Friday, June 05, 2015

Dori: Reason and Rationality in Zen Part 2

Dori: Reason and Rationality in Zen Part 2


Living a human life is a philosophical endeavor. Every thought we have, every decision we make, and every act we perform is based on philosophical assumptions so numerous we couldn’t possibly list them all. We go around armed with a host of presuppositions about what is real, what counts as knowledge, how the mind works, who we are, and how we should act. Such questions, which arise out of our daily concerns, form the basic subject matter of philosophy: metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of mind, ethics, and so on.

Though we are only occasionally aware of it, we are all metaphysicians—not in some ivory tower sense but as part of our everyday capacity to make sense of our experience. It is through our conceptual systems that we are able to make sense of everyday life, and our everyday metaphysics is embodied in those conceptual systems.
George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Philosophy in the Flesh, pp.9-10

Certainly, an accurate appreciation of Dogen (or Zen) cannot be arrived at effortlessly; it may not even be possible to grasp it fully. Apart from the usual challenges concerning ancient texts (e.g. omissions, embellishments, sources, etc.), its context is vast, its style unique, and its subject profound; there will always be uncertain points. At the same time, Dogen’s writings are not cryptic, mysterious, or complicated. Most of his writings are perfectly accessible and intelligible; including his magnum opus, Shobogenzo (True Dharma-Eye Treasury).

Additionally, according to Dogen’s own writings, making a deliberate, sustained effort ‘in and through’ the study and expression of language for ‘clarifying and penetrating one’s muddled discriminative thought’ is one of the essential elements of authentic Zen practice-enlightenment itself. In the words of Hee-Jin Kim:

Enlightenment, from Dogen’s perspective, consists of clarifying and penetrating one’s muddled discriminative thought in and through our language to attain clarity, depth, and precision in the discriminative thought itself. This is enlightenment or vision.
Hee-Jin Kim, Dogen on Meditation and Thinking, p.63

In short, coming to an accurate understanding of Shobogenzo does not require esoteric training or divination. It does however call for sustained, determined effort. Fortunately, like other comprehensive literary expressions, the work itself provides its own key, or rather, eye – the True Dharma-Eye – through which ‘clarity, depth, and precision’ are attainable. Two significant points clearly seen through the True Dharma-eye are

·         Everything that is accurate or meaningful can be expressed.

·         Anything that cannot be expressed is neither accurate nor meaningful.


To be continued…

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