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Shobogenzo Comments

  1. KANKIN. Reading Sutras
  2. BUSSHO. The Buddha-nature


21     Reading and learning - up to seeing it as of straw worth at times


Read what you understand. If you come across words you do not understand, take time to learn them, and then go on reading. In this way you read better too.

Seeing what we can do often comes first


It may be a mark of excellent studentship to grow dissatisfied with one's teachers. It happens the very good student outgrows them very tactfully, and it is often as it should be.

LoBetter than book learning

Direct perception is far better than theoretical learning.

LoDirect perceptions transcend school learning

Teaching should yield elevating learning and training. And direct perceptions - including fine observations - transcend the schooling outcomes. It matters to be aware of the difference, and which area holds the most potential for growth also.

LoBy "walking around the teacher's chair" (figurate term, here), perhaps reading is done away with for good

Dogen's "kankin": Kan means "to read" and kin means "sutras, or verses".

Dogen did not deny any value of reading sutras (verses) and did not debar such reading either: he said that reading such verses is one way of finding out what Buddhist practice is, as needs be. As for great insights, they can be easily had and then sharpened through focus on them in deep meditation, which is dhyana in Sanskrit. One may transcend learning, improve on it, or get it by meditation. There are many options. Much depends on what we put our mind to, and how.

Transcendental meditation suggests awareness that goes beyond the sense-experienced world.

Some sages of Hinduism keep silent (mouna) because certain things are not worth while to speak of, and others try comparisons (figurative mentions, metaphors and allegories). Buddha teaches by rational means. (7)

Neither fit frivolity and courtesy need to be done away with for higher teachings. (9)


  1. Canonical writings can have their value, but hardly in the higher spheres of deep meditation.
  2. An understanding had by semi-metaphors may be rather defective after all - maybe in secret.
  3. By "walking around the teacher's chair" (figurate term, here), perhaps reading is done away with for good. To be high-ranked where people are not jolly, may not be worth so much.
IN NUCE Canonical writings that do not specify the art of meditating deeply, can be dispensed with, after all, according to Eihei Dogen and other Zen Buddhists.

To the Edge


A hackneyed farmer got so old and lame that he could not work the fields.

"He is of no use any more," the son thought, "he does not do anything!" So he built a box of wood and told his father to get in. The son drove his cargo to the edge of the sea. There was a huge cliff there, and the billows crashed onto the rocky shore beneath.

As the son was about to push the box down, he heard some pounding from inside it, so he opened it - to hear the good councel, "You mean to throw me over the cliff for the sake of money. Well, but this good wood should be spared. Your own children might need to use the box, too, in good time."

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22   The Buddha-nature, bussho

Dogen affirms and at the same time denies that "We all have the Buddha-nature". That is his business: being unclear. The issue is a central topic in Mahayana Buddhism and is not easy to settle.

Bussho represents the Sanskrit buddhata, Buddha-nature; and it was usually understood as the potential we have to attain the truth, or as something which we have inherently and which may be cultivated naturally day by day. But the "seed" or germ of that attainment has to be there first. Well, is it? Teachings differ, at any rate.

The Buddha-nature doctrine became a cornerstone of East Asian Buddhist and Tibetan Buddhist thought and practice, but is rejected by Theravada Buddhism. There are varying interpretations of Buddha-nature in Mahayana Buddhism too. Just what the Buddha Nature is, means, and implies, is discussed to this day.

Mahanirvana-Sutra Teachings

Buddha-nature corresponds to the Sanskrit Buddha-dhatu - "Buddha Element", "Buddha-Principle". The Buddha Principle (Buddha-dhatu) is taught to be an inwardly hidden potency reciding in the purest depths of the mind (soul). The Mahaparinirvana Sutra equates the Buddha-nature with the eternal True Self (atman). It opens up the immanent possibility of Liberation. In Mahaparinirvana Sutra, Buddha states (in the Tibetan version of the text): "all phenomena (dharmas) are not non-Self: the Self is Reality (tattva), the Self is eternal (nitya), the Self is virtue (guna), the Self is everlasting (shasvata), the Self is unshakeable (dhruva), and the Self is peace (siva)." Further: "The Self of which the Buddha speaks is said by him to be the "essential intrinsic being" (svabhava) or even "life-essence" (jivaka) of each person, and this essential being is none other than the Buddha himself - "radiantly luminous" and "as indestructible as a diamond (vajra)". Further, the Buddha Nature present in all beings is everlasting, pure and blissful and lasting, immortal Reality: "The Buddha-Nature is the Eternal, Bliss, the Self."

The Mahaparinirvana Sutra is generally accepted by Mahayana Buddhists as genuine "Buddha-word". It is not alone among Buddhist texts in asserting the reality of an essential Self within each sentient being. Shenpen Hookham in the Kagyu tradition, writes:

Great teachers of the Tibetan Nyingma, Kagyu and Sakya schools [have argued and] . . . argue that such a view [i.e. the reality of an essential Self] is fundamental to the practice of the Buddhist path and the attainment of Enlightenment".

Among other texts that affirm the Self well is Lankavatara Sutra.

Another text tells "Those . . . who are honest [etc.] know their hearts to be the Great Self."

In the Tibetan Book of the Dead, it is taught that at death there is an encounter with our true nature: Shining, unobstructed Awareness is disclosed to us. This radiant essence is equated with the Buddha Nature.

In the Anunatva-Apurnatva-Nirdesa, Buddha links the Tathagatagarbha to the essence of all phenomena and to essential being.

The Sanskrit text Ratnagotravibhaga on the Buddha Nature sees the Tathagatagarbha (Buddha Nature) as "Suchness" or "Thusness" - the abiding Reality of all things.

The Jonangpa School of Tibetan Buddhism sees the Buddha Nature as the "permanent indwelling of the Buddha".

There are still more Buddhist texts that exalt the Self as the ultimate reality by words such as the Self of Thusness, of primordial purity, Self pervading all, Single Self, Diamond Self, Supreme Self".

To find out of it firsthand, become a Buddha yourself. That is not a bad way -

Kigen Dogen Shobogenzo comments, END MATTER

Kigen Dogen Shobogenzo comments, LITERATURE  

Compare: ◦The complete Zhobogenzo◦Chapter surveys.

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

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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