Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Essential Books for the Dogen Student

Essential Books for the student of Zen Master Dogen
(From the September edition of The Flatbed Sutra Newsletter)

By far, the best two books available in English on Dogen and his teachings

-Eihei Dogen: Mystical Realist, by Hee-Jin Kim
-Dogen: On Meditation and Thinking, by Hee-Jin Kim

Two complete translations of Shobogenzo essential for all Dogen students

-Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo (Complete translation in four volumes), by Gudo Nishijima & Mike (Chodo) Cross
-Shobogenzo (Complete translation), by Rev. Hubert Nearman

Essential works with selected translations of Shobogenzo

-Flowers of Emptiness: Selections From Dogen’s Shobogenzo, by Hee-Jin Kim
-The Heart of Dogen’s Shobogenzo, by Norman Waddell and Masao Abe
-Rational Zen, by Thomas Cleary
-Minding Mind, by Thomas Cleary
-Shobogenzo, by Thomas Cleary
-Moon In A Dewdrop, by Kazuaki Tanahashi
-Enlightenment Unfolds, by Kazuaki Tanahashi
-How To Raise An Ox: Zen Practice as Taught in Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo, by Francis H. Cook
-Sounds of Valley Streams: Enlightenment in Dogen’s Zen, by Francis H. Cook
-Dogen’s Manuals of Zen Meditation, by Carl Bielefeldt
-Flowers Fall: A Commentary on Zen Master Dogen’s Genjokoan, by Hakuun Yasutani

Essential translations of some of Dogen’s works other than Shobogenzo

-The True Dharma Eye: Zen Master Dogen’s Three Hundred Koans, by Kazuaki Tanahashi (includes Dogen’s preface)
-Shobogenzo Shinji (Dogen’s Koan Collection), by Gudo Nishijima (does not include Dogen’s preface)
-Dogen’s Extensive Record: A Translation of the Eihei Koroku, by Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura
-Dogen’s Formative Years in China: An Historical Study and Annotated Translation of the ‘Hokyo-ki’ by James Kodera
-Record of Things Heard: The Shobogenzo Zuimonki, by Thomas Cleary
-The Zen Poetry of Dogen, by Steven Heine

Two Classic Zen Records related to Dogen’s Zen

-Cultivating the Empty Field: A Translation of the Record of Honzhi, by Taigen Dan Leighton (An influence on Dogen)
-Transmission of Light, by Thomas Cleary (Influenced by Dogen)

Essential scholarly studies on Dogen

-Dogen and the Koan Tradition, by Steven Heine
-Impermanence Is Buddha Nature: Dogen’s Understanding of Temporality, by Joan Stambaugh
-Did Dogen Go to China? What He Wrote and When He Wrote It, by Steven Heine
-A Study of Dogen: His Philosophy and Religion, Masao Abe

Essential scholarly studies related to Dogen

-Original Enlightenment and the Transformation of Medieval Japanese Buddhism, by Jacqueline I. Stone
-Soto Zen In Medieval Japan, by William Bodiford
-How Zen Became Zen: The Dispute Over Enlightenment and the Formation of Chan Buddhism in Song-Dynasty China, by Morten Schlutter
-The Other Side of Zen: A Social History of Soto Zen Buddhism in Tokugawa Japan, by Duncan Ryuken Williams

Other notable works related to Dogen

-Zen Classics, by Steven Heine and Dale Wright
-Zen Ritual, by Steven Heine and Dale Wright
-The Zen Canon, by Steven Heine and Dale Wright
-Zen Skin, Zen Marrow: Will the Real Zen Buddhism Please Stand Up?, by Steven Heine
-Rude Awakenings: Zen, the Kyoto School, & the Question of Nationalism, by James W. Heisig and John C. Maraldo


Sunday, September 12, 2010

The True Nature of Horror, Suffering, & Samsara?

The True Nature of Horror, Suffering, & Samsara?

Dogen’s era was a time of tremendous chaos and suffering. The whole of Japan was suffering from the instability caused by the ever shifting hierarchies that accompanied the rise of the warrior class. The fierce internal rivalry of both the nobility and the Samurai compounded the confusion and turmoil in their struggles against each other over the governing powers of Japan. Regardless of the accuracy of the evidence linking Dogen’s own familial lineage to both the warrior and noble classes, there is little doubt that many friends and family were deeply enmeshed on various sides of the struggle, some at the highest levels.

