Eihei Dōgen: Mystical Realist - Preface

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Preface to the Wisdom Edition

The present work was originally published in 1975 under the title Dōgen Kigen—Mystical Realist by the University of Arizona Press, as Monograph No. XXIX of the Association for Asian Studies. The book was reissued in 1987 as Dōgen Kigen: Mystical Realist, with Robert Aitken Roshi’s foreward, and went out of print in the summer of 1999. The present edition has undergone a considerable amount of minor changes and corrections, largely in the translations of Dōgen’s works. However, the fundamental thrust of my methodology and interpretation regarding Dōgen’s Zen remains intact. Considering shortcomings in my reading of and approach to Dōgen, as well as enormous developments that have taken place in Dōgen studies for nearly thirty years since my book’s original publication, I should have undertaken an extensive revision. In fact, the editor of Wisdom Publications kindly suggested some updating. But I chose not to for a variety of reasons—above all was my wish to retain the integrity of the original work, for better or worse. This wish has nothing to do with my imperviousness to recent advances in the field. Indeed, to fill this lacuna to a certain extent, I have opted to present a very brief sketch of some of the developments and issues in Dōgen scholarship, with a special emphasis on those in the United States.

Translating Dōgen’s writings, especially his Shōbōgenzō, is a daunting task for any and all translators. Yet in the past three decades or so, there have appeared a spate of translations in Western languages, the overwhelming numbers of which are in English and are published in the United States. In his writings, Dōgen treated language with the utmost care; scrupulously constructed and crafted, his language was intimately entwined with the scope and precision of his thought. For this reason, every translator of Dōgen must address questions not only on how to be attuned to the intricacies and subtleties of Dōgen’s linguistic and religio-philosophical world, but furthermore how to render them cogently in his/her chosen language with full justice. From this perspective, of many translations, Norman Waddell’s and Masao Abe’s The Heart of Dōgen’s Shōbōgenzō; Francis Dōjun H. Cook’s How to Raise an Ox: Zen Practice As Taught in Zen Master Dōgen’s Shōbōgenzō, Including Ten Newly Translated Essays and Sounds of Valley Streams: Enlightenment in Dōgen’s Zen, Translation of Nine Essays from Shōbōgenzō; Carl Bielefeldt’s translations of the Shōbōgenzō “Sansuikyō,” “Zazenshin” fascicles and others; Kazuaki Tanahashi’s Moon in a Dewdrop: Writings of Zen Master Dōgen and Enlightenment Unfolds: The Essential Teachings of Zen Master Dōgen; Yūhō Yokoi’s (with Daizen Victoria) Zen Master Dōgen: An Introduction with Selected Writings; and a few others are notable. Although they are to be commended for their worthy contributions, there is still a long and treacherous road for translation in this field, in terms of quantity and quality alike. Just as Dōgen struggled eight centuries ago to find new expressions for his times with the Sino-Buddhist and medieval Japanese languages, so the translator today constantly seeks a new language for the present-day audience through his/her encounter and dialogue with Dōgen. Inasmuch as his thought is elusive and his language difficult, Dōgen will never be an easy read, even with the help of those reliable translations.

