Monday, January 14, 2013

Just Sitting vs Mere Sitting - and the nature of koans: response to Martin Lake

Hello, this post is in response to some recent comments by Martin Lake that raise some important points. For the full text of the comments see:

Hello Martin,

Thank you for sharing.

I am not sure that I accurately understand your comments (or their context); please keep this in mind in reading my responses, in which I will try to indicate what I am assuming to be your meaning or context.

Martin wrote: My experience of koans is that they are records of the behaviour of those who have clarified the state.”

Here I am assuming that by “my experience of koans” you are talking about reading them, hearing them expressed (within and or outside of teachings, teishos, sermons, etc.), and or thinking about them rather than any kind of systematic study or training with a koan teacher.

If so, I can see how they might be viewed as “records of behaviour” – that is certainly how a great many of them are structured. But I wonder what you might think of the many koans that are not structured in the manner of a person’s conduct. For example:
Why has the Western Barbarian no beard?
Mumonkan, Case 4

The Ryogon Sutra says, "When I don't see, why don’t you not see my not seeing? If you could see my not seeing that would not be the nature of not seeing. Since you don’t see my not seeing, it must not be a thing. Thus, how could it not be you?
Hekiganroku, Case 94

Gettan said, "Keichu, the wheel-maker, made a cart whose wheels had a hundred spokes.
If you took away the wheels and the axle, what would be vividly apparent?
Mumonkan, Case 8

Also, in this context, “the state” you refer to seems to mean “one (and the same) particular state” – that is, that all the different koans, the many and various “records of behaviour" all have their source in one and this “one and the same state.” If so, this would certainly seem to be inconsistent with the classic Zen literature (including the records and writings of Dogen and Keizan) which portrays the nature and dynamics of practice-enlightenment as the actualization of the universe (genjokoan) at the interface of both the “myriad dharmas” and the “mind alone” (as interdependent and coessential elements of true nature).

Martin wrote: What else could they be?”

Even on the surface it seems they could be something other than “records of behavior.” How about allegorical stories? Or, vehicles of truth? Expressions of wisdom? Perhaps even the Buddha Dharma?

While it seems to me that these are at least as likely as “records of behavior,” however, even these fall short of my view/experience of koans. In my view koans are not simply “recordings,” they are not even authentic expressions/teachings of Buddhas and ancestors, they are precisely what the classic Zen masters proclaimed, that is, instances of the Dharma itself, expressions of Buddhas and ancestors as they are here and now. To cite one example, Dogen says:

In encountering these sayings and expressions of Theirs, do not treat them as something apart from the Buddha's assembly, for They are Buddhas turning the Wheel of the Dharma. Because this Wheel of the Dharma encompasses everything in all directions, the Great Ocean, Mount Sumeru, all lands, and all thoughts and things have fully manifested themselves.
Shobogenzo, Muchu Setsumu, Hubert Nearman

Martin wrote: “Koans can be recognised as such when we clarify the state for ourselves, otherwise we get lost in opinion or think they have something special to give us.”

This seems to suggest the view that studying koans would be an act in futility for anyone that had not yet clarified “the state” (whatever that may be); and that koans do not have anything special (like wisdom, liberation, etc.) to transmit. If so, do you think that Dogen was wrong when he proclaimed that students should “first know the sayings of Buddhas and ancestors” – for instance:

People who study the Buddha Dharma should first know the sayings of Buddhas and ancestors, without being confused by those outside the way.
Eihei Koroku, Leighton & Okumura

Was Dogen trying to confuse or mislead students when he advised them to “first ask” for one koan when you “meet a teacher”?

Good gentlemen, when you meet a teacher, first ask for one case of [koan] story, and just keep it in mind and study it diligently. If you climb to the top of the mountain and dry up the oceans, you will not fail to complete [this study].
Dogen's Extensive Record, Vol.8:14, Leighton & Okumura

If koans have nothing special to give us, then why would Dogen tell Ejo that even by hearing a koan “a student may suddenly become enlightened”?

(Asked by Ejo about the "use" of Nansen killing the cat) If it were not a turning word, we could not say, 'Mountains, rivers, and the great earth, are the marvelously pure illumined mind'; and we could not say, 'The very mind is Buddha.' So in the expression of this turning word, see that the cat is identical to the Buddha-body. Furthermore, hearing these words, a student may suddenly become enlightened.
Shobogenzo-Zuimonki, (Record of Things Heard, Thomas Cleary)

Martin wrote: “Can you tell me the difference between "just sitting" and "mere sitting"?

In short, the difference is the difference between “authenticity” and “inauthenticity.”

For the longer version, here I will post some excerpts on this topic from an article on Hee-Jin Kim's findings regarding Dogen's Zen in the latest “Flatbed Sutra Zen Newsletter” (Oct. 2012 – Jan. 2013).

[Note: three dots “…” indicate omitted material]

Abbreviation Key: 

MR - Eihei Dogen: Mystical Realist
FE - Flowers of Emptiness: Selected Translation from Shobogenzo
RWL - The Reason of Words and Letters,
DMT - Dogen on Meditation and Thinking: A Reflection on His View of Zen.

Nonthinking: The Essential Art of Zen Practice-Enlightenment

This brings us to the next topic of discussion; Dogen’s notion of authentic practice-enlightenment. The first four points are:

1.       In Dogen’s Zen, zazen (or shikantaza) is the primary archetype of authentic Zen practice-enlightenment (shusho).

2.       The nature and dynamics of the form/essence unity embodied by the zazen archetype is most comprehensively revealed and elucidated by Dogen in his vision of “nonthinking.”

3.       As a human capacity, nonthinking is a mode of thinking informed by, and enacted in harmony with the wisdom of nonduality as revealed by the doctrines of emptiness and interdependence.

4.       As practice-enlightenment, nonthinking is the intentional, skillful utilization of thinking for the actualization of universal liberation performed by beings awake to true nature (i.e. a Buddha).

[Note: for examples of Dogen’s notion of “nonthinking” see MR pp. 62-63, & esp. DMT pp. 79-120; on the specific notion of “zazen as archetype” see for example MR p. 58, DMT pp. 23-26]

In connection with nonthinking, “the wisdom of nonduality” means the recognition of the nondual nature of “thinking” and “not-thinking.”

“Thinking” means actively engaging in discriminative, critical, thought concerning a dharma or dharmas; the application of the normal capacities of human intelligence or cognition.

“Not-thinking” is the reality and presence of all dharmas that are “not-thought” at a particular location-time of “thinking” – the sum total of the universe not appearing in/as a particular instance or phenomenal form of “thinking.”

“Nonthinking,” then, is a mode of thinking in which the thinker is awake to or cognizant of the presence of not-thinking in/as the present existence-time of thinking.

Dogen affirms “nonthinking” is “thinking not-thinking,” the significance of which he elucidates by demonstrating that “not-thinking” is a “concrete-state” (i.e. a dharma). This expression by Dogen (see Shobogenzo, Zazenshin) is itself an exemplification of nonthinking; it expresses a thought that recognizes (thus accounts for the presence of) the spatial-temporal form/essence (concrete state) of “not-thinking.”

