United in Koan

 United in Koan For those of us who have come to love and revere Master Ehei Dogen (1200-1253) it can be disturbing when we come across the more polemic parts of his writings. In the essay  Sansuigyo (p. 173) for example he calls a large group of fellow Zen monks in China “dogs” and “more stupid than animals”. Their "offence" which so upset Dogen was the fact that they maintained that certain stories from the Zen tradition called  koan  were irrational and not to be approached through words or reasoning. In another essay called Jisho-Zanmai Dogen describes over several pages the fruitless attempts of another Chinese Zen monk called Soko to trick various Zen masters into conferring on him the rank of a Zen teacher. Throughout this text, Dogen again uses strong and personal languages, describing Soko as heedless, ignorant, and greedy: “We must say that he is without profound insight, and without the makings of truth. He is an extreme case of negligence in practice. Through gr

"Genjō Kōan" - What does that actually mean?

 Although I mentioned in the previous entry that the translators of Genjō Kōan usually agree on the meaning of Dōgen’s words, this is not the case for the very title of the essay. My three primary translators, Okumura (2010), Nishijima and Cross (1994) and Tanahashi (2013) all present quite different renderings of the title. The Sino-Japanese original of the expression Genjō Kōan is usually given as 現成公案. The first part – Genjō , 現成 – is translated as “to manifest”, “(self-) evident” or “(self)-existing” in Soothills Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms. This part is not controversial amongst the translators who render it as “reality” (Okumura), “realized” (Nishijima and Cross”) and “actualize” (Tanahashi). The problem lies in the second part of the expression, the word Kōan - 公案. According to Soothill, a Kōan was a “dossier”, “case record” or a “public law”, in other words a legislatorial term in imperial China which initially had no connection with Buddhism. In a wider sense Kōan

Ehei Dōgen’s Genjō Kōan

 After having finished our in-depth discussion of Ehei Dōgen’s “Universal Instruction to the practice of zazen” – Fukan Zazengi – and a refreshing excursion into the life and verse of Japan’s famous 19th century Zen poet Ryōkan, the Wednesday study group is now returning to another masterpiece of the illustrious 13th century founder of our school of Sōtō Zen. Genjō Kōan , together with Fukan Zazengi , is Dōgen’s most important essay. Whilst Fukan Zazenig is a practical guide to silent seated meditation – zazen -, Genjō Kōan is what in today’s language would be called a philosophical treatise on the metaphysics of enlightenment. Dōgen wrote Genjō Kōan in 1233 shortly after he had managed to establish his first own temple in the vicinity of the capital Kyoto. Dōgen dedicated the text to an otherwise unknown lay person Yo Koshu of Chinzei from modern day Kyushu. It is noteworthy that Dōgen, who strongly emphasised the importance of zazen not only in Fukan Zazengi , but also in many

Reluctant Guru and Spiritual Anarchist - How “Zen” was Krishnamurti?

 Over two weeks we had the opportunity to discuss the very influential 20th century spiritual teacher Jiddu Krishnamurti in the Zeninlondon Wednesday evening discussion group. One of our regulars has even listened to Krishnamurti in person when he was still alive in the 1980s. Kirshnamurti’s legacy now lives on through several books and many videos on YouTube, a number of which we looked at during our sessions. As Westerners, we tend to see more or less the same type of wisdom in all kinds of oriental spiritual teachings. It is therefore not surprising to spot several real or apparent similarities between Krishnamurti’s books and lectures and the tradition of Zen Buddhism. Looking at kindred and yet different schools of thought allows us to deepen our understanding of Zen Buddhism by recognising similarities, but also differences. Jiddu Krishnamurti has an amazing biography (Wikipedia, Butler-Bowdon, p. 153). He was born around 1895 in Madras to Brahmin parents. At the age of 15, Krish

Meditation as a Sacrament - Master Dōgen’s Fukan Zazengi

 Master Dōgen’s Fukan Zazengi is probably the best introduction to the practice of Zen meditation that one can find. Written almost 900 years ago in Japan following Dōgen’s study tour to China, it is timelessly concise. Credit to several modern translators and commentators, this text is easily accessible to those seeking to learn about authentic Zen practice in the 21st century. The title Fukan Zazengi - 普勸坐禪儀 – literally means “Universally recommended instructions for zazen” (Sōtō Zen Text Project, p. 69). And it is just that: an almost IKEA-style step-by-step manual on how take the correct posture and practice Zen meditation. Zazen - 坐禪 – means “to sit” ( za - 坐) and “meditation” ( zen - 禪). So, zazen is usually understood as “seated meditation”. The word zen (禪) has been imported as chan into Chinese from the Sanskrit dhyāna where it describes a practice of concentration. Zen is the Japanese rendering of the Chinese chan which eventually become the key term of the Chan or

Fukan Zazengi - Universally Recommended Instructions for Zazen

 The Wednesday evening study group has now started to discuss Master Dōgen's Fukan Zazengi . He wrote this short General Instruction for the Practice of Zazen shortly after he returned from China to Japan in around 1228. Fukan Zazengi remains the standard text for teaching Zazen in all groups belonging to the Sōtō family of Zen. It is concise, clear and practical. Any introduction to the practice of zazen you can come across is likely to be a variation of Fukan Zazengi . In the study group we are reading Dōgen's original words. But we are of course also heavily relying on existing translations. Below, I am sharing the excellent translation done by the Sōtō Zen Text Project and published in the booklet Sōtō Zen: An Introduction to Zazen by Sotoshu Shumucho, Tokyo, 2002. The details will be discussed in the study group. And I am planning to publish a summary of those discussions at some point. But for now only one little comment: Dōgen talks about the full- or half-lotus pos

Riding the Turtle of Wisdom - The Themes of the Sandokai

 This is my final piece on the Sandokai. It is the summary of 16 separate blog entries of verse-by-verse and character-by-character discussions of the poem published between 16 June and 5 October 2020. It also reflects the discussions and joy we had in the “Old Street” study group at our Wednesday evening sessions after zazen. Without the support and enthusiasm of regulars of the study group, this series would not have been possible. Although pretty much everything that I can say has been said in the sixteen previous entries, I still feel the need for a summary. I want to gather the various strings picked up when discussing individual verses in one place and present them in an overview of the poem as a whole. As I progressed through the text and the strange characters, my growing understanding of earlier verses naturally informed my approach towards the ones at the end of the poem. And in the same way the later verses sometime opened up a new perspective on the earlier ones. Without wa