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Taigen Dan Leighton 
draft of article for the book Dogen: Textual And Historical Studies, edited by Steven Heine (Oxford University Press, forthcoming)

Introduction to Eihei Kōroku

Dōgen’s Shōbōgenzō is rightly celebrated for its playful, elaborate essays, with their intricate poetic wordplay and evocative philosophical expressions. Dōgen’s other major and massive work, Eihei Kōroku, has been less well known. The first seven of the ten volumes of Eihei Kōroku consist of five hundred thirty-one usually brief jōdō (literally “ascending the hall”), which are called here Dharma hall discourses. These short, formal talks are given traditionally in the Dharma hall with the monks standing, and despite this formal context are highly revealing of Dōgen’s humor and personality. In addition, volume eight of Eihei Kōroku includes twenty somewhat longer shōsan, or informal talks, all given at Eiheiji after 1245; and fourteen hōgo, or Dharma words, most based on letters to students, some identified, all from before Dōgen moved away from the Capital of Kyoto in 1243 to the remote mountains in the northern province of Echizen. Volume eight also includes a 1242 revised version of Dōgen’s renowned early essay “Fukanzazengi” (Universally Recommended Instructions for Zazen), a version of which is also sometimes included in editions of Shōbōgenzō. Volume nine of Eihei Kōroku is a remarkable collection of ninety kōan cases selected by Dōgen with his own verse comments. Volume ten is a collection of Dōgen’s Chinese poetry dating back from his student years in China through his last years of teaching at Eiheiji before his death in 1253.

Except for the first volume of Eihei Kōroku from talks prior to his departure from Kyoto in 1243, the Dharma hall discourses in Eihei Kōroku are our primary source for Dōgen’s mature teaching at Eiheiji. These jōdō talks seem to be the genre of teaching he preferred at Eiheiji, after he had finished writing the vast majority of the longer essays included in Shōbōgenzō, although he apparently continued editing some of those. The Eihei Kōroku Dharma hall discourses are presented almost exclusively in chronological order, compiled by three of his leading disciples, Yōkō Senne (n.d.); his primary successor Koun Ejō (1198-1280); and Gien (d. 1314), who later was abbot of Eiheiji. Thus Dōgen’s talks to his cadre of disciples at Eiheiji show the development of his later teaching and reveal his own style of presentation of Zen teaching.

This training apparently was effective, as Dōgen’s seven major disciples present at Eiheiji, together with their disciples over the next several generations, managed to spread the Sōtō lineage and teaching widely in the Japanese countryside. Thus it became one of the most prominent schools of Japanese Buddhism (second only to the Pure Land Jōdō Shinshū in number of parishioners). As just one notable example, after Dōgen’s death, his immediate disciple Kangan Gi’in (1217-1325) returned home to the southern island of Kyushu, where he initiated a Sōtō lineage that persisted to modern times.[1]

Although not a focus of this article, it is worth mentioning that one major aspect of Dōgen’s career is his comprehensive introduction of the Chan gongan (kōan) literature to Japan. His writings reveal extraordinary mastery of a wide breadth of this material. In the Shōbōgenzō essays he comments on kōans in an original manner, with panoramic elaboration on particular stories in what has been called the scenic route.[2] In Eihei Kōroku, on the other hand, we can see Dōgen experimenting freely with variations on different traditional genres of kōan commentary from the jōdō in the Chinese Chan recorded sayings literature.

A comprehensive analysis of Dōgen’s training methods as portrayed in the whole Eihei Kōroku is far beyond the scope of this article, but I will consider several of these Dharma hall discourses that reveal key aspects of Dōgen’s approach. I will focus in a more detailed close reading on one particular talk from 1248, which provides extraordinary insight into how Dōgen saw major aspects of his own evolving teaching methods, and even their intended effects on his students. The selection of other Dharma hall discourses I will briefly consider, in chronological order, express other key features of Dōgen’s teaching approach. These qualities include his emphasis on practice in everyday activity; the importance of ethical conduct; the significant bodhisattva context for Dōgen’s teaching; the unified mind developed in zazen; and the importance of ongoing renewal of practice.

The Courage of Patch-robed Monks

Dharma hall discourse 239 was given at Eiheiji in late Spring 1247, and presents an insight into a primary context of Dōgen’s training intention.

Entering the water without avoiding deep-sea dragons is the courage of a fisherman. Traveling the earth without avoiding tigers is the courage of a hunter. Facing the drawn sword before you, and seeing death as just like life, is the courage of a general. What is the courage of patch-robed monks?

After a pause Dōgen said: Spread out your bedding and sleep; set out your bowls and eat rice; exhale through your nostrils; radiate light from your eyes. Do you know there is something that goes beyond? With vitality, eat lots of rice and then use the toilet. Transcend your personal prediction of future buddhahood from Gautama.[3]

This talk exemplifies Dōgen’s emphasis on practice in ordinary everyday activity, including even using the toilet. We can also note his whimsical humor in comparing monks’ courage to that of fishermen, hunters, and samurai in combat. In encouraging his monks, Dōgen cites their daily monastic rituals at Eiheiji, including sleeping in the monks’ hall in the same place where they each sit in meditation and formally take their meals. Yet he adds the intriguing phrase “radiate light from your eyes,” not how we usually conceive of vision as a mere passive perception. However, it is not uncommon to recognize when one is being stared at, an example of the active, even intrusive, potential of vision. Primarily Dōgen is inspiring his monks to bring dynamic responsibility and attentive caring to all their experience. “Radiating light” implies vigorous insight and illumination to be applied in each routine activity.

Further, Dōgen here exemplifies his primary teaching of the oneness of practice-awakening, shūshō no itto. For Dōgen enlightenment is not something to await or hope for in the future, but is implicit and presently available in all daily activity. The last line, “transcend your personal prediction of future buddhahood from Gautama,” references the Buddha’s predictions of awakening in the Lotus Sutra, first for his various disciples, but ultimately for all those who find joy in hearing the sutra.[4] Dōgen is telling his disciples to forget aspirations for the future, but that they are responsible to fully engage what is in front of them in their everyday lives.

A Mountain Homecoming from Kamakura

Later that year, on the third day of the eighth month of 1247, Dōgen left the remote mountains of Eiheiji and traveled to Kamakura, the capital of the military government established in the late twelfth century. Probably his main patron, Hatano Yoshishige, arranged the visit, presumably to support Dōgen’s teaching. We do not know what actually happened there, except from what Dōgen said when he returned to Eiheiji after more than seven months. His Dharma hall discourse 251 was given on the fourteenth day of the third month, 1248, the day he returned:

On the third day of the eighth month of last year, this mountain monk departed from this mountain and went to the Kamakura District of Sagami Prefecture to expound the Dharma for patrons and lay students. On this month of this year, just last night, I came home to this temple, and this morning I have ascended this seat. Some people may have some questions about this affair. After traversing many mountains and rivers, I did expound the Dharma for the sake of lay students, which may sound like I value worldly people and take lightly monks. Moreover, some may ask whether I presented some Dharma that I never before expounded, and that they have not heard. However, there was no Dharma at all that I have never previously expounded, or that you have not heard. I merely explained to them that people who practice virtue improve; that those who produce unwholesomeness degenerate; that they should practice the cause and experience the results; and should throw away the tile and only take up the jewel. Because of these, this single matter is what this old man Eihei has been able to clarify, express, trust, and practice. Does the great assembly want to understand this truth?

After a pause, Dōgen said: I cannot stand that my tongue has no means to express the cause and the result. How many mistakes I have made in my effort to cultivate the way. Today how pitiful it is that I have become a water buffalo. This is the phrase for expounding Dharma. How shall I utter a phrase for returning home to the mountains? This mountain monk has been gone for more than half a year. I was like a solitary wheel placed in vast space. Today, I have returned to the mountains, and the clouds are feeling joyful. My great love for the mountains has magnified since before.[5]

William Bodiford interprets this talk as reflecting the Eiheiji monks’ strong disapproval of Dōgen’s trip to Kamakura.[6] Some of the monks at least had “some question about this affair,” and thought that Dōgen might “value worldly people and take lightly monks.” Dōgen indeed seems defensive, claiming he had not taught anything in Kamakura that he had not also taught his monks at Eiheiji. In several of his Shōbōgenzō essays in the early years after leaving Kyoto while establishing Eiheiji, Dōgen had tried to encourage his monks in their challenging, remote monastic site by talking about the importance of monks’ practice, as opposed to lay practitioners, for transmitting the Dharma. Although he did have lay students attend his talks at Eiheiji, his going to teach lay donors at the capital in Kamakura for so long might have felt like a betrayal to some his monks, committed to the rigorous and challenging life at Eiheiji.

In late 1246, in Dharma hall discourse 200, Dōgen had apologized, “I’m sorry that the master [Dōgen] does not readily attend to others by disposition.”[7] He acknowledges that, “This temple in the remote mountains and deep valleys is not easy to reach, and people arrive only after sailing over oceans and climbing mountains.” Yet he encourages his monks that based on their commitment of the “Mind of the Way,” bodhicitta, the mountains are highly conducive to spiritual development.

Returning to his homecoming to Eiheiji from Kamakura in Dharma hall discourse 251, the teaching of karma and its ethical implications stressed therein, to practice virtue and not unwholesomeness, is an emphasis in much of Dōgen’s later teaching. This increased accent is perhaps the greatest or even the only major Dharmic shift in Dōgen’s later Eiheiji teaching, reflected in his shifting views of the celebrated fox koan about not ignoring cause and effect. This issue has been discussed comprehensively in Steven Heine’s book, Shifting Shape, Shaping Text: Philosophy and Folklore in the Fox Kōan.[8] And the spread of Sōtō in the medieval period by successors in the generations after Dōgen was helped by large bodhisattva precept lay ordination ceremonies, initiated by Dōgen, which provided the populace with both ethical guidance and connection to the Zen lineage.[9] Significantly Dōgen here, upon his return from Kamakura to Eiheiji, proclaims the centrality of these ethical concerns for both monks and laypeople.

Demonstrations of Practice Clarified in the Dawn Wind

Later in 1248, a few months after returning from Kamakura, in Dharma hall discourse 266, Dōgen presented a brilliant description of his training program with a five-part typology of zazen practice and his own teaching. It is this incisive talk upon which I will focus in this article, as it reveals a remarkable awareness by Dōgen both of his teaching approaches and his pedagogic intention for each. I will suggest interpretations of these modes of teaching presented here and their implications within Dōgen’s overall approach to practice.

Sometimes I, Eihei, enter the ultimate state and offer profound discussion, simply wishing for you all to be steadily intimate in your mind field. Sometimes, within the gates and gardens of the monastery, I offer my own style of practical instruction, simply wishing you all to disport and play freely with spiritual penetration. Sometimes I spring quickly leaving no trace, simply wishing you all to drop off body and mind. Sometimes I enter the samadhi of self-fulfillment, simply wishing you all to trust what your hands can hold.

Suppose someone suddenly came forth and asked this mountain monk, “What would go beyond these [kinds of teaching]?”

I would simply say to him: Scrubbed clean by the dawn wind, the night mist clears. Dimly seen, the blue mountains form a single line.[10]

Dōgen here describes four teaching modes and their intended impact on his students, with his capping verse suggesting a fifth mode. These are not presented as, nor intelligible in terms of a sequential training program of stages of progression or development. In many places in his writings, including in Eihei Kōroku, Dōgen clearly affirms the strong repudiation within the Caodong tradition of practice as involving any system of stages, but instead Dōgen declares that practice is based in an immediate awareness and engagement. For just one example, in Dharma hall discourse 301 from 1248, Dōgen says, “Not accompanied by the ten thousand things, what stages could there be?”[11]

These four, or five, characteristics of his teaching approach all appear to be useful for Dōgen in varied circumstances, appropriate to the teaching issue at hand. They are explicitly addressed to varied realms of practice, including practice amid everyday activities, but also all might readily pertain to the activity of zazen, or sitting meditation, which Dōgen had at times described as the samadhi of self-fulfillment or as dropping body and mind, mentioned in two of the first four. But all five modes may readily be seen as meditation instructions, as well as directions for mindful, constructive awareness during all his disciples’ conduct.

Dōgen’s first line, “Sometimes I enter the ultimate state and offer profound discussion, simply wishing for you all to be steadily intimate in your mind field,” reveals a major aspect of the zazen practice he promotes. This “ultimate state” is a rendering of ri, literally “principle” or “truth,” commonly used in Chinese Buddhist discourse to denote awareness of the ultimate or universal aspect of reality, as opposed to particular aspects of conventional, phenomenal reality. His desired effect involves the practitioners developing steadiness and intimacy with their field of mind. In his celebrated essay “Genjōkōan,” Dōgen says, “To study the Buddha Way is to study the self.”[12] Key to Dōgen’s zazen praxis is just settling, not getting rid of thoughts and feelings, but finding some space of steadiness in oneself. Intimacy develops with the whole field of awareness that includes everything, and all sense objects, even as new thoughts arise.

Dōgen says he wishes all beings, and especially his audience of disciples, to be intimate in their own mind field. This intimacy includes becoming familiar and friendly with habits of thinking, the particular modes of constructing this mind field that is thought of as “mine.” Beneath the constructed identity lies the realm of awareness that Dōgen recommends to practitioners as a vital aspect of zazen, becoming familiar with habits of thinking, grasping, desire, and aversion, and resulting patterns of reaction, but also aware of the underlying deep interconnectedness of mind and environment.

Dōgen says that the teaching he does to encourage this intimacy for his students is himself entering the ultimate state and offering profound discussion. He sees his own deep settling and connection with ultimate universal awareness and openness as encouraging his students to settle. Developing this steadiness includes gratitude and appreciation for the mind field of awareness, which has its own shifting patterns.

For his second training mode, Dōgen says, “Sometimes, within the gates and gardens of the monastery, I offer my own style of practical instruction, simply wishing you all to disport and play freely with spiritual penetration.” Such practical instruction, “within the gates and gardens of the monastery,” refers to Dōgen’s various instructions for monastic procedures. Such material can be found in various places in Shōbōgenzō as well as in Eihei Kōroku, but most of this material, Dōgen’s major writings about standards for the Zen monastic community, written in Chinese, are collected in Eihei Shingi, collected several centuries after Dōgen.[13] The many Zen monastic forms might be seen as restrictive, hierarchical regulation. For example, Eihei Shingiincludes a short essay with sixty-two items on the proper etiquette to be taken when interacting with monastic seniors.[14] But these forms may also function as helpful guidelines to support awareness. While Dōgen does offer in Eihei Shingi detailed procedural instructions, often borrowed from the Vinaya or previous monastic regulations, his clear emphasis is attitudinal instruction and the psychology of spiritually beneficial community interaction. Zen monastic regulations may function as a latticework for ethical conduct with rules upheld and consequences enforced, but Dōgen sees them as guidelines rather than restrictive regulations or rigid proscriptions.

In the “Chiji Shingi” (The Pure Standards for the Temple Administrators), the final essay which takes up nearly half of the full text of Eihei Shingi, it is remarkable how many of Dōgen’s exemplary figures from Chan lore, ten of the twenty such stories cited, are involved in rule-breaking or at least rule-bending, sometimes even resulting in temporary expulsion from the monastery.[15] Monastic regulations and precepts are clearly at the service of Dōgen’s priorities of total dedication to investigation of spiritual reality, and of commitment to caring for the practice community’s well-being.

What Dōgen says he is encouraging with his practical instruction is not merely following rules, but “simply wishing you to sport and play freely with spiritual penetration.” Spiritual penetration or insight requires paying close attention. These instructions concern sangha, the community of practitioners, and also support individual zazen, with forms for moving around the meditation hall, for sitting, and for performing ceremonies. But Dōgen says that the point is to play freely. Even in zazen, sitting facing the wall and assuming upright posture and mudra, Dōgen’s practical instructions are aimed at support of the playfulness of his practitioners. He is encouraging his students to play freely both mentally in zazen as well as in engagement with everyday life, while supporting detailed attention, caring, and spiritual penetration.

For the third aspect of his teaching, Dōgen says, “Sometimes I spring quickly leaving no trace, simply wishing you all to drop off body and mind.” This phrase, dropping off body and mind, shinjin datsuraku, is another synonym Dōgen often uses for zazen, but also to express total enlightenment. Such dropping of mind and body is not equal to discarding intelligence, or self-mutilation or suicide. This dropping body and mind is just letting go. In his “Song of the Grass Hut Hermitage,” an eighth century teacher honored by Dōgen named Shitou Ziqian (700-790; Jp.: Sekitō Kisen) says, “Let go of hundreds of years and relax completely.”[16] This is another way to say drop off body and mind. It does not indicate not paying attention or taking care of body and mind. This is fully accomplished by totally letting go. Dōgen’s sometimes abrupt exclamations or enactments recorded in Eihei Kōroku, such as throwing down his whisk or just stepping down from his teaching seat to end the talk, are demonstrations of his “springing quickly” to spark such immediate release.

The fourth kind of teaching Dōgen offers is a little more intricate. He says, “Sometimes I enter the samadhi of self-fulfillment, simply wishing you all to trust what your hands can hold.” This samadhi of self fulfillment is a technical term, yet another of Dōgen’s names for zazen. This practice is discussed in one of his earliest essays, “Bendōwa,” (Talk on Wholehearted Engagement of the Way).[17] This samadhi of self-fulfillment, self-enjoyment, or self-realization, ji-jūyū zanmai, is another way Dōgen elaborates the meaning of zazen in his teaching approach. Dōgen designates this samadhi of self-fulfillment as the criterion for zazen.[18] He wishes his students to enjoy, realize, and fulfill their constructed self, connected beyond limited self-identity to the totality of self, and thereby sometimes called non-self.

The three Chinese characters for self-fulfillment are pronounced in Sino-Japanese as ji-jū-yūJi means self; jūyū as a compound means enjoyment or fulfillment, but jū and yū read separately mean literally to accept one’s function. These two characters might be interpreted as taking on one’s place or role in life. Dōgen indicates in this phrase that when the practitioner accepts their life, their potential and qualities, and enjoys these, that they thereby discover self-realization and fulfillment. This is not mere passive acceptance, but actively taking on and finding one’s own way of responding, feeling and accepting the current situation with its difficulties and richness.

Dōgen says he enters the samadhi of self-fulfillment so his followers can “trust what your hands can hold.” Part of zazen is simply learning to actually take hold of who one is and the tools available, and to trust that. Trust might be rendered as faith, or simply as confidence. Dōgen wants his students to trust their own qualities and ability to engage practice. The image of what is held in the hands is reminiscent of the implements held in the many hands of Kanzeon, or Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion, and evokes the practice of skillful means, using whatever is handy to help relieve suffering and awaken beings. Dōgen’s samādhi of self-fulfillment as he describes it here can thus be seen as intending to provoke faith and skillful means in his students.

