Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Koans the hallmark of Dogen's Zen?

[In China at the time Dogen visited] All public monasteries, whether or not their abbacies were reserved for Ch’an monks, had basically the same buildings, bureaucratic structures, schedules of activities, and basic forms of Buddhist discipline and practice. All public monasteries had buddha halls (butsuden), where various offerings and sutra chanting services were held; dharma halls (hattō), where abbots gave lectures and entertained questions; and sangha halls (sōdō), where the main body of monks sat in meditation, ate, and slept at their places on the open platforms. 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.
To summarize, what the so-called transmission of Zen to Japan in the thirteenth century really amounted to was the wholesale transmission from Sung China of the latest in Buddhist monastic institutions, teachings, and practices.
The Zen school in Japan, or rather the various Zen schools (plural) that were based on branch lineages, were institutionally separate from the other schools of Japanese Buddhism...
Nevertheless, they were heirs not only to the Chinese Ch’an tradition of dharma lineages and koan study, but to the entire Buddhist monastic tradition as it flourished in Sung China.

Dogen himself stressed in the chapter of his Shobogenzo entitled “The Buddha Way” (Butsudō) that what he was transmitting was not just the “Zen lineage” (zenshū) — a name that he castigated — but true Buddhism in its entirety. At the same time, he boldly asserted that his own line of dharma transmission, passed down through his teacher Ju-ching, preserved the true Buddhism better than any other line.
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



Unknown said...

Very interesting post here, and very astute. I think that people like the idea of lineages because they offer a sort of celebrity: hey, this master was a student of this old master, amazing! But really, there can be no difference between Buddha and Dharma, so to transmit the Way is not to transmit one specialized school of the way but the whole way itself!

Keizan, of course, had the same view as Dogen on these matters. In the Denkoroku (also translated by Rev. Master Hubert), chapter 45 on the Reverend Monk Tosu Gisei clarifies how Daiyo, without an heir before his death, entrusted his lineage to Enkan, a master from a different lineage. However, Enkan could not simply be Daiyo's heir because he had already accepted transmission from someone in the Rinzai line. Enkan waited until he found a suitable heir for Daiyo's line and then entrusted it to Gisei, someone whom Daiyo had never met. The lesson is that Enkan saw the authentic teaching in that of Daiyo, even though he was of a different lineage. This was precious enough to Enkan to preserve until he found Gisei. Keizan says:

"Daiyo trusted Enkan, Gisei respected Enkan: neither doubted the other's words nor considered the other's Teaching something of no importance. None of these three Masteres neglected or abandoned the fundamental principles of their Ancestral predecessors: they entrusted Tozan's tradition to many generations to come. This is truly something commendable in our monastic family and is a treasuring of the Buddha's Dharma. Even now, when a suitable vessel is not to be found in one's lifetime, the Teaching can be entrusted to an accomplished master."

If lineages and sects were of great importance, this beautiful and trusting relationship between Daiyo and Enkan would not have happened and the line of Tozan would've died out before the days of the great Masters Dogen and Keizan.

Ted Biringer said...

Hello William,

Thank you for your comments.

Also thanks for the information on Gisei, Daiyo, and Keizan.

Your closing paragraph, in my view, sums up the essential point quite nicely.

Thanks again!

Three Full Bows.