Beyond the foundational work of translation, critical scholarship has also made substantial growth in diversified areas, subjects, issues, and methods. I would like to briefly review Dōgen scholarship in North America, and for the sake of convenience, despite the risk of oversimplification, I will approach this review in terms of three areas: textual-historical, comparativephilosophical, and methodological-hermeneutical. In the broadly textualhistorical area, the following works are noteworthy: Takashi James Kodera’s Dōgen’s Formative Years in China: An Historical Study and Annotated Translation of the Hōkyō-ki; William M. Bodiford’s Sōtō Zen in Medieval Japan; and Carl Bielefeldt’s essay “Recarving the Dragon: History and Dogma in the Study of Dōgen” and his Dōgen’s Manuals of Zen Meditation. Bielefeldt, particularly in his essay, sets the tone of current textual-historical criticism well. He not only challenges the Sōtō Zen sect’s hagiographic image of Dōgen as the sole legitimate inheritor in the transmission of Buddhism from the Buddha through Bodhidharma and Ju-ching, Dōgen’s Chinese mentor, but also highlights shifts and contradictions within Dōgen’s statements in his Shōbōgenzō, particularly between his writings in the early and later periods. In Bielefeldt’s view, Dōgen’s “new sectarianism” is manifested in his laterperiod writings, revealing “more about Zen in Japan than in China,” e.g., Dōgen’s relation to the Nihon Daruma-shū of Dainichibō Nōnin and his disciples, a large number of whom joined Dōgen’s group after their master’s demise. Charitable or not, Bielefeldt forcefully repudiates a sterilized image of Dōgen, as well as a single unified message in the Shōbōgenzō. This is salutary indeed, to the extent that Bielefeldt’s revisionist historiography contributes to liberating Dōgen from orthodox captivity and leads us to a better understanding of Dōgen without obscuring other aspects of his multifaceted religion. It goes without saying that the nature and significance of discrepancies between the early and later Dōgen are still issues of intense debate among scholars.

In the comparative-philosophical area of Dōgen scholarship, Nishitani Keiji’s Religion and Nothingness; Masao Abe’s Zen and Western Thought and A Study of Dōgen: His Philosophy and Religion; T. P. Kasulis’s Zen Action/Zen Person; Joan Stambaugh’s Impermanence Is Buddha-Nature: Dōgen’s Understanding of Temporality; Steven Heine’s Existential and Ontological Dimensions of Time in Heidegger and Dōgen; and Carl Olson’s Zen and the Art of Postmodern Philosophy: Two Paths of Liberation from the Representational Mode of Thinking are representative works. Dōgen is compared particularly with Martin Heidegger and Jacques Derrida among Western philosophers; many comparativists’ articles have appeared in Philosophy East and West and other philosophical journals. Affinity between Dōgen and postmodern thinkers has been highlighted in terms of their emphasis on the nonsubstantiality and radical relatedness of all things, their nonrepresentational view of language and thinking, self-subversion, and so on.

The discovery of Dōgen as a philosophical thinker, however, was strictly a modern phenomenon in Japan; although an unmistakable and captivating philosophical streak exists in his thought, to regard him as a dharmalogian in its full-fledged sense is problematic. This is precisely because his overriding concern is religious and soteriological. And yet, the comparative-philosophical approach, by and large, tends to lift Dōgen’s thought from its religious and historical moorings. For this reason, Dōgen would have frowned upon any attempt to ahistoricize or atemporalize his religio-philosophical thought. Of those comparative-philosophical interpreters of Dōgen, Abe has been by far the most active and influential in the West by explicating a number of key notions, such as Buddha-nature, the oneness of practice and attainment, time and space, and death. He is also regarded as the leading exponent of Zen in the West today, just as D. T. Suzuki was a generation ago, and has a philosophical inclination akin to Nishida Kataro’s Kyoto school of Japanese philosophy. Thus, some critics point out a subtly veiled cultural/spiritual nationalism in his universalistic, suprahistorical interpretation of Zen, which he is said to harbor in his Zen and Western Thought. This same critique holds true of Nishitani, as well as Abe’s mentor Hisamatsu Shin’ichi. Even so, we should not forget that genuine critique is one in which critique of the other is always self-critique.

