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Dogen watching the moon. Detail

Dogen Quotations

Briefing on Dogen's Soto Zen: "Let daily cultivation of meditation, the precepts, and wise discernment develop."

Eihei Dogen (1200-53) is also called Kigen Dogen, Joyo Dogen, Dogen Roshi and just Dogen. He taught a mindful Zen as he learnt it in China, and became a very influential Zen teacher in his homeland, Japan. His variant of Zen is called Soto Zen in Japan and Ts'ao-Tung Ch'an in China. He writes,

"I decided to compile a record of the customs and standards that I experienced first-hand in the Zen monasteries of the great Kingdom of Sung, together with a record of profound instruction from a counselor which I have received and maintained. I will leave this record to people who learn in practice and are easy in the truth, so that they can know the right Dharma of the Buddha's lineage." [In the Shobogenzo's chap. "Bendowa".

The following quotations are extracted from his teachings as they are found in various books and discourses (below). Here are Dogen words to cheer and warm us up somewhat, but it should be pointed out that you need to be schooled in the essentials he tells of - and practice the very best of them for as many years on end that it takes . . . Thus, sit and let go of all your aspirations at regular intervals when you let things be "as they are" and you rest for a while. Then go back to work, incorporating the giving Zen principles for such modes too - day in, day out.

Dogen advocates more than mere sitting, actually. He advocates study of reliable teachings too, for example, along with daily drill. Zen training in monasteries usually is demanding, or outright hard, and far more than glimpses. There should be no misunderstanding about that.

In the overall context of Dogen's Zen teaching, exhilarating praises on the blissful wonders of Buddhahood are rare. This said, here are glimpses from the teachings of a Zen roshi (teacher) to cheer us up. You can chew on them.


If you cannot find the truth right where you are, where else do you expect to find it? [Dogen]

Do not fragment your attention but see what each moment calls for. [Dogen]

Old buddhas and new buddhas reveal their bodies and expound dharma. [Dogen 2004:57]

Use your own hands, your own eyes, your own sincerity. [Dogen]

Take continuous care. [Dogen]

Examine the rice and sand so that rice is not thrown out with sand. [Dogen]

Clarify and harmonize your life without losing the Single Eye which sees the context or the two eyes which recognize the details. [Dogen]

Work . . . without wasting a moment. If you do this and everything that you do whole-heartedly, this nourishes the seeds of Awakening. [Dogen]

Question: "Why do you say that zazen alone contains the true teaching of the Tathagata ["Thus-arrived", here: Gautama Buddha]?" - Dogen: "The Zazen School . . . nowadays it is called the Zen School. . . . The practice of zazen is the complete path of buddha-dharma". [Dogen 2004:20-21]

To sit in the meditation posture is to transcend the deepest and most intimate teaching of the buddha ancestors . . . Sit in the mind's meditation posture. [Dogen 2004:50] Sitting is the gateway . . . to total liberation. [Dogen]

You should find a fit place to do a Zen sitting, and a suitable, comfortable sitting pose so as to have the very best results possible. And you are not do something that is all unnatural for you either. First, you may take a few deep breaths when you start to meditate (optional). You are asked to breathe in your own normal, natural rhythms. As soon as you get distracted, you at once just accept that it happened, and continue your mindfulness training. So do not worry about thoughts coming and going, and keep going. You are called to make sure that you are comfortable, that is, adequately fed, clothed, and rested, to be better able to harmonise body and mind.

It is not bad and may be recommendable to do mindfulness training lying down, for example when weak and elderly.

When you get good at these things, a still, small voice of your true nature can be listened to in a state of harmony, coming to the fore through meditative harmonisation of body and mind. That is part of the Zen-sitting teaching too. Perhaps you get more sensitive to what is good for you too, as time goes by. [See Master Jiyu-Kennett Commentary on Dogen's "Rules for Meditation." (On-line)

Studying Zen is zazen [Zen sitting]. For zazen, one should have a quiet place. [Dogen]

Zazen is not thinking of good . . . Do not desire to become a Buddha . . . Be moderate in eating and drinking. Be mindful of the passing of time, and engage yourself in zazen [Dogen]

Enlightenment is intimacy with all things. [Dogen]

The true person is . . . like the deep blue colour of the limitless sky - everyone, everywhere in the world. [Dogen]

When the aspiration to seek the Way has become sincere, either during the period of sole concentration on sitting, or when dealing with illustrative example of the people of olden times, or when meeting the teacher, [then act accordingly]. [Dogen]

Dogen story

"When I was staying at Tiantong-jingde-si, I came upon a monk named Lu from Qingyuan in front of the Buddha Hall. He was drying mushrooms in the sun. He had a bamboo stick in his hand and no hat covering his head. The heat of the sun was blazing. It looked very painful; his back was bent like a bow and his eyebrows were as white as the feathers of a crane.

I went up to him and asked, "How long have you been a monk?"

"Sixty-eight years," he said.

"Why don't you have an assistant do this for you?"

"Other people are not me."

I was moved . . . I asked, "What is practice?" and was told, "Nothing in the entire universe is hidden." [Dogen, abr.]