To “leave home” and live as a Buddhist monastic in 13th century Japan was much different than most of imagine today. Becoming a monk in any of the temples around Kyoto in those days certainly did not free anyone from the chaos of the secular and political worlds. All the major Buddhist temples controlled vast amounts of Japan’s wealth (mostly in the form of land grants) and were deeply entwined with the court which dictated temple leadership. At the same time, they depended on Samurai families for patronage as well as armed protection from rival sects. Moreover, Japanese Buddhist sectarianism was way beyond “bickering” or “competition” – it would be less than accurate to define the sectarian rivalry of the 12th and 13th centuries as anything less than out and out warfare. The major Buddhist institutions found it necessary to employ thousands of “warrior monks.” More “warrior” than “monk,” these monastic were trained in the martial arts and armed to the teeth. Ostensibly needed to defend the Dharma and the temple properties, they were often used as a threat to force secular decisions. And if opportunity arose they were used to kill the members of rival Buddhist sects. The “ordinary monks” often joined their brothers in the larger killing ventures that sometimes ended by burning the losing sect’s temple to the ground.

During the same period, Japan suffered a long and devastating series of catastrophes; homes, roads, and whole cities were laid waste by waves of unprecedentedly severe hurricanes and earthquakes, a succession of droughts caused a massive shortage of rice, and severe outbreaks of plague swept the entire region. In hindsight, we can all be grateful for the explosion of Buddhist creativity and reformation that directly resulted from this turbulent period of Japanese history, but for Dogen (as well as Eisai, Honen, Shinran, and Nichiren) things must have looked much different.

Even if his upbringing among the elite offered some insulation from the horror, it did nothing to shield Dogen from personal tragedy. Dogen’s lost his father at age 2 (possibly to assassination), his mother died when he was only 8, his first four Dharma teachers were dead by the time he was 17, his fifth teacher, Myozan (from whom he received transmission in Rinzai Zen), died when Dogen was 25, and his last teacher, Tendo Nyojo (from whom he received transmission in Soto Zen), died when Dogen was 28.

Any of these factors would have been enough to make Dogen intimate with the “cruel facts” of life-and-death (samsara) and the first noble truth (truth of anguish), all of them together must have seared it into his bones. And indeed, his massive corpus of writings testify to his profound intimacy with the realities of samsara and the truth of suffering – nevertheless, at first glance we may wonder how a world as full of tragedy and horror as Dogen’s could be described in the terms he used here, for example:

How could this fail to be the Land of Old Buddhas! What a joy it is that the Flower of the Dharma has existed for eon after eon! What a joy it is that there is a flowering of the Dharma day and night! Because the Flower of the Dharma continues from eon to eon and flowers throughout both day and night, even though our own bodies and minds wax and wane in strength, this very waxing and waning is also the flowering of the Dharma. Everything, just as it is, is a rare treasure, a luminous radiance, a place for training in the Way. Everything, just as it is, is great, vast, profound, and far-reaching in its influence; everything is the profound, vast, and far-reaching supreme, fully perfected enlightenment; everything is the mind’s wandering off into delusion at the turning of the Dharma Flower; everything is the mind’s awakening which turns the Flower of the Dharma; everything is truly the Flower of the Dharma setting in motion the Dharma’s flowering.

The mind’s wandering is its being turned by the Flower of the Dharma:
The mind’s awakening is its turning of the Flower of the Dharma.
If what we fully realize is like this,
It is the Flower of the Dharma setting in motion the flowering of the Dharma.

When we make offerings to It, bow in respect to It, honor It, and praise It, the Flower of the Dharma is the flowering of the Dharma.
Shobogenzo, Hokke Ten Hokke, Hubert Nearman

From the midst of ruthless, bloody political turmoil, from the midst of destruction, poverty, disease, crime, and starvation on unprecedented scales Dogen sings out, “How could this fail to be the Land of Old Buddhas! What a joy it is..!” He is not praising a “Buddha land” that is far away in space or time or a potential of the world we live in, nor is he speaking of a hidden realm behind or underlying the appearance of the very forms we see all around us. Anuttara samyaksambodhi (fully perfected enlightenment) is, Dogen unequivocally proclaims “everything, just as it is.” To clearly grasp what Dogen means, we need to honestly acknowledge what “everything, just as it is” signified in his particular circumstances. Part of that which Dogen describes as a “rare treasure” were politics of mass corruption, assassination, and execution (sometimes of entire clans, including the children); this “luminous radiance” was also inclusive of mass destruction, disease, and death. In short, what Dogen plainly said was that the very forms of war, poverty, brutality, starvation, and all the other evident evils are, just as they are, inclusive of “the profound and far-reaching supreme, fully perfected enlightenment” (anuttara samyaksambodhi).