Dōgen has quite impressively provided four primary aspects of practice, and of his teaching strategy or pedagogy. Their aims might serve as a typology of practice: to be steadily intimate in one’s mind field; to disport and play freely with spiritual awareness; to drop off body and mind; and then to trust what one’s hands can hold. These modes are inherent aspects of zazen practice. I know of no other Zen writing that has described zazen directly in this manner, but these are all aspects of the practitioner’s intimate awareness of breath and of their own upright posture, also applicable in engagement in everyday activity.

It is noteworthy that each of these four is introduced with a term translated appropriately in this context as “sometimes.” However, the word Dōgen uses here for “sometimes” is ūji, also the title of a highly celebrated essay from Shōbōgenzō, which has been translated as “Being Time.”[19] In this “Being Time” essay, Dōgen presents a teaching about the multidimensional flowing of time as existence itself, and which has been analyzed as a unique philosophy of temporality. For Dōgen, Zen practice engages the present particular temporal situation of causes and conditions, not some abstracted eternal present. Dōgen sees the temporal condition as moving in many directions, not reducible to linear clock-time, though that also is being time. Time does not exist as some external, objective container, but actually time is exactly the current dynamic activity and awareness. The four aspects of zazen and teaching described in this 1248 Dharma hall discourse need not be seen in terms of Dōgen’s teaching about being time, presented in the Shōbōgenzō essay from 1240. However, the overtones of his using this term cannot be ignored. Thus we might also see these four practices as four aspects of the function and attentive practice of being time, or ūji, for Dōgen.

Concluding this Dharma hall discourse, Dōgen offers a fifth response, not introduced with the term “sometimes,” and which might be seen as going beyond any particular being time, while still invoking the specific occasion of dawn. Together these five approaches might perhaps be correlated to the Sōtō Zen teaching of the five ranks or degrees. The five ranks teaching first attributed to Dongshan Liangjie (807-869; Jp.: Tōzan Ryōkai), founder of the Chinese Caodong (Sōtō) school, was initially expressed in his “Song of the Precious Mirror Samadhi.” These are five interrelationships between the real and apparent aspects of life and practice. The two sides can also be rendered as the ultimate and phenomenal, or universal and particular, respectively. Their five interactions have been designated in various ways, one version being: the apparent within the real, the real within the apparent, coming from within the real, going within both apparent and real, and arriving within both together.[20] The first, the particular within the universal, might be seen in the students’ intimacy with their mind field from witnessing Dōgen expressing the ultimate state. The second, the universal within the particular, may be seen in the students’ realizing spiritual penetration from following monastic procedures. The third, coming from within the universal, might be represented by Dōgen “springing quickly,” prompting immediate dropping of body-mind. The fourth, going within both particular and universal, may be exemplified by trusting what is handy while in the samadhi of self-fulfillment. And the fifth, arriving together within both particular and universal, might be recognized in the foreground and background of the blue mountains forming a single line, as discussed next. However, as appealing as such an interpretation might be, the five modes of practice described by Dōgen in this 1248 Dharma hall discourse should not be reduced to a mere expression of that five ranks system, as they are much richer than this or any other limited formulation or system.

After presenting the first four aspects Dōgen adds, “Suppose someone suddenly came forth and asked this mountain monk, ‘What would go beyond these kinds of teaching?'” Dōgen often uses the phrase Buddha going beyond Buddha, his practice of ongoing awareness or awakening. This dynamic process is not something to be calculated or grasped, but an organic engagement of going beyond. However well or poorly practitioners may feel they are playing freely with spiritual awareness, there is possible an endless unfolding of all these approaches. Having presented a brilliant vision of the four-fold heart of zazen, Dōgen is ever-ready to go beyond, and further develop his awakening.

Dōgen imagines one of his students coming forward and asking, what would go beyond those teachings? Dōgen responds with a poetic capping verse to his four approaches, “Scrubbed clean by the dawn wind, the night mist clears. Dimly seen, the blue mountains form a single line.” Saying “scrubbed clean by the dawn wind,” Dōgen is concerned not simply with one time of day, but the sense of freshness available in any inhale or exhale. “Scrubbed clean by the dawn wind, the night mist clears” speaks to the process of bringing oneself back to attention and awareness, waking up and realizing the immediate presence of body and mind. He encourages actually experiencing this in every morning, and realizing that this occurs breath after breath as well. “The night mist clears,” sometimes hanging around for a while, sometimes suddenly dissipating. Either way one might feel “scrubbed clean by the dawn wind.” Wind also serves as a customary Zen metaphor for the teaching, and the flavor of awareness.