…should be clear that “nonthinking” is nothing more or less than the application of the truth of nonduality to the activity of “thinking.” In terms of the prajna-paramita… thinking is not-thinking, therefore, thinking is thinking – it is in the (full) context of this that “thinking” can be accurately understood as the mode of thinking that Dogen calls “nonthinking.”


… Dogen’s view of Zen practice-enlightenment, as presented by his teaching of nonthinking, views the human capacity of thinking to be much more expansive than commonly supposed… thinking, from Dogen’s perspective, is not confined to intellectual capacities but is inclusive of all human capacities for discernment (e.g. sensation, perception, linguistic abilities, intellectual pursuits, emotional capacities, consciousness, etc.). It is in light of this refusal to divide, classify, categorize, pigeonhole, or otherwise abstract or reduce the ever-advancing novel actualization of self/world experience-existence, that thinking (along with its sisters, language and reason) is as essential an element of practice-enlightenment as is any other element of Zen, including seated meditation. 


5.       Dogen's Zen is grounded in and dependent on the clear and comprehensive understanding and skillful utilization of “language, thinking, and reason.”

Despite the fact of the almost total lack of recognition or assimilation by the Zen/Buddhist community (from Dogen’s time to the present), Dogen’s vision of language, thinking, and reason is the de facto vision of Dogen’s Zen. The fascicles of Shobogenzo not only elucidate and expound Dogen’s vision, they exemplify it…

It is in light of this that Kim writes, for example:

The foregoing passage (from Shobogenzo, Bussho) demonstrates Dogen’s analytic and critical thinking in search of clarity and depth of meaning. In fact, I consider this as a very good example of his practice.
Hee-Jin Kim, Dogen on Meditation and Thinking, p.106 (italics in the original)


Rather, his approach (for transmitting Zen to his students) emerged from his foremost desire to provide them with fundamental principles—spelled out in terms of language, thinking, and reason—with which each could grapple with his/her individual soteric project, thereby realizing his/her own Zen. Dogen demonstrated this himself by writing the fascicles of the Shobogenzo.
Hee-Jin Kim, Dogen on Meditation and Thinking, p.122 (italics in the original)

 According to Dogen, the practical application of authentic practice-enlightenment consists in:

6.       Utilizing the skillful means (expedients, effective capacities) of the normal human body-mind.

By “utilizing skillful means” is meant the adept application of efficacious abilities; Kim identifies this as, “dialectically negotiating the Way” (between or within nonduality and duality). By “the normal human body-mind” is meant the healthy (hence enlightened) human individual commonly recognized as a “person” or “self” constituted of a body-and-mind, and more technically denoted in Zen/Buddhist literature as “the five skandhas” (i.e. form, sensation, perception, mental formulation, and consciousness). “Normal” here coincides with the Zen saying, “The normal mind is the Tao” – this is the normal of “healthy,” “harmonious,” “undistorted,” “correct,” etc.; not the normal of “average,” “usual,” “typical,” “mundane,” “routine,” etc.

To utilize the skillful means of the normal human body-mind (i.e. the practical application of nonthinking) is to intentionally engage in continuous, ongoing discernment of true nature (of the self/world) at/in/as the ever-arriving here-now and conducting one’s self accordingly.

The practical application or process of Dogen’s practice-enlightenment is illuminated by the works of Hee-Jin Kim in a variety of ways; one of the most succinct examples is a translation and commentary on a passage from Bendowa, one of Dogen’s early writings…

Kim states the key point near the beginning of his commentary on the passage as follows:

In the Shobogenzo, “Bendowa” (1231), Dogen succinctly enunciates his Zen: The endeavor to negotiate the Way (bendo), as I teach now, consists in discerning all things in view of enlightenment, and putting such a unitive awareness (ichinyo) into practice in the midst of the revaluated world (shutsuro).” This statement clearly sets forth practitioners’ soteriological project as negotiating the Way in terms of (1) discerning the nondual unity of all things that are envisioned from the perspective of enlightenment and (2) enacting that unitive vision amid the everyday world of duality now revalorized by enlightenment. Needless to say, these two aspects refer to practice and enlightenment that are nondually one (shusho itto; shusho ichinyo).
Hee-Jin Kim, Dogen on Meditation and Thinking, p.21

The significance of this passage is probably clear enough. Nevertheless, certain implications may not be readily apparent to readers unfamiliar with common distortions frequent among popular Zen or pseudo-Zen communities and literature. Moreover, it cannot be assumed that clarity of expression is any guarantee something will receive the attention it merits; many of the key elements of Dogen’s Zen revealed in Kim’s initial effort continue to be widely misunderstood and neglected nearly 40 years after the fact.

In any case, the real significance that Kim brings to relief in singling out how “Dogen succinctly enunciates his Zen” here needs to be appreciated in context of the knowledge that Dogen’s enunciation diverges widely from prevailing contemporary enunciations professing to describe Dogen’s Zen…

unless we are ready to assert that Dogen does not qualify as an authority on his own view of Zen, we are compelled to acknowledge that the prevailing views and accounts of Dogen’s Zen are fallacious.

It is a simple truism that false presuppositions about a thing are incompatible with an accurate understanding of that thing, yet the obvious implication, that the recognition of false notions is therefore a prerequisite for the assimilation of truth, often goes unheeded. Let us, then, clearly spell out the significant implication here; clearly recognizing fallacious notions one holds regarding Zen or Dogen is a prerequisite for realizing any truth regarding Zen or Dogen…

to briefly survey one of the most perniciously tenacious fallacies about the methodology of Dogen’s practice-enlightenment that is revealed by Hee-Jin Kim’s illumination of Dogen’s writings.

The fallacy in question… is that the methodology advocated by Dogen as “zazen” (seated meditation), “shikantaza” (sole-sitting), “sanzen” (practicing-Zen), or “hi-shiryo” (nonthinking) consists in and of a mere ritual performance involving a bodily posture (upright sitting) and proscribed mental attitude (specific do’s and don’ts). The distortion, or more accurately, superstition surrounding this “Zen” method is that the proscribed physical posture/mental attitude is itself the actual manifestation of authentic Zen practice-enlightenment. Some of the more popular champions of Dogen as the advocate of a fixed-form of “Zen practice” insinuate that the efficacy of this uncomplicated access to Buddhahood is inherent to the physical posture itself (the mental aspect is commonly portrayed as secondary, sometimes even inessential).

Significantly, those promoting such misleading notions commonly support their claims on superficial readings of Dogen’s own expressions. In other words, their fallacious proclamations are themselves dependent on neglecting, distorting, or subverting the first principles (i.e. language, thinking, and reason) of Dogen’s methodology. To cite one popular example, we turn again to Dogen’s Bendowa.


In the authentic transmission of [our] religion, it is said that this Buddha-Dharma, which has been authentically and directly transmitted one-to-one, is supreme among the supreme. After the initial meeting with a [good] counselor we never again need to burn incense, to do prostrations, to recite Buddha’s name, to practice confession, or to read sutras. Just sit and get the state that is free of body and mind.

