A few excerpts for some tips and hints I've posted from time to time for those who want to dip into a bit of Shobogenzo ...
In my own "in a nutshell" description of how to approach Shobogenzo ... I often describe Dogen as a Jazzman, bending and re-livening the "standard tunes" of Zen Buddhist philosophy. He is the Coltrane or Miles Davis of the Dharma ... Sometimes, with Dogen, it is not the "point" he is trying to make through reasoned words, but "the sound, man, the feeling of the music" ...
Thus, a good grounding in traditional Buddhist, especially Mahayana and Zen, philosophy and perspectives is important, as those were the "standard tunes" that Dogen was note-bending and syncopating in his "Shobo-jazz". We might also say that Dogen did to "standard teachings" what Picasso did to a picture of a table (helping us really 'get' its tableness).I often describe Dogen as a rule bending, transgressing Jazz musician, a Dharmic Miles Davis who was working with the basic "standard" tunes of Hongzhi, the Five Ranks and the rest of the Soto tradition of his day. Miles (like Dogen) syncopates time, merges and splits notes, bends phrasing, makes harmonious what was disharmony and disharmonious where there was harmony (and that's the Miles' Harmony!). But the thing about appreciating Miles is that (1) by doing so, Miles makes his own musical expression the same but different from the standards it is based upon (he captures truths in ways that nobody could before ... and makes new "truths" in the process ... but you also should not forget that that "standard" tune is in there too, and keeps popping up as the theme); (2) you can't analyze it too much in words, and just need to listen or play along.
Hongzhi was like a "square" Irving Berlin who wrote a lovely standard melody like "Blue Skies", and Mile Davis the mad genius who bent that into something the same but all new ...
The Shobogenzo, for example, is a rather thick and thorny maze. But once Dogen's basic ways of expression and thinking (and "non-thinking") are understood, one can read the entirety with a bit more ease (though never easy ... between you and me, as Dogen, the wild Jazz musician, may even have sometimes let the notes and feeling lead him where they would, and may not have been always quite sure where the music was taking him -- or what he himself "meant" -- each and every moment in his writing/playing! 8) But, like Miles or Coltrane ... all great stuff, man. ).
A video talk by Jundo on this same theme is here:
SIT-A-LONG with JUNDO: Dogen - A Love Supreme
There are a couple of other things to keep in mind about Dogen too. One is from the last point above: Like any Jazz musician lost in following just riffing, I think there are many passage where even Dogen did not know where the "sound" had carried him, what it "meant". For some reason, we assume that every word has to "mean" something, as opposed to merely expressing a feeling of Truth. I think Dogen really lost himself in a musical corner from time to time.
So, for that reason, it is important to approach Dogen, sometimes, as one would approach T.S. Eliot's The Waste land or James Joyce's Ulysses . Here is what some professor wrote of understanding The Waste Land ...
T.S. Elliot was sometimes quoted as saying that he himself did not know exactly what he "meant" by various passages of that poem.We cannot understand the poem without knowing what it meant to its author, but we must also assume that what the poem meant to its author will not be its meaning. The notes to The Waste Land are, by the logic of Eliot's philosophical critique of interpretation, simply another riddle--and not a separate one to be solved. They are, we might say, the poem's way of treating itself as a reflex, a "something not intended as a sign," a gesture whose full significance it is impossible, by virtue of the nature of gestures, for the gesturer to explain."... The Waste Land appears to be a poem designed to make trouble for the conceptual mechanics not just of ordinary reading (for what poem does not try to disrupt those mechanics?) but of literary reading. For insofar as reading a piece of writing as literature is understood to mean reading it for its style, Eliot's poem eludes a literary grasp.
From Discovering Modernism: T.S. Eliot and His Context. Oxford University Press, 1987
That does not mean that diving into Shobogenzo ... like developing an ear for John Coltrane or Eliot or eye for Picasso ... ain't worth every minute! (we sometimes say in the Zen world ... hear with the eyes, see with the ears! :shock: ) I am rereading Shobogenzo cover to cover right now (my third time, not including bits and pieces readings). 8)
I do usually recommend a couple of things for folks who want to dive headlong into the thick and thorny maze which is Shobogenzo (not to be confused with Dogen's Shobogenzo-Zuimonki, which we recently read in the bookclub)
Before reading and really 'digging Dogen', the best intro is to read Okumura Roshi's look at Genjo Koan ...
Much denser, but worth the effort, are the two Dr. Kim books (He wrote them a few years apart, and changed interpretation slightly over the years just a drop ) ... Each can be rather heavy going at points, but worth it.
Also ... I VERY strongly recommend... Visions of Awakening Space and Time: Dogen and the Lotus Sutra (Paperback) by Taigen Dan Leighton (Author) ... about how Dogen wild-ed and bent the already wild and bent Lotus Sutra into something even more bent and wild ...
You probably want to read a good translation of the Lotus Sutra first, to see the "tune" that Dogen was working with. This by Reeves is very readable and a fantastic tale, right up there with "Alice in Wonderland" and such ...
In fact, you might start with Taigen and the Lotus Sutra --before-- reading Dr. Kim, as Taigen is short and easier going to read.
Here is an essay available online, a part of Taigen's book. It will give you a taste ...
Nishijima Roshi also has a helpful short booklet on "Understanding the Shobogenzo", although in his later years he has been too too enthusiastic (in my view) about trying to place each sentence of Shobogenzo, in a nearly one to one correspondence, into each of the four categories of view that Nishijima Roshi suggests. It is not a comfortable fit (I feel that Nishijima Roshi went overboard with his very helpful, very insightful perspective on 3 Philosophies and 1 Reality, by his trying to stuff Dogen into that almost line by line and overlooking anything that does not fit. It is much like trying to stuff all of Coltrane into 4 chords or all Picasso into 4 types of brushstroke) .
There is a "logic" to Dogen ... although a kind of "Buddhist-Mahayana-Dogen" logic. So, was Dogen "logical"?
Here is a little taste of some Dogen passages, which an analysis of how he played his "jazz" variations on the standard tunes ...Yes, that is so ... but not yes too. (Which is a kind of example of Dogenesque "Zen logic" right there!)
Even the great Jazz musicians I mentioned, like Miles and Coltrane, were usually following pretty "logical" forms and patterns of "getting where they were going", which most other good musicians can follow and which stayed within certain musical rules. Musicologists can follow it all with almost mathematical precision. (Only the radical "Free Jazz" guys like Ornette Coleman, who would stand on stage blowing wildly into the wrong end of the trumpet, really smashed the rules ... to the point of cacophony) ... Even Coltrane, when he went "free", usually was grounded in good musicianship and "chord progressions" and was working from that (sometimes by resisting the standard progressions).
There really are a lot of parallels to different "players" in the Zen world ... including the old "Free Jazz" Zen teachers who would just bang on the table or draw circles in the air (although even those guy tended to follow some fairly rigid rules for that ... a subject for another day).
MY POINT (BEFORE I LOSE MY MUSICAL TRAIN OF THOUGHT MYSELF) IS THAT Dogen was a very highly educated, intellectual, "head like a library of old Zen/Buddhist books", surprisingly conservative (as were most Zen teachers, in fact) guy who was highly trained and conversant in the "classics" and was working from them (the Shobogenzo is wall to wall references and quotes from Sutras, old Koans, obscure but important bits of Tendai Buddhist teachings, old poems, Confucian classics, and the like).
There --IS-- a logic to Dogen most of the time, although a Zenny "Anti-logic logic" ... Dogen-Think-Not Thinking, a kind of "Alice in Wonderland" logic sometimes. It is more than simple "sound for sound's sake" expression or trying to abandon "intellectual analysis" at every turn. Dogen wanted to be understood on all levels. Thus (as in listening to Jazz), it is --both-- a matter of letting the sound and feeling wash over one, --and-- having some musical understanding of where the musician was "coming from" what he was "trying to do" and how he "got there". (In a sense, Jazz was always music by musicians playing for other musicians who were familiar with the chords).
