Shobogenzo Study Group?

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  • disastermouse

    Shobogenzo Study Group?

    Hey all,

    I just ordered the 4-book Nijishima/Cross translation from ZMM...and I was talking about it with Steph tonight....

    Maybe we should have a Shobogenzo study group?

    Chet
  • Stephanie

    #2
    Re: Shobogenzo Study Group?

    Yeah, I told Chet last night that Treeleaf not having a Shobogenzo study group would be sorta like a Protestant church not having a Bible study group. The Shobogenzo is so central in our lineage, and it's the most important "practice text" (one that actually informs practice and lends itself to a deepening of practice-based understanding) I've encountered.

    I think it would be cool if we had a Shobogenzo forum with a thread/topic dedicated to each of the fascicles (I forget how many there are--90?). That way it wouldn't be time-based and people could comment and discuss each fascicle as it was encountered, and re-encountered (the Shobogenzo requires many return visits).

    I've been wanting to read the entire Shobogenzo for a while, and this would be a great resource to have!

    Comment

    • Jundo
      Treeleaf Founder and Priest
      • Apr 2006
      • 39454

      #3
      Re: Shobogenzo Study Group?

      Originally posted by disastermouse
      Hey all,

      I just ordered the 4-book Nijishima/Cross translation from ZMM...and I was talking about it with Steph tonight....

      Maybe we should have a Shobogenzo study group?

      Chet
      Hi Chet and Steph,

      I think that is wonderful.

      I do usually recommend a couple of things for folks who want to dive headlong into the thick and thorny maze which is Shobogenzo (not to be confused with Dogen's Shobogenzo-Zuimonki, which we are currently reading in the bookclub viewforum.php?f=2 )

      Before reading and really digging Dogen, the best intro is to read the two Dr. Kim books (He wrote them a few years apart, and changed interpretation slightly over the years just a drop ) ... Each can be rather heavy going at points, but worth it.

      http://www.amazon.com/Eihei-Dogen-Mysti ... 011&sr=8-3

      http://www.amazon.com/Dogen-Meditation- ... gy_b_img_b

      Also, after reading those ... I strongly recommend... Visions of Awakening Space and Time: Dogen and the Lotus Sutra (Paperback) by Taigen Dan Leighton (Author) ... about how Dogen wild-ed and bent the already wild and bent Lotus Sutra into something even more bent and wild ...

      http://www.amazon.com/Lotus-Sutra-Conte ... gy_b_img_b

      You probably want to read a good translation of the Lotus Sutra first, to see the "tune" that Dogen was working with. This by Reeves is very readable and a fantastic tale, right up there with "Alice in Wonderland" and such ...

      http://www.amazon.com/Lotus-Sutra-Conte ... 0861715713

      In fact, you might start with Taigen and the Lotus Sutra --before-- reading Dr. Kim, as Taigen is short and easier going to read. ).

      Nishijima Roshi also has a helpful short booklet on "Understanding the Shobogenzo", although in his later years he has been too too enthusiastic (in my view) about trying to place each sentence of Shobogenzo, in a nearly one to one correspondence, into each of the four categories of view that Nishijima Roshi suggests.

      http://www.dogensangha.org/articles.htm#Understanding

      In my own "in a nutshell" description of how to approach Shobogenzo, which you may have heard me say before ... I often describe Dogen as a Jazzman, bending and re-livening the "standard tunes" of Zen Buddhist philosophy. He is the Coltrane or Miles Davis of the Dharma ... Sometimes, with Dogen, it is not the "point" he is trying to make through reasoned words, but "the sound, man, the feeling of the music" ...

      I often describe Dogen as a rule bending, transgressing Jazz musician, a Dharmic Miles Davis who was working with the basic "standard" tunes of Hongzhi, the Five Ranks and the rest of the Soto tradition of his day. Miles (like Dogen) syncopates time, merges and splits notes, bends phrasing, makes harmonious what was disharmony and disharmonious where there was harmony (and that's the Miles' Harmony!). But the thing about appreciating Miles is that (1) by doing so, Miles makes his own musical expression the same but different from the standards it is based upon (he captures truths in ways that nobody could before ... and makes new "truths" in the process ... but you also should not forget that that "standard" tune is in there too, and keeps popping up as the theme); (2) you can't analyze it too much in words, and just need to listen or play along.

      Hongzhi was like a "square" Irving Berlin who wrote a lovely standard melody like "Blue Skies", and Mile Davis the mad genius who bent that into something the same but all new ...

      The Shobogenzo, for example, is a rather thick and thorny maze. But once Dogen's basic ways of expression and thinking (and "non-thinking") are understood, one can read the entirety with a bit more ease (though never easy ... between you and me, as Dogen, the wild Jazz musician, may even have sometimes let the notes and feeling lead him where they would, and may not have been always quite sure where the music was taking him -- or what he himself "meant" -- each and every moment in his writing/playing! 8) But, like Miles or Coltrane ... all great stuff, man. ).
      But there are a couple of other things to keep in mind about Dogen too. One is from that last point: Like any Jazz musician lost in following just riffing, I think there are many passage where even Dogen did not know where the "sound" had carried him, what it "meant". For some reason, we assume that every word has to "mean" something, as opposed to merely expressing a feeling of Truth. I think Dogen really lost himself in a musical corner from time to time.

      So, for that reason, it is important to approach Dogen, sometimes, as one would approach T.S. Eliot's The Waste land or James Joyce's Ulysses . Here is what some professor wrote of understanding The Waste Land ...

      We cannot understand the poem without knowing what it meant to its author, but we must also assume that what the poem meant to its author will not be its meaning. The notes to The Waste Land are, by the logic of Eliot's philosophical critique of interpretation, simply another riddle--and not a separate one to be solved. They are, we might say, the poem's way of treating itself as a reflex, a "something not intended as a sign," a gesture whose full significance it is impossible, by virtue of the nature of gestures, for the gesturer to explain."... The Waste Land appears to be a poem designed to make trouble for the conceptual mechanics not just of ordinary reading (for what poem does not try to disrupt those mechanics?) but of literary reading. For insofar as reading a piece of writing as literature is understood to mean reading it for its style, Eliot's poem eludes a literary grasp.

      From Discovering Modernism: T.S. Eliot and His Context. Oxford University Press, 1987
      That does not mean that diving into Shobogenzo ... like developing an ear for John Coltrane or Eliot ... ain't worth every minute! I am rereading Shobogenzo cover to cover right now (my third time, not including bits and pieces readings). 8)

      Gassho, J
      ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

      Comment

      • Shohei
        Member
        • Oct 2007
        • 2854

        #4
        Re: Shobogenzo Study Group?

        Neat-o!
        Count me in too please!

        Gassho
        Shohei

        Comment

        • wulfd87
          Member
          • Apr 2010
          • 15

          #5
          Re: Shobogenzo Study Group?

          I've heard about Shobogenzo and read a little about in some other books. Where is the best place to go to get, if not all four, at least the first two? I've been able to find what I believe to be Shobogenzo at Borders.com and at Barnes and Nobles, but not sure if these are the best ones.

          Gassho
          -David

          Comment

          • Jen
            Member
            • Feb 2008
            • 166

            #6
            Re: Shobogenzo Study Group?

            I would also like to chime in saying I like this idea!

            If for whatever reason you cannot get your hands on a physical copy of the Nishijima/Cross translation, it is available online via the Numata Center:
            http://www.numatacenter.com/default.aspx?MPID=81

            There is also the Shasta Abbey version online:
            http://www.shastaabbey.org/shobogenzo1.htm

            I do not know the relative differences between the two, just providing links for those who may need them

            Gassho,
            Joshin
            Joshin
            Not all those that wander are lost- JRR Tolkien

            Comment

            • chicanobudista
              Member
              • Mar 2008
              • 864

              #7
              Re: Shobogenzo Study Group?