Bendowa, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross


Rather than reading this as the mythopoeic expression of a Buddhist master, this passage is read as if it were the literal explanation of an instruction manual. In short, this passage (and passages similar to it) is espoused as meaning that as soon as a practitioner has met a reliable teacher all manner of study and practice, except “just sitting,” can literally be abandoned…


such a superficial reading of this passage – written in 1231 – had already developed in Dogen’s time. For, twelve years later (1243), in the Bukkyo fascicle of Shobogenzo, Dogen wrote that most people misunderstood the significance of this expression, and pointed out that to view “reading sutras” as literally meaning “reading sutras” was reductionism, while imagining that one could thus dismiss the whole question of “reading sutras” was vulgarity.


My late master constantly said, “In my order, we do not rely on burning incense, doing prostrations, reciting names of buddhas, practicing confession, or reading sutras. Just sit, direct your energy into pursuing the truth, and get free of body and mind.”

Few people clearly understand an expression like this. Why? Because to call “reading sutras” “reading sutras” is to debase it, and not to call it “reading sutras” is to be perverse.
Shobogenzo, Bukkyo, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross


The whole point here is that the language, thinking, and reason of Zen must be effectively understood and skillfully applied if one is to truly appreciate the language, thinking, and reason of Zen expression. Like poetry, art, myth, and all sacred literature, the expressions of Zen are not addressed merely to the intellect, but to one’s whole being. When we truly see the “waving thistle” of a poem, what is seen is neither a “waving thistle” nor other than a “waving thistle” – such “seeing” is not something that is achieved with the literal eye, nor something achieved without the literal eye. This kind of seeing is achieved with the eye that is not-the-eye and is therefore the eye. In Buddhism this is sometimes called the Dharma-eye, the Buddha-eye, or the eye to read scriptures. As Dogen goes on to say:

“You are not allowed to talk and not allowed to be mute: say something at once! Say something at once!” We should learn this truth in practice. Because this principle [of reading sutras] exists, a man of old has said, “To read sutras we must be equipped with the eyes of reading sutras.”
Shobogenzo, Bukkyo, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

The notion that the uniqueness of the physiognomy of seated meditation is the keystone of Dogen’s Zen, and the most distinguishing characteristic of him as a Buddhist master, is undoubtedly one of the greatest misnomers about Dogen and his writings among contemporary practitioners. Fallacious notions, commonly in the form of vague, but grand generalizations about the exceptionally original, rigorous, or efficacious quality of the bodily form of seated meditation in Dogen’s Zen can clearly be seen as having its primary source in sectarianism. In contrast to traditional sectarian claims the fact of the matter is:

7.       The technical physiognomy of Zazen and/or shikantaza receives relatively little detailed attention in the corpus of Dogen’s writings.


8.       The little detailed attention Dogen’s writings do dedicate to the practical physical performance of zazen and/or shikantaza is clear, straightforward – and generally unremarkable.

In comparison with the detailed attention Dogen’s writings dedicate to the koan literature, sutra study, the nature and dynamics of language, thinking, and reason of practice-enlightenment, Buddha-nature, existence-time, and numerous other topics, his treatment of the practical aspects of seated meditation is minimal at best. In comparison with the creativity and originality of his treatment of those same topics, his meditation manuals hardly qualify as vastly original; apart from a few minor points his treatment of seated meditation is indistinguishable from other sources of his era and earlier. As Kim points out:


Dogen's instructions on seated meditation were brief and minimalist. He did not elaborate on meditation techniques or meditative experiences in any detail, nor did he attempt to guide his disciples through graduated stages of meditative and spiritual progression, as we often see in some religious traditions within and without Buddhism.
Hee-Jin Kim, Dogen on Meditation and Thinking: A Reflection on His View of Zen, p.122


As long as we hold to a view that Dogen’s practice-enlightenment consists in a unique bodily form of seated meditation we will simply be unable to recognize that authentic practice-enlightenment consists in actualizing a “unitive vision amid the everyday world of duality.” In sum, for Dogen, “zazen” is the archetype of the actualization of the “unitive vision amid the everyday world of duality.” As expressed in the following observation of Hee-Jin Kim:


Language, thinking, and reason constitute the key to both zazen and koan study within Dogen’s praxis-oriented Zen. The koan’s and zazen’s function is not to excoriate and abandon the intellect and its words and letters, but rather to liberate and restore them in the Zen enterprise. In short, enlightenment is not brought about by direct intuition (or transcendent wisdom) supplanting the intellect and its tools, but in and through their collaboration and corroboration in search of the expressible in deeds, words, and thoughts for a given situation (religious and secular).
Hee-Jin Kim, Dogen on Meditation and Thinking, p.78

Having established these fundamental points of Kim’s illumination of Dogen’s vision of practice-enlightenment, we now want to briefly elaborate upon their significance:


1.       Dogen’s “brief and minimalist” treatment of zazen harmonizes with his “extensive and elaborate” treatment of the significance and methodology of ongoing critical discernment of, and conduct appropriate to, the true nature of the self/world, which is envisioned as the essential art of Zen practice-enlightenment (i.e. nonthinking; utilizing the skillful means of the normal human body-mind).


This point brings Dogen’s vision of practice-enlightenment into harmony with the Zen axiom that Buddhahood (enlightenment) can only be achieved by oneself. The harmonization of these two aspects serves to illumine the reason that:


2.       Dogen’s writings are naturally focused solely on presenting aspirants with the knowledge and skill necessary to successfully realize Buddhahood.


Whether we are considering Dogen’s teachings on nonthinking, sitting meditation, or the proper procedure for cleaning teeth, we need always be wary of falling into reductionism, superficial literalism, or idolatry; Zen does not recognize, must less worship fixed-forms, methods, formulas or codes of any kind. This brings us to the next point:


3.       The language of Zen, like all genuine expressions of truth, is mythical language, not narrative description or literal definition.


Attempting to read Dogen’s expressions on sitting meditation, nonthinking, or using the toilet according to the rules or notions of a non-mythical or non-poetic language is to literally (pun intended) miss the mark from the get go. The language of truth is, as ever, mythopoeic language. Unlike the language of literal description, Zen language can communicate the truth that each particular thing contains and is contained by every other particular thing. Thus, when speaking about zazen, zazen is the principal and nonthinking (and all other particular things) is a satellite; when speaking of nonthinking, nonthinking is the principal and zazen is a satellite. To use a more Dogen-like phrase, “Whenever we verify zazen, nonthinking is shadowed.”