Here are just a few examples of "Dogen-logic", very different from ordinary logic while yet faithful to classic Mahayana perspectives ...
For that reason, the truth is that Dogen was not trying to defy "intellectual analysis" or "classical Buddhist/Zen philosophy", so much as find his own language and way to express it (in later years, represented by his Eihei Koroku, he actually seems to have abandoned much of the "musical experiment" that was the Shobogenzo, and gone back to being a pretty classical musician playing the "old Zen standards" in the usual way ... though never without his special touch). So, the book I recommended by Taigen Dan Leighton (coupled with a reading of the Lotus Sutra) ... and the Dr. Kim books (though themselves hard going in parts) should not be overlooked by someone really hoping to "Grok" where that Dogen cat was coming from. 8)A = Buddha Enlightenment B = Flowers in the sky (a classic Zen reference to delusion)
A is A, B is B ... and A is not B. (Enlightenment is not delusion, an ancient Buddhist idea)
But A is B. A is also C. ... (a variation on the original theme, much as stodgy ol' Nagarjuna might play)
And, in fact, A is so much A that A is not A, and was merely B all along.
We might say that A is just ∀. B is merely
And that just makes A into Super-Aness at each turn, B into Be Bee BB "To be or not to be" "Be my love" "B is for Buddha" ... etc. etc.
Smell them luscious Flowers in the Sky! That's purely A through and through, though not.
I found a great, short example of this, of Dogen at his wildest and best. Thought to post it for folks who might not get what the fuss is about.
The great 'Dogenologist' translator and historian, Prof. Carl Bielefeldt, has just released his brand new translation of Shobogenzo Bussho (Buddha-Nature) for the Soto Zen Text Project.
I have been slowly reading it to compare with the Nishijima-Cross version (which, so far, seems to come out very well. The two versions are incredibly close, and I find Nishijima-Cross often captures the "feel of the music" a bit better).
Anyway ... here are a couple of paragraphs that are playing with the famous phrase "all living beings in their entirety have Buddha Nature". Dogen first plays with an ambiguity in the grammar to change that to "all living beings in their entirety are Buddha Nature". But he does not stop there ...
If you can hear the perspective that "Buddha Nature" is not a "thing" that we become or have or develop ... but is radical, existential being that leaves nothing out, whole beyond whole, the reality of reality (something like that ) ... you might get a feel for what Dogen is going for here ... It is everything leaving nothing out, yet beyond categories (something like that ) ...
The Professor's footnotes clear things up a bit ... (emphasis on 'a bit' :shock: )What is the essential point of the World Honored One’s saying, “All living beings in their entirety have the buddha nature”? It is turning the dharma wheel of the saying, “what is it that comes like this?” One speaks of “living beings,” or “sentient beings,” or “the multitude of beings,” or “the multitude of types.” The term “entirety of being” refers to “living beings,” “the multitude of beings.” That is, the “entirety of being” is the buddha nature; “one entirety” of the “entirety of being” is called “living beings.” At this very moment, the interior and exterior of living beings is the “entirety of being” of the buddha nature. This is not only the “skin, flesh, bones, and marrow” singly transmitted; for “you have got my skin, flesh, bones, and marrow.”
We should realize that the “being” that is here made the “entirety of being” by the buddha nature is not the being of being and non-being. The “entirety of being” is the word of the buddha, the tongue of the buddha, the eyes of the buddhas and ancestors, the nose of the patch-robed monk. Furthermore, the term “entirety of being” is not initial being, not original being, not marvelous being; how much less is it conditioned being or deluded being. It has nothing to do with the likes of mind and object, nature and attribute. Therefore, the circumstantial and primary [recompense] of the “entirety of being” of living beings is not by any means the generative power of karma, not deluded conditioned origination, not of its own accord, not the practice and verification of spiritual powers. Were the “entirety of being” of living beings generated by karma, or conditioned origination, or of its own accord, then the verification of the way of the nobles as well as the bodhi of the buddhas and the eyes of the buddhas and ancestors would also be the generative power of karma, conditioned origination, and of its own accord. And this is not the case
“Essential point” (shūshi 宗旨): A common expression for the “purport,” or “message” of a statement.
