Master Dogen's Shinji Shobogenzo

301 Koan Stories

Author : Nishijima, Gudo Wafu

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Master Dogen's Shinji Shobogenzo

Book Details

  • Publisher : Windbell
  • Published : 2003
  • Cover : Paperback
  • Pages : 386
  • Size : 230 x 154mm
  • Category :
    Zen: General
  • Category 2 :
    Zen: Soto
  • Catalogue No : 4162
  • ISBN 13 : 9780952300267
  • ISBN 10 : 0952300265
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Wisdom Price : £14.00
Publishers Price : £20.00 (Save 30%)
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Synopsis

The Shinji Shobogenzo is a marvelous collection of 301 Zen koan stories in three volumes that master Dogen collected during his four-year stay in China. The stories were written in Chinese, and are records of conversations between Buddhist masters and their students. Dogen used many of these stories as the basis for his formal lectures in his major work, the Shobogenzo.

Nishijima Roshi has published a complete translation and commentary on the stories in Japanese, and he first dictated an English translation to three of his students in the early 1980`s, together with a commentary on each story, which was produced in three volumes. Only the first of the three volumes was published, but it is now long out of print. This new and completely revised version comprises all three volumes in one edition, together with Nishijima`s refreshingly down-to-earth explanations of the stories.

The Shinji Shobogenzo is an essential collection that encompasses many of the well-known koan stories, with many interesting and less familiar ones, together with the comments of a contemporary Buddhist master renowned for his clear and no-nonsense approach.

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Shobogenzo and the Four Views

When I was eighteen, I found a book called the Shobogenzo. It was written in the thirteenth century by the founder of the sect of Buddhism in Japan which is based on the practice of Zazen. His name is Master Dogen. I found the Shobogenzo almost impossible to read at that time, and I was amazed that there could be a book written in my own language which I was unable to understand at all. But although I could not understand it, I had the feeling that the book might contain important and valuable things.
This was the start of what was to become forty years of study. And when at last T could understand the meaning of the Shobogenzo, it also became clear to me why I had found it so difficult for so long. The book itself is composed of many contradictory statements, and this made it appear illogical. But after reading and re-reading many times, I found that the Shobogenzo is in fact constructed in a very special way; using a unique pattern of expression.

Master Dogen expresses his ideas in the Shobogenzo based on a pattern of four phases. First, he explains a problem from the idealistic point of view; that is, as an idea using abstract concepts. Then, immediately after this first phase, he explains the same problem, but this time from the objective, or material point of view. In other words, he gives concrete examples and facts. Then, in the next phase, he explains the problem yet a third time as a real problem; that is, on the basis of action.

Of course, he cannot fully explain the reality surrounding the problem with words in a book, but he does so by bringing together the subjective viewpoint which he presents first, and the second objective viewpoint. He synthesizes the two viewpoints into a realistic appraisal of the problem based upon the philosophy of action, which states that in action, there is a synthesis of the self and the external world. And in the final phase, he tries to suggest the subtle ineffable nature of reality itself by using symbolic, poetic, or figurative forms of speech.

The Shobogenzo is full of these four-phased explanations. The chapters themselves fall into four groups: theoretical, objective, realistic, and figurative or poetic. The contents of the chapters are also divided in the same way, and even the content of individual paragraphs follows the same pattern. In general, a theoretical or subjective explanation and a materialistic or objective explanation of the same problem will always be contradictory. Again, a realistic explanation will seemingly be in contradiction to both the subjective and objective points of view. And the real situation itself is different again from the realistic explanation given.

When we first read the Shobogenzo, we are astounded by what appear to be gross contradictions in logic. This is one of the reasons why the book is so difficult to understand. It appears full of opposing ideas.

However, after I had read and re-read Master Dogen's book, I got used to this unique way of thinking about things. He discusses all problems from three points of view, subjective and theoretical, objective and material, and action/realistic. He then insists on the difference between his three viewpoints and the actual situation itself. Using this method, he is able to explain the reality of a situation very clearly and logically. He believes that the most important thing is to see what the reality itself is; and at the same time, he realizes how impossible this is using the medium of the written word.

So this unique pattern or logical system is Master Dogen's way of suggesting what reality is. And I believe that Master Dogen's method is in fact a very realistic way of explaining reality. I found that Master Dogen's ideas were very realistic, and I found too that Buddhism is a religion of reality.

The stories in the Shinji Shobogenzo also follow the same unique logical system, and if they are studied from the four viewpoints, we find that they are very realistic stories that were used to teach the fundamental principles of Buddhism. They contain nothing mystical or incomprehensible; they are the Buddhist Masters' way of pointing to reality.

Gudo Wafu Nishijima
Ida Zazen Dojo
Tokyo
October 2002

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