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Thread: Master Dogen and Koans

  1. #1

    Master Dogen and Koans

    I have read a few papers and discourses that say Master Dogen used koans in his practice. He even wrote a second Shobogenzo, the Shinji Shobogenzo. SInce we trace the lineage of our teacher to Master Dogen, why do we not use koan in our practice? I know Jundo said that there are teachers in Soto Zen that do use koan somewhat, but if Master Dogen used them, shouldn't we also? Realization by whatever means are available, all paths up the mountain, something like that?

    I'd love to hear everyone's thoughts.

  2. #2
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: Master Dogen and Koans

    Quote Originally Posted by JohnsonCM
    I have read a few papers and discourses that say Master Dogen used koans in his practice. He even wrote a second Shobogenzo, the Shinji Shobogenzo. SInce we trace the lineage of our teacher to Master Dogen, why do we not use koan in our practice? I know Jundo said that there are teachers in Soto Zen that do use koan somewhat, but if Master Dogen used them, shouldn't we also? Realization by whatever means are available, all paths up the mountain, something like that?

    I'd love to hear everyone's thoughts.
    We do use them - the Blue Cliff Record, for instance. We simply do not use them as the Rinzai do.

    Chet

  3. #3

    Re: Master Dogen and Koans

    Quote Originally Posted by JohnsonCM
    I have read a few papers and discourses that say Master Dogen used koans in his practice. He even wrote a second Shobogenzo, the Shinji Shobogenzo. SInce we trace the lineage of our teacher to Master Dogen, why do we not use koan in our practice? I know Jundo said that there are teachers in Soto Zen that do use koan somewhat, but if Master Dogen used them, shouldn't we also? Realization by whatever means are available, all paths up the mountain, something like that?

    I'd love to hear everyone's thoughts.
    Hi,

    DOGEN LOVED KOANS, as do all Soto teachers. Dogen loved Koans, taught Koans, spoke about Koans in most of his talks. Dogen's writings are chock full of Koans. His most famous works such as Shobogenzo are wall to wall Koans. All Soto teachers love and teach through Koans, me too (I just spoke of a couple of classics at our last monthly Zazenkai).

    However, on the subject of holding a Koan, or a phrase or word of a Koan, in mind during Zazen on the cushion as an object of one pointed focus (for example, sitting while absorbed in "mu mu mu") ... raising a "Great Doubt" and such in order to attain a blasting "Kensho" ... no, that was not Dogen's way. "Silent Illumination/Just Sitting" was the Soto practice in China at and around the time of Dogen, and the practice Dogen encouraged.

    As Prof. Steve Heine, one of the best Dogenologists out there, wrote in his classic "Dogen and the Koan Tradition":

    In several passages of his writings Dogen explicitly refutes the use of koans ... When Dogen does deal in his writings with the issue of the meaning and importance of the koan, he seems to prefer the doctrine of genjokoan (spontaneous manifestation of the koan in concrete activities) to the Rinzai approach known as kanna-zen (introspecting the koan), which involves examining and contemplating kosoku- koan (old sayings or paradigmatic cases) included in koan collections


    In other words, in our Soto Way, all of life-reality is the BIG KOAN, the "Genjo-Koan", the koan ever manifesting right before our eyes and our eyes too! Koans are manifesting in 10,000 ways in life each moment. The classic Koans also carry lessons and tastes of Wisdom and Compassion which are good to "grock"** and make our own (just not --during-- seated Zazen itself, when we don't try to focus or ponder anything in particular ... Koans or anything else).

    I often say that we do not bring Koans into our Zazen, but that, following seated Zazen, we do read right through a Koan with Zazen mind!

    So, it is a Koan itself how this rumor started that Soto folks don't Koan.

    Gassho, Jundo

    ** Grock (from the Urban Dictionary) ... understand,appreciate actively and profoundly, fully comprehend; also, to think about, listen to, play, or contemplate something or someone with full love and understanding, even ecstacy ... To thoroughly understand something through the metaphorical process of drinking it in.

  4. #4

    Re: Master Dogen and Koans

    We should have sticky for posts that touch upon topics that will start Zen Dharma Fight Xpress™ rounds :twisted: :mrgreen:

  5. #5

    Re: Master Dogen and Koans

    Hi.

    Yes, there is a lot of people saying that Dogen did this or that, the Buddha did this or that, more often than not trying to emphasize their own view of things.
    To shoot myself in the foot, i'd like to say "the buddha said to question everything, even buddhas own words"..
    I don't think it's bad to read a lot, but i has to be done with a "questioning eye", and not to swallow everything everyone says without thinking.

    As for the koan about sotopractitioners not using koans, that's a koan, i agree.

    Mtfbwy
    Fugen

  6. #6
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: Master Dogen and Koans

    Quote Originally Posted by Fugen
    Hi.

    Yes, there is a lot of people saying that Dogen did this or that, the Buddha did this or that, more often than not trying to emphasize their own view of things.
    To shoot myself in the foot, i'd like to say "the buddha said to question everything, even buddhas own words"..
    I don't think it's bad to read a lot, but i has to be done with a "questioning eye", and not to swallow everything everyone says without thinking.

    As for the koan about sotopractitioners not using koans, that's a koan, i agree.

    Mtfbwy
    Fugen
    In the end, it doesn't really matter what Dogen did - or even the Buddha! What are YOU doing? Why are you doing it? Is it causing suffering? Do you actually know anything you think you know?

    Chet

  7. #7

    Re: Master Dogen and Koans

    Quote Originally Posted by disastermouse
    In the end, it doesn't really matter what Dogen did - or even the Buddha! What are YOU doing? Why are you doing it? Is it causing suffering? Do you actually know anything you think you know?

    Chet
    Hi Chet,

    though I agree with what you wrote on an ultimate level, please let us not forget that what the Buddha and Dogen did does matter a whole lot at the same time, simply because without trusting that their actions brought forth the cessation of suffering, all we'd try to do is to reinvent the wheel without a clue....without even knowing whether we could ever succeed.

    Faith is an important part of our path and has been for 2500 years, though not blind faith. If one didn't develop a deep kidn of trust/faith that what the Buddha DID would eventually lead to Nirvana (whatever we might mean by that ), why bother with the Buddhist path at all?

    Gassho,

    Hans

  8. #8
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: Master Dogen and Koans

    Quote Originally Posted by Hans
    Quote Originally Posted by disastermouse
    In the end, it doesn't really matter what Dogen did - or even the Buddha! What are YOU doing? Why are you doing it? Is it causing suffering? Do you actually know anything you think you know?

    Chet
    Hi Chet,

    though I agree with what you wrote on an ultimate level, please let us not forget that what the Buddha and Dogen did does matter a whole lot at the same time, simply because without trusting that their actions brought forth the cessation of suffering, all we'd try to do is to reinvent the wheel without a clue....without even knowing whether we could ever succeed.

    Faith is an important part of our path and has been for 2500 years, though not blind faith. If one didn't develop a deep kidn of trust/faith that what the Buddha DID would eventually lead to Nirvana (whatever we might mean by that ), why bother with the Buddhist path at all?

    Gassho,

    Hans
    Yes, but you develop that faith through putting the path into practice. It is a verifiable path!

    My point was not that what the Buddha or Dogen did was unimportant - it's just not as important as what you do right here, right now.

    Most importantly, we shouldn't bash each other over the head with the Dharma in an attempt to say this:



    Chet

  9. #9

    Re: Master Dogen and Koans

    Hi Chet!

    I wrote "let us not forget..." not as a matter of speech but as a reminder to myself as well.

    As to bashing each other over the head with Dharma (in case you referred to my post)...it was never my intention to propose that I am right and you are wrong. You made some very strong points however and I felt it was necessary to add my two cents.

    Gassho,

    Hans

  10. #10
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: Master Dogen and Koans

    Quote Originally Posted by Hans
    Hi Chet!

    I wrote "let us not forget..." not as a matter of speech but as a reminder to myself as well.

    As to bashing each other over the head with Dharma (in case you referred to my post)...it was never my intention to propose that I am right and you are wrong. You made some very strong points however and I felt it was necessary to add my two cents.

    Gassho,

    Hans
    Oh no, Hans...had nothing to do with you. If that was 'bashing', it was too subtle for me to be able to tell, LOL.