Once we are clear about what he actually said, we can begin to discern what it means. One encouraging implication is that, if Dogen is correct, anuttara samyaksambodhi could be the “as it is” of our own era, which is certainly no more chaotic or evil-ridden to us than his was to those around him. The meaning that informs Dogen’s joy for the Buddha Land that is “everything, just as it is” is intimated in the terms, “a place for training in the Way,” and “far-reaching in its influence,” in his description from the above passage.

What “place” is Dogen referring to when he says, “a place for training in the Way”? This is certainly something worth taking up on the cushion. There is no doubt that this place has a specific coordinate in existence-time, for Dogen all places are specific places and all times are definite instances. When we find this place we will certainly be able to verify that it is truly “far-reaching in its influence.”


Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Your very mind is Buddha - Reality, Existence & Experience

While we may have doubts about the fact that “our very mind is Buddha,” there is no reason for any Zen practitioner to be unaware, or unclear of the fact that this is exactly what Zen (and Mahayana) Buddhism teaches: your mind, here and now, is Buddha. Anyone can understand what this is asserting, and though we may doubt it, the Zen masters, including Dogen, tell us that having learned this, we can put it into practice and thereby verify the truth for ourselves. With this verification, Dogen assures us, we will realize that, “Your very mind is Buddha” means exactly what it says.

Since this is the way things are, “Your very mind is Buddha” means, pure and simply, that your very mind is Buddha; all Buddhas are, pure and simply, all Buddhas.
Shobogenzo, Soku Shin Ze Butsu, Hubert Nearman

The mind here and now is Buddha, is the myriad clear, clear real dharmas. In accord with the Mahayana scriptures, Dogen affirms that our “self” is nothing other than our “experience,” which is the nonduality of “experiencer/experienced.” Therefore our true self is exactly our experience here and now. While human experience is facilitated through the six sense-gates (i.e. eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind), human experience is singular (i.e. there is only one “experiencer” of all six senses). What is Buddha? Your very mind is Buddha. What is your very mind? Your very mind is your experience here and now. What is your experience here and now? Your experience consists of the sum of what you see, hear, smell, taste, feel, and think at each instance of existence-time.

Now let’s see if we can get at the significance of the Buddhist doctrine on the identity of “experience” and “existence,” and the reason for Dogen’s constant reminder of it. In Buddhism “existence” connotes “real form” (jisso) and “all dharmas” (shoho; all things, beings, events, etc.) are defined as “existent,” thus, “all dharmas are real forms” (shoho-jisso). So the significance of the teaching that existence is experience is in its illumination of the fact that anything and everything (shoho) we experience actually exists as a real form (jisso). In fact, “to really exist” is synonymous with “being experienced,” and “to experience” is synonymous with “real existence.”

One of Dogen’s classic elucidations of this is his interpretation of “sky-flowers” (kuge). Conventionally a metaphor for “unreal” or “illusory,” sky-flowers is a term for the “appearance of spots floating in the air” due to injured or diseased eyes. Dogen points out that insofar as a sentient being actually experiences these spots in the air, they are as real mountains, stones, walls, or any other dharma. To be experienced is to exist as a real form. To exist is to be an instance of existence-time (uji). To be an instance of existence-time is to be an instance of eternity – thus a “sky-flower” is as intrinsic to the real Buddha as a lotus-flower, the morning star, the Buddha ancestors, and every other real form.

The realization of the Buddhist patriarchs is perfectly realized real form. Real form is all dharmas. All dharmas are forms as they are, natures as they are, body as it is, the mind as it is, the world as it is, clouds and rain as they are, walking, standing, sitting, and lying down, as they are; sorrow and joy, movement and stillness, as they are; a staff and a whisk, as they are; a twirling flower and a smiling face, as they are; succession of the Dharma and affirmation, as they are; learning in practice and pursuing the truth, as they are; the constancy of pines and the integrity of bamboos, as they are.

Sakyamuni Buddha says, “Buddhas alone, together with buddhas, are directly able to perfectly realize that all dharmas are real form.
Shobogenzo, Shoho-jisso, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross