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Thread: BOOK REVIEW: For Dogen Fans, Prof. Heine's "Flowers Blooming on a Withered Tree"

  1. #1

    BOOK REVIEW: For Dogen Fans, Prof. Heine's "Flowers Blooming on a Withered Tree"

    I would like to recommend to our Dogen students Prof. Steven Heine's recent "Flowers Blooming on a Withered Tree."

    There were two main commentaries to Shobogenzo published in the decades following Dogen's death in 1253. One is known as the "prose comments" (the Gokikigakishō 御聴書抄, or Goshō 御抄 for short) by Senne and Kyōgō, two of Dogen's direct disciples, prized as containing the insights and asides of two students who had studied directly with Dogen himself. However, Senne's portion, completed in 1282, and Kyogo's comments thereon which were added in 1308, together total a few dozen volumes and have never been extensively translated into English.

    Dr. Heine's book focuses on another commentary, the so-called "verse comments" (Shōbōgenzō honmokujujaku 正法眼蔵品目頌著) by Giun, who was born in the very year that Dogen died (1253) and was a student of Dogen's Chinese born student, Jakuen. This work was published in 1329, and consists of a series of Kanbun poems, generally of 4 seven-character lines each (along with later capping phrases by another priest) for each of the fascicles (chapters) of what is know as the "60-fascicle edition" of the Shobogenzo. Despite its relative brevity, Giun's verse comments has been prized by Dogen students, both in the years immediately following its publication and in recent centuries.

    At first, before reading the book, I was a little skeptical that a short poem expressing an entire fascicle would be of much actual utility or value as a commentary. Dogen's writings are typically vast, wild and wide ranging, thus often impossible to summarize in a mere sentence or two. But my doubts were soon washed away. Giun's small poems and the accompanying capping phrases, time and again, go right to the heart of each section, are rich in meaning in each word and phrase, and, in just their few lines, succeed in expressing the very essence of the wonderful subtleties in Dogen's teachings.

    The book is helped along greatly by Dr. Heine's short summary of each of the original fascicles, conveying its main themes in just a paragraph or two. This is accompanied by Heine's translation of the poem, with a line by line, word by word, explanation of the poem's references. Heine manages this himself in just a few short sentences. The connection of Giun's creative words to Dogen's themes becomes clear and bright in almost each line. (If I have one tiny criticism of the book, it is that I wish Dr. Heine stated more clearly sometimes where he was sure of Giun's meaning rather than needing to guess a bit. However, as a sometime Dogen translator myself, although far from Dr. Heine in skill, I know that any line must contain some degree of the translator's assumptions and believed interpretations. In any case, Heine's explanations seem right on the money in the vast majority of cases, and the rest are inevitably the most likely reading.) The net effect is to draw a straight line from Giun's poetic summary the size of a seed to Dogen's flowering pages and back. It is brilliant. It is relatively easy reading too, especially for folks with some prior familiarity with Zen poetry and symbolism.

    The other half of the book is a history of the many different editions of Shobogenzo, such as the 60-fascicle, 75 fascicle, several 95-fascicle versions and more, looking at how and why each came to be. There is then an extensive listing of the many other commentaries on Dogen that have appeared through the centuries, primarily in Japanese (I am pleased to say that my own teacher, Gudo Nishijima's, 12-Volume "A Record of Sermons on the Shobogenzo," in Japanese, receives the honor of occupying the very final line in the book). While the information in these pages will be of most interest to real Dogen history wonks (like me), it goes far to overturn the notion that Dogen's Shobogenzo was simply ignored until the last few centuries. In fact, there have been dozens and dozens of detailed commentaries and examinations of Dogen's work through most centuries since his life.

    Dr. Heine has again done us Dogen fans a true service, and brought us a treasure. (Hmmm, I wonder if he has any plans to dive into the "prose comments" now? I will write and ask him, as well as whether a paperback version is planned for those on a budget as the book is now a bit expensive for many.)

    Flowers Blooming on a Withered Tree: Giun's Verse Comments on Dogen's Treasury of the True Dharma Eye
    Steven Heine

    https://oxford.universitypressschola...-9780190941345

    ABSTRACT
    This volume, containing a translation, annotations, and historical studies of Giun’s (1200–1253) Verse Comments on Dōgen’s Treasury of the True Dharma Eye (Shōbōgenzō honmokuju), represents the initial book-length contribution to a crucial though previously unnoticed sub-field in Japanese Buddhist studies involving text-historical and literary-philological examinations of a key example of the copious premodern collections of annotations and interpretations of the masterwork of Zen master Dōgen. It is the first study of the life and thought of Giun and of the 60-fascicle version of Dōgen’s masterwork, which are crucial for understanding the history of the Sōtō Zen Buddhist sect’s intellectual development. The main translation of this text consists of four-line verses and capping phrases composed by Giun, accompanied by additional capping phrases that were contributed by an eighteenth-century commentator, Katsusdō Honkō. The book also provides an examination of the background and influences exerted on and by Giun’s Verse Comments in relation to various aspects of Dōgen’s writings and Zen thought in China and Japan.
    Gassho, Jundo
    SatTodayLAH

    Last edited by Jundo; 03-04-2021 at 04:03 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  2. #2
    Thanks Jundo. While it's likely too advanced for me I see that the Amazon preview of the book is pretty extensive and includes Fascicle 1: Genjokoan. Heine's commentary on Genjokoan is wonderful, and I would not have grasped Giun's meaning without it. PS I really enjoyed your own commentary on Genjokoan from "Dance", which I'm working through slowly again.