              I am hip to this.
              paz,
              Erik


              Flor de Nopal Sangha

              Comment

              • wulfd87
                Member
                • Apr 2010
                • 15

                #8
                Re: Shobogenzo Study Group?

                Originally posted by Jen
                I would also like to chime in saying I like this idea!

                If for whatever reason you cannot get your hands on a physical copy of the Nishijima/Cross translation, it is available online via the Numata Center:
                http://www.numatacenter.com/default.aspx?MPID=81

                There is also the Shasta Abbey version online:
                http://www.shastaabbey.org/shobogenzo1.htm

                I do not know the relative differences between the two, just providing links for those who may need them

                Gassho,
                Joshin

                Thanks for the links, Jen. Now that I have the free copies (I'm such a tight wad :P ), you can count me in as well. 8)

                Gassho,
                David

                Comment

                • Stephanie

                  #9
                  Re: Shobogenzo Study Group?

                  Jundo,

                  I like the comparison of Dogen to a jazz musician a lot (though I'm not a jazz fan :wink: ). That is exactly why I have found reading from the Shobogenzo to be helpful: it seems to speak more directly to the "right brain" just as music, visual art, or good poetry does.

                  I think why the Shobogenzo seems so difficult at first is not that it is intellectually complex, but the opposite. It resists intellectual analysis at every turn. Which is why I'm not really a fan of Nishijima's attempt to utilize an intellectual system to interpret Dogen. It makes me think of William Blake and his drawings and poetry depicting Urizen, the dictatorial force of the intellect that circumscribes everything within the measurements of its compass. And thus misunderstands or misses everything that doesn't fit within the measurements.

                  When I first read Dogen, it was like reading gibberish. It made no sense to me at all, and I just assumed it was because it was too "philosophical," too complex. But what I've found over the years as I've gone back to some of these texts that I could not make heads nor tails of at first is that, as I've continued to sit, the texts have opened to me like flowers. Now things I once read that made no sense make perfect sense. And not because I've read some other analysis that made sense of it. But because over the years, practice has 'opened the doors of perception' such that I can understand things I encounter that cannot be understood through reason.

                  Dogen makes so much sense I can't think of any way to put it other than how he put it. (Though some of his writings still defy my ability to understand them; I look forward to experiencing more of the Shobogenzo opening itself up to me.) He uses imagery and metaphor that convey how it feels to experience the world through the "eyes of zazen." Intellectual analysis misses the point by a thousand miles! I'm not saying that there's no place for it, just that it's extra--not necessary. Dogen wrote poetry--"played jazz"--not calculus.

                  Which is why I think a group discussion would be great--no "learning of authoritative interpretations," but a sharing of experience, a "riffing" off the topic, "noodling," seeing what Dogen's living language brings to life inside of us.

                  Gassho,

                  Stephanie

                  P. S. from William Blake's Book of Urizen:

                  Lo, a shadow of horror is risen
                  In Eternity! Unknown, unprolific,
                  Self-clos'd, all-repelling: what demon
                  Hath form'd this abominable void,
                  This soul-shudd'ring vacuum? Some said
                  "It is Urizen." But unknown, abstracted,
                  Brooding, secret, the dark power hid.

                  Times on times he divided and measur'd
                  Space by space in his ninefold darkness,
                  Unseen, unknown; changes appear'd
                  Like desolate mountains, rifted furious
                  By the black winds of perturbation.

                  For he strove in battles dire,
                  In unseen conflictions with shapes
                  Bred from his forsaken wilderness
                  Of beast, bird, fish, serpent and element,
                  Combustion, blast, vapour and cloud.

                  Dark, revolving in silent activity:
                  Unseen in tormenting passions:
                  An activity unknown and horrible,
                  A self-contemplating shadow,
                  In enormous labours occupied.

                  But Eternals beheld his vast forests;
                  Ages on ages he lay, clos'd, unknown,
                  Brooding shut in the deep; all avoid
                  The petrific, abominable chaos.

                  ...

