Dogen Zenji (also Dogen Kigen, Eihei Dogen or Koso Joyo Daishi) (1200–53), also called Dogen Kigen, was a Japanese Buddhist monk who established Soto Zen in Japan. He is also known for a collection of his writings, the massive Shobogenzo.
Dogen was born in Kyóto, the Japanese capital. His mother is said to have died when Dogen was seven. The boy was taken care of by an uncle who was a powerful, highly placed adviser to the emperor of Japan.
When Dogen was twelve or thirteen, he went to a temple on Mount Hiei, where another uncle was serving as a priest. The boy immersed himself in meditation and study, and was ordained a monk when he was fourteen. During Dogen's teenage years at Mount Hiei a question began to nag at him, after his teachers told him that all beings are have a Buddha nature. He said: Schools of Buddhism . . . maintain that human beings are endowed with Dharma-nature by birth. If this is the case, why did the Buddhas of all ages — undoubtedly in possession of enlightenment — find it necessary to seek enlightenment and engage in spiritual practice?
Dogen did not get answers that satisfied him. Finally it was suggested to him that he seek out a teacher from a newcomer school of Buddhism in Japan: Zen. It is likely that Dogen went to such a temple when he was eighteen, and left with his teacher there, Myozen, for China in 1223.
In China, Dogen travelled to several Chan (Zen) monasteries, where teachers based their training on kóans. Dogen studied the kóans, became disenchanted with the heavy emphasis laid on them and wondered why the sutras were not studied more. But in 1225 he visited a roshi named Rújín, of the Cáodóng (Sótó) lineage. Rujing was a patriarch of a Chan school called Ts'ao-Tung in China (Soto Zen), and lived in what is now the Zhejiang province. For two years Dogen studied hard there. In later writings, Dogen referred to Rujing as "the Old Buddha".
One morning Dogen was sitting zazen with other monks as Rujing was circumambulating the zendo. Suddenly Rujing berated the monk next to Dogen for falling asleep. "The practice of zazen is the dropping away of body and mind!" Rujing said. "What do you expect to accomplish by dozing?"
Rujing recognized Dogen's realisation, gave him a teacher's robe and formally declared that Dogen was his dharma heir. The year was 1227. At last Dogen had settled his "life's quest of the great matter".
Dogen returned to Japan in 1227 or 1228 as a Buddhist teacher (roshi) and founded the Sótó school of Zen in Japan. Myozen had died while in China, and Rujing died less than a year later.
One of the first things Dogen did on returning, was to write down the Fukan Zazengi ("Universally Recommended Instructions for Zazen"), a short text stressing sitting meditation, zazen, and giving instructions for it.
Dogen taught in his homeland for three years. But as his reputation grew, so did criticism against him. Dogen left the Tendai dominated Kyóto in 1230, and settled instead in an abandoned temple in Uji, south of Kyóto. In 1233, he founded a small centre of practice, and later expanded it. Dogen took students from all social classes and walks of life, and women. Ten years later he accepted an offer of land from a lay student, in the remote Echizen Province on the Sea of Japan. His followers built a comprehensive centre there, calling it Daibutsu Temple.
In 1246, Dogen renamed this temple, calling it Eihei-ji. This temple remains one of the two head temples of Sótó Zen in Japan today. Dogen spent the rest of his life teaching and writing at Eihei-ji.
In the autumn of 1252, Dogen fell ill, and soon showed no signs of recovering. He presented his robes to his main apprentice, Koun Ejó making him the abbot of Eihei-ji.
Dogen left for Kyóto in search of a remedy. In 1253, soon after arriving in Kyóto, he died.
Dogen's right law (dharma) was given to Keizan Jokin through Koun Ejo and Tettsu Gikai. With these Zen teachers the Soto school began to influence Japan. Linking itself with the common people, it spread throughout the entire nation. The teachings of the school flourished.
