Was Dogen Enlightened? And An Important New Book On Genjokoan

Shohaku Okumura’s new book, Realizing Genjokoan: The Key to Dogen’s Shobogenzo, will be coming out soon – June 1, I believe – through Wisdom Publications. Preorder now!
I was asked to endorse the book and so I’ve had the chance to read it. I found it to be a great offering. Here’s the blurb I wrote for Wisdom (not sure if they decided to use it):
Shohaku’s sincere and devoted zazen heart illuminates this tender book, kindly and persistently examining words as if they were his eyeballs and in so doing, deepening the reader’s understanding and appreciation of ordinary mind. Importantly, Shohaku places Dogen’s pivotal work, Genjokoan, in the context of general Buddhism and demonstrates in detail how the teaching of Genjokoan penetrates and is mutually embraced by the whole of Dogen’s Zen. A heartfelt reading of this book will show the reader how to study the buddhadharma and those who wish to realize the fundamental point will find a guide and an obstacle right here.

Obstacle? Yes – that’s high praise. It might be such a barrier that it will encourage people to realize genjokoan for themselves, not relying even on old, dead, Dogen. 
And that’s just where I don’t see eye-to-eye with Shohaku. We’ve been around this one at least several times going back many years. 
Shohaku (and many Soto Zen scholars and priests in Japan) argue that Dogen was against “personal” enlightenment or kensho. Kensho is now associated with the Rinzai lineage and shikantaza with the Soto line. 

Both sides of this debate trot out passages from Dogen that show that he was against kensho and that he was for it. There was a long discussion of this over at the Zen Forum International so I’ll spare you that for now.

Imv, the abundance of evidence for both sides points to the likelihood of a third option – Dogen’s view on kensho was more nuanced and complex than contemporary sectarian politics admit. 
This is going to be the theme of my next book. For now, I want to look at one of the arguments Shohaku makes about Dogen’s enlightenment. He says it didn’t happen. 
You might know the story (and even seen it happen in the movie). After Dogen meets Rujing, he sits long and devotedly, finally hearing Rujing scold the monk who is sitting and sleeping next to Dogen, “Zen study is dropping mind and body.” 
“Hearing this, suddenly Dogen was greatly enlightened.”

Or so says an important work by Keizan, the third ancestor after Dogen, Transmission of Light. Dogen himself does not tell the story of his own enlightenment in any of the extant works credited to him. So Shohaku and a number of other eminent Dogen scholars argue that Keizan made it up.  
I gotta say that Soto Zen is one hinky sect! Our claim to Buddhist legitimacy is that our founder was not enlightened and the second founder, Keizan, was a big fibber! Or that Dogen was so pure that he didn’t have a mere personal enlightenment. Kinda odd, don’t you think?
Anyway, I respectfully disagree with this position for both historical and buddhadharmical reasons. 

First on the historical side. Dogen didn’t say a lot about himself personally and when he did it usually wasn’t to blow his own horn. The stories in the Tenzokyokun, for example, have Dogen bested by old tenzos.
Further, Dogen doesn’t comment on some really important things – he doesn’t say why he didn’t take the full vinaya ordination, why he left Kyoto, why he didn’t hang out longer with the Shogun in Kamakura, etc. 
Dogen wasn’t a modern guy who went on and on about himself at dinner until his date was deliriously bored. 
Also, Keizan was well-connected with Dogen’s inner circle. His grandmother was a close student of Dogen. Keizan studied closely with several of Dogen’s direct descendants. Probably a bunch of monks in his assembly had close connections with those teachers as well and so fabricating an enlightenment story would have made waves.
Another thing that’s fishy about arguing that Dogen didn’t have kensho is that even if he didn’t, what about all the Chinese ancestors whose kensho stories are well-known? What about the Buddha? What about the many Soto Zen kensho stories after Dogen? Keizan, Gento Sokuju, and Katagiri, to name just a few, all report an experience that sounds very much like kensho, whether they used the “k” word or not. 
It seems to me that the story of Dogen’s enlightenment was probably passed orally from Dogen to Keizan via his grandmother or mother or one of his teachers.
 
Then there’s the buddhadharmic side. Everyone I know who’s had a taste of kensho sees the turn-around characteristic of that experience in Dogen’s work. Dogen is inspiring to many for just this reason – he beautifully and powerfully presents the possibility of radically opening the heart and manifesting that openness in the world in ways that really count. 

It is for this primary reason, imv, that Dogen’s Zen has so much to offer the helpless ones in the future who depend on our practice and enlightenment. 
So … did Dogen have a personal enlightenment? 
Yes, but he didn’t take it personally.
Print Friendly

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18100647785880123235 Al

    Dosho,Thanks for this post. I tend to agree. I mean, something had to 'awaken' Dogen to the fact that the teaching he received from Rujing was the 'true' Buddha-dharma.But I still feel at a loss about one thing: for the Shikantaza practitioner, what precipitates the 'K' word so that the one knows to their marrow that Shikantaza is practice/verification?Regards,Al

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04878684373898294730 Dosho Port

    Al,Anything can precipitate verification. Shikantaza practitioners have a tendancy to overlook subtle kenshos – the type of which Dogen said you might not be aware of yourself. The teacher-student relationship is vital here. It is important to know to your marrow (although often that's not in one swoop but opens up over time) AND be confirmed by a teacher – and then shown how to continue on with that traceless trace.Best wishes,Dosho

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18100647785880123235 Al

    Dosho,Thanks! That is the most logical response to that question I've ever been given.I suppose that these things are being missed all the time because of a tendency to hold to tight to the party line.Warm regards,Al

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05168631752214481563 Harry

    Hee hee, nice one, Dosho.Another 'nuance' we might include or consider is the possible merit in the de-emphasising of 'kensho' in a culture that maybe came to reify 'kensho' in a way that was contrary to real-ising it, in a way that presented it as a personal experience/accomplishment with a bluster that obscured certain broader subtleties?Of course, in other circumstances, it may be very appropriate to emphasise 'dramatic' realisation: It's a pity to limit the possibilites with sectarian thinking, and/or reactions to sectarian thinking and assumptions.As far as I can see (not very far is likely) the 'fine mind of nirvana' is generally a very subtle business, even when it appears dramatic: Which begs the question of whether it is a dramatic realisation of subtlety… or just a personal, psychological drama? The argument about one sort of 'breakthrough' over another sort ('dramatic' vs 'everyday/practical') may always be a bit of a moot point when it's removed from the intention/context of why it's being emphasised as such IMO.I'm reminded that Master Dogen acknowledges even the 'gross level' of zazen in presenting sitting as already 'getting the body out/ getting the body free'.Anyway, that's quite enough of that.All the best,harry.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15170037991394359261 Jason Gosnell

    very strange ideas to me. i may be an idiot, but my experience is very different already even as a novice and an idiot. i can't believe anyone would question it. but, then again, i just talked to a christian minister who said…no, God is Wholly Other…out there…no god within. He is about 70 years old, maybe 40 years of ministering. a good friend, but not my experience at all. Baffling!!Dogen talks about dropping off body and mind. the reports of kensho seem to be the dropping away of body and mind. the expressions point to the same experience. in my limited experience, but nonetheless experience…there seems to be no difference between "original face" and dropping off body and mind. they are both the experience of going beyond name and form. i think that Dogen called shikantaza the front gate because it is the root of all koans…


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X