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Keep Well Attuned

- and if not well attuned, as well as you can. Attuned to whom and what? Your inmost if you have not lost it. A normal conscience is a lot to lose, if so.

The Japanese Zen teacher Dogen (1200–53) introduced Zen to Japan in the form of the Soto school. This form of Buddhism teaches "meditation sessions only." Dogen's chief work is the Shobogenzo, or "Treasury of the True Dharma Eye" in 95 chapters. Many points spread over the work could amount to serve many.

Dogen tells us to keep attuned to the Essential or inmost, maintly through sitting meditation. "Zen sitting", zazen is for attaining enlightenment and spontaneity. Dogen: "Out of ten of you, all ten should gain enlightenment. (Masunaga 1975, 16)

So far, so good?

The Essential is gained through meditating, and Buddha alerts to this in a discourse (sutta):

Whether they meditate with or without expectations, if they have the wrong ideas and the wrong methods, they will not get any [good] fruit from their meditation. . . .

But if somebody meditates with a wholesome attitude, with right attention and mindfulness, then whether he has expectations or not he will gain insight.

(Contracted from the Bhumija Sutta in the Majjhima Nikaya by Anne Bancroft 2010:58-59)

There are many meditation methods around. They do not work equally well in all respects. It may be good to know the good ones from the less good ones, and know what marks the "best in tests" the world over. It is ◦Transcendental Meditation, and not any known and tested Zen methods. See for yourself: [◦Tested methods]

It is generally wise to go for the finest among the fit meditation methods available. It is also wise to know how to use them and go for steady progress, or quite steady progress. Good traditions are as sound as can be. Soto Zen, the school or sect of Zen Buddhism that Dogen went into, stress sitting in meditation above all. However, Zen and other schools of Buddhism come with their evolved verbosity too, even though we are warned against many words, and told to soar above them in meditation. It is wise to get one's sense of proportions or perspectives as right as can be before going into some endeavour.

Granted that Soto Zen is not much for learning many words, your prime concern should ideally be to rise above them, and if we are not up to that, to rise above many of them, and then most of them in time. Meditation is for that. The question arises: "What about learning the best meditation method available, the "test-winner" far and wide, and then learn as little Zen as may be - is that wise or not?"

According to Dogen it should be. But Dogen says many things, and has authored many essays. They belong to the realm of words, a realm to rise above. Why not do it directly? Are there any points to add from Dogen's writings that surpass taking up a good method, as Buddha is into? The answer: Hardly, but you never know. There are staggering points to align to, and advice on how to sit and meditate.

And all this is to say: Try to drop Dogen, for Dogen tells us to, somehow. If you cannot do it all at once, try a gradual approach where you meditate better (not necessarily more) and is flushed with a lot of the good stuff from within. In such a way, weaning is not hard, one step at a time until we read as little as can be, apart from doing our jobs well, being tidy, being up to good neighbours, and living well - for example.

As Dogen is into: "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 (Masunaga 1975, 107, 24).

Well, there are many ways to do it.

Zen History

Now for some Zen history, for it often helps to be informed; if it does not really help , it offers a sense of "firm ground," maybe. 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. (Chang 1970, 63-64)

Kigen Dogen (1200–1253), also called Eihei Dogen and Joyo Dogen, was born into a family of the court nobility in Japan. Between 1221 (1223) and 1227 he studied Ts'ao-tung (Soto) meditation in China, where he was enlightened under the Zen master Ju-ching.

Afterwards Dogen introduced Zen to Japan in the form of the Soto school. In Chinese it is Tsao-tung. Dogen wrote several instructive works. The most famous of them is his Shobogenzo. It is a collected of essays on various subjects. There are many metaphysical concerns and outlooks in this landmark work of Zen.

Can we do without them? First-hand? As first-hand as can be?


9. The voices of the river-valley and the form of the mountains

1. River sounds speak

Dogen says nature is an outward aspect, a world-side to what is real, and that it has been said since ancient times that sounds of rivers are the preaching of Buddha.

2. There may be metaphors to decipher in insider teachings

Nature can bring outwards many normally hidden principles of the universe.

The mountain may represent a solid corpus one way or another. Or stability, or the body.

3. To the degree the outward world contains carefully masked Truth, Truth is in it, and goes beyond it too. Based on this nature may express truths for humans to explore.

A neat balance and synergy between female and male prowess is called a Tao. There are many Taos. The Taos that suit us, may run in our families and be old.


  1. They say sounds of rivers are the preaching of a Buddha. And "River sounds are river sounds" too. "A rose is a rose is a rose." (Gertrude Stein).
  2. There are nature metaphors to decipher in some forms of talk. It is very common, and in Zen, some are traditional allusions and Mahamudra metaphors. If you let them go unexplained, you miss such information.
  3. Balancing yin and yang is a lot and many fail for the lack of it. 


