Dōgen Kigen, Zenji

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Dōgen Kigen, Zenji (1200–53). Founder of the Sōtō Zen school in Japan and a major figure in Japanese intellectual history. He entered the Mount Hiei Tendai Shū monastery at the age of 13. Here he was assailed by ‘the Great Doubt’ (see dai-funshi): if, as the sūtras maintain, all beings are endowed with the buddha-nature, why is such strenuous effort and training necessary to attain enlightenment? He left and studied Zen under Eisai (1141–1215), but went to Sung China in 1223 for further study. There he became a disciple of Jü-ching (Rujing) (1163–1268) of Tʾien-tʾung-ssu, attaining enlightenment by realizing the truth of ‘Mind and body dropped off; dropped off mind and body’. In 1227 he returned to Japan and embarked on a mission to spread Zen, but, frustrated in his plans because of oppositions from various quarters, he retreated to present-day Fukui Prefecture where he founded Eihei-ji. He devoted his life to the training of his disciples and the writing of his major work, The Treasury of the Eye of True Dharma (Shōbōgenzō) in ninety-five chapters (of which Genjō-Kōan is an especially revered part). His sayings are collected in Eihei Kōroku, and his rules of discipline for the community are in Eihei Shingi. His introduction to zazen is in Fukan Zazengi. He was given the posthumous name and title of Busshōdento Kokushi in 1854, and of Jōyō Daishi in 1879.

Dogen is recognized as a towering figure in the development of Zen. His name is linked especially to the practice of zazen—indeed, his way is known as exactly that, shikan taza, zazen alone.

Dogen did not deny the importance of religious ritual or devotion to Buddhas and bodhisattvas—indeed, he said the opposite: without a proper sense of gratitude and reverence, it is impossible to develop the buddha-mind. The truth is that in religion, ritual, and ethics, provided these are rooted in zazen, one is always in the midst of realizing the one buddha-nature (bussho; śūnyatā; tathāgata-garbha). This is most profoundly worked out in Dogen, who made a simple but all-important shift from the formula he inherited, and thereby solved ‘the Great Doubt’. Whereas it had been said that all things have the buddha-nature, he stated that all things are the buddha-nature. There is nothing to do but realize what you already are—and always have been. Dogen thus denied the reality of the experience of time, since there never can be a before or after in that which is without exception the same buddha-nature: being is time and time is being (uji). In all things and in all experiences, the buddha-nature can be realized, especially by not trying to realize it.