soto Zen tradition varied in number from twenty-eight to seventy-five. The essays were originally delivered as sermons. These discourses to disciples cover a wide range of topics aimed at monastics mainly. He discusses matters of daily observances and ritual, but also explores allegedly deeper meanings of Zen stories or koans, that quite often puzzle unprepared readers. Many discourses explore some topic drawn from Buddhist Scriptures or Chan (Zen) texts.

Dogen's manner of exposition and evolution of topics is about the same as the standard essay design of this site. [More on it] - [◦Link]

LoPuzzles may be dropped

The title Shobogenzo means "Treasury of the True Dharma Eye". The work contains 95 chapters and consists of Dogen's understanding of and elaboration of Buddhist canon. Dogen was taught Zen in China, returned to Japan, and lived at various temples there, promoting zazen (Zen sitting) by general teachings. One of his claims is that the practice and enlightenment - the way and its end - are one and the same thing. It is like saying that the road to the capital is the capital. It is better to say that the goal sheds its light on the road to it, and "stay in the light" (keep attuned to it as well).

Paradoxes (koans) abound in Zen, particularly Rinsai Zen, but they are not essential for development, but were developments in China, and not part of Buddhism before, Garma Chang explains [Prz]. Nor are recent terms like "British fisher" fit for anything great in the following, and may not add a thing to what is worth grasping.

"Koan" means a Zen story, a Zen situation, or a Zen problem. The koan exercise usually implies working on the solution of a Zen problem . . . [In the West] it is used in place of the original Chinese term Hua Tou . . . Hua Tou exercise and "tsen Hua Tou" mean to work on a Hua Tou - work on "talking", remark" or "a sentence." [Prz 71]

The Japanese word koan (commonly understood as "riddle") corresponds with the Chinese phrase for "public notice," or "public announcement", namely kung-an. A koan presents a riddle, or a puzzle of sort, often masking a Zen experience. Koan example: "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" There are many variants of koans, and wide diversity of expositions of them too. Reginald H. Blyth has written or translated extensively about Zen koans, including five books filled with such enigmas.


In the pursuit of the Way [Buddhism] the prime essential is sitting (zazen). . . . By reflecting upon various 'public-cases' (koan) and dialogues of the patriarchs, one may perhaps get the sense of them but it will only result in one's being led astray from the way of the Buddha, our founder. Just to pass the time in sitting straight, without any thought of acquisition, without any sense of achieving enlightenment - this is the way of the Founder. It is true that our predecessors recommended both the koan and sitting, but it was the sitting that they particularly insisted upon. There have been some who attained enlightenment through the test of the koan, but the true cause of their enlightenment was the merit and effectiveness of sitting. Truly the merit lies in the sitting.

[From the Shobo genzo zuimonki, pp. 98-9, translated in De Bary (ed.), Sources of Japanese Tradition, op. cit., p. 253. (◦Link)]

Garma Chang likewise tells,

"Nowadays, when Zen practice is mentioned, people immediately think of the koan (or Hua Toa) exercise as though there were no other way of practicing Zen. Nothing could be more mistaken ... It was mainly through the eloquent Master Tsung Kao (1089–1163) that the Hua Tou exercise became the most popular ... means by which Zen students have practiced during the past eight centuries. How, before the popularisation and standardisation of the koan exercise, did students of older times practice Zen? How did those great figures, Hui Neng, Ma Tsu, Huang Po, and Lin Chi, themselves practice Zen? We have sufficient reason to believe that in the old days the "serene-reflection" type of meditation now found in the teaching of the Tsao Tung sect was probably the mainstay of Zen meditation techniques." [Prz 66-67]

Dogen's book for lay practitioners, the Shobogenzo Zuimonki [Dog], is a manual that contains inductive stories.

LoSeeing is believing

Deep sides of Zen are identical with the Mahamudra teachings (Great Symbol Teachings) in Tibetan Buddhism (Mahayana Buddhism), says the scholar-professor Chan in his "Yogic Commentary" in Tibetan Yoga [Tiy].

One who is merely a scholar and not a practised yogin cannot fully understand Buddhism . . . The essence of Buddhism is discoverable in a supramundane realm inaccessible to mundane speculations . . .

In consequence of practical and applied Mahayana, . . . Buddhism grew and flourished through the centuries . . .

From my own personal experiences in the study and practice of both Zen and Tantricism, I have discovered that the teachings of Zen and the advanced Tantricism of the Mahamudra are identical. [Tiy xxxiii, xxxv, xxxv-xxxvi, passim.]

Mahamudra, "great seal or great symbol", is laid bare in Book 2 of Tibetan Yoga [Tiy] and several other works of Tibetan Buddhism. It is a discipline of direct introduction to how the mind is, deep inside (Essence, Deep Mind, Buddha-nature) with practices in stabilizing the accompanying purity and clarity and transcendence. All of the various Mahamudra lineages originated in India. Mahamudra serves meditating straight on one's own mind, and furnishes detailed instructions for it. Among the gentle practices, the meditator is asked to observe the observer (ie, herself or himself). [Tiy 101-53]

It may be noted that there are many schools of Buddhism, and very many different viewpoints.