Deep in Dogen's teaching was "a united Buddhism". Dogen considered that the establishment of five sects of Zen was a result of shallow thinking, and threatened the unity of Buddhism. Dogen left a large body of writing. Often he returns to his original question, "If all beings are endowed with Buddha Nature, what is the point of practice and enlightenment?" Anyway, he thought highly of zazen, or sitting meditation as the central practice. In his Fukanzazengi, Dogen wrote:
For zazen, a quiet room is suitable. Eat and drink moderately.
Dogen called this zazen practice "without thinking" . . . one is simply aware of things as they are.
Zazen is not "step-by-step meditation". . . . If . . . you are completely free . . . The supreme Law will then appear of itself . . .
Dogen was very critical of the school of Dainichi Nonin, and sometimes critical of the Rinzai school for their disregard for the sutras:
There are many who call themselves Zen masters . . . They have heard and seen but little.
In Dogen's Soto Zen school, transmission became problematic and gave rise to conflicts.
Many Dogen Works
Dogen's Shóbógenzó consists of talks and writings that are brought together in ninety-five bundles (fascicles). The topics are wide-ranging.
Dogen also compiled a collection of 301 koans in Chinese without commentaries added. Often called the Shinji Shóbógenzó - translated as "Treasury of the Eye of the True Dharma" and similar. The text consists of stories.
Lectures that Dogen gave to his monks at his monastery, Eihei-ji, were compiled under the title Eihei Kóroku, (The Extensive Record of Teacher Dogen's Sayings) in ten volumes. These sermons, lectures, sayings and poetry were compiled shortly after Dogen's death by his main disciples, Koun Ejó (1198–1280), Senne and Gien. There are three different editions of this text.
Another collection of his talks is the Shóbógenzó Zuimonki (Gleanings from Master Dogen's Sayings) in six volumes. These are talks that Dogen gave to his leading disciple, Ejó, who became Dogen's disciple in 1234. The talks were recorded and edited by Ejó.
Other notable Dogen writings have survived too.
Waddell and Abe. The Heart of Dogen's Shobogenzo.
Abe, Masao. A Study of Dogen: His Philosophy and Religion. Ed. Steven Heine. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1992.
Bielefeldt, Carl. Dogen's Manuals of Zen Meditation. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1988.
Cleary, Thomas, tr. Eihei Koroku I-V: Speeches of Zen Master Dogen. Amazon Kindle ed. 2013.
Cleary, Thomas, tr. Shobogenzo: Zen Essays by Dogen. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1986.
Dogen, Eihei. Beyond Thinking: A Guide to Zen Meditation. Ed. Kazuaki Tanahashi. Boston: Shambala, 2004.
Leighton, Taigen Daniel, Shohaku Okumura, trs. Dogen's Pure Standards for the Zen Community: A Translation of the Eihei Shingi. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1996.
Masunaga, Reiho tr: A Primer of Soto Zen. A Translation of Dogen's Shobogenzo Zuimonki. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1975.
Nearman, Hubert, tr. Shobogenzo: The Treasure House of the Eye of the True Teaching. Mount Shasta, CA: Shasta Abbey Press, 2007. On-line.
Nishijima, Gudo Wafo and Cross, Chodo, trs.: Master Dogen's Shobogenzo. Book 1. Woking, Surrey (UK): Windbell, 1994.
Nishijima, Gudo Wafo and Cross, Chodo, trs.: Master Dogen's Shobogenzo. Book 2. London: Windbell Publications, 1996.
Nishijima, Gudo Wafo and Cross, Chodo, trs.: Master Dogen's Shobogenzo. Book 3. London: Windbell Publications, 1997.
Nishijima, Gudo Wafo and Cross, Chodo, trs.: Master Dogen's Shobogenzo. Book 4. London: Windbell Publications, 1999.
Tanahashi, Kazuaki, ed. Beyond Thinking: A Guide to Zen Meditation. London: Shambhala, 2004.
Tanahashi, Kazuaki, and John Daido Loori, trs. The True Dharma Eye: Zen Master Dogen's Three Hundred Koans with Commentary and Verse by John Daido Loori. Boston: Shambhala, 2011.
Waddell, Norman, and Masao Abe, trs. The Heart of Dogen's Shobogenzo. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2002.
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