Showing posts from June, 2021

"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