Dogen

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(The notes below are from A. H. Almaas’s overview of this lecture.)

Watch the lecture: Dogen: The Founder of Soto Zen in Japan
Soto-Zen-Master-Dogen-Zenji

Eihei Dogen Zenji is the founder of the Soto school of Zen in Japan. It is one of the two major schools in Japan; the other one is Rinzai. Dogen found a teacher in China, with whom he had his realization, then came back to Japan and started teaching. This teaching was the beginning of the Soto Sect in his own country. Dogen lived in the 13th century.

I am talking about him mostly to introduce him to the general spiritual culture these days. He is not well known in most circles, and not understood even by most Zen practitioners. I want to introduce him because I think he has a lot to offer, many kinds of realizations and spiritual insights not common in spiritual circles, which are not only important, but many of them are relevant to our times, and also quite a corrective to the spiritualty commonly practiced these days.

I will discuss some of the teachings of Dogen that I know or understand from direct experience. For I don’t understand many things he taught, and cannot hence discuss them.I will be giving my understanding of these teachings for when it comes to Dogen there is no one common understanding of him. Furthermore, I won’t be teaching Zen or Dogen, but giving my understanding of some of his teachings.

Part of this introduction is the discussion of realizations he taught that show us the amazing potential of spirituality, to expand our spiritual horizons. There is a tendency to know one teaching or tradition and end up believing it is the only valid view or experience of reality. I want to emphasize a wider view of spiritual work.

1. Intention of This Lecture

2. Uji, Time-Being

3. One Bright Pearl

4. Genjo Koan; Actualizing the One Bright Point

5. Realization

6. Particularity

7. Impermanence is Buddha-Nature

8. Non-Thinking

9. Delusion and Enlightenment

See Other A. H. Almaas Lecture Series Videos:

10 thoughts on “Dogen”

  1. Can you say something about how this way of understanding can affect us experientially? I’m especially curious about how it impacts the lived experience of a deeply significant relationship like the kind we can have with a specific parent or sibling.

    1. Hi Jeremy,
      What I gave in the lecture was not simply understanding. It was my understanding of having the experience of the realizations that Dogen taught. So the realizations are deep experiences, and usually beyond mind and memory.

      The impact I s what Dogen says it: liberation and enlightenment. Enlightenment means we recognize what realty is. Liberation is freedom from the ordinary sense of self and the baggage that goes with it.

      We feel a tremendous sense of freedom and lightness, in addition to the wonder of such realizations of reality. It will impact all of our behavior in the world including that of relating to other human beings.

      However, we cannot try to understand Dogen from the perspective of how it is going to benefit particular situations in our life. He was not concerned about that as much as being liberated in all ways.

  2. For anyone who may be interested there is a beautiful novel by author and Soto Zen priest Ruth Ozeki titled
    A Tale for Time-Being. She explores and presents Dogen in a weaving of stories within stories, diverse narratives, history and culture of Japan.and Time.

    Deep gratitude to Hameed and all who made these lectures and this lecture on Dogen possible and available.
    Deep bow to all. A beautiful presentation.

    1. Thanks for this suggestion, Michelle,
      Sounds interesting. Reading a story might be a good way to begin understanding Dogen.

      There is also a move called Dogen. It is about his life and history, the situation in Japan at that time. It is not a great movie but good enough to get some idea of the life of Dogen.

      1. Thank you Hameed, will take a look at the Dogen movie. Re the novel, which I just finished last week, the story added a lot to your presentation, and, your presentation beautifully added to the literary exploration of Dogen’s teachings. Very synchronous for me in the midst of my Zen practice. Your presentation and undersanding of Dogen’s teachings/experiences/realizations are very profound and clarifying. I am very grateful to have had access to this lecture, and, the opportunity to ask you questions live and online.
        You mentioned a couple of books in your lecture. I have Moon in a Dewdrop, you referred to another book with “impermanence” in the title. May I please get that title/author from you and any other you may also mentioned. With much gratitude, Michelle

      2. Hi Hameed, I just wrote a reply to you which contained a request for book titles you mentioned in your lecture. I just found them in the lecture notes.
        Thank you, Michelle

  3. This was pretty much an introduction to Dogen for me. And, perhaps not unexpectedly, I’m confused.
    I believe, Hameed, that you said that Dogen says particulars are present as they are. Opening to that is opening to true reality. Ash is ash. And yet, when talking about Buddha Nature, you said that Dogen proposes that Buddha Nature doesn’t come into being until I realize it. Does this apply to ash too? Ash isn’t ash until I realize it as ash? Does it require my participation?
    Much thanks for these beautiful, rich talks.

    1. Hi Christine,
      I am not surprised that there will be confusion. Dogen is not easy to understand, and many things he says sound paradoxical and enigmatic.

      For Dogen Buddha Nature is everything. Especially so when we are free of the ordinary self. The realization that Ash is Ash, without the presence of the self, indicates the presence of Buddha Nature. Ash is Buddha nature in this case, because it is as it is, without the overlay of ideas, concepts, self and so on. For Dogen, Buddha Nature is not something that Ash becomes. It is everything in its factness.

      Realization of course requires your participation. However this does not mean that it is somebody there experiencing Ash is Ash. It is definitely your realization, but you are not present as self in such realization. There are two ways I think Dogen takes this realization of particulars.

      One is that you and Ash are the same. the other is that there is simply ash being ash.

  4. Did you, Hameed,
    turn out to be
    the very Beingness
    that brought about the realisation
    that took place
    in the entity that called itself,
    and formerly thought of itself as,
    Hameed?
    — John, UK3

    1. Hi John,
      Entity is no more. Yet there is the individual consciousness through which such realizations happen.

      The situation is subtle. It does not mean that there is a consciousness that recognizes itself as a consciousness having a realization. Partly depends on the realization. In some realizations, there is simply Wood is Wood. In other realizations, there is awareness inherently aware of its transparent luminosity by being itself. So awareness is awareness, but awareness has this capacity of knowing itself.

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