Dōgen's Manuals of Zen Meditation

Dōgen's Manuals of Zen Meditation

Dōgen's Manuals of Zen Meditation

Dōgen's Manuals of Zen Meditation

Synopsis

Zen Buddhism is perhaps best known for its emphasis on meditation, and probably no figure in the history of Zen is more closely associated with meditation practice than the thirteenth-century Japanese master Dogen, founder of the Soto school. This study examines the historical and religious character of the practice as it is described in Dogen's own meditation texts, introducing new materials and original perspectives on one of the most influential spiritual traditions of East Asian civilization.

The Soto version of Zen meditation is known as "just sitting," a practice in which, through the cultivation of the subtle state of "nonthinking," the meditator is said to be brought into perfect accord with the higher consciousness of the "Buddha mind" inherent in all beings. This study examines the historical and religious character of the practice as it is described in Dogen's own meditation texts, introducing new materials and original perspectives on one of the most influential spiritual traditions of East Asian civilization.

Excerpt

The Zen school is the Meditation school, and the character of Zen can be traced in the tradition of its meditation teaching. Historians have shown us that the origins of the school in China are considerably later and more complicated than the traditional account of the lineage of Bodhidharma would have it and that the early history of the school is in fact a history of the teachings and traditions of several Buddhist meditation communities of the seventh and eighth centuries. If the masters of these communities did not yet see themselves as members of a Ch’an, or Meditation, school, and if—as is clear from their own reports—they did not always agree on their interpretations of Buddhism, still they were bound together by a common concern for the immediate, personal experience of enlightenment and liberation and, hence, by a common emphasis on the cultivation of spiritual techniques conducive to that experience. To this extent they may be spoken of as participants in a single reform movement, which sought to cut through the scholastic elaborations of the medieval Chinese Buddhist church and to translate the yogic traditions of north China into a popular modern idiom acceptable to the T’ang Buddhist community.

By the end of the eighth century the Ch’an reformation had established itself as a distinct Buddhist school, complete with its own history, literature, and dogma. Nevertheless, the emphasis on practice and immediate experience remained a hallmark of the faith. Indeed some scholars have held that it was precisely this emphasis that allowed the school to weather the persecutions of the late T’ang and emerge as the sole surviving form of Chinese monastic Buddhism. On several counts such a view is probably overdrawn; but, if the number of Ch’an books from the late T’ang and Sung suggests that there was considerably more to Ch’an religion in those days than simply “seeing one’s nature and becoming a Buddha,” there is much . . .

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