Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Unified Vision of Shobogenzo

The Unified Vision of Shobogenzo

Today I return to a topic that I have not posted on for awhile; the "unity" of Dogen's masterpiece, Shobogenzo. Some of the unifying factors of Shobogenzo that deserve emphasis are the extraordinary consistency of the viewpoint, symbolism, and reason (dori) demonstrated by Shobogenzo as a whole. True, an accurate appreciation of Shobogenzo offers a number of challenges to modern readers, yet, as a comprehensive expression of the Buddha Dharma created by a profoundly enlightened Zen master that also happened to be an exceptionally gifted thinker and writer this remarkable work merits the effort required. Despite uncertainties about Dogen’s intention as to the order and inclusion of the fascicles constituting Shobogenzo, that it was intended to express a unified vision of the authentic Buddha Dharma is widely acknowledged .

As with any unified literary expression, only when the wholeness of the vision of Shobogenzo is comes into view can its various parts be truly appreciated. When it is experienced as a unity, rather than a miscellaneous collection, Shobogenzo is a hologram; each part demonstrating the whole, and the whole being demonstrated by each of its parts. Dogen’s Shobogenzo was clearly intended to convey, or transmit, a comprehensive expression of Buddhism with the potential to empower students/practitioners with the wisdom and skill for actualizing enlightenment. Thus, it seems that Dogen accomplished the mission he outlined in one of the earliest writings he completed upon returning from China:

“…I came home determined to spread the Dharma and to save living beings it was as if a heavy burden had been placed on my shoulders. Nevertheless, in order to wait for an upsurge during which I might discharge my sense of mission, I thought I would spend some time wandering like a cloud, calling here and there like a water weed, in the style of the ancient sages. Yet if there were any true practitioners who put the will to the truth first, being naturally unconcerned with fame and profit, they might be fruitlessly misled by false teachers and might needlessly throw a veil over right understanding. They might idly become drunk with self-deception, and sink forever into the state of delusion. How would they be able to promote the right seeds of prajna, or have the opportunity to attain the truth? If I were now absorbed in drifting like a cloud or a water weed, which mountains and rivers ought they to visit? Feeling that this would be a pitiful situation, I decided to compile a record of the customs and standards that I experienced first-hand in the Zen monasteries of the great Kingdom of Sung, together with a record of profound instruction from a [good] counselor which I have received and maintained. I will leave this record to people who learn in practice and are easy in the truth, so that they can know the right Dharma of the Buddha’s lineage. This may be a true mission.”
Bendowa, Master Dogen's Shobogenzo, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

In writing this, Dogen revealed his clear disagreement with a popular viewpoint often asserted in contemporary Zen literature - not infrequently by those claiming to be followers of his teachings. This statement surely seems to contradict certain dogmatic tenets suggested by contemporary Soto-Zen institutions:

“I will leave this record to people who learn in practice and are easy in the truth, so that they can know the right Dharma of the Buddha’s lineage.”

In contradiction to certain popular notions about Zen, Dogen is clearly suggesting that the "right Dharma" is communicable through words and letters. Some contemporary Zen teachers will, of course, deny that Dogen meant what he said, and insist that the “right Dharma” can only be accessed through the individual guidance of a "living" certified "enlightened master" (i.e. themselves, or other teachers “certified” within the lineage (or lineages) that they regard as legitimate).

Zen, of course, warns about the dangers of becoming attached to doctrines - realization cannot simply be learned it must be verified in practice. However, Dogen, like other classic Zen masters, clearly reveals how to avoid “becoming attached” to doctrines, and how to effectively put them into practice. When Dogen wrote he “will leave this record” so people “can know the right-Dharma of the Buddha’s lineage,” he meant exactly that - and more:

“Just as the words and letters I have seen thus far are one, two, three, four, and five, so the words and letters I see now are also six, seven, eight, nine, and ten. The monastics of future generations will be able to understand a nondiscriminative Zen (ichimizen) based on words and letters, if they devote efforts to spiritual practice by seeing the universe through words and letters, and words and letters through the universe.”
Tenzo Kyokun, as cited in Dogen Kigen: Mystical Realist, professor Hee-Jin Kim

Wow! Are there any "monastics of future generations" around today? I don't say there are none, but I say that there are few...


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