Dōgen adds, “Dimly seen, the blue mountains form a single line.” This evokes the concrete image of distant mountains. The intervening space between and around mountains, as seen for example in the empty space of Japanese ink-brush landscape paintings, is significant here, evoking the spaciousness of awareness accessible in zazen. But since teachers are known by their mountain names, this image may also refer to the lineage formed by the Zen teachers who kept the practice alive before Dōgen. He might as well have said, “Dimly seen, the Zen monks form a single line,” as in a row of meditators in the monks’ hall, or on begging rounds. This concerns each mountain, each molehill, each situation, each problem, each master, each practitioner, or each aspect of the mind field, seen dimly, as they all form a single horizon. It might be envisioned as just this oneness, the single horizontal line for the kanji one, or the single line seen as a circle. This describes wholeness or totality. All diverse aspects of practice, of life, of the difficulties of the world, or of perplexity at how to respond, may be forming a single circle or a single line in Dōgen’s poetic capping verse. Such a sense of wholeness is the fifth aspect of zazen, including all the others in some way.

The single line acts as a metaphor for interconnectedness. But why does Dōgen say “dimly” of the insight into interconnectedness? The “dimly” here suggests the oscillation between seeing each particular mountain and then seeing the single line. They are foreground and background, both in the same image. Sitting zazen formally, facing the wall, one keeps eyes open with a soft gaze, and can be open to what is in front and around, just as with ears open. Thus one might see only dimly, balancing between the sharpness of one’s particular life and the more amorphous background wholeness.

This brief but extraordinary Dharma hall discourse can be seen as an amazingly concise account of Dōgen’s training program, related to zazen, everyday practice, and his conveying of the Dharma. He reveals a lucid awareness not only of his own teaching modes, but of the results he seeks to inculcate in his disciples from employing each of these approaches.

The Moon Shining on All Beings and Oneself

A later brief Dharma hall discourse, number 434 from spring 1251, provides a reminder of the significant bodhisattva background for Dōgen’s teaching.

The family style of all buddhas and ancestors is to first arouse the vow to save all living beings by removing suffering and providing joy. Only this family style is inexhaustibly bright and clear. In the lofty mountains we see the moon for a long time. As clouds clear we first recognize the sky. Cast loose down the precipice, [the moonlight] shares itself within the ten thousand forms. Even when climbing up the bird’s path, taking good care of yourself is spiritual power.[21]

Here Dōgen emphasizes and evokes the bodhisattvic background of his teaching. The first priority is to “arouse the vow to save all living beings by removing suffering and providing joy.” This Mahayana context and “family style” is sometimes easy to ignore in Zen studies amid all of the colorful kōan discourse and its dharma combat rhetoric. In a later Dharma hall discourse, number 483, from early 1252, the last year for which there are recorded jōdō before Dōgen’s final illness, Dōgen tells his monks that true home-leavers must “carry out their own family property to benefit and relieve all the abandoned and destitute.”[22] His emphasis on relieving suffering is clearly not trivial.

Returning to Dharma hall discourse 434, after reminding of their bodhisattva mission, Dōgen provides important instructions and a praxis paradigm for his monks, first saying, “In the lofty mountains we see the moon for a long time. As clouds clear we first recognize the sky.” This poetically evokes the purpose of their monastic training up in the mountains of Eiheiji, to spend a long time immersed in meditatively communing with and examining the wholeness of the moon, finally recognizing the spaciousness, a synonym for the sky, of unconditioned awareness. But such well-honed realization is not sufficient. After such training, monks must depart their monastic enclosure, “cast loose down the precipice,” and share this with all beings, the ten thousand forms. The image he cites for awakened practice, “the bird’s path,” is an image used in varied modes by the Caodong founder Dongshan, so Dōgen here invokes the style of his practice lineage. Dōgen closes with a friendly reminder to his monks to “take good care of yourself,” necessary in the use of spiritual power.

The Endless Shoots of Zazen

Dōgen’s final 165 Dharma hall discourses during his last three years of teaching from 1250 to 1252 explicitly reference his fundamental praxis of zazen twenty times, while often otherwise addressing zazen indirectly.[23] This demonstrates the continuity of his practice teaching, as his earliest writings also focus on zazen. Much of Dōgen’s attitudes to zazen practice are revealed in his brief Dharma hall discourse 449, from late in1251.

What is called zazen is to sit, cutting through the smoke and clouds without seeking merit. Just become unified, never reaching the end. In dropping off body and mind, what are the body and limbs? How can it be transmitted from within the bones and marrow? Already such, how can we penetrate it?