Those who have wisdom, if they hear [the Dharma], are able to believe and understand at once. [Dogen, Shobogenzo, "Inmo"]

Do not follow the ideas of others, but learn to listen to the voice within yourself. [Dogen]

Do not miss the opportunity of offering even a single drop into the ocean of merit or a grain atop the mountain of the roots of beneficial activity. [Dogen]

In preparing food never view it from the perspective of usual mind. [Dogen]

If you only have wild grasses with which to make a broth, do not disdain them. [Dogen]

In preparing food, it is essential to be sincere and to respect each ingredient irregardless of how coarse or fine it is . . . Even the grandest offering to the Buddha, if insincere, is worth less than the smallest sincere offering in bringing about a connection with awakening. [Dogen]

If you think you can become enlightened just by worshipping images and relics, this is a mistaken view. [Dogen]

A zen master's life is one continuous mistake. [Dogen]

"The mouth of a monk is like a furnace. (Old saying)" [Dogen]

Do not discriminate . . . whether the monks are senior or junior. . . . Although there are differences between seniors and juniors, all are equally members of the assembly. [Dogen]

It is wrong to cling to what you should not believe in, or to fail to ask about a truth you should seek. [Dogen]

Those who see worldly life as an obstacle to Dharma see no Dharma in everyday actions; they have not yet discovered that there are no everyday actions outside of Dharma. [Dogen]

Studying the Buddha way is studying oneself. [Dogen]

Worldly duties do not, in and of themselves, impede the Buddha Dharma. [Dogen]

To hear "Refrain from all evil whatever" is to hear what the genuine Dharma of Buddha is. [Dogen]

Pursue genuine training. [Dogen]

Diligently apply yourself, and whatever arises as 'just for a while'. [Dogen]

From this life through all future lives, pray to be able to hear the True Teachings and not to fail to trust in Them, to embrace the Buddha's Teachings. [Dogen]

You should not lend support to the misconduct of others. [Dogen]

In Buddhism, we have always spoken not only of body and mind as being inseparable, but also of the nature of something and the form it takes as not being two different things. [Dogen]

Adhere to the Precepts as set down by the Buddhas and Ancestors. [Dogen]

Innate enlightenment . . . is inseparable from [correct, attuned] practice. [Dogen]

Never think that those who possess the five or six spiritual abilities . . . are in any way superior to an ordinary, everyday person. [Dogen]

That place where 'sentient beings take their delight and play' has continually existed as the Buddha's Pure Land, which can never be destroyed. We must meticulously make this our fundamental practice. [Dogen]

Having once realized the Place, you must not analyze It in order to understand It through discriminatory thought and, thereby, reduce It to fit your own opinions. [Dogen]

Do your training and practice, even though you may still be attached to discriminatory thinking, and do your training and practice, even if you have gone beyond discriminatory thinking, and even though you may be half-hearted in the attempt. [Dogen]

The recognition of the coming and going of things is a first step in training and practice. [Dogen]

You should regret that time, in unseen ways, is depriving you of your life of training in the Way. [Dogen]


The black dragon's jewel you have been searching for, is everywhere. [Dogen, using quite settled, figurative language that is mostly unknown to outsiders]

Handle even a single leaf of green in such a way that it manifests the body of the Buddha. This in turn allows the Buddha to manifest through the leaf. [Dogen]

If learners practice sincerely they attain enlightenment. Working with trees and walls, if they practice sincerely they will attain enlightenment. This is because trees and walls are fellow students; they are of the same essence. [Dogen abr.]

The fifth patriarch of Zen was once a pine-planting wayfarer; Rinzai worked on planting cedars and pines on Mount Obaku. . . . Working with trees walls, if they practice sincerely they will attain enlightenment. [Dogen]

I come to realize that mind is no other than mountains and rivers and the great wide earth, the sun and the moon and stars. [Dogen]

The sound of running water is Buddha's great speech. [Dogen]

A flower falls, even though we love it; and a weed grows, even though we do not love it [Dogen]

Swim as they may, fish find no end to the sea; fly as they may, birds find no end to the sky. [Dogen]

The Way of the Buddha

The holy ones do not stop at dhyana [meditation], and yet they do not oppose dhyana [Dogen, Way of the Buddha]

Our ancient forebear [Huihong] says here, "Dhyana is but one among various practices; how could it suffice to exhaust [the practice of] the holy ones?" [Dogen, Way of the Buddha]

To listen to the praise of the worldly is to take the unwise as the wise, to take the unintelligent as the intelligent, to take the disloyal as the loyal, to take the unfaithful as the faithful. [Dogen, Way of the Buddha]

If the lord takes as wise and intelligent those praised by the worldly and takes as unworthy those reviled by the worldly, then the majority party will advance and the minority party will retreat. [Dogen, Way of the Buddha]

When the wicked group together, they obscure the wise. [Dogen, Way of the Buddha]

Wicked ministers seek court ranks with flattery. Thus, the disorder of the world increases and the country cannot avoid peril. [Dogen, Way of the Buddha]

When one listens to what the worldly praise, one fails to get the truly wise. If one would get the truly wise, one should have the wisdom to illumine behind and see ahead. [Dogen, Way of the Buddha]

What the worldly praise is not always wise, is not always holy; what the worldly disparage is not always wise, is not always holy. [Dogen, Way of the Buddha]

Not to use the wise is a loss to the country; to use the unworthy is a regret for the country. [Dogen, Way of the Buddha]

The beasts and minions of Mara are many. [Dogen, Way of the Buddha]

If the designation school is the dharma of the Buddhas and ancestors, it should be in the kingdom of the Buddha; if it is in the kingdom of the Buddha, the Buddha should preach it. The Buddha does not preach it; . . . I beg of you, do not call [yourself] a school. [Dogen, Way of the Buddha]

A late production, if its words were right, we should attend to it. [Dogen, Way of the Buddha]

The dharma as bequeathed by the Buddha; there is no further additional dharma. This principle is the bones of the dharma, the marrow of the way. [Dogen, Way of the Buddha]


Zen Dogen Zenji quotations, Dogen quotes, 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.

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. ⍽▢⍽ Online and recommended.

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.

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