“Turning the dharma wheel of the saying “what is it that comes like this?” (ze jūmo butsu inmo rai no dō ten bōrin 是什麼物恁麼來の道轉法輪): I.e., presumably, a Buddhist teaching equivalent to the famous question put to the Chan master Nanyue Huairang 南嶽懷讓 by the Sixth Ancestor, Huineng 慧能. The question is likely a play on the term “Thus Come One” (nyorai 如来; tathāgata), an epithet of the buddhas.
The Chan Master Dahui of Mt. Nanyue (descendant of Caoxi, named Huairang) visited the Sixth Ancestor. The Ancestor asked him, “Where do you come from?”
The Master said, “I come from the National Teacher An on Mt. Song.”
The Ancestor said, “What is it that comes like this?”
The Master was without means [to answer]. After attending [the Ancestor] for eight years, he finally understood the previous conversation. Thereupon, he announced to the Ancestor, “I've understood what the reverend put to me when I first came: ‘What is it that comes like this?’”
The Ancestor asked, “How do you understand it?”
The Master replied, “To say it's like anything wouldn't hit it.”
The Ancestor said, “Then is it contingent on practice and verification?”
The Master answered, “Practice and verification are not nonexistent; they cannot be defiled.”
The Ancestor said, “Just this ‘not defiled’ is what the buddhas bear in mind. You're also like this, I'm also like this, and all the ancestors of the Western Heavens [i. e., India] are also like this.”
“Sentient beings” (ujō 有情); “the multitude of beings” (gunjō 群生); “multitude of types” (gunrui 群類): Terms regularly used as synonyms for “living beings.” The point here would seem to be that all these terms (as well as the synonymous “multitude of beings” [gun’u 群有] in the following sentence) may be referred to as the “entirety of being.”
“The term entirety of being” (shitsu’u no gon 悉有の言): Dōgen here creates a neologism from the adverb shitsu and the verb u in the phrase shitsu u busshō 悉有佛性, translated in the quotation as “in their entirety have the buddha nature.” The word play relies on the fact that the term u 有 means both “to have” and “to exist” and is regularly used in philosophical discourse as a noun for “being.” The resultant expression might also be rendered “all existents” or, more simply, “everything.”
“One entirety of the entirety of being” (shitsuu no isshitsu 悉有の一悉): Presumably the point is that “living beings” represent but one type within the “entirety of being” — with, perhaps, the added suggestion that any one type is in some sense one with the entire set.
“Skin, flesh, bones, and marrow” (hi niku kotsu zui 皮肉骨髄): An expression, very common in Dōgen’s writings for the essence or truth or entirety of something or someone, as handed down in the Chan tradition; from the famous story of Bodhidharma’s testing of four disciples, to whom he said of each in turn that he (or, in one case, she) had got his skin, flesh, bones, and marrow. For the story, see Supplemental Note 2.
“Singly transmitted” (tanden 單傳): A term commonly used in Chan to describe the passing down of the dharma from master to disciple; here, no doubt a reference to the transmission from Bodhidharma to Huike. Though the term suggests (and in some cases is used to indicate) a lineage in which there is only one representative in each generation (e.g., see below, Note 48. “Single transmission”), it regularly appears in contexts where the graph tan is better understand as “unique,” “pure”, or “simple” (e.g., see below, Note 29. “Singly transmit it”); closely related to the notion of direct transmission “from mind to mind” (ishin denshin 以心傳心).
“For you have got my skin, flesh, bones, and marrow” (nyo toku go hi niku kotsu zui naru ga yue ni 汝得吾皮肉骨髄なるがゆゑに): Quoting Bodhidharma’s statement, “you have got” to each of his four disciples (see above, Supplemental Note 2). Presumably, the implication here is that the statement concerns not just Bodhidharma’s “single transmission” to Huike but the affirmation of the buddha nature in all beings (as proposed, e.g., in Shōbōgenzō keiteki 正法眼藏啓迪 2:185).
