Shobogenzo and the Issue of Misplaced Authority
Among other unfavorable outcomes, the narrow focus of specialization characteristic of scholarship and the generalization characteristic of traditional accounts has tended to provide support to the authority of an effectively biased version of Shobogenzo. That is, they have contributed credibility to views that identify Shobogenzo with what actually amounts to an ‘abridgement’ of Shobogenzo.
To clarify, a handful of apparently ‘easier’ fascicles along with a handful of fascicles commonly regarded as ‘philosophically profound’ have appeared in numerous anthological versions of Dogen’s work, exclusive of the majority of Shobogenzo fascicles. Many readers naturally assume such selections provide an accurate and balanced, if general account of Dogen’s vision of Zen.
Obviously, any understanding of a literary work arrived at exclusive of the bulk of its content would be unreliable at best. If the excluded bulk happens to be the more complex content, as has commonly been the case with ‘selected’ translations of Shobogenzo, misunderstanding can be the only result. A native Japanese speaker that read a translation of Acts II, IV, and V of Hamlet would certainly not be qualified to offer a reliable opinion on Shakespeare, and a native English speaker familiar with fifty or sixty fascicles of Shobogenzo is certainly not qualified to hazard an opinion on Dogen. Nevertheless, many less qualified offer more than opinions and even claim to be representatives of ‘Dogen’s Zen.’ Far more unfortunate, such claims are commonly accepted as valid by uncritical and unsuspecting students.