                  And Urizen (so his eternal name)
                  His prolific delight obscur'd more & more
                  In dark secresy, hiding in surgeing
                  Sulphureous fluid his phantasies.
                  The Eternal Prophet heav'd the dark bellows,
                  And turn'd restless the tongs; and the hammer
                  Incessant beat; forging chains new & new,
                  Numb'ring with links hours, days & years,

                  The Eternal mind bounded began to roll
                  Eddies of wrath ceaseless round & round,
                  And the sulphureous foam surgeing thick
                  Settled, a lake, bright, & shining clear:
                  White as the snow on the mountains cold.

                  Forgetfulness, dumbness, necessity!
                  In chains of the mind locked up,
                  Like fetters of ice shrinking together,
                  Disorganiz'd, rent from Eternity,
                  Los beat on his fetters of iron;
                  And heated his furnaces, & pour'd
                  Iron sodor and sodor of brass.

                  Restless turn'd the Immortal inchain'd
                  Heaving dolorous! Anguish'd unbearable;
                  Till a roof, shaggy wild, inclos'd
                  In an orb, his fountain of thought.

                  In a horrible, dreamful slumber,
                  Like the linked infernal chain;
                  A vast Spine writh'd in torment
                  Upon the winds; shooting pain'd
                  Ribs, like a bending cavern,
                  And bones of solidness, froze
                  Over all his nerves of joy.
                  And a first Age passed over,
                  And a state of dismal woe.

                  Comment

                  • Shogen
                    Member
                    • Dec 2008
                    • 301

                    #10
                    Re: Shobogenzo Study Group?

                    Hi Chet and Stephanie
                    A truly great suggestion. I have my copies and look forward to the study. Gassho Shogen

                    Comment

                    • Jundo
                      Treeleaf Founder and Priest
                      • Apr 2006
                      • 39454

                      #11
                      Re: Shobogenzo Study Group?

                      Originally posted by Stephanie

                      I think why the Shobogenzo seems so difficult at first is not that it is intellectually complex, but the opposite. It resists intellectual analysis at every turn.

                      ... He uses imagery and metaphor that convey how it feels to experience the world through the "eyes of zazen." Intellectual analysis misses the point by a thousand miles! I'm not saying that there's no place for it, just that it's extra--not necessary. Dogen wrote poetry--"played jazz"--not calculus.

                      Yes, that is so ... but not yes too. (Which is a kind of example of Dogenesque "Zen logic" right there!)

                      Even the great Jazz musicians I mentioned, like Miles and Coltrane, were usually following pretty "logical" forms and patterns of "getting where they were going", which most other good musicians can follow and which stayed within certain musical rules. Musicologists can follow it all with almost mathematical precision. (Only the radical "Free Jazz" guys like Ornette Coleman, who would stand on stage blowing wildly into the wrong end of the trumpet, really smashed the rules ... to the point of cacophony) ... Even Coltrane, when he went "free", usually was grounded in good musicianship and "chord progressions" and was working from that (sometimes by resisting the standard progressions).

                      There really are a lot of parallels to different "players" in the Zen world ... including the old "Free Jazz" Zen teachers who would just bang on the table or draw circles in the air (although even those guy tended to follow some fairly rigid rules for that ... a subject for another day).

                      MY POINT (BEFORE I LOSE MY MUSICAL TRAIN OF THOUGHT MYSELF) IS THAT Dogen was a very highly educated, intellectual, "head like a library of old Zen/Buddhist books", surprisingly conservative (as were most Zen teachers, in fact) guy who was highly trained and conversant in the "classics" and was working from them (the Shobogenzo is wall to wall references and quotes from Sutras, old Koans, obscure but important bits of Tendai Buddhist teachings, old poems, Confucian classics, and the like).