  1. It is fit to be wary of deepening attachment to both koan puzzling and good doctrine, and rise higher.
  2. Some who get elevated thus, may even write on Zen topics better than "a mere scholar" is up to.
  3. By experiencing subtler states of mind directly, first-hand, many puzzles and koans are solved, and as a result they "fall off", get dropped.
  4. That "seeing is believing" applies to transcending (getting beyond) as well. That is, it may be experienced in deep meditation. You find the word "transcendental" in ◦Transcendental Meditation, or TM in short, taught to 6 million people world-wide today, including several hundred Buddhist monks.
IN NUCE Meditation is not ideal if it serves firm attachments of this world. The main effort should be to rise above (get deeper, go beyond, etc) such ties, including mental categories of scholars. Stick to the lovely - meditation is meditation; it works on its own terms, although there are many variants around, also in Zen.


Valuable Zen Hints by Dogen

These exhortations pertain to basic standards in Soto Zen after Dogen. The added comments presuppose things like "- as well as you are up to." - T. K.


To practice true and fair, take up bland truthfulness from the onset.

Do not worry whether the other person understands or not; just answer the truth [Dog 41, 107].

There is at times more than one way to be truthful. Adjust to what matters, to what is essential, as well as you can.

Out of ten of you, all ten should gain enlightenment. [Dog 16]

The word should does not necessarily mean will.

Why is one (jewel) not accepted because it is valuable, and the other accepted and treasured because it is cheap? [Dog 75] ◊

Stupidity may be called the villain. And to a pecking rooster, food to eat is a far more pressing need than finding and trading a shiny stone.

A Zen monk must always answer truthfully about the teachings and essentials of practice. One must also take into account the customs of the country [Dog 107, 24].

Do not idle away your time. Do not spend your time in idleness.

Although Zen sitting and meditation may look like that.

A wrong view must be corrected [cf. Dog 107, 20].

First of all, find out who may tell and who is responsible for doing it. It may not be you at all as you go about minding your own business, and maybe it is you.

It is man who discriminates the shallow and the deep. Just practice zazen, sit alone like a person deaf and dumb [cf. Dog 75]

If you find nothing better to do, that is.

"Just recognise as the Buddha what you see now before your eyes," said Dogen [Dog 15].◊◊

What do you see when looking into a mirror? Be honest; that counts. If you can see, you can; if you can't, say that too, all the while leaving room for more decent progress.

Meditate deeply and well, that counts for something. Such practice is not idling away good time. Along with it, correct wrong views, and rise above discord. That matters - and how pleasant it can be!


Eihei Kigen Dogen, Shobogenzo Soto Zen related comments, Literature  

Bet: Dogen, Eihei. Beyond Thinking: A Guide to Zen Meditation. Ed. Kazuaki Tanahashi. Boston: Shambala, 2004.

Dog: Masunaga, Reiho, tr. A Primer of Soto Zen. A Translation of Dogen's Shobogenzo Zuimonki. Honolulu: University Press, 1975.

EB: Encyclopedia Britannica, Britannica Online.

Orh: Blyth, Reginald Horace: Oriental humour. Tokyo: Hokuseido, 1963.

Prz: Chang, Garma C. The Practice of Zen. New York: Perennial/Harper, 1970.

Shz: Cleary, Thomas, tr.: Shobogenzo: Zen Essays by Dogen. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1986

Sth: Nearman, Hubert, tr. Shobogenzo: The Treasure House of the Eye of the True Teaching. Mount Shasta, CA: Shasta Abbey Press, 2007. On-line

Szd: Nishijima, Gudo Wafo and Cross, Chodo, trs.: Master Dogen's Shobogenzo. Book 1. Woking, Surrey (UK): Windbell, 1994.

Szi: Nishijima, Gudo Wafo and Cross, Chodo, trs.: Master Dogen's Shobogenzo. Book 2. London: Windbell Publications, 1996.

Szm: Nishijima, Gudo Wafo and Cross, Chodo, trs.: Master Dogen's Shobogenzo. Book 3. London: Windbell Publications, 1997.

Szp: Nishijima, Gudo Wafo and Cross, Chodo, trs.: Master Dogen's Shobogenzo. Book 4. London: Windbell Publications, 1999.

Tiy: Evans-Wentz, Walter Yeeling, ed. Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines. 2nd ed. London: Oxford University Press, 1967.

Zazd: Blyth, Reginald Horace. Zen and Zen Classics, Vol 1. Tokyo: Hokuseido, 1960.

Zazi: Blyth, Reginald Horace. Zen and Zen Classics, Vol 2. Tokyo: Hokuseido, 1964.

Zazm: Blyth, Reginald Horace. Zen and Zen Classics, Vol 3. Tokyo: Hokuseido, 1970.

Zazp: Blyth, Reginald Horace. Zen and Zen Classics, Vol 4. Tokyo: Hokuseido, 1966.

Zazr: Blyth, Reginald Horace. Zen and Zen Classics, Vol 5. Tokyo: Hokuseido, 1966.

Zeb: Suzuki, Shunryu: Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind. New York: Weatherhill, 1971.

Zf: Reps, Paul: Zen Flesh, Zen Bones. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971, updated 1997.

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