In contrast to the textual-historical and comparative-philosophical approaches, my essay “‘The Reason of Words and Letters’: Dōgen and Kōan Language” further pursues what I extensively discuss in this book regarding how Dōgen does his religion, especially his way of appropriating language and symbols soteriologically. In this essay, I delineate Dōgen’s method under the seven principles, demonstrating how he explores and experiments with semantic possibilities of Buddhist concepts and images, such as “dreams,” “entwined vines,” “the flowers of emptiness,” and numerous others. Dōgen does this by shifting syntaxes, changing word order, appropriating polysemous potentialities of words, creating neologisms, resuscitating some forgotten symbols, and so forth. These hermeneutical moves demonstrate Dōgen’s view of realization—that is, that language and thinking constitute the core of Zen praxis. In a similar methodological-hermeneutical vein, Steven Heine, in his Dōgen and the Kōan Tradition: A Tale of Two Shōbōgenzō Texts, deftly interweaves recent textual-historical findings of Dōgen/Zen studies in Japan with the method that he calls “discourse analysis,” which is heavily couched in postmodern literary criticism, and thus elucidates the historical and literary continuity between Dōgen’s writings and the kōan tradition of China. The two key texts in his analysis are the Mana Shōbōgenzō (or Shōbōgenzō sambyakusoku, Dōgen’s own collection of three hundred kōan cases in Chinese without commentary) and the Kana Shōbōgenzō (the one we usually refer to by the name Shōbōgenzō, written in Japanese). Although long considered apocryphal, the authenticity of the Chinese Shōbōgenzō has been established in recent studies. Dōgen seems to have used this kōan collection as the basis for his writings and presentation, especially in relation to the Japanese Shōbōgenzō. Heine locates these two texts in the context of the rich and complex kōan tradition of Chinese Zen and concludes that Dōgen’s Shōbōgenzō was “an offshoot or subdivision of the kōan-collection genre” (which flourished in the eleventh through thirteenth centuries) that could be traced to “encounter dialogues,” the root of all Zen literary genres. Dōgen’s texts were thus firmly embedded in the Chinese kōan tradition; in turn, Dōgen enriched this tradition with his own innovative hermeneutical principles and religio-philosophical reflections. Heine, with Dale S. Wright, also coedited The , a significant addition to the study of the kōan. Speaking of the kōan in Dōgen’s Zen, we should remember that Dōgen, throughout his career, endeavored to revise and refine his meditation manuals such as the Fukan zazengi, as Bielefeldt presents in his aforementioned book. Dōgen’s view of zazen, along with that of the kōan, evolved throughout the different periods of his life.

As the foregoing outline of the textual-historical, comparative-philosophical, and methodological-hermeneutical approaches/areas shows, all the issues, problems, and methods revolve around the central question: What was Dōgen’s Zen (or religion)? To put it differently: What were the origins, evolution, and nature of Dōgen’s Zen? All other questions radiate from this central concern in an open-ended, fluid fashion. What was the significance of discrepancies between Dōgen’s early and later writings? Was there continuity and/or discontinuity between the early and later Dōgen? What was the relation between zazen and the kōan? Between meditation and thinking? How Japanese was Dōgen’s Zen? What was the nature of his originality? A host of other questions arises—yet in the final analysis, every question has to do with the identity of Dōgen.

Having said this, let me briefly touch upon the recent controversy of Critical Buddhism (Hihan Bukkyō) that originated in Japan but has stirred heated debates among scholars in Dōgen and Buddhist studies alike on both sides of the Pacific in the past two decades or so. Hakamaya Noriaki and Matsumoto Shirō, two of the most vocal proponents at Komazawa University (Sōtō Zen), hold that Tendai hongaku (original enlightenment) thought—closely connected with the notions of tathāgata-garbha and Buddha-nature, and ubiquitous in Japanese history from medieval times to the present day—is heretical because of its substantialist view of an inherently pure mind/original enlightenment and its uncritical affirmation of the phenomenal world as absolute (including delusions, desires, and passions). From this perspective, the proponents of Critical Buddhism criticize the absolutization of a given world and the blind acceptance of the status quo as contrary to the original Buddhist philosophy that, according to them, espoused the critical spirit, nonself/emptiness, dependent origination/causation, impermanence/time, difference, and so forth. More directly related to Dōgen studies is Hakamaya’s controversial study of the (“old”) seventy-five-fascicle text and the (“new”) twelve-fascicle text—the two most important among many versions of the Shōbōgenzō—which contends that the latter be given normative status over the former. Reversing the conventional interpretation of the two texts, Hakamaya insists on the primacy of the twelve-fascicle text as reflecting Dōgen’s “decisive viewpoint” of his anti-hongaku stance and his mature thinking regarding nonsubstantiality, causation, and impermanence. He contends that Dōgen’s entire writings should be reexamined from this perspective. Critical Buddhism seems to have served some wholesome functions that (a) heightened Buddhist awareness in Japan of some pressing contemporary social issues, (b) intensified debates regarding the extent to which Dōgen’s Zen is continuous and/or discontinuous with Tendai hongaku thought, (c) called scholarly attention to the relationship between the “old” and “new” texts of the Shōbōgenzō with renewed sensitivities, and (d) shook Sōtō Zen orthodoxy to its core.

