The Authentic Buddha Dharma – Which Zen is Zen? Part 1
Within the contemporary Zen community the term ‘Zen,’ when used as a designation for the 1500 year old tradition known as Zen Buddhism, is frequently used in ways that hardly suggest there is much universal agreement about what Zen Buddhism is. That is, while it is usually pretty clear that the term Zen is supposed to designate authentic Buddhism (the Buddha Dharma, Buddha Tao, or Buddha Way), the many various speakers and writers that identify themselves as Zen adherents or representatives often portray widely divergent versions of Zen doctrine and methodology. While it would be an exercise in futility to make any attempt to sort out all the variations of contemporary Zen in order to come to some clear vision as to ‘authentic Zen,’ we can at least get a fairly good vision of what it is that the Zen master Eihei Dogen regarded as the authentic Buddha Dharma.
In 1243 – at the very peak of his creative powers – Dogen wrote Butsudo (Butsu; Buddha, do [tao]; way, truth, path), a fairly long fascicle of Shobogenzo presenting a clear account of his own view of the matter. The Butsudo fascicle (which Nishijima & Cross translate as “The Buddhist Truth”) begins with a quote by the sixth [Zen] ancestor Huineng (Sokei) followed by comments from Dogen thus:
The eternal buddha Sokei on one occasion preaches to the assembly, “From Eno to the Seven Buddhas there are forty patriarchs.” When we investigate these words, from the Seven Buddhas to Eno are forty buddhas. When we count the buddhas and the patriarchs, we count them like this. When we count them like this, the Seven Buddhas are seven patriarchs, and the thirty-three patriarchs are thirty-three buddhas. Sokei’s intention is like this. This is the right and traditional instruction of the Buddha. Only the rightful successors of the authentic transmission have received the authentic transmission of this counting method. From Sakyamuni Buddha to Sokei there are thirty-four patriarchs. Each of the transmissions between these Buddhist patriarchs is like Kasyapa meeting the Tathagata and like the Tathagata getting Kasyapa. Just as Sakyamuni Buddha learns in practice under Kasyapa Buddha, each teacher and disciple exists in the present. Therefore, the right Dharma-eye treasury has been personally transmitted from rightful successor to rightful successor, and the true life of the Buddha-Dharma is nothing other than this authentic transmission. The Buddha-Dharma, because it is authentically transmitted like this, is perfectly legitimate in its transmission. This being so, the virtues and the pivotal essence of the Buddha’s truth have been faultlessly provided. They have been transmitted from India in the west to the Eastern Lands, a hundred thousand and eight miles, and they have been transmitted from the time when the Buddha was in the world until today, more than two thousand years. People who do not learn this truth in practice speak randomly and mistakenly. They randomly call the right Dharma-eye treasury and the fine mind of nirvana that have been authentically transmitted by the Buddhist patriarchs “the Zen sect”; they call the ancestral master “the Zen patriarch”; they call practitioners “Zen students” or “students of dhyana”; and some of them call themselves “the Zen schools.” These are all twigs and leaves rooted in a distorted view. Those who randomly call themselves by the name “Zen sect,” which has never existed in India in the west or in the Eastern Lands, from the past to the present, are demons out to destroy the Buddha’s truth. They are the Buddhist patriarchs’ uninvited enemies.
Shobogenzo, Butsudo, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross
Dogen’s comments here are probably clear enough – “This is the right and traditional instruction of the Buddha” – that is, the issue at hand here is what he regards as authentic Zen, or the genuine Buddha Dharma. Before going on to the next section however, it is worth emphasizing the importance of carefully considering the point that Dogen brings into relief with his expression that, “Just as Sakyamuni Buddha learns in practice under Kasyapa Buddha, each teacher and disciple exists in the present.” In Kazuaki Tanahashi translation of Butsudo, “This being so, the function, the essence, of the buddha way, is present with nothing lacking.” The point to get at is that whatever authentic Zen is, it (the function, the essence, each teacher and disciple, etc.) exists here-now (“in the present”, “is present with nothing lacking”).