How to Raise an Ox - Preface

Zen Practice as Taught in Zen Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo

Preface

My function in bringing these chapters of the Shōbōgenzō to the attention of Western readers has been merely that of a kind of midwife. The splendor and beauty of the baby is not at all my doing but is the contribution of the mother. I offer this volume in the hope that my fellow Westerners will come to appreciate the magnificent work of Dōgen as I have. My primary objective is to help the reader to gain a better understanding of what it means to practice Zen, particularly in the Sōtō form that Dōgen established.

Far from hindering the study of the right kind of literature, Zen practice can contribute greatly to it. In learning to apply zazen to everyday life—which is one of the most important features of Zen training—everything one does comes to be zazen. This applies to reading and study too, if, of course, the literature is not trivial or distracting. In the world of Zen training, where there is ultimately neither good nor bad, reading and study are no better or worse than any other activity. The notion that reading is bad for one’s spiritual health is the result of a misunderstanding of the relationship between Zen and literary activity. Zen should not be used as an excuse for sloppiness or laziness in study or any other endeavor. In fact, the library was an important part of Zen monastic compounds in Chinese Buddhism, and Dōgen included a library in his own monastery, Eiheiji. He also wrote a list of monastic rules, called shingi, that prescribe in minute detail how one should comport oneself in the monastery, and among which are many rules that have to do with respect for books. The right literature—and the Shōbōgenzō is surely included in this category—can do much to clarify what practice is and is not, point out dangerous pitfalls, and most of all, inspire one to practice diligently. Each of us needs this constant inspiration to practice in the very best way we can. A work such as the Shōbōgenzō, in its discussion of Zen practice, in its examples of great Zen masters, and particularly in the example of the mind of Dōgen himself, offers us one of the very finest sources for this inspiration and encouragement. Surely anyone who reads what Dōgen has to say about Zen practice will perceive some of Dōgen’s spirit and without a doubt be encouraged by it.

F.D.C.

 

How to cite this document:
© Zen Center of Los Angeles, How to Raise an Ox (Wisdom Publications, 2002)

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