|Born||19 January 1200|
|Died||22 September 1253 (aged 53)|
D?gen Zenji (?; 19 January 1200 – 22 September 1253), also known as D?gen Kigen (?), Eihei D?gen (?), K?so J?y? Daishi (), or Bussh? Dent? Kokushi (), was a Japanese Buddhist priest, writer, poet, philosopher, and founder of the S?t? school of Zen in Japan.
Originally ordained as a monk in the Tendai School in Kyoto, he was ultimately dissatisfied with its teaching and traveled to China to seek out what he believed to be a more authentic Buddhism. He remained there for five years, finally training under Tiantong Rujing, an eminent teacher of the Chinese Caodong lineage. Upon his return to Japan, he began promoting the practice of zazen (sitting meditation) through literary works such as Fukan zazengi and Bend?wa.
He eventually broke relations completely with the powerful Tendai School, and, after several years of likely friction between himself and the establishment, left Kyoto for the mountainous countryside where he founded the monastery Eihei-ji, which remains the head temple of the S?t? school today.
D?gen is known for his extensive writing including his most famous work, the collection of 95 essays called the Sh?b?genz?, but also Eihei K?roku, a collection of his talks, poetry, and commentaries, and Eihei Shingi, the first Zen monastic code written in Japan, among others.
D?gen was probably born into a noble family, though as an illegitimate child of Minamoto Michitomo, who served in the imperial court as a high-ranking ash? (, "Councillor of State"). His mother is said to have died when D?gen was age 7.
At some later point, D?gen became a low-ranking monk on Mount Hiei, the headquarters of the Tendai school of Buddhism. According to the Kenzeiki (), he became possessed by a single question with regard to the Tendai doctrine:
As I study both the exoteric and the esoteric schools of Buddhism, they maintain that human beings are endowed with Dharma-nature by birth. If this is the case, why did the Buddhas of all ages -- undoubtedly in possession of enlightenment -- find it necessary to seek enlightenment and engage in spiritual practice?
This question was, in large part, prompted by the Tendai concept of original enlightenment ( hongaku), which states that all human beings are enlightened by nature and that, consequently, any notion of achieving enlightenment through practice is fundamentally flawed.
The Kenzeiki further states that he found no answer to his question at Mount Hiei, and that he was disillusioned by the internal politics and need for social prominence for advancement. Therefore, D?gen left to seek an answer from other Buddhist masters. He went to visit K?in, the Tendai abbot of Onj?-ji Temple (), asking him this same question. K?in said that, in order to find an answer, he might want to consider studying Chán in China. In 1217, two years after the death of contemporary Zen Buddhist My?an Eisai, D?gen went to study at Kennin-ji Temple (), under Eisai's successor, My?zen ().
In China, D?gen first went to the leading Chan monasteries in Zhèji?ng province. At the time, most Chan teachers based their training around the use of g?ng-àns (Japanese: k?an). Though D?gen assiduously studied the k?ans, he became disenchanted with the heavy emphasis laid upon them, and wondered why the sutras were not studied more. At one point, owing to this disenchantment, D?gen even refused Dharma transmission from a teacher. Then, in 1225, he decided to visit a master named Rújìng (; J. Ny?jo), the thirteenth patriarch of the Cáodòng (J. S?t?) lineage of Zen Buddhism, at Mount Ti?ntóng ( Ti?ntóngsh?n; J. Tend?zan) in Níngb?. Rujing was reputed to have a style of Chan that was different from the other masters whom D?gen had thus far encountered. In later writings, D?gen referred to Rujing as "the Old Buddha". Additionally he affectionately described both Rujing and My?zen as senshi (, "Ancient Teacher").
Under Rujing, D?gen realized liberation of body and mind upon hearing the master say, "Cast off body and mind" (? sh?n x?n tu? luò). This phrase would continue to have great importance to D?gen throughout his life, and can be found scattered throughout his writings, as--for example--in a famous section of his "Genj?k?an" (?):
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 of the universe. To be enlightened by all things of the universe is to cast off the body and mind of the self as well as those of others. Even the traces of enlightenment are wiped out, and life with traceless enlightenment goes on forever and ever.
My?zen died shortly after D?gen arrived at Mount Tiantong. In 1227, D?gen received Dharma transmission and inka from Rujing, and remarked on how he had finally settled his "life's quest of the great matter".