                      There --IS-- a logic to Dogen most of the time, although a Zenny "Anti-logic logic" ... Dogen-Think-Not Thinking, a kind of "Alice in Wonderland" logic sometimes. It is more than simple "sound for sound's sake" expression or trying to abandon "intellectual analysis" at every turn. Dogen wanted to be understood on all levels. Thus (as in listening to Jazz), it is --both-- a matter of letting the sound and feeling wash over one, --and-- having some musical understanding of where the musician was "coming from" what he was "trying to do" and how he "got there". (In a sense, Jazz was always music by musicians playing for other musicians who were familiar with the chords).

                      Here are just a few examples of "Dogen-logic", very different from ordinary logic while yet faithful to classic Mahayana perspectives ...

                      A = Buddha Enlightenment B = Flowers in the sky (a classic Zen reference to delusion)

                      A is A, B is B ... and A is not B. (Enlightenment is not delusion, an ancient Buddhist idea)

                      But A is B. A is also C. ... (a variation on the original theme, much as stodgy ol' Nagarjuna might play)

                      And, in fact, A is so much A that A is not A, and was merely B all along.

                      We might say that A is just ?. B is merely


                      And that just makes A into Super-Aness at each turn, B into Be Bee BB "To be or not to be" "Be my love" "B is for Buddha" ... etc. etc.

                      Smell them luscious Flowers in the Sky! That's purely A through and through, though not.
                      For that reason, the truth is that Dogen was not trying to defy "intellectual analysis" or "classical Buddhist/Zen philosophy", so much as find his own language and way to express it (in later years, represented by his Eihei Koroku, he actually seems to have abandoned much of the "musical experiment" that was the Shobogenzo, and gone back to being a pretty classical musician playing the "old Zen standards" in the usual way ... though never without his special touch). So, the book I recommended by Taigen Dan Leighton (coupled with a reading of the Lotus Sutra) ... and the Dr. Kim books (though themselves hard going in parts) should not be overlooked by someone really hoping to "Grok" where that Dogen cat was coming from. 8)

                      Gassho, J
                      ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

                      Comment

                      • Shogen
                        Member
                        • Dec 2008
                        • 301

                        #12
                        Re: Shobogenzo Study Group?

                        Hi Jundo
                        Thanks for your valuable input and suggested readings.
                        Gassho Shogen

                        Comment

                        • Stephanie

                          #13
                          Re: Shobogenzo Study Group?

                          Just to clarify my position--as I respect your take on this, Jundo, and also respect that this is not a subject in which I can claim expertise--I'm not trying to say I think Dogen was being 'illogical.' Just that I'm not sure he was being 'logical' either. No doubt he was very highly educated and makes many wonderful allusions. I enjoyed reading an article I found once online (may have been linked to here) that talked about Dogen's use of puns and wordplay, which is often not understood as the references are so ancient most modern readers miss them. I appreciate that these are works produced by an enormous intellect, and that the works reflect that intellect. I don't believe Dogen was randomly throwing words around; I certainly believe that they were carefully chosen. I think it took a brilliant and logical mind to create a work that so deftly defies logic and resists being measured and locked into logical Tupperware.

                          It's just that I don't find the words to be the expression of a formula, but poetry that conveys the 'felt sense' of being in awareness. I think Nishijima's theory is brilliant, and useful to an extent, but I also think it's too easy for someone to read that and think they 'got it,' and nurture the distorted view that these amazing works, full of vivid imagery and wondrous emotion, can be plugged into a formula, the end result of which will be some sort of "correct interpretation." I think that approach kills the Shobogenzo dead. Just like we normally kill things with our brilliant intellectual analyses. I'm grateful that the Shobogenzo defied my attempts to 'conquer' it with some shiny intellectual interpretation. And I think the legions of scholars who have executed convoluted intellectual analyses of it have missed the point.

                          Comment

                          • Jundo
                            Treeleaf Founder and Priest
                            • Apr 2006
                            • 39454

                            #14
                            Re: Shobogenzo Study Group?

