Shobogenzo, Zen Essays

Shobogenzo, Zen Essays

Shobogenzo, Zen Essays

Shobogenzo, Zen Essays

Excerpt

Zen Master Dōgen is revered as the founder of the Sōtō Zen school in Japan, but in modern times his reputation as an exceptionally advanced intellect has reached far beyond sectarian bounds. Largely kept hidden for centuries, Dōgen Shōbōgenzō, a remarkable collection of essays, has lately attracted widespread attention from scholars and others within and without Zen circles. Much admired for its linguistic artistry and metaphysical subtlety, the Shōbōgenzō is a classic of such status and magnitude that entire careers have been devoted to its study and exegesis.

According to the Kenzeiki, a medieval biography of Dōgen, the master was born in the year 1200 C.E. to a noble family in Kyoto, the imperial capital and cultural center of Japan. While still a small child he began to receive the rigorous education considered proper for his status and expectations, learning classical Chinese, the language of philosophy and government in old Japan. At the age of seven he was already reading the ancient Chinese classics Tso Chuan and Mao Shih and was considered a prodigy by Confucian scholars of the time.

When Dōgen was eight his mother died. This event is said to have awakened him to the impermanence of life and provoked in him a desire to leave secular society and become a monk. Later, when he finally left home and abandoned his future at court, he revealed that his dying mother had herself urged him to become a monk. He began to add Buddhist lore to the enormous stock of book learning which he accumulated over the years, and is said to have been reading intricate Buddhist abhidharma, analytic philosophy, by the age of nine.

About this time, Dōgen was adopted by the imperial regent, a distinguished scholar and statesman, and was taught political science as it was known at that time, with a view to making him a member of the court. Dōgen, however, had no desire for a secular career and at the age of thirteen ran away to become a monk. He sought out an uncle who was a high priest of the Tendai school of Buddhism, and prevailed upon him to accept his decision to leave home and help him to attain his wish to pursue a religious life.

At fourteen Dōgen was formally ordained and "studied the way of the Tendai school, including the secret teachings from south India, the . . .

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