D?gen returned to Japan in 1227 or 1228, going back to stay at Kennin-ji, where he had trained previously. Among his first actions upon returning was to write down the Fukan Zazengi (; "Universally Recommended Instructions for Zazen"), a short text emphasizing the importance of and giving instructions for zazen, or sitting meditation.
However, tension soon arose as the Tendai community began taking steps to suppress both Zen and J?do Shinsh?, the new forms of Buddhism in Japan. In the face of this tension, D?gen left the Tendai dominion of Ky?to in 1230, settling instead in an abandoned temple in what is today the city of Uji, south of Ky?to. In 1233, D?gen founded the Kannon-d?ri-in in Fukakusa as a small center of practice. He later expanded this temple into K?sh?h?rin-ji ().
In 1243, Hatano Yoshishige () offered to relocate D?gen's community to Echizen province, far to the north of Ky?to. D?gen accepted because of the ongoing tension with the Tendai community, and the growing competition of the Rinzai-school.
His followers built a comprehensive center of practice there, calling it Daibutsu Temple (Daibutsu-ji, ). While the construction work was going on, D?gen would live and teach at Yoshimine-dera Temple (Kipp?-ji, ), which is located close to Daibutsu-ji. During his stay at Kipp?-ji, D?gen "fell into a depression". It marked a turning point in his life, giving way to "rigorous critique of Rinzai Zen". He criticized Dahui Zonggao, the most influential figure of Song Dynasty Chán.
D?gen spent the remainder of his life teaching and writing at Eihei-ji. In 1247, the newly installed sh?gun's regent, H?j? Tokiyori, invited D?gen to come to Kamakura to teach him. D?gen made the rather long journey east to provide the sh?gun with lay ordination, and then returned to Eihei-ji in 1248. In the autumn of 1252, D?gen fell ill, and soon showed no signs of recovering. He presented his robes to his main apprentice, Koun Ej? (?), making him the abbot of Eihei-ji.
At Hatano Yoshishige's invitation, D?gen left for Ky?to in search of a remedy for his illness. In 1253, soon after arriving in Ky?to, D?gen died. Shortly before his death, he had written a death poem:
D?gen often stressed the critical importance of zazen, or sitting meditation as the central practice of Buddhism. He considered zazen to be identical to studying Zen. This is pointed out clearly in the first sentence of the 1243 instruction manual "Zazen-gi" (; "Principles of Zazen"): "Studying Zen ... is zazen". D?gen taught zazen to everyone, even for the laity, male or female and including all social classes. In referring to zazen, D?gen is most often referring specifically to shikantaza, roughly translatable as "nothing but precisely sitting", or "just sitting," which is a kind of sitting meditation in which the meditator sits "in a state of brightly alert attention that is free of thoughts, directed to no object, and attached to no particular content". In his Fukan Zazengi, D?gen wrote:
For zazen, a quiet room is suitable. Eat and drink moderately. Cast aside all involvements and cease all affairs. Do not think good or bad. Do not administer pros and cons. Cease all the movements of the conscious mind, the gauging of all thoughts and views. Have no designs on becoming a Buddha. Zazen has nothing whatever to do with sitting or lying down.
D?gen called this zazen practice "without thinking" (hi-shiryo) in which one is simply aware of things as they are, beyond thinking and not-thinking - the active effort not to think.
The correct mental attitude for zazen according to D?gen is one of effortless non-striving, this is because for D?gen, enlightenment is already always present.
Commitment to Zen is casting off body and mind. You have no need for incense offerings, homage praying, nembutsu, penance disciplines, or silent sutra readings; just sit single-mindedly.
The primary concept underlying D?gen's Zen practice is "oneness of practice-enlightenment" (? shush?-itt? / shush?-ichinyo).
For D?gen, the practice of zazen and the experience of enlightenment were one and the same. This point was succinctly stressed by D?gen in the Fukan Zazengi, the first text that he composed upon his return to Japan from China:
To practice the Way singleheartedly is, in itself, enlightenment. There is no gap between practice and enlightenment or zazen and daily life.
