Right Understanding

Dōgen (1200-1253) who first brought Soto Zen to Japan initiates a significant change of course in the Zen tradition when, from within that tradition, he opposes the radically anti-doctrinal posture of Zen's paradigmatic figures such as Bodhidharma, Hui-neng, Lin-chi, and Ta-hui. Even today, Dōgen 's writings are unique in the Zen tradition for the extent to which they take seriously such traditional matters as doctrine, language, scripture, and faith. In chapter after chapter of the Shōbōgenzō, an adamant stand is taken: sutras are not just "names and forms" that must be rejected in order to attain authentic practice and enlightenment. On the contrary, to reject the sutras is to reject the Buddha's proclamation of Dharma. For Dōgen, the spoken Dharma is as essential as the "wordless Dharma" and, in fact, is inseparable from it. Similarly, for Dōgen, the practice of zazen is not, as some of the great Chinese Ch'an masters had been teaching, a ritualized behavior that one must leave behind in the quest for enlightened spontaneity. Failure to practice zazen is failure to practice the Buddha Way. Zazen is not an ordinary activity; it is handed down from Buddhas and Patriarchs as the right way to practice enlightenment.