                            Originally posted by Stephanie
                            Just to clarify my position--as I respect your take on this, Jundo, and also respect that this is not a subject in which I can claim expertise--I'm not trying to say I think Dogen was being 'illogical.' Just that I'm not sure he was being 'logical' either. No doubt he was very highly educated and makes many wonderful allusions. I enjoyed reading an article I found once online (may have been linked to here) that talked about Dogen's use of puns and wordplay, which is often not understood as the references are so ancient most modern readers miss them. I appreciate that these are works produced by an enormous intellect, and that the works reflect that intellect. I don't believe Dogen was randomly throwing words around; I certainly believe that they were carefully chosen. I think it took a brilliant and logical mind to create a work that so deftly defies logic and resists being measured and locked into logical Tupperware.

                            It's just that I don't find the words to be the expression of a formula, but poetry that conveys the 'felt sense' of being in awareness. I think Nishijima's theory is brilliant, and useful to an extent, but I also think it's too easy for someone to read that and think they 'got it,' and nurture the distorted view that these amazing works, full of vivid imagery and wondrous emotion, can be plugged into a formula, the end result of which will be some sort of "correct interpretation." I think that approach kills the Shobogenzo dead. Just like we normally kill things with our brilliant intellectual analyses. I'm grateful that the Shobogenzo defied my attempts to 'conquer' it with some shiny intellectual interpretation. And I think the legions of scholars who have executed convoluted intellectual analyses of it have missed the point.
                            Hi Steph,

                            We are really pretty much on the same page with this. One must not fall into the trap of intellectual understanding. One must also not think that there is not some solid Buddhist philosophy behind Dogen, or no method to the madness.

                            I too think that Nishijima Roshi went overboard with his very helpful, very insightful perspective on 3 Philosophies and 1 Reality, by his trying to stuff Dogen into that almost line by line and overlooking anything that does not fit. It is much like trying to stuff all of Coltrane into 4 chords. Taigen (a Soto priest and Shikantaza freak, like me, as well as being one of the great Dogen-ologists out there) and Dr. Kim (not a scholar, but a true "music fan") really do manage to capture what Dogen was on about (although they can't follow lots of it ... parts where Dogen's reference is lost, really ambiguous, maybe even Dogen could not understand where Dogen was going). Heine's work, like "Dogen and the Koan Tradition" ( http://www.amazon.com/Dogen-Koan-Tradit ... 0791417735 ) and others like Carl Bielefeldt's "Dogen's Manuals of Zen Meditation" ( http://www.amazon.com/Dogens-Manuals-Me ... 859&sr=1-1 ) can't be overlooked either.

                            Good luck getting through Shobogenzo without some grounding in that.

                            Here is an essay available online, a part of Taigen's book. It will give you a taste ...

                            http://www.mtsource.org/articles/dogen_lotsutra.html

                            Without that kind of well rounded appreciation of where old Eihei D-man was coming from ... well, GOOD LUCK and GOOD SAILING on your trip through Shobogenzo land. 8)

                            Gassho, J
                            ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

                            Comment

                            • Stephanie

                              #15
                              Re: Shobogenzo Study Group?

                              Originally posted by Jundo
                              We are really pretty much on the same page with this.
                              Yes, I think so, as I agree fully with the following statement:

                              Originally posted by Jundo
                              One must not fall into the trap of intellectual understanding. One must also not think that there is not some solid Buddhist philosophy behind Dogen, or no method to the madness.
                              Also agree with this:

                              Originally posted by Jundo
                              I too think that Nishijima Roshi went overboard with his very helpful, very insightful perspective on 3 Philosophies and 1 Reality, by his trying to stuff Dogen into that almost line by line and overlooking anything that does not fit. It is much like trying to stuff all of Coltrane into 4 chords.
                              In conclusion,

                              Originally posted by Jundo
                              Without that kind of well rounded appreciation of where old Eihei D-man was coming from ... well, GOOD LUCK and GOOD SAILING on your trip through Shobogenzo land. 8)
                              I love a challenge. I only have Vol. 1 on my shelf right now, but once I get the other 3 and am ready to start, I'll try doing it without doing any preliminary research. If I get stuck, perhaps I will look to Messrs. Kim and Leighton for assistance

                              Gassho

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