Earlier in the same text, the basis of this identity is explained in more detail:
Zazen is not "step-by-step meditation". Rather it is simply the easy and pleasant practice of a Buddha, the realization of the Buddha's Wisdom. The Truth appears, there being no delusion. If you understand this, you are completely free, like a dragon that has obtained water or a tiger that reclines on a mountain. The supreme Law will then appear of itself, and you will be free of weariness and confusion.
The "oneness of practice-enlightenment" was also a point stressed in the Bend?wa ( "A Talk on the Endeavor of the Path") of 1231:
Thinking that practice and enlightenment are not one is no more than a view that is outside the Way. In buddha-dharma [i.e. Buddhism], practice and enlightenment are one and the same. Because it is the practice of enlightenment, a beginner's wholehearted practice of the Way is exactly the totality of original enlightenment. For this reason, in conveying the essential attitude for practice, it is taught not to wait for enlightenment outside practice.
For D?gen, Buddha-nature or Bussh? () is the nature of reality and all Being. In the Sh?b?genz?, D?gen writes that "whole-being is the Buddha-nature" and that even inanimate things (grass, trees, etc.) are an expression of Buddha-nature. He rejected any view that saw Buddha-nature as a permanent, substantial inner self or ground. D?gen held that Buddha-nature was "vast emptiness", "the world of becoming" and that "impermanence is in itself Buddha-nature". According to D?gen:
Therefore, the very impermanency of grass and tree, thicket and forest is the Buddha nature. The very impermanency of men and things, body and mind, is the Buddha nature. Nature and lands, mountains and rivers, are impermanent because they are the Buddha nature. Supreme and complete enlightenment, because it is impermanent, is the Buddha nature.
D?gen's conception of Time-Being (Uji, ) is an essential element of his metaphysics in the Sh?b?genz?. According to the traditional interpretation, "Uji" here means time itself is being, and all being is time."Uji is all the changing and dynamic activities that exist as the flow of becoming, all beings in the entire world are time. The two terms are thus spoken of concurrently to emphasize that the things are not to be viewed as separate concepts. Moreover, the aim is to not abstract time and being as rational concepts. This view has been developed by scholars such as Steven Heine,Joan Stambaugh and others and has served as a motivation to compare D?gen's work to that of Martin Heidegger's "Dasein". Recently, however, Rein Raud has argued that this view is not correct and that D?gen asserts that all existence is momentary, showing that such a reading would make quite a few of the rather cryptic passages in the Sh?b?genz? quite lucid.
Another essential element of D?gen's 'performative' metaphysics is his conception of Perfect expression (D?toku, ). "While a radically critical view on language as soteriologically inefficient, if not positively harmful, is what Zen Buddhism is famous for," it[clarification needed] can be argued "'within the framework of a rational theory of language, against an obscurantist interpretation of Zen that time and again invokes experience.'" D?gen distinguishes two types of language: monji , the first, - after Ernst Cassirer - "discursive type that constantly structures our experiences and--more fundamentally--in fact produces the world we experience in the first place"; and d?toku , the second, "presentative type, which takes a holistic stance and establishes the totality of significations through a texture of relations.". As Döll points out, "It is this second type, as Müller holds, that allows for a positive view of language even from the radically skeptical perspective of D?gen's brand of Zen Buddhism."
D?gen was sometimes critical of the Rinzai school for their formulaic and intellectual koan practice (such as the practice of the Shiryoken or "Four Discernments") as well as for their disregard for the sutras:
Recently in the great Sung dynasty of China there are many who call themselves "Zen masters". They do not know the length and breadth of the Buddha-Dharma. They have heard and seen but little. They memorize two or three sayings of Lin Chi and Yun Men and think this is the whole way of the Buddha-Dharma. If the Dharma of the Buddha could be condensed in two or three sayings of Lin Chi and Yun Men, it would not have been transmitted to the present day. One can hardly say that Lin Chi and Yun Men are the Venerable ones of the Buddha-Dharma.
D?gen was also very critical of the Japanese Daruma school of Dainichi N?nin.
Dogen's perspective of virtue is discussed in the Sh?b?genz? text as something to be practiced inwardly so that it will manifest itself on the outside. In other words, virtue is something that is both internal and external in the sense that one can practice internal good dispositions and also the expression of these good dispositions.
