Eihei Dogen: Mystical Realist
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Eihei Dogen, the founder of the Japanese branch of the Soto Zen Buddhist school, is considered one of the world's most remarkable religious philosophers. Eihei Dogen: Mystical Realist is a comprehensive introduction to the genius of this brilliant thinker. This thirteenth-century figure has much to teach us all and the questions that drove him have always been at the heart of Buddhist practice.
At the age of seven, in 1207, Dogen lost his mother, who at her death earnestly asked him to become a monastic to seek the truth of Buddhism. We are told that in the midst of profound grief, Dogen experienced the impermanence of all things as he watched the incense smoke ascending at his mother's funeral service. This left an indelible impression upon the young Dogen; later, he would emphasize time and again the intimate relationship between the desire for enlightenment and the awareness of impermanence. His way of life would not be a sentimental flight from, but a compassionate understanding of, the intolerable reality of existence.
At age 13, Dogen received ordination at Mt. Hiei. And yet, a question arose: "As I study both the exoteric and the esoteric schools of Buddhism, they maintain that human beings are endowed with Dharma-nature by birth. If this is the case, why did the buddhas of all ages - undoubtedly in possession of enlightenment - find it necessary to seek enlightenment and engage in spiritual practice?" When it became clear that no one on Mt. Hiei could give a satisfactory answer to this spiritual problem, he sought elsewhere, eventually making the treacherous journey to China. This was the true beginning of a life of relentless questioning, practice, and teaching - an immensely inspiring contribution to the Buddhadharma.
As you might imagine, a book as ambitious as Eihei Dogen: Mystical Realist has to be both academically rigorous and eminently readable to succeed. Professor Hee-Jim Kim's work is indeed both.
concerned with the historical forces within which Dßgen’s thought evolved, but also with the structure of his experience and thought with its own subtle logic. While thought is not reducible to history, it cannot be isolated from it either—it is radically conditioned and relative to history at its core. Even the phenomenology of emptiness, however ahistorical one may allege it to be, has a history. Thus, the history of any religious thought must do full justice to the fact that irreducible
images, and symbols chosen from an ordinary context are used and function quite extraordinarily in 88 ❙ eihei do–gen: mystical realist the realm of enlightenment. Words are no longer things that the intellect manipulates abstractly and impersonally, but rather, things that work intimately in the existential metabolism of one who uses them philosophically and religiously in a special manner and with a special attitude. They are no longer mere means or symbols that represent realities other
cosmic resonance (kannß-dßkß) is present. It is neither conferred by the Buddhas and bodhisattvas, nor is it acquired by one’s own effort. Because the thought of enlightenment is awakened through cosmic resonance, it is not spontaneously generated.60 Things, events, and beings of the universe were the expressions (setsu) of mind without exception.61 Dßgen further discussed the classical Buddhist statement, “The triple world is mind-only; there is no dharma other than the mind. Mind, Buddha, and
ever grateful to my wife Jung-Sun, for her support, care, and patience. Hee-Jin Kim Eugene, Oregon Winter 2004 Foreword to the Previous Edition by Robert Aitken _ the way of dogen zenji ee-Jin Kim’s Dßgen Kigen—Mystical Realist [as the first edition was titled] was the first comprehensive study in English of Dßgen Zenji’s writings, and for the past twelve years, it has served as the principal English language reference for those Dßgen scholars who work from his thirteenth-century Japanese, and
nonbeing, co-existed in oneness and interfusion.132 Mutual penetration referred to the simultaneous origination of all things and events that interpenetrated one another in their myriad realms and dimensions. As Chang explains, different “entities” of different realms (e.g., water as a liquid, H2O, an aggregate of molecules, etc.) penetrate into and contain one another without the slightest hindrance and thus arise simultaneously.133 From this underlying logical basis, traditional Hua-yen