Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Come Full Circle: A philosophical reading of Shobogenzo's first chapter

1811ed of the Shobogenzo's cover page
Dear readers,

This will be the introduction to an essay that I am writing and will be posting on here to read. I will divide it into several post to not overwhelm you or myself with intense editing and scrolling down the page. It will be a chronological reading and major themes will be discussed mostly in the end. Enjoy.


Dogen Zenji was a Japanese Zen (or Soto Zazen to use Dogen’s preference) monk who lived from 1200-1253. To put this into perspective, the first crusades are coming to a close and the next ones are coming about, Mongols are rallying and Genghis Khan will soon be on the map and China’s intense cultural cultivation is taking place as well. Some of the world is extremely dark during this time, as it is today, but Dogen offers a glimpse into a way of practice that is indistinguishable from any other Zen monk, or thought during this age. He is comparable to Nargarguna to who the major developer of Mahayana Buddhism and the idea of negation—Enlightenment too, must be negated—transcended—emptied—understood transparently, and so on.
            He offers criticism to philosophers of the West who wouldn’t be born for centuries. He an entire two paragraphs just insulting a person who believes there’s a separation from “mind” and “body.” His contradictions are not difficult to spot but offer something greater to the whole picture of the Shobogenzo. This, however, is not what I will want to do in this piece. I am going discuss the first chapter of the Shobogenzo under the premise that it was not a direct speech, sermon, or anything written by Dogen. This came later after the first publication of the Shobogenzo and is, as the title “Bendowa” suggests; it is a dialogue on the practice of Zazen (Zenji 3).
            This chapter culminates the rest of the Shobogenzo because it makes clear claims of the supremacy of the practice of Zazen, and as we shall see, it is incredibly broad for being simply a dialogue on practice; it includes commentary on inclusivism of religious communities, distinction between ‘religious experience’ and methodologies offered by religious traditions then claims that Zazen practice is a precise balance of the two; Dogen also introduces the understanding of specific histories. History as a concept and an important piece in understanding this world is generally absent from Buddhist thought. Recently many Buddhist philosophers, specifically from the Kyoto School have begun conversing with Western philosophers on these important topics. We must see whether Dogen offers any potential in his writing to introduce History as an important concept because in my own Western view, it is an important one, it’s complexity cannot be underestimated, it’s transparency revered, its influenced we must tremble from. I will get more into the topic of History as we move along (Zenji 11, 13, 15).
            There is much more that can be met within the pages to discuss so we must begin. We will begin with the next post.

Book used: Numata’s Center BDK English Tripitaka Series Shobogenzo: the True Dharma-eye Treasury Volume I translation by Gudo Wafu Nishijima and Chodo Cross.

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