    Gassho,
    Kevin
    Sat

  3. #3
    Thank you

    gassho

    risho
    -stlah

  4. #4
    Thank you Jundo

    Mmm...e-book $103 NZD...would Dogen would frown if I don't feed the kids?!!

    Gassho, Yokai (Chris) sat/lah

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Yokai View Post
    Thank you Jundo

    Mmm...e-book $103 NZD...would Dogen would frown if I don't feed the kids?!!

    Gassho, Yokai (Chris) sat/lah
    Yes, I am asking him about that. I got my hard copy for about $40 U.S., which I took out of my monthly pizza budget, and the balance about the equivalent of the gym membership I am no longer paying thanks to Covid-19 (although I hope to go back as soon as I get my vaccine! To much pizza! ). I believe in supporting good scholarship. However, I am not sure why the price seems to have doubled and tripled!

    Gassho, Jundo

    STLah

    PS - First time, all these years, I got to use the pizza emoji! Donuts too.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  6. #6
    It's an academic book, so it's expensive. I hope there is a paperback at some point, but at £62, or about $85, I think this one will have to wait.

    Gassho,

    Ryūmon

    sat
    -----

    流文

    I know nothing.

  7. #7
    I had some money left over after paying taxes so shelled out for a copy but even then I was thinking that cash might be better off going to a food bank...

    I never saw copies for $40. As Kirk says, it was always £62 here. It is very good though.

    Gassho
    Kokuu
    -sattoday-
    ------------------------------------
    Feel free to message me if you wish to talk about issues around practicing with physical limitations. This is something I have been sitting with for a fair while and am happy to help with suggestions or just offer a listening ear.

  8. #8
    Amazon.ca has it at $125 for hardcover ( $98 for Kindle). I recall thirty years ago buying a couple of second year Anatomy and Pathology texts for $110-120 each. I felt a slight twinge at the time but needed them to complete studies and as later references which I found very useful over the years. In comparison, it's a good deal and probably equal to 4 or 5 pizzas.. I put it on my wish list and expect I'll be ordering within a month or so.

    gassho, Shokai
    stlah
    仁道 生開 - Jindo Shokai "Open to life in a benevolent way"
    May we all grow together in our knowledge of the Dharma

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Shokai View Post
    Amazon.ca has it at $125 for hardcover ( $98 for Kindle). I recall thirty years ago buying a couple of second year Anatomy and Pathology texts for $110-120 each. I felt a slight twinge at the time but needed them to complete studies and as later references which I found very useful over the years. In comparison, it's a good deal and probably equal to 4 or 5 pizzas.. I put it on my wish list and expect I'll be ordering within a month or so.

    gassho, Shokai
    stlah
    Or, there are still these things called "libraries" ....

    Gassho, J

    STLah
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo View Post
    Or, there are still these things called "libraries" ....
    I would definitely not be able to get a book like that from my library.

    I know, inter-library loan and all that, but where I live, that's not always very practical. No worries, I'll wait for the paperback.

    Gassho,

    Ryūmon

    sat
    -----

    流文

    I know nothing.

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by Kokuu View Post
    As Kirk says, it was always £62 here.
    Who?

    :-)

    Gassho,

    Ryūmon

    sat
    -----

    流文

    I know nothing.

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by Ryumon View Post
    Who?

    :-)

    Gassho,

    Ryūmon

    sat
    You have no idea how many tjmes Iíve typed Kirk only to correct it later; old habits die hard lol

    gassho

    risho
    -stlah

  13. #13
    He wrote me (and said I can post) but, alas, does not seem like there will be a cheaper version soon ...

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Hi Jundo,

    Thanks very much for your review! I agree with your comments about translation.

    On the possible paperback, the publisher told me they've received some requests, but it's not clear yet if this will happen. (I also see they messed up Giun's dates). By the way, Green Gulch has used the book in a discussion series, and I will also be giving a class on the book by Zoom for Tassajara in June.

    As for translating the Gosho prose comments, I have done parts here and there - but it's such an immense job that I don't foresee undertaking this. I have an intro-style book on Dogen coming out with Shambhala at the end of this year, and I'm currently working on a translation of 150 kanbun poems (with my remarks) by Dogen from a collection compiled by Menzan called Kuchugen (句中玄), which I am translating, "Wisdom Within Words."

    After that I shall see, but I'm thinking of a book with essays on Song Chan as related to Dogen. One chapter, based on a passage in The Blue Cliff Record, might be called, "Adventures of a Heavenly Colt [referring to Mazu} and Other Zen Shticks".

    Thanks again.

    Steven Heine, Professor of Religious Studies and History
    Director of Asian Studies, SIPA 504
    Florida International University
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  14. #14
    These upcoming projects sound really interesting!

    gassho

    risho
    -stlah

  15. #15
    Or, there are still these things called "libraries" ...
    Yeah but, why go out in the snow if you can have Amazon put it on your porch. Besides, I need Amazon boxes to get rid of my garbage

    gassho, Shokai
    stlah
    仁道 生開 - Jindo Shokai "Open to life in a benevolent way"
    May we all grow together in our knowledge of the Dharma

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