“Whenever we verify one side, the other is shadowed.”
Shobogenzo, Genjokoan, trans. Hee-Jin Kim, Flowers of Emptiness, p.51

Dogen’s treatment of language, thinking, and reason – epitomized in his notion of nonthinking – is, as Kim says “the common thread running through” (thus binding together, or fashioning) the Zen vision Dogen dedicated his life to elucidating:

…I have presented some salient facets of Dogen’s thought on authentic practice, which was his paramount concern in his praxis-oriented Zen. In this regard, his emphasis was on the reconstructive use of such notions of as duality in relation to nonduality and dependent origination in relation to emptiness. His thrust was as much on engagement in duality as it was on nonattachment to duality. Thus Dogen located his religious method and hermeneutics in the clear understanding and responsible use of language, thinking, and reason. The present work’s primary purpose has been to explicate such a methodological/hermeneutic orientation and its significance. This orientation, as I see it, was the common thread running through Dogen’s Shobogenzo (as well as his other writings), although it evolved throughout his monastic career before reaching its final form later in life—most notably in relation to his notion of nonthinking.
Hee-Jin Kim, Dogen on Meditation and Thinking: A Reflection on His View of Zen, p.121

It should be clear by now how “language, thinking, and reason” constitute the orientation that is “the common thread,” that runs through the whole of Dogen’s works, and is thus presupposed in all his expressions. This, then, clarifies our reason for stressing that Dogen’s vision of “nonthinking” is the true keystone of Dogen’s methodology concerning practice-enlightenment – to hold a view of that keystone to be otherwise, the practical performance of seated meditation for instance, is to be obstructed from an accurate vision of Dogen’s Zen.

As a “Buddha ancestor,” Dogen recognized his mission as the liberation of all beings from suffering and the realization of complete enlightened fulfillment. This meant, according to the basic Zen tenet of "enlightenment-by-oneself without a teacher" (mushi dokugo), which includes textual study and working with reliable teachers, that Dogen’s task entailed doing whatever was within his capacity to encourage beings to “awaken on their own.”

The vision of “things as they are” is never of a fixed reality/truth; the power for self-subversion and self-renewal is inherent in the vision itself. Thus “things” seen as they are are transformable [sic]. Every practitioner’s task is to change them by seeing through them. From Dogen’s perspective, this is the fundamental difference between contemplation (dhyana) and zazen-only. To him, seeing was changing and making.
Hee-Jin Kim, Dogen: On Meditation and Thinking, p.38

Dogen’s Zen does not pretend to reveal the truth of things, beings, or events, rather it inspires trust in one’s aspiration for activating and developing one’s own innate capacity to discern the true nature of reality (Buddha) as it is. In other words, Dogen’s expressions (like all genuine expressions of truth) do not teach “laws” or “facts” – they present practitioners with means – the eye, the key… for actualizing the fulfillment of their inherent aspiration for enlightenment.

From the perspective of ceaseless-advance it is obvious that authentic practice-enlightenment could never be accurately approached while being entangled with notions about fixed-forms, specific formulas, defined doctrines, or proscribed techniques. Thus, Dogen’s vision is of a Zen that is only and always particular, actual, and novel; particular to the specific dharmas involved, actual as experiential phenomenal appearances, and novel as the ceaseless-arrival (or arising) of here (place) and now (time). Thus Kim writes:

Accordingly, he underscored that Zen which is reexpressed and reconceived by each individual practitioner and by each generation, according to different conditions and needs. Zen's so-called fierce individualism is, in this way, firmly grounded in one's existential situation: Each practitioner must add his/her own details.
Hee-Jin Kim, Dogen on Meditation and Thinking: A Reflection on His View of Zen, p. 122


I hope this is helpful.

Thanks again.


Friday, January 11, 2013

Dogen & Koans


Dogen & Koans

[Adapted from the Flatbed Sutra Zen Newsletter, Feb 2012 Dogen & Koans]

People who study the Buddha Dharma should first know the sayings of Buddhas and ancestors, without being confused by those outside the way.

Eihei Koroku, Leighton & Okumura

We should by all means have as our investigation through training and practice an exploration that broadly spans the sayings of all the Buddhas and Ancestors.

Shobogenzo, Kokyo, Hubert Nearman

While much progress has been made in the scholarly arena, the popular stereotype of Dogen's Zen as being "non-koan" or even "anti-koan" persists. While it is true that the surviving "Soto" Zen lineages have largely lost contact with the koan teachings and practices, this is certainly not the case with Dogen's own teachings.

As the renowned Buddhist scholar, T. Griffith Foulk points out:

If there was anything that was distinctive about the Ch'an monasteries, it was not the stress on zazen or the occasional ritual in which the entire community was required to perform manual labor together (fushin samu) - those practices were common to all the public monasteries. No, what distinguished the training in Ch'an monasteries was chiefly the teaching style of the abbots, who based their talks and debates on the koan literature that was the hallmark of the Ch'an tradition.

T. Griffith Foulk, History of the Soto Zen School

Indeed, as Foulk goes on to say, it was familiarity with this literature that distinguished a monastic as a "Zen monastic" in Sung China (where Dogen "accomplished his task"). Moreover, the mastery of this literature and the ability to demonstrate that mastery was the main distinguishing characteristic of an authentic "Zen master."

It is true that Soto teachers gained prestige from their membership in the Zen lineage, and that to become a member one had to master the tradition of commenting on koans.

T. Griffith Foulk, History of the Soto Zen School

As is clear from all of Dogen's works, Zen without study was not Zen at all - thus, for instance, he wrote:

You cannot realize the Buddha's Way if you do not aim to practice the Way, and It will be ever more distant from you if you do not aim to study It.

Shobogenzo, Shinjin Gakudo, Rev. Hubert Nearman


When students are beginners, whether they have the mind of the Way or not, they should carefully read and study the Sagely Teachings of the sutras and shastras.

Shobogenzo-Zuimonki, (Record of Things Heard, Thomas Cleary)

He also made it very clear that "koans" or "sayings" (of the Zen ancestors) were as essential to Zen study as were Buddhist scriptures, for instance:

Even so, over the last couple of centuries or so in Great Sung China, certain mistaken, smelly skin bags have said, "There's no need for you to keep the sayings of the Ancestral Masters in mind, much less is there any need for long study of Scriptural Teachings or for your trying to make use of Them. Simply, make your body and mind like a dead tree or cold ashes, like a broken wooden ladle or a bottomless tub." Folks like these have become a type of non-Buddhist or celestial demon, and to no good purpose. They seek to make use of things that are useless, and accordingly, they twist the Teachings of the Buddhas and Ancestors into wild and perverted teaching. What a pity! How terribly sad!

Shobogenzo, Bukkyo, Hubert Nearman

Following, then, are a collection of passages from Dogen's works that give some general, some specific, some subtle, and always reliable instruction on how Zen students can best approach the koans. Enjoy!


When Students of the Way are looking at sayings, you must exert your power to the utmost and examine them very very closely.

Shobogenzo-Zuimonki, (Record of Things Heard, Thomas Cleary)


In encountering these sayings and expressions of Theirs, do not treat them as something apart from the Buddha's assembly, for They are Buddhas turning the Wheel of the Dharma. Because this Wheel of the Dharma encompasses everything in all directions, the Great Ocean, Mount Sumeru, all lands, and all thoughts and things have fully manifested themselves.

