Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Dogen - Zen Lineages, Zen Sects

The title which Dogen is most frequently referred to as, “The Founder of the Soto Sect of Zen in Japan,” begs for serious qualification. Dogen’s own writings seem to suggest he might regard this title as ill informed, even irreverent. For Dogen, authentic enlightenment was the standard; not pedigree. Those authentically enlightened are “Buddha Ancestors,” others are not; whether they belong to a particular lineage or no lineage at all.

While Dogen did acknowledge the traditional lineages, tracing his own through that of his Chinese Master, he saw lineages for what they are; convenient identifiers—no more significant than the names of cities or provinces. As with all speculative notions, assumption based merely on lineage (or no lineage) is not only pointless, it is ludicrous. While many of Dogen’s writings illustrate his disdain of sectarianism, in Shobogenzo, nearly the entire fascicle of Butsudo is dedicated to, on one hand, exposing the fallacies of confused notions linking “lineages” with “sects,” and on the other hand, elucidating the “right view” for Buddhists as revealed by the authentic Buddha Ancestors, including Dogen’s Chinese master:

My late Master, an Old Buddha, once ascended the Dharma seat and addressed his assembly, saying, “People nowadays just talk of there being separate traditions and customs, such as those of Ummon, Hōgen, Igyō, Rinzai, and Sōtō, but this is not the Buddha’s Teaching, nor is it what Ancestors and Masters say.”
~Shobogenzo, Butsudo, (Hubert Nearman)

Dogen was a Dharma heir of both Rinzai and Soto Zen, and his writings offer unabashed praise, and revere his teachers in both lineages as “Ancestral Masters.” This attitude is consistent in his writings which repeatedly assert that the authenticity of enlightenment is the only criteria for qualifying Buddha Ancestors. The Butsudo fascicle’s unapologetic contempt of vulgar notions concerning lineage and sectarianism, Dogen offers some the harshest, most colorful, and most humorous expressions in the whole Shobogenzo. One can only imagine the scorn he would heap on some of the outlandish notions assumed by many contemporary Zen institutions. Dogen’s writings freely draw on the wisdom of all lineages, and harshly criticize notions of sectarian division in what he calls the “House of Buddha Ancestors,” including those of a “Soto” sect:

There is no separate Transmission, no separate sect, in addition to this. Our Great Master never showed his Fist or his twinkling Eye to his assembly, calling either ‘the Sōtō sect’. Further, since there were no mediocre trainees mixed in with his family, how could there possibly be any in his family who spoke of a ‘Sōtō sect’!
~Shobogenzo, Butsudo, (Hubert Nearman)

There is little doubt that Dogen would be inspired to articulate some vividly colorful language if he could see some of the recent institutions created under the name of Zen. In their apparent enthusiasm to embrace American entrepreneurism it seems like every westerner that obtains certification to teach “Zen” sets out to initiate, organize, found, or otherwise establish a new branch, no, “brand” of Zen—their own. Just a few decades ago the number of “certified” Zen teachers in America could be counted on one hand, today “Zen masters,” “Dharma-heirs,” “Abbotts,” “Roshis,” and “Founders,” vie for space in glossy magazines to advertise Zen enlightenment in all manner of forms from one-on-one interviews with living Buddhas and catered retreats at multi-million dollar resorts, to trademark protected techniques for instant enlightenment (expensive, but 100% guaranteed!).

Megalomaniacs with delusions of grandeur are apparently not new to Zen; it is to one of them, in fact, that Dogen credits as the deviser of the name “Soto sect.”

When it comes to this name ‘Soto’, clearly some stinking skin bag in an offshoot lineage who fancied himself the equal of Tozan devised the name ‘Soto sect’.
~Shobogenzo, Butsudo, (Hubert Nearman)

What do you make of it?


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