I would like to make the following comments on Critical Buddhism: (1) Dōgen was critical, if not directly and explicitly, of Tendai hongaku thought as both doctrine and ethos because of (a) the dangers of its latent substantialist interpretation and (b) the disastrous ethical implications of antinomianism, fideism, and skepticism that resulted from its potential misuses and abuses. Dōgen, however, did not reject hongaku thought entirely on the grounds that it was antithetical to Buddhism, as the Critical Buddhists do; his praxis-orientation was inspired and informed by, as well as within, the hongaku doctrine/ethos. (2) From this standpoint, Dōgen deeply imbibed hongaku discourse as radical phenomenalism, which became the crux of his soteriological vision. In fact, his entire religion may be safely described as the exploration and explication of this radical phenomenalism in terms of its linguistic, rational, and temporal dimensions, as well as the endeavor to overcome its ever-threatening religio-ethical perils. And (3) in his religio-philosophical imagination and discourse, Dōgen boldly, yet judiciously, employed hongaku-related concepts and symbols in his search for “the reason of words and letters” (monji no dori). In doing so, he strove throughout his life to clarify and refine his expressions as consistent with his praxis-orientation and the critical spirit of emptiness.

In the auxiliary areas of Dōgen studies, the following works are significant: John R. McRae’s The Northern School and the Formation of Early Ch’an Buddhism; Bernard Faure’s The Rhetoric of Immediacy: A Cultural Critique of Chan/Zen Buddhism, Chan Insights and Oversights: An Epistemological Critique of the Chan Tradition, and The Will to Orthodoxy: A Critical Genealogy of Northern Chan Buddhism; James W. Heisig and John C. Maraldo, eds., Rude Awakening: Zen, the Kyoto School, and the Question of Nationalism; Donald S. Lopez, Jr., ed., Curators of the Buddha: The Study of Buddhism under Colonialism; Charles Wei-hsun Fu and Steven Heine, eds., Japan in Traditional and Postmodern Perspectives; and Jacqueline I. Stone’s Original Enlightenment and the Transformation of Medieval Japanese Buddhism. McRae’s book advances a view of the formation of early Chinese Zen that is far more complex than conventionally thought—one in which the ancestral transmission of Dharma from Bodhidharma to Hui-nêng, respectively the first and sixth ancestors of the orthodox Zen lineage, is now construed as largely the product of the Southern school’s sudden enlightenment ideology and propaganda. Thus, McRae asserts that the old distinctions between gradual enlightenment and sudden enlightenment, between the Southern and Northern schools, and so forth, must be fundamentally reassessed. Stone in her work presents Tendai hongaku thought as “a new paradigm of liberation” that affirmed the phenomenal world as the expression of inherent enlightenment, and as the “transsectarian” discourse that was shared by all the Buddhist schools of medieval Japan. Her investigation of hongaku discourse conclusively demonstrates the inadequacy of the traditional tension between the “old” (“decadent” Tendai) and the “new” (reformist Kamakura) Buddhism that privileges the latter over the former, and thus calls for a reevaluation of the nature and significance of Kamakura Buddhism. In view of Stone’s study, Critical Buddhism’s anti-hongaku thesis, especially in relation to Dōgen studies, seems reductionistic and elitist due to its failure to take the historical aspects of hongaku thought into consideration. Robert H. Sharf ’s article, “The Zen of Japanese Nationalism” in Lopez’s book, exposes cultural biases in past Zen scholarship that were initially planted by Japanese Zen apologists in the West, such as D. T. Suzuki. These cultural biases subsequently influenced the Western view of Zen— namely, a view of Zen as “pure experience” that is unmediated and ahistorical, the quintessential expression of Japanese spirituality (through the way of the samurai, Japanese art, the tea ceremony, etc.), “the essence of Buddhism,” and even the basis for the polemics of Japanese uniqueness (nihonjinron). This is contrary to the West’s “orientalism” (Edward Said), or what Faure dubs “Zen orientalism” or “reverse orientalism.”