Shobogenzo, Muchu Setsumu, Hubert Nearman

The reality [i.e. "koan" TB] of eternal buddhas is present; it is, namely, the teaching, practice, and experience of "the thirty-seven elements of bodhi." The entanglement of ascending and descending through their classification is just the entangled state of reality, which we call "the buddhas" and which we call "the patriarchs."

Shobogenzo, Sanjushichi-bon-bodai-bunpo, GudoNishijima & Mike Cross

Our Highest Ancestor in India, Shakyamuni Buddha, once said, "The snowcapped Himalayas are a metaphor for the great nirvana." You need to know that He is speaking metaphorically about something that can be metaphoric. 'Something that can be metaphoric' implies that the mountains and nirvana are somehow intimately connected and that they are connected in a straightforward manner. When He uses the term 'snow-capped Himalayas', He is using the actual snowcapped Himalayas as a metaphor, just as when He uses the term 'great nirvana', He is using the actual great nirvana as a metaphor.

Shobogenzo, Hotsu Mujo Shin, Hubert Nearman

Students of the Way, even if you attain enlightenment, do not think that this is now the ultimate and thus abandon your practice of the Way. The Way is endless. Even if you are enlightened, you should still practice the Way. Consider the ancient story of the lecturer Liang Sui calling upon Ma Yu.

Shobogenzo-Zuimonki, (Record of Things Heard, Thomas Cleary)

Once you attain this state of suchness and attain the harmoni­ous unity of activity and understanding possessed by the Buddha-patriarchs, you examine exhaustively all the thoughts and views of this attainment.

Shobogenzo, Sammai-O-Zammai, Waddell & Abe

There are those who say that after bodhisattvas become Buddhas, they discontinue practice because there is nothing left for them to do. Such people are mundane persons who have no direct knowledge of the Way of the Buddhas and Ancestors.

Shobogenzo, Shoho Jisso, Hubert Nearman

Devote your energy to a Way that points directly to suchness. Revere the person of complete attainment beyond all human agency. Gain accord with the enlightenment of the Buddhas.

Fukanzazengi, Waddell and Abe

This Dharma is the very being and spirit of what the Buddhas and Ancestors have personally and correctly Transmitted; It is the very words and phrases used to describe That which the Buddhas and Ancestors directly experienced; It is the very Light in which the Buddhas and Ancestors clearly abide and to which They hold.

Shobogenzo, Senjo, Hubert Nearman

The Buddhas and Ancestors have been many indeed. Their deeds are instructive for teaching others the Way to supreme enlightenment. Among those deeds are not a few examples of 'bone-crushing' diligence. For instance, you can draw instruction from the Second Ancestor Eka's 'severing of his arm'. And do not miss the meaning behind the Buddha's action in a previous life when He covered the mud with His long hair.

Shobogenzo, Keisei Sanshoku, Hubert Nearman

In the house of the Buddhist patriarchs, some experience it directly and some do not experience it directly, but reading sutras and requesting the benefit [of the teaching] are the common tools of everyday life.

Shobogenzo, Kankin, GudoNishijima & Mike Cross

Good counselors, in every case, are thoroughly versed in the sutras...

...We should know that in the Buddha's truth there are inevitably Buddhist sutras; we should learn in practice, as the mountains and the oceans, their universal text and their profound meaning; and we should make them our standard for pursuing the truth.

Shobogenzo, Bukkyo, GudoNishijima & Mike Cross

In addition, 'to open a Scriptural text' means that you clarify for yourself what the Buddha taught as the principles for training and practice in both the 'sudden approach' and the 'gradual approach'.

Shobogenzo, Bendowa, Hubert Nearman

Their stories appear one after another in Records of the Torch such as Den[to-roku], Ko[to-roku], Zoku[to-roku], Futo-roku, and so on. When they were liberated from the small vehicle view which is limited thinking about philosophy and precepts and they revered the great truth authentically transmitted by the Buddhist patriarchs, they all became Buddhist patriarchs. People today also should learn from the ancestral masters of the past.

Shobogenzo, Den-E, GudoNishijima & Mike Cross

The great Master says, "I call this bamboo and wood." We must completely master, both before it is voiced and after it becomes words, this unprecedented and unrepeatable snippet of an expression.

Shobogenzo, Sangai-Yuishin, GudoNishijima & Mike Cross

(Asked by Ejo about the "use" of Nansen killing the cat) If it were not a turning word, we could not say, 'Mountains, rivers, and the great earth, are the marvelously pure illumined mind'; and we could not say, 'The very mind is Buddha.' So in the expression of this turning word, see that the cat is identical to the Buddha-body. Furthermore, hearing these words, a student may suddenly become enlightened.

Shobogenzo-Zuimonki, (Record of Things Heard, Thomas Cleary)

With regard to the realization of this matter of secret talk, not only the World-Honored Sakyamuni has secret talk: all the Buddhist patriarchs have secret talk. A world-honored one always has secret talk. And one who has secret talk inevitably has Mahakasyapa's state of nothing being concealed. We should learn in practice and should not forget the truth that if there are a hundred thousand world-honored ones there are a hundred thousand Mahakasyapas. "Learning in practice" means not intending to understand at once but striving painstakingly hundreds of times, or thousands of times, as if working to cut a hard object. We should not think that when a person has something to relate we will be able to understand it at once.

Shobogenzo, Mitsugo, GudoNishijima & Mike Cross

Dig in the earth to search for heaven; meet with sun face and moon face buddhas. Dig a hole in the sky to plant the seed of a lotus that will blossom neither red not white [without and color]. Play with Linji's lump of red flesh, and penetrate the width of Xuefeng's ancient mirror. Furthermore, burn up Danxia's wooden Buddha, and smelt a hundred times the iron ox at Shanfu. Don't laugh when the cold ash is revived. Return for a while to a warm place [the meditation hall] and deliberate about this.

Eihei Koroku, Leighton & Okumura

Beginners and later students who wish to learn in practice the non-emotional preaching of the Dharma should get straight into diligent research of this story of the National Master.

Shobogenzo, Muju-Seppoi, GudoNishijima & Mike Cross

Without taking a step bow to the three government offices. The entryway that has long been locked is now wide open. Sit and cut through the billions of tangled vines to penetrate all of the ten thousand functionings and arouse the wind and thunder.

Eihei Koroku, Leighton & Okumura

Remember, we attain the truth when listening to a four-line verse, and we attain the state of truth when listening to a single phrase. Why is it that a four-line verse and a single phrase can have such a mystical effect? Because they are the Buddha-Dharma.

Shobogenzo, Den-E, GudoNishijima & Mike Cross

Someone with an iron tongue and spike beak can bite through the model koans from ancient or modern times.

Eihei Koroku, Leighton & Okumura

Neither of these venerable patriarchs is of humble ancestry: [Seppo] is a distant descendant of Seigen and [Sansho] is a distant descendant of Nangaku. That they have been dwelling in and retaining the eternal mirror is [evidenced] as described above. They may be a criterion for students of later ages.

Shobogenzo, Kokyo, GudoNishijima & Mike Cross

There again, many wrong people think, "Spoken teaching and active demeanor are insubstantial matters. The silent and unmoving state is the true reality." Expressions like this also are not the Buddha-Dharma. They are the speculations of people who have heard sutras and teachings of Brahmadeva, Isvara, and the like...

They utterly lack the light of clear discrimination.

Sanjushichi-bon-bodai-bunpo, GudoNishijima & Mike Cross

National Master Daisho is an excellent disciple of the eternal Buddha of Sokei. He is a great good counselor in heaven above and in the human world. We should clarify the fundamental teaching set forth by the Nation Master, and regard it as a criterion for learning in practice.

Shobogenzo, Soku-Shin-Ze-Butsu, GudoNishijima & Mike Cross

Don't you see that someone said, "Atop Mount Wutai, the clouds are making steamed rice; below the steps to the Buddha hall, a dog urinates up toward the heavens. At the top of a flagpole, dumplings are cooking; three monkeys a sorting coins in the night."

Brothers, if you can comprehend this saying, you will know the mind of the three vehicles and twelve divisions of the teaching. Do you want to clearly understand the meaning of the ancestor [Bodhidharma] coming from the west?

After a pause Dogen said: Pierce your nostrils for yourself. Search for the fiery lotus in the water of mind. Study this.

Eihei Koroku, Leighton & Okumura

The sixth patriarch says, "people have south and north, but the Buddha-nature is without south and north." We should take this expression and make effort to get inside the words. We should reflect on the words "south and north" with naked mind.

Shobogenzo, Bussho, GudoNishijima & Mike Cross

We should exhaust life after life investigating the intention of these words.

Shobogenzo, Bussho, GudoNishijima & Mike Cross

When we examine just this one part of the stories, it is clear that Tando still had not endorsed Soko. Even though time and time again Tando aimed at opening Soko up, the latter ultimately kept missing that one experience, and there is no way of compensating for that, for one cannot omit that experience...

Soko did not thoroughly explore his own statement, "That is precisely what Soko is suspicious of," nor did he drop it off, or break it open, or give rise to the Great Doubt, or break through that doubting...

It is so pitiful how he failed to understand what the Ancestors of the Buddha were saying to him in their talks and writings. He did not grasp that to study and train is to awaken to one's True Self. He did not hear that to delve deeply into the writings of myriad generations is to come to realize what that Self truly is.

Without proper study, there are errors like these and there is self-deception like his.

Because this was the way 'Meditation Master' Soko was, in his assembly there was not a single disciple, or even half a one, who had a trustworthy nose ring, but there were many who were pretend monks.

Failure to intuitively grasp what the Buddha Dharma is and failure to intellectually understand what the Buddha Dharma is are both just like this. Beyond any question, novice trainees here and now should explore the Matter in detail with their Master. Do not be negligent out of pride.

Shobogenzo, Jisho Zammai, Hubert Nearman


In Shobogenzo, Zazenshin, his most incisive teaching on zazen, Dogen refutes two fallacies about zazen prevalent in his own time - both continue into our own day. First is the wrong view that zazen is "just sitting" and "letting things be" - thoughts, sounds, smells, etc. (e.g. Just let things come and go", "there is nothing special to realize", "just sit and attain peace of mind", etc.).

In recent years, however, stupid unreliable people have said, "In the effort of Zazen, to attain peace of mind is everything. Just this is the state of tranquility." This opinion is beneath even scholars of the small vehicle. It is inferior even to the vehicles of men and gods. How can we call such people of the Buddha-Dharma? In the Great Kingdom of Buddha-Dharma today, people of such effort are many. It is lamentable that the Patriarch's truth has gone to ruin.

Shobogenzo, Zazenshin, Hubert Nearman


In Shobogenzo, Genjokoan, Dogen describes in detail the fundamental point of Zen (one translation of Genjokoan is, Actualizing the Fundamental Point). Near the end of his exposition, Dogen uses a Zen koan to illustrate the non-dual nature of practice and enlightenment.

Zen Master Hotetsu of Mayoku-zan mountain is using a fan. A monk comes by and asks, "The nature of air is to be ever-present, and there is no place that [air] cannot reach. Why does the Master use a fan?"

The Master says, "You have only understood that the nature of air is to be ever-present, but you do not yet know the truth that there is no place [air] cannot reach."

The monk says, "What is the truth of there being no place [air] cannot reach?"

At this, the Master just [carries on] using the fan. The monk does prostrations.

Shobogenzo, Genjokoan, GudoNishijima & Mike Cross

Dogen goes on to say:

The real experience of the Buddha-Dharma, the vigorous road of the authentic transmission, is like this.

Shobogenzo, Genjokoan, GudoNishijima & Mike Cross


Understand that to receive this Teaching, keep to It, accurately recite It to others, and explore Its implications is precisely what 'defending and protecting Wisdom' means.

Shobogenzo, Makahannya-haramitsu, Hubert Nearman

Meditation Master Engo once said, "Birth-and-death and coming-and-going are a person's true Real Body." By exploring this expression, we will come to know ourselves and we will give our consideration to the Buddha Dharma.

Chosa once said, "The whole universe in all ten directions is a person's true Real Body. The whole universe in all ten directions lies within the radiant brightness of one's own True Self." But, in general, even veteran trainees in present-day Sung China still do not know that they need to explore a saying like this through their training.

Shobogenzo, Sangai Yuishin, Hubert Nearman

Those who have not illuminated each dharma, dharma by dharma, cannot be called clear-eyed, and they are not the attainment of the truth; how could they be called the Buddhist patriarchs of the eternal past and present? Therefore, we should be absolutely certain that the Buddhist patriarchs have, in every case, received the one-to-one transmission of zazen. To be illuminated by the presence of the Buddhist patriarchs' brightness is to exert oneself in the investigation of this sitting in zazen.

Shobogenzo, Komyo, GudoNishijima & Mike Cross

Securing the Marrow and communicating the Dharma inevitably depend on sincere devotion and a trusting heart. Sincerity and trust do not in the least come from outside ourselves, nor is there any place within from which they emerge.

Shobogenzo, Raihai Tokuzui, Hubert Nearman

A monk asks Great Master Shinsai of Joshu, "Does even a dog have the Buddha-nature or not?"

We should clarify the meaning of this question. "A dog" is a dog. The question does not ask whether the Buddha-nature can or cannot exist in the dog; it asks whether even an iron man learns the truth. To happen upon such a poison hand may be a matter for deep regret, and at the same time the scene recalls the meeting, after thirty years, with half a sacred person.

Joshu says, "Mu." When we hear this expression, there are concrete paths by which to learn it: the "Mu" with which the Buddha-nature describes itself may be described like this; the "Mu" which describes the dog itself may be expressed like this; and "Mu," as exclaimed by an onlooker, may be described like this. There may come a day when this "Mu" becomes merely the grinding away of a stone.

Shobogenzo, Bussho, GudoNishijima & Mike Cross

Meditation Master Daikan Eno of Mount Sokei once gave instruction to Nangaku saying, "What has come about like this?" These words show that Nangaku's being 'such a person' is beyond doubt because he is beyond intellectual understanding. And because "What has come about like this" is the What, you should thoroughly explore through your training that all the myriad things that comprise the universe are, beyond any doubt, the What. And you should thoroughly explore through your training that each and every single thing is, beyond any doubt, the What. The What is not subject to doubt, for It is That Which Comes Like This.

Shobogenzo, Immo, Hubert Nearman


The language of koans is the language of myth, thus it includes and transcends the ordinary language of literal description. Dogen frequently reminds us to discern the difference between the ordinary language of common speech and that of the Buddhist ancestor. In Bussho, for instance, he explains that the wisdom Zen Master Obaku's words differ from the ordinary literal meaning expressed:

We should not suppose that this expression means what it says... We should exhaust life after life investigating the intention of these words.

Shobogenzo, Bussho, GudoNishijima & Mike Cross

(Consider also, Dogen instruction on koan introspection specific to - Sitting with Kyogen's koan, "The Man Up a Tree").

Even so, in thinking about it, if you make use of 'not deliberately thinking about it', as well as of 'not deliberately thinking about anything', your efforts on your meditation cushion will naturally be like those of our dear old friend Kyogen. When you sit as still as a mountain on your own cushion, as our dear friend Kyogen has already done, you too will be exploring this dialogue in detail with him, even though he has not yet opened his mouth. Not only will you be making free use of our dear Kyogen's Eye to look upon the dialogue, but you will also be using It to break through and see the meaning of Shakyamuni Buddha's Treasure House of the Eye of the True Teaching.

Shobogenzo, Soshi Seirai I, Hubert Nearman

(Notice that Dogen goes on to explain that our "breaking through and seeing the meaning" of koans, needs to be inclusive of being able to express it verbally - for instance, with a teacher in the dokusan room).

Until you have actually arrived at That which is above and beyond Buddhahood, you will not have directly experienced That which is above and beyond Buddhahood. Until you can put It into words, you have not directly experienced That which is above and beyond Buddhahood.

Shobogenzo, Soshi Seirai I, Hubert Nearman

Dogen consistently reiterates this throughout his works, for example:

Even if your exploration of the intent behind what Ungan said were one hundred percent, if you are still unable to put It in words, then your have not thoroughly explored the Matter.

Shobogenzo, Kannon, Hubert Nearman


In Dogen's day the primary corpus of texts was the same for all lineages of Zen. This interrelation of Zen and the classic koan literature of the Zen masters had been popularly recognized long enough to have become victimized by widespread vulgarization. In fact, according to his own account, by Dogen's time the authentic understanding of koan literature had become overshadowed by a debased understanding of it. Similar to his testimony of widespread neglect and aberrant approaches to zazen, Dogen asserted that the "non-Buddhist" notion of Zen koans as being "irrational" was so pervasive that the "few true people" could not correct it.

To understand Dogen's utilization of the traditional Buddhist literature, especially the Zen records, consider how he distinguished the "authentic understanding" of koans by Buddha ancestors from the "non-Buddhist" notions of the many. According to Dogen, Buddha ancestors consider koans intimately; that is, not apart from their own self (i.e. the "true self"). A "non-Buddhist", according to Dogen, considers koans remotely; that is, as apart from their own self (i.e. from the perspective of the "ego-self" which is a misperceived as the "true self").

The misperception or false perspective of the ego-centric self is the first issue Buddhists are instructed about. This is the central topic of the Buddhist doctrines of "no self," which portray the "true self" as empty of any division between "self" and "other than self." Hence, there is no separation between practice and not-practice, thinking and not-thinking, etc. As is characteristic of all Zen masters, Dogen wholeheartedly affirms that from the perspective of the true self, even the "defiling passions" are Buddha nature as it is. Thus, when Buddha ancestors consider koans they do so in the wholeness of their being; excluding no aspect of their true human nature, not the least of which is the human intellect.

Contrary to distorted notions of Zen as a "separate transmission" and "beyond" language, reason, and intellect, and "apart" from words, letters, and verbal teachings, Zen is not separate, beyond, or apart from anything in the whole universe. Thus, to imagine that one could possibly comprehend Zen koans by excluding any aspect of their humanity from the process is simply to add delusion to delusion.

To clarify Dogen's view of koan introspection we can consider his critique of the fallacy that koans are "irrational," or "provisional," and that the use of the intellect is "nonessential." Here is one such account:

In the nation of Great Sung China today, there is a certain type of unreliable person that has now grown to be quite a crowd. They have gotten to the point where they cannot be bested by the few true people. This bunch says such things as the following:

Just like the comments about Eno's walking on water or the one about Nansen's buying a scythe, what is being said is beyond anything that reason can grasp. In other words, any remark that involves the use of intellect is not the Zen talk of an Ancestor of the Buddha, whereas a remark that goes beyond anything that reason can handle is what comprises a 'remark' by an Ancestor of the Buddha. As a consequence, we would say that Meditation Master Obaku's applying a stick to his disciples or Meditation Master Rinzai's giving forth with a loud yell go far beyond rational understanding and do not involve the use of intellect. We consider this to be what is meant by the great awakening to That which precedes the arising of any discrimination. The reason why the ancient virtuous Masters so often made skillful use of verbal phrases to cut through the spiritual entanglements of their disciples was precisely because these phrases were beyond rational understanding.

Fellows who talk like this have never met a genuine teacher, nor do they have an eye for learning through training. They are foolish puppies who are not even worth discussing. For the past two or three centuries in the land of Sung China, such devilish imps and 'little shavers' like the Gang of Six have been many. Alas, the Great Way of the Buddha's Ancestors has become diseased! This explanation of those people cannot compare even with that of the shravakas who follow the Lesser Course; it is even more confused than that of non-Buddhists. These fellows are not laity nor are they monks; they are not gods or humans. And when it comes to exploring the Buddha's Way, they are more befuddled than beasts. The stories which the 'little shavers' refer to as going beyond anything that reason can grasp only go beyond anything their reason can grasp: it was not that way for any Ancestor of the Buddha. Just because they said that such stories are not subject to rational understanding, you should not fail to learn through your training what the intellectually comprehendible pathways of the Ancestors of the Buddha are. Even if these stories were ultimately beyond rational understanding, the understanding that this bunch has cannot hit the mark. Such people are in great number everywhere in Sung China, as I have personally witnessed. Sad to say, they did not recognize that the phrase 'the use of intellect' is itself a use of words, nor realize that a use of words may liberate us from the use of our intellect. When I was in Sung China, even though I laughed at them for their foolish views, they had nothing to say for themselves; they were simply speechless. Their present negation of rational understanding is nothing but an erroneous view. Who taught them this? Even though you may say that they have not had someone to teach them of the true nature of things, nevertheless, the fact remains that, for all intents and purposes, they still end up being offspring of the non-Buddhist notion that things arise spontaneously, independent of any form of causality.