“The being that is here made the entirety of being by the buddha nature” (ima busshō ni shitsuu seraruru u いま佛性に悉有せらるる有): An odd locution, presumably meaning something like, “the term ‘being’ in the expression ‘entirety of being’ that is here being identified with the buddha nature.”
“The tongue of the buddha” (butsuzetsu 佛舌): No doubt here used as a figure of speech for the speech of the buddha.
“The nose of the patch-robed monk” (nōsō bikū 衲僧鼻孔): The term “patch-robed monk” (nōsō 衲僧) is a playful self-reference used by Chan monks. The “nose” (or “nostril”; bikū 鼻孔) is often used in Chan texts to indicate (a) the person, especially (b) that which is essential to the person, or (c) the very essence or identity of someone or something; a term occuring frequently in the Shōbōgenzō.
“Initial being” (shi’u 始有); “original being” (hon’u 本有); “marvelous being” (myō’u 妙有); “conditioned being” (en’u 縁有); “deluded being” (mō’u 妄有): A series of terms expressing modes of existence discussed in Buddhist thought. The first, “initial being,” while not itself particularly common, is here contrasted with the familiar “original being,” a term used to express the fundamental reality from which the phenomenal world emerges. The expression “marvelous being” is probably best known in the phrase “true emptiness and marvelous being” (shinkū myō’u 眞空妙有), where it expresses the ultimate emptiness of phenomena. The term “conditioned being” suggests that which exists as a result of conditions — i.e., the conditioned dharmas of dependent origination (engi 縁起; pratīya-samutpāda); “deluded being” suggests that which exists as a result of deluded thoughts — i.e., the false objects of our misguided discrimination (funbetsu 分別; vikalpa).
“Mind and object, nature and attribute” (shin kyō shō sō 心境性相): Two standard pairs in Buddhist thought: the mind, or thought (citta), and the objects of thought or of the senses (viṣaya, ālambana); and the nature, or essence (svabhāva), of a thing, and its attributes, or characteristics (lakṣana).
“Circumstantial and primary recompense” (eshō 依正): A standard Buddhist term for the results of past karma reflected respectively in the circumstances into which one is born and the mental and physical makeup of the person; an abbreviation of ehō shōbō 依報正報. Here, perhaps to be understood as “the quality of the experience” of living beings as the “entirety of being.”
“The generative power of karma” (gō zōjō riki 業増上力): I.e., the power of karma to produce phenomena; adhipati.
“Deluded conditioned origination” (mō engi 妄縁起): An unusual expression, probably indicating phenomena that arise as a result of deluded thoughts. Given the apparent distinction, above, between “conditioned being” and “deluded being,” one is tempted to parse the expression “deluded or conditioned origination.”
“Of its own accord” (hōni 法爾): A loose translation of a term indicating what is true of itself or by necessity, what is naturally or inevitably so; used to translate Sanskrit niyati (“destiny”).
“Practice and verification of spiritual powers” (jintsū shushō 神通修證): I.e., mastery of the “supernormal knowledges” (jintsū 神通; abhijñā); here, presumably, the ability in particular to manifest oneself in diverse bodies and circumstances — one of the powers known as the “bases of spiritual power” (jinsoku 神足; ṛddhi-pāda).
“Verification of the way of the nobles” (shoshō no shōdō 諸聖の證道): I.e., the spiritual attainments of advanced adepts on the Buddhist path. The phrase “verification of the way” is a somewhat forced translation of shōdō 證道, a common expression for Buddhist spiritual awakening; here, as in many other contexts, the term dō 道 could be taken as a rendering of bodhi. The translation “nobles” takes shoshō 諸聖 in its Buddhist sense of ārya, those who have transcended the state of the “commoner” (bonbu 凡夫; pṛthagjana); the term could also be rendered in a more “Chinese” idiom as “the sages” or “holy ones.”Originally Posted by Jundo