I would like to point out that Dōgen scholarship is constantly challenged by, and is in no way immune to, the competing realities of multiple orientalisms. Perhaps it is fair to say that scholars today are more acutely aware than ever before of the historical situatedness and conditionedness of not only the immediacy and purity of Zen experience but also of scholarly activity itself, with its hidden biases, limitations, needs, and vulnerabilities. For both practitioners who pride themselves on the sui generis character of their Zen spirituality and academics who are content with the alleged objectivity of their professional practice, it is sobering to think that practitioners and scholars alike are ultimately in the same boat with respect to “the loss of our innocence.” Despite his insistence on nonduality, or precisely because of it, Dōgen would have welcomed such sensibilities and reflections.

That said, nothing is fixed; everything is temporary and temporal. For all the diversity and sophistication of methodologies and interpretations in recent Dōgen scholarship, everything still remains uncertain, and yet, this should not lead us to conclude that everything is arbitrary or absurd. Admittedly, although we have abandoned our search for the essential, rarefied Dōgen, only now can it possibly dawn upon us that we can at last genuinely encounter “the naked flesh-mass” (shakunikudan) of Dōgen which bares his whole being inside out, just as it is. That Dōgen, who continues to lure, intrigue, and challenge us to this day, is in constant making.

With respect to this new edition, I would like to acknowledge my indebtedness to those authors and works cited in the text and notes of this new preface for challenging and stimulating my understanding of Dōgen, including many more not cited here because of a lack of space. My special thanks goes to people at Wisdom Publications for their efforts to make this publication possible; especially to my editor at Wisdom, Josh Bartok, who in 2002 initiated the project and guided me throughout its progress with his enthusiasm and kindness. I also thank my daughter, Pearl Kim-Kregel, for her editing and word processing work during her pregnancy, and her husband, Mark Kregel, for his computer expertise. And lastly, but not least, I am ever grateful to my wife Jung-Sun, for her support, care, and patience.

Hee-Jin Kim
Eugene, Oregon
Winter 2004

Preface to the First Edition

For nearly half a century since D. T. Suzuki published his first series of Essays in Zen Buddhism in 1927, Zen has been taking firm root in Western culture and has continued to grow steadily, both in its dissemination and its depth of understanding. Indeed Suzuki’s introduction of Zen to the West was one of the epoch-making events in Western cultural history, and it rightfully became the beginning of a great experiment that has been ongoing ever since—although not without some whimsical and misguided by-products in the course of its evolutionary process.

If Zen has a universal element that transcends historical and cultural bounds, it should be nurtured here in the West with its own distinctive marks and imprints. Just as Zen has evolved differently in the different countries of East Asia and Vietnam, so has it transformed itself into “Western Zen,” (or “American Zen” for that matter) which is on the verge of emergence. Based on the sheer number of publications in this field, the mushrooming growth of meditation centers across Western countries, and its impact upon such fields as art, philosophy, psychology, religion, and folk culture, we can readily witness the intensity and fervor of this cultural experiment.