Snatching Gautama’s hands and legs, one punch knocks over empty space. Karmic consciousness is boundless, without roots. The grasses shoot up and bring forth the wind [of the buddha way]. [24]

Dōgen’s practice of zazen he also sometimes calls “just sitting,” shikan taza. Here he describes just sitting as cutting through the confusing smoke and clouds of delusive thinking and attachment. But he emphasizes not seeking merit. This again refers to his value of not seeking some future result or accomplishment from one’s practice, that any merit is in the activity and awareness itself, and not to be sought as personal benefit. In this and other talks, Dōgen encourages engagement in the ongoing, endless process of dropping off body and mind, shinjin datsuraku, referring to letting go of physical and mental attachments. “Just become unified, never reaching the end,” echoes other teachings of Dōgen to fully engage the continuing process of zazen, and his frequently used expression of “going beyond Buddha.” For example, near the beginning of the 1241 Shōbōgenzō essay, “Awesome Presence of Active Buddhas,” Gyōbutsu Īgi, Dōgen says that active or practicing buddhas, “fully experience the vital process on the path of going beyond buddha.”[25] Dōgen’s training promotes engagement in the active process of zazen and its awareness, rather than some anticipated outcome or accomplishment.

Further in Dharma hall discourse 449, Dōgen says, “Already such, how can we penetrate it?” Frequently in both Shōbōgenzō and Eihei Kōrokuhe urges his students to further penetrate or study his teachings, or phrases from traditional kōans. Here he says his audience is “already such,” referring to the fundamental principle of buddha nature and the reality of suchness as already omnipresent, not a matter of acquisition, but of realization of the present reality. A little later in 1251, in Dharma hall discourse 474, Dōgen says, “The Buddha nature of time and season, cause and conditions, is perfectly complete in past and future, and in each moment.”[26] Here and elsewhere in Eihei Kōroku Dōgen refers back to the teaching of the underlying reality of Buddha nature, which he had expounded on extensively in “Busshō,” (Buddha Nature), one of the longest essays in Shōbōgenzō.[27]

Continuing in Dharma hall discourse 449, with dharma combat style rhetoric characteristic of much of the traditional kōan literature and often emulated by Dōgen, he exultantly talks about snatching “Gautama’s hands and legs,” and punching out empty space. This might refer to fully realizing emptiness, sunyata, but also to not being caught in blissful attachment to emptiness. While karmic consciousness, the conditioned, discursive source of suffering, is boundless, it is also “without roots,” ultimately an illusion. Thus Dōgen encourages his disciples to see through the obstacles of attachments that obstruct the dropping of body-mind.

Finally, using the evocative image of grasses shooting up, Dōgen suggests that the developing vitality emerging in zazen calls forth some appropriate helpful response from the “wind” or teaching of the process of awakening itself. This is a much later echo of the teaching about self-fulfilling samadhi from his early writing about the meaning of zazen, “Bendōwa,” (Talk on Wholehearted Engagement of the Way), in which he describes the mutual response between the zazen practitioners and their environment in terms such as, “Because earth, grasses and trees, fences and walls, tiles and pebbles, all things in the dharma realm in ten directions, carry out Buddha work, therefore everyone receives the benefit ÿÇ and all are imperceptibly helped by the wondrous and incomprehensible influence of Buddha to actualize the enlightenment at hand.”[28] Dōgen is reinforcing for his students that this zazen practice is not a merely personal exercise, but an act involving the dynamic interconnection of all beings.

One of the days in the traditional Chinese monastic calendar that Dōgen observed at Eiheiji was the first day of the ninth month. In Chinese Chan, due to the summer heat the meditation schedule was customarily lessened for the three months prior to that day, at which time the cushions were brought back out and the intensive meditation schedule resumed. At Eiheiji Dōgen did not in fact decrease the summer zazen schedule, but he did often use that date to give encouragements about zazen. Dōgen’s Dharma hall discourse 523 from 1252 is the last such talk given on that date. In that talk he says, in part,

Do not seek externally for the lotus that blooms in the last month of the year. Body and mind that is dropped off is steadfast and immovable. Although the sitting cushions are old, they show new impressions.”[29]

Again, Dōgen emphasizes the necessity for endless, ongoing practice. Further engagement in zazen leads to more insight, with new impressions in the mind, as well as from physical pressure on the sitting cushions.


The Dharma hall discourses of Eihei Kōroku reveal how Dōgen actually trained his monk successors in his final decade of teaching at Eiheiji, including how he understood the function of this training. Apparent are aspects of Dōgen’s personality, his sense of his own limitations, his humor and warmth, and his deep teaching commitments. The discussion provided here is just a slight peek into the richness of this source. But this selection of Dharma hall discourses demonstrate his emphasis on practice in everyday activity; the essential role of precepts and ethical conduct; the importance in Dōgen’s teaching of bodhisattva intention and practices; the sense of wholeness available in zazen; and his emphasis on sustainable, continuous practice. Furthermore, a rich, five-part pedagogy of Zen training is depicted in the extraordinary Dharma hall discourse 266 from 1248.