While it was customary for Buddhist works to be written in Chinese, D?gen often wrote in Japanese, conveying the essence of his thought in a style that was at once concise, compelling, and inspiring. A master stylist, D?gen is noted not only for his prose, but also for his poetry (in Japanese waka style and various Chinese styles). D?gen's use of language is unconventional by any measure. According to D?gen scholar Steven Heine: "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".
D?gen's masterpiece is the Sh?b?genz?, talks and writings collected together in ninety-five fascicles. The topics range from monastic practice, to the equality of women and men, to the philosophy of language, being, and time. In the work, as in his own life, D?gen emphasized the absolute primacy of shikantaza and the inseparability of practice and enlightenment.
D?gen also compiled a collection of 301 koans in Chinese without commentaries added. Often called the Shinji Sh?b?genz? (shinji: "original or true characters" and sh?b?genz?, variously translated as "the right-dharma-eye treasury" or "Treasury of the Eye of the True Dharma"). The collection is also known as the Sh?b?genz? Sanbyakusoku (The Three Hundred Verse Sh?b?genz?") and the Mana Sh?b?genz?, where mana is an alternative reading of shinji. The exact date the book was written is in dispute but Nishijima believes that Dogen may well have begun compiling the koan collection before his trip to China. Although these stories are commonly referred to as k?ans, D?gen referred to them as kosoku (ancestral criteria) or innen (circumstances and causes or results, of a story). The word k?an for Dogen meant "absolute reality" or the "universal Dharma".
Lectures that D?gen gave to his monks at his monastery, Eihei-ji, were compiled under the title Eihei K?roku, also known as D?gen Osh? K?roku (The Extensive Record of Teacher D?gen's Sayings) in ten volumes. The sermons, lectures, sayings and poetry were compiled shortly after D?gen's death by his main disciples, Koun Ej? (?, 1198-1280), Senne, and Gien. There are three different editions of this text: the Rinn?-ji text from 1598, a popular version printed in 1672, and a version discovered at Eihei-ji in 1937, which, although undated, is believed to be the oldest extant version. Another collection of his talks is the Sh?b?genz? Zuimonki (Gleanings from Master D?gen's Sayings) in six volumes. These are talks that D?gen gave to his leading disciple, Ej?, who became D?gen's disciple in 1234. The talks were recorded and edited by Ej?.
The earliest work by D?gen is the H?koj?ki (Memoirs of the H?ky? Period). This one volume work is a collection of questions and answers between D?gen and his Chinese teacher, Ti?ntóng Rújìng (?; Japanese: Tend? Nyoj?, 1162-1228). The work was discovered among D?gen's papers by Ej? in 1253, just three months after D?gen's death.
Other notable writings of D?gen are:
The concept of oneness of practice-enlightenment is considered so fundamental to D?gen's variety of Zen -- and, consequently, to the S?t? school as a whole -- that it formed the basis for the work Shush?-gi (), which was compiled in 1890 by Takiya Takush? (?) of Eihei-ji and Azegami Baisen (?) of S?ji-ji as an introductory and prescriptive abstract of D?gen's massive work, the Sh?b?genz? ("Treasury of the Eye of the True Dharma").
Though Dogen emphasised the importance of the correct transmission of the Buddha dharma, as guaranteed by the line of transmission from Shakyamuni, his own transmission became problematic in the third generation. In 1267 Ej? retired as Abbot of Eihei-ji, giving way to Gikai, who was already favored by D?gen. Gikai introduced esoteric elements into the practice. Opposition arose, and in 1272 Ej? resumed the position of abbot. Following Ej?'s death in 1280, Gikai became abbot again, strengthened by the support of the military for magical practices. Opposition arose again, and Gikai was forced to leave Eihei-ji. He was succeeded by Gien, who was first trained in the Daruma-school of N?nin. His supporters designated him as the third abbot, rejecting the legitimacy of Gien.
Jakuen, a student of Rujing, who traced his lineage "directly back the Zen of the Song period", established H?ky?-ji, where a strict style of Zen was practised. Students of his played a role in the conflict between Giin and Gikai.
A notable successor of Dogen was Keizan (; 1268-1325), founder of S?ji-ji Temple and author of the Record of the Transmission of Light ( Denk?roku), which traces the succession of Zen masters from Siddh?rtha Gautama up to Keizan's own day. Together, D?gen and Keizan are regarded as the founders of the S?t? school in Japan.