    Chet

  11. #11

    Re: Master Dogen and Koans

    Wow. Looks like I hit a passionate topic! Thank you all for your words and wisdom. I think I understand what has been said to be along the lines of: Koan are important, in so far as we should read them with an open zen mind and allow whatever wisdom they may possess to infuse us. At the same time, Life in all its complexity is the Ultimate Koan that we ponder by waking up and read by breathing, that we work by living. There is a time and place for koan, but zazen is not that time.

    Hans and Chett made interesting points about the importance of Buddha and Dogen's actions and here is why I place the importance I do on them. We all agree that they knew what we are working and practicing to know. We acknowledge that they were on the path that we believe through evidential faith will lead us to the same level of understanding or enlightenment. Without emulating them, or trying to understand their reasons for doing a thing in one fashion over another, how am I, who is just begining the path, to know if my practice is correct? If I just did what I thought was helpful and correct and the path to cease suffering in my life, without following the footsteps of the Buddha and ancestors, I'd be practicing Chris-ism and might be meditating while standing on my head, or something silly like that. In Soto Zen, I have found the home I never really lost, and so I try to understand, both intellectually and viscerally, the path that started with Shakyamuni Buddha and never really ended. 2500 years of continued practice speaks to me, saying "Look how long this has lasted. Lies and falsehoods cannot exist so long uncovered". So, it seems to me, that I need to look to Buddha and Dogen's actions for guidance, not neccesarily that I should become a carbon copy of either, but in order to learn how to find my path up the mountain, I look for the signs of the passage of those who came before me.

    Thanks to all of you again.

  12. #12

    Re: Master Dogen and Koans

    Hi,

    There are most certainly right and wrong ways to do things, or at least effective vs. counter-productive ways ... as I tried to make clear in a recent sit-a-long about taking a bath in my clothes ...

    http://www.shambhalasun.com/sunspace/?p=14788

    Better said, there are many ways up the mountain, and what may be right or a good practice for one person may not be right for another. One size need not fit all, different strokes.

    It is true that some paths lead right into the poison ivy or off a cliff for almost anyone.

    Also, in Zen Practice, one has to be careful about mixing and matching the guidance of different teachers and their methods too much, or one can end up going in circles or in opposite directions (not a good thing in Zen practice, even if "there is no place to go"). Some things mix and match well, some things are just not a good fit together. (In cooking, one might put sugar and bananas on one's breakfast cereal ... but should probably avoid garlic). :shock:

    Gassho, J

  13. #13

    Re: Master Dogen and Koans

    I see zazen as the practice and koan solving as the test of progress. If you need a koan, try "What time is it?

    ll
    /

  14. #14

    Re: Master Dogen and Koans

    Upon starting the practice we all need a mental house cleaning. Does it really matter if we use a Rinzai broom or a Soto broom to clean out the delusions. I've tried both Rinzai and Soto practice and could see how both ways could be effective. Personally, I prefer the Soto Shikantaza way for my practice. In the end it seems to be all about your personal inclination. Perhaps, it would be much better if we just referred to ourselves as simply Buddhists. Gassho, Shogen

  15. #15

    Re: Master Dogen and Koans

    Quote Originally Posted by zak
    Upon starting the practice we all need a mental house cleaning. Does it really matter if we use a Rinzai broom or a Soto broom to clean out the delusions. I've tried both Rinzai and Soto practice and could see how both ways could be effective. Personally, I prefer the Soto Shikantaza way for my practice. In the end it seems to be all about your personal inclination. Perhaps, it would be much better if we just referred to ourselves as simply Buddhists. Gassho, Shogen
    I agree that it's better for just becoming simply buddhist. But, there are a lot of road to go to rome. Some people need it...^^

    Gasho, Mujo

  16. #16

    Re: Master Dogen and Koans

    Quote Originally Posted by Shui_Di
    Quote Originally Posted by zak
    Upon starting the practice we all need a mental house cleaning. Does it really matter if we use a Rinzai broom or a Soto broom to clean out the delusions. I've tried both Rinzai and Soto practice and could see how both ways could be effective. Personally, I prefer the Soto Shikantaza way for my practice. In the end it seems to be all about your personal inclination. Perhaps, it would be much better if we just referred to ourselves as simply Buddhists. Gassho, Shogen
    I agree that it's better for just becoming simply buddhist. But, there are a lot of road to go to rome. Some people need it...^^

    Gasho, Mujo
    Hi Old Friend Mujo! Good that you stopped by here on your road.

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