Dogen Zenji

Dogen Zenji

Dogen Zenji (January 19, 1200 - September 22, 1253) was a Japanese Zen Buddhist teacher and founder of the Soto school of Zen in Japan. He was a leading religious figure and important philosopher. "Zenji" is a title meaning zen master, and the name Dogen means roughly "Source of the Way."

Dogen was born to Koga Michichiki, a government minister, and to Ishi, daughter of Fujiwara Motofusa. Fujiwara was one of the most important clans in Japan. Both his parents died while he was youung.

Dogen was uncompromising, both as student and teacher. As a demanding student of Buddhism, he challenged his Tendai teachers with the question: if we all are inherently enlightened, why do Buddha's still strive for enlightenment? None could answer, so Dogen pursued his question with other teachers, and finally overseas.

In China, he traveled widely seeking a teacher with whom he could resolve the question. He despaired of success until he met Tiantong Rujing. Rujing was the teacher who could and did liberate him from his question.

Returning to Kyoto, Dogen did what was needed to nurture Rujing's living Buddhism in the new land. Eventually, this meant that he abandoned the capital, to establish the Eiheiji monastery in the countryside. In doing so, he founded the Japanese sect of Soto Zen.

Dogen's writing reflects the same uncompromising nature seen in his life. In the Shobogenzo, he points directly at reality, shifting perspective continuously to block the reader from straying into any complacent, facile understanding.

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Dogen Zenji Quotes

Do not follow the ideas of others, but learn to listen to the voice within yourself. Your body and mind will become clear and you will realize the unity of all things.

Do not think you will necessarily be aware of your own enlightenment.

When we discover that the truth is already in us, we are all at once our original selves.

A flower falls, even though we love it; and a weed grows, even though we do not love it.

The color of the mountains is Buddha's body; the sound of running water is his great speech.

You should study not only that you become a mother when your child is born, but also that you become a child.

Do not arouse disdainful mind when you prepare a broth of wild grasses; do not arouse joyful mind when you prepare a fine cream soup.

Carrying the self forward to confirm the myriad dharmas is delusion. The myriad dharmas advancing and confirming the self is realization.

If you cannot find the truth right where you are, where else do you expect to find it?

Dogen Zenji Chronological Biography

1200 born to politically important family.

1202 father dies.

1207 mother dies.

1212 enters Tendai monastery Enryakuji on Mt Hiei.

1214 moves to Onjoji temple.

1217 studies Zen at Kenninji with Myozen.

1223 travels to China with Myozen.

1226 attains dropping away of body and mind under Tiantong Rujing (Tendo Nyojo).

1228 returns to Japan, to Kenninji temple.

1231 writes earliest chapter of Shobogenzo.

1233 establishes the Kannon Dori Koshohorin-ji in Kyoto.

1244 founds Eiheiji near Echizen.

1253 dies September 29 in Kyoto.

Original chronology compiled by Glasgow Zen Group

Dogen Zenji Biography

Dogen Zenji (January 19, 1200 - September 22, 1253) was a Japanese Zen Buddhist teacher and founder of the Soto school of Zen in Japan. He was a leading religious figure and important philosopher. "Zenji" is a title meaning zen master, and the name Dogen means roughly "Source of the Way."

Dogen came from a noble family and he quickly learned the meaning of the word "mujo" (impermanence). His parents died when he was still young, and it is said that this early glimpse of impermanence inspired him to become a monk. He went first to Mt. Hiei, which was the headquarters of the Tendai school of Buddhism. At a young age, he raised the question: "Both the esoteric and exoteric doctrines of the Buddha teach that enlightenment is inherent in all beings from the outset. If this is so, why do all the Buddhas, past, present, and future, seek enlightenment?" This doubt led him to study Buddhism under the Rinzai teachers Eisai (1141 - 1215) and Myozen for nine years.

Continuing his quest for the truth, he made the risky ocean passage to China, accompanying his teacher, Myozen, at the age of 24. After visiting several monasteries he came to study with Ju-tsing (J. Nyojo), the 13th Patriarch of the Ts'ao-t'ung lineage of Zen Buddhism in Mt. Tien-tung (J. Tendo). The lineage became known by its Japanese pronunciation, Soto, in Japanese. Two years later, he realized liberation of body and mind.

Dogen came back to Japan after four years abroad. In 1244 he established Eiheiji in Echizen, now Fukui, to spread his approach to Buddhism. The temple remains one of the two head temples of the Soto sect today. He spent the remaining ten years of his life teaching and writing there. Dogen's masterpiece is the Kana Shobogenzo, lit. "Treasury of the True Dharma Eye", a collection of sermons on the Buddhadharma in 95 fascicles on topics ranging from monastic practices to the philosophy of language, being, and time. He emphasized the absolute primacy of zazen, or sitting meditation, and the inseparability of practice and enlightenment.

While it was customary for Buddhist works to be written in Chinese, Dogen often wrote in Japanese, conveying the essence of his Zen thought in a style that was at once concise, compelling, and inspiring. A master stylist, Dogen is noted not only for his prose, but also for his poetry (in Japanese waka style and various Chinese styles). Dogen's use of language is unconventional by any measure. As Dogen scholar Steven Heine remarks: "Dogen's poetic and philosophical works are characterized by a continual effort to express the inexpressible by perfecting imperfectable speech through the creative use of wordplay, neologism, and lyricism, as well as the recasting of traditional expressions." (Heine, 1997, p. 67)

His most notable successor was Keizan (1268 - 1325); together Dogen and Keizan are regarded as the founders of the Soto school.

The following quote from the Dogen's Genjokoan (lit. "Manifesting Suchness") fascicle is illustrative of his philosophy of practice:

To study the Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things. To be enlightened by all things is to remove the barriers between one's self and others.

Dogen, Trans. Norman Waddell and Masao Abe; The Heart of Dogen's Shobogenzo; SUNY Press, Albany; ISBN 0-7914-5242-5 (1st Edition, hardback, 2002).
Steven Heine; The Zen Poetry of Dogen: Verses from the Mountain of Eternal Peace; Tuttle Publishing, Boston; ISBN 0-8048-3107-6 (1st edition, paperback, 1997)
Reiho Masunaga; A Primer of Soto Zen; East-West Center Press, University of Hawaii; ISBN 0-7100-8919-8 (1st edition, paperback, 1978)
Thomas Cleary; Rational Zen, The Mind of Dogen Zenji; Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boston; ISBN 0-87773-973-0 (1st edition, paperback, 1992)
Yuho Yokoi; Zen Master Dogen; Weatherhill Inc., New York; ISBN 0-8348-0116-7 (6th edition, paperback, 1990)
Steven Heine; Dogen and the Koan Tradition: A Tale of Two Shobogenzo Texts; SUNY Press, Albany; ISBN 0-7914-1773-5 (1st edition, hardback, 1994).
William R. LaFleur, Ed.; Dogen Studies; The Kuroda Institute; ISBN 0-8248-1011-2 (Hardback, 1985).

(For more information see Wikipedia)


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