Shobogenzo, Sansuikyo, Hubert Nearman

Here, and through all his writings, Dogen does not hesitate to use the harshest language to disparage the "diseased" notions about Zen as some kind of mystical cult that negates "rational understanding" or "intellectually comprehendible pathways." Dogen's harsh, often humorous ridicule of "devilish imps" and "little shavers" offering vulgar views minimizing the value of words, writings, and intellectual endeavors are characteristic of his works. In any case, it should be clear that, regardless of Dogen's position on the nature and function of koans, he regarded them as essential to authentic Zen practice-enlightenment.

When Ancestors of the Buddha wholeheartedly do the meditation of Buddhas and Ancestors and undertake to put into practice the Truth that the Buddhas and Ancestors have expressed, Their expression of what They have realized represents the effort of three years, or eight years, or thirty or forty years, as They express what They have realized with all Their might. Within these time spans, however many decades long they may have been, there has been no disparity in how 'such a one' has expressed what he or she has realized. Thus, when you become fully awake, what you will realize through your direct encounter with It will be the Truth. Because this encounter confirms as true the direct encounters of former times, when we now express what we have realized, it is beyond doubt. Thus, our expressing what we have realized in the present is supported by That which we directly met with in former times, and we support That which we directly met with in former times by expressing our realization today. This is why we can now express what we have realized, for we have personally met with It through our own experience. The expression of our realization in the present and our direct seeing in the past are as a single iron bar whose ends are ten thousand miles apart. Our present efforts are directed by what we have realized of the Way and by what we have personally encountered.

Shobogenzo, Dotoku, Hubert Nearman

Therefore, once having understood, you should read the Sage's Teachings many times. And having heard the words of the teacher, still you should listen to them again. The mind should grow deeper and deeper.

Shobogenzo-Zuimonki, (Record of Things Heard, Thomas Cleary)

Accordingly, when persons who have doubts about learning the Buddha's Way encounter the phrase 'a vision being expressed within a vision', they vainly imagine that it probably refers to dreaming up things that actually do not exist, or they suppose that it may be like piling delusion upon delusion. But this is not so. Even though one says that there is also delusion within delusion, by all means we need to thoroughly explore, with utmost effort, the path that penetrates through this expression to the comprehension of what is really meant by 'piling delusion upon delusion'.

Shobogenzo, Muchu Setsumu, Hubert Nearman

So, clearly, we should preserve and take care of the teaching that the thoughts and sayings of the Buddha's Ancestors are the tea and rice of everyday life. The homely fare of everyday life is the thoughts of Buddhas and the sayings of Ancestors. The Buddhas and Ancestors prepare the tea and rice, and the tea and rice help sustain and take care of the Buddhas and Ancestors. Since this is so, we, for our part, do not need to rely on anything apart from the potency of this tea and rice of Theirs. Simply, we do not squander the strength of the Buddhas and Ancestors that resides within the partaking of this tea and rice.

You would do well to explore with great diligence the remark about not looking back to previous emperors of legendary times such as Yu, T'ang, Yao, and Shun. You would also do well to explore how to let the question as to whether there is any word or phrase that you may have for the benefit of others spring forth from the crown of your head. You should experiment through your training with your Master to see if you can get it to spring forth.

Shobogenzo, Kajo, Hubert Nearman

The truth expressed now in the founding Patriarch's words "What people are able to hear the non-emotional preaching the Dharma" should be painstakingly researched through the effort of one life and many lives.

Shobogenzo, Muju-Seppoi, GudoNishijima & Mike Cross

Speaking more broadly, those who assert that provisional Teachings are completely useless are greatly mistaken. They have not had the meritorious behavior of Ancestors in our tradition genuinely Transmitted to them, so they are in the dark about the sayings of Buddhas and Ancestors. Since they have not clarified what this one saying is about, who could affirm that they had thoroughly explored the sayings of other Buddhas?

Shobogenzo, Gabyo, Hubert Nearman

has never met 'such a person', and, because of this, he has arbitrarily compiled sayings without picking out just the sayings of those who are 'such a person'. It is obvious that he does not know what 'such a person' is.

Shobogenzo, Butsudo, Hubert Nearman

"The Buddha's brightness" means accepting, retaining, and hearing a single phrase, maintaining, relying on, and upholding a single dharma, and receiving the one-to-one transmission of zazen. If [people] are not able to be illuminated by the brightness, they lack this state of maintenance and reliance and they lack this belief and acceptance. This being so, even since ancient times, few people have known that zazen is zazen.

Shobogenzo, Komyo, GudoNishijima & Mike Cross

This is why the Buddhas and Ancestors, when singling out an Ancestor of the Buddha, invariably ask, "Can that person express their realization or not?"

Shobogenzo, Dotoku, Hubert Nearman

'Not speaking about something' does not mean 'not expressing something', for being able to express something is not the same as being able to put it in words.

Shobogenzo, Kaiin Zammai, Hubert Nearman

By exploring through your training what the Buddha is saying in the present instance, you will fully realize what the assembly of all Buddhas is, for what He is saying is not a metaphor. The wondrous Dharma of Buddhas is simply that of each Buddha on His own, just as it is for all the Buddhas. Therefore, all things, both in a dream state and in an awakened one, are manifestations of the Truth.

Shobogenzo, Muchu Setsumu, Hubert Nearman

You need to thoroughly investigate expressions like this so that you may learn to express the Matter yourself. By asking questions like this, you come to your own understanding of the Matter. And by investigating the experience of others, you can come to have your own experience of the Truth. -Shobogenzo, Sangai Yuishin, Hubert Nearman

To give expression to the Dharma for the sake of others and to put the Dharma into practice for oneself is to hear the Dharma, to clarify what It is, and to realize It for many lives. Even in this life, if we are sincere in giving expression to It for the sake of others, it will be easy for us to realize the Dharma...

At the same time, if you have not yet fully clarified the Matter, do not think that you cannot express It for someone's sake. Were you to wait until you had fully clarified It, you would not be equal to the task even for immeasurable eons.

Shobogenzo, Jisho Zammai, Hubert Nearman

Ever since ancient times, no one has been called 'such a person' who has not uttered at least a single word to express It.

Shobogenzo, Shin Fukatoku, Hubert Nearman


[N]onduality did not primarily signify the transcendence of duality so much as it signified the realization of duality. When one chose and committed oneself to a special course of action, one did so in such a manner that the action was not an action among others, but the action-there was nothing but that particular action in the universe so that the whole universe was created in and through that action...

As we incorporate these observations on Dogen's view of the body-mind understanding into what I have said about activities and expressions, it is evident that activities, expressions, and understanding were one and the same for Dogen. It was not that we acted first and then attempted to understand, nor was it even that action was a special mode of understanding; all modes of understanding were necessarily activities and expressions.
~Hee-Jin Kim, Eihei Dogen: Mystical Realist

Porcupine asked, "Do you have any last words for us?"

Raven said, "Trust."

~Robert Aitken Roshi, Zen Master Raven