Despite all this, systematic study of Dōgen in the West today is virtually nonexistent. As a result, Western knowledge of Zen is painfully fragmentary, not only in quantity, but more important, in quality. In recent years, some sporadic attempts have been made to acquaint the West with Dōgen, but these cover only a tiny portion of the entire corpus of his religion and philosophy. It is my hope that the study of Dōgen’s Zen will remedy the situation and will lead to a more complete understanding of Zen.

On the other hand, I am of the opinion that it is high time for Western students to deal with Zen as a historical religion in its concrete historical, philosophical, moral, and cultural context—not to isolate it from that context. After all, Zen is a cultural and historical product. I feel strongly that such an approach to Zen is imperative to the maturity of Western Zen (or any Zen for that matter), and my work endeavors to apply it seriously to the study of Dōgen. It might surprise many readers that such a historical consciousness is actually in accord with Dōgen’s belief that maintaining a fidelity to history was the way to transcend it.

The present work draws heavily upon, and is greatly indebted to, Japanese scholarship in Dōgen studies, which has diversified so much in recent years that materials and findings are indeed bewildering to the beginning Dōgen student. With this book, I endeavor to add to this scholarship by systematically elucidating Dōgen’s life and thought, while paying acute attention to those issues that are relevant and vital to current thinking in religion and philosophy. In this respect, Dōgen’s thought sheds light on some vitally important issues in a surprisingly modern way. I am not implying here that Dōgen fully or completely anticipated what we now know. Yet, despite his remoteness from us in terms of time and culture, his messages are infinitely richer and more complex than we might at first think.

It has been my persistent conviction that we can avoid making either a strict philosopher or a pious religionist of Dōgen; rather, we can understand him totally in a humanistic context. Be that as it may, it is my sincere hope that the present work will stimulate students to delve further into Dōgen.

Throughout this study, I used Dōgen zenji zenshū (edited by Okubo Dōshū) as the basis of my research and translation. In view of the current Western acquaintance with Dōgen, I have attempted to render as many translations of his writings as possible. Most of these appear here for the first time in English. In an introductory work such as this, translations are by necessity highly selective and fragmentary, and one cannot avoid but lay primary, if not sole, emphasis upon the Shōbōgenzō.

The Japanese reading of Buddhist terms is extremely confusing, even among Buddhist scholars. In order to avoid unnecessary chaos, I adopted the

customary Sōtō way of reading them, rather than the one suggested in Okubo’s aforementioned Zenshū. Thus for example, I used uji instead of

yūji, datsuraku instead of totsuraku, konshin instead of unjin, gato instead of wazu, and so forth. I consulted frequently with Shōbōgenzō yōgo sakuin (edited by Katō Shūkō) and Zengaku jiten (edited by Jimbo Nyoten and Andō Bun’ei) for the reading of important terms used in this work.

I wish to extend my gratitude to John A. Hutchison for his unfailing assistance and encouragement; to Floyd H. Ross, Herbert W. Schneider, Margaret Dornish, and Katō Kazumitsu for their invaluable comments and suggestions; to Yamada Reirin, the former abbot of the Los Angeles Zenshūji temple, who initially guided me to Dōgen’s Shōbōgenzō; and to Nakamura Hajime, Masunaga Reihō, and Abe Masao in Japan for their kind assistance through correspondence.

The Blaisdell Institute, Claremont Graduate School, and the School of Theology were generous enough to invite me to Claremont to teach and do research on Dōgen from 1970 to 1972. I am deeply grateful to these three institutions for providing necessary funds. I should also mention the moral support I received from the members of the Department of Religious Studies and the Asian Studies Committee at the University of Oregon, when this work was in its final stage of preparation. My gratitude extends to them.

I wish to express my thanks to Dale Pryor for her editing work; to Dorothy Banker Turner and Anne Holmes for their assistance in various ways at different stages of this project; and to Mary Armes for typing the final copy for photo reproduction. I also thank the Association for Asian Studies at the University of Arizona and the University of Arizona Press for their cooperation and skill in the publication of this book.

Hee-Jin Kim


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