More: Nature itself is a universal body and some represent something beyond themselves, as in metaphoric language. Symbols may be penetrated by understanding with a look into a tradition's interpretation of them too.

Dogen asserts: "The True Self is, in Its own right, the True Self. Even though we speak of the Self as being 'the great earth with its mountains and rivers', this is not something that should delude us as to what is returned to." (Nearman 2007, 70)

Meat on the bones

In Great Sung China there was a man who, on a visit to Mount Ro, was struck by the sound of the valley stream rippling through the night, and he awoke to the Way. He composed a poem.

The valley stream's rippling is indeed the eloquent tongue of Buddha.
The mountain's contour is not other than that of the body of Buddha.
With the coming of night, I heard the eighty-four thousand songs.

Master Joso said in approval, "Just so!" (Abridged from Nearman 2007, 66)

What do you see when you view the contour of a mountain? When It comes into sight, we learn how very near It has always been.

Open wide the gate to your training and enter by means of the verse,

That which flows is the Mountain:
That which does not flow is the Water. (Ib. 67. abr.)

Kyogen was unable to explain to Isan what the phrase 'before "father" and "mother" were born' meant. So he burned the writings he had previously collected, saying, "I will just be a kitchen monk."

After many years as a kitchen monk he asked Isan, "I am still unable to find the words to speak. Please say something to help me."

Isan responded, "It is not that I refuse to say anything, but I fear that later on you would come to resent me for it." (Nearman 2007, 68)

Several more years passed, and Kyogen went to a site where he collected up grass and built himself a hermit's hut just where a teacher's hermitage had stood. He planted some bamboo, which served as his sole companion.

One day, while intent on sweeping his walkway clean, he accidentally sent a piece of tile flying, and it hit the bamboo. When he heard the knocking sound it made, he bathed himself and composed the following poem:

At one blow, I have forgotten all that I had learned with my head . . .
the moment supreme.

When he presented the poem to Isan, the latter said, "This disciple has struck Home." (Nearman 2007, 69, abr.)

Reiun Shigon had trained and practiced for thirty years. One day he took a rest at the foot of a mountain. In the distance he spied a village. It was spring. Glimpsing the peach blossoms in bloom there, he suddenly awoke to the Way.

He composed a poem and presented it to Isan:

Thirty years the leaves have fallen and the branches burst anew with blooms!
But just one glance at those peach blossoms
Straight away I arrived. (Nearman 2007, 69-70)


Chosa Keishin: "How is it possible to change ourselves so that we make It return to the great earth with its mountains and rivers?"(Nearman 2007, 70)

Egaku was once asked by Shison: "How is it possible for one's Original Nature, which is immaculate, to all at once produce something as polluted as the great earth with its mountains and rivers?"

Shison pointed out, "We are not to make the mistake of taking 'the Great Earth with Its mountains and rivers in their immaculate Original Nature' to be the great earth with its mountains and rivers. Yet, scholars who simply take Scriptures literally have never even dreamt of this, and consequently do not comprehend what 'the Great Earth with Its mountains and rivers' signifies. (Nearman 2007, 70)

Stray counsel

When you put into practice your intention to seek enlightenment, you should not concern yourself with letting worldly people know that you have given rise to the enlightenment-seeking mind and are practicing the Way. . . . you should not speak of it openly. - Dogen, in Nearman 2007, 72)

A spiritual illness such as this seeking after fame and gain exists. . . . Do not be attracted to either type. - Dogen, in Nearman 2007, 72, 73)

Those who are foolish do not recognize what is bright and wise. - Dogen, in Nearman 2007, 73)

Walk the Path that former saints have trod. - Dogen, in Nearman 2007, 75)

When you 'see Buddha', you will see great Buddhas and small Buddhas. What we call 'great Buddhas and small Buddhas' are Those whom, for the time being, we recognize as the contour of a mountain and the rippling of a valley stream. - Dogen, in Nearman 2007, 75

There is the restrained demeanor of the pine tree in spring, and there is the radiant beauty of chrysanthemums in autumn: within themselves, just as they are, lies the Truth. - Dogen, in Nearman 2007, 76

Unaware of the springtime pine, blind to the autumnal chrysanthemums, what will he have as fodder for his teaching? - Dogen, in Nearman 2007, 76

Master Ryúge said, "If you have not yet realized your enlightenment in a past lifetime, by all means realize it now. In this life, ferry this body of yours, which is the product of successive past lives, to the Other Shore." (Nearman 2007, 76)

When you truly train and practice, the voice of valley streams and the appearance of valley streams, the appearance of mountains and the voice of mountains, along with their eighty-four thousand songs, will be unstinting . . . unstinting in revealing to you That Which Is. - Dogen, in Nearman 2007, 77


Dogen's Shobogenzo, chapters, Literature  

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

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

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

Harvesting the hay

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

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