Along with study of Shōbōgenzō, further study of Eihei Kōroku will reveal a deeper view of the whole of Dōgen’s legacy, and especially further insight into the training his close disciples received in the last decade of Dōgen’s teaching. It was this teaching that prompted and informed their work in developing and spreading widely the Sōtō tradition beyond the narrow confines of Eiheiji in the century after Dōgen.

[1] For Dōgen’s seven major disciples see Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, trans. Dōgen’s Extensive Record: A Translation of the Eihei Kōroku (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2004), pp. 19-25.

[2] See Steven Heine, Dōgen and the Kōan Tradition: A Tale of Two Shōbōgenzō Texts (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994).

[3] Leighton and Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record, pp. 238-239. Kosaka Kiyū and Suzuki Kakuzen, eds. Dōgen Zenji Zenshū, vol. 3 (Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō, 1970), pp. 160-161.

[4] Gene Reeves, The Lotus Sutra (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2008), p. 225.

[5] Leighton and Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record, p. 246. Kosaka and Suzuki, eds. Dōgen Zenji Zenshū, vol. 3, pp. 166-169.

[6] William Bodiford, Sōtō Zen in Medieval Japan (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1993), pp. 30-31.

[7] Leighton and Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record, p. 215. Kosaka and Suzuki, eds. Dōgen Zenji Zenshū, vol. 3, pp. 136-137.

[8] Steven Heine, Shifting Shape, Shaping Text: Philosophy and Folklore in the Fox Kōan (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1999).

[9] Bodiford, Sōtō Zen in Medieval Japan, pp. 118, 163.

[10] Leighton and Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record, pp. 257-258. Kosaka and Suzuki, eds. Dōgen Zenji Zenshū, vol. 3, pp. 178-179.

[11] Leighton and Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record, p. 281. Kosaka and Suzuki, eds. Dōgen Zenji Zenshū, vol. 3, pp. 196-197.

[12] Shohaku Okumura, Realizing Genjōkōan: The Key to Dōgen’s Shōbōgenzō (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2010), pp. 2, 75-81.

[13] See Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, trans. Dōgen’s Pure Standards for the Zen Community: A Translation of Eihei Shingi(Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996).

[14] “The Dharma when Meeting Senior Instructors of Five Summer Practice Periods,” in Ibid., pp. 121-125.

[15] Ibid., pp. 127-204.

[16] Taigen Dan Leighton with Yi Wu, trans. Cultivating the Empty Field: The Silent Illumination of Zen Master Hongzhi (Boston: Tuttle and Co., 2000), pp. 72-73.

[17] See Shohaku Okumura and Taigen Daniel Leighton, trans., The Wholehearted Way: A Translation of Eihei Dōgen’s “Bendōwa” with Commentary by Kōsho Uchiyama Roshi (Boston: Charles Tuttle and Co., 1997).

[18] Ibid., pp. 19, 63-65.

[19] For translations of Ūji, see Kazuaki Tanahashi, ed., Treasury of the True Dharma Eye: Zen Master Dogen’s Shobo Genzo (Boston: Shambhala, 2010), pp. 104-111; Norman Waddell and Masao Abe, trans. The Heart of Dōgen’s Shōbōgenzō (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002), pp. 48-58; Thomas Cleary, trans. Shōbōgenzō: Zen Essays by Dōgen (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1986), pp. 102–110; or, with extensive commentary, Steven Heine, Existential and Ontological Dimensions of Time in Heidegger and Dōgen (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1985).

[20] See Leighton, Cultivating the Empty Field, pp. 8–11, 62, 76–77; Alfonso Verdu, Dialectical Aspects in Buddhist Thought: Studies in Sino-Japanese Mahāyāna Idealism (Lawrence: Center for East Asian Studies, University of Kansas, 1974); and William Powell, trans., TheRecord of Tung-shan (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1986), pp. 61–65.

[21] Leighton and Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record, p. 390. Kosaka and Suzuki, eds. Dōgen Zenji Zenshū, vol. 4, pp. 24-25.

[22] Leighton and Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record, p. 430. Kosaka and Suzuki, eds. Dōgen Zenji Zenshū, vol. 4, pp. 64-65.

[23] The number 165 for jōdō from 1250 through 1252 begins with those from Buddha’s parinirvana day, the 15th day of the second month of 1250. Six more were undated after Buddha’s Enlightenment day in 1249, the 8th day of the twelfth month, and some of these were likely in what we now call 1250.

[24] Leighton and Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record, p. 404. Kosaka and Suzuki, eds. Dōgen Zenji Zenshū, vol. 4, pp. 38-39.

[25] Kazuaki Tanahashi, ed. Beyond Thinking: A Guide to Zen Meditation (Boston: Shambhala, 2004), p. 79.

[26] Leighton and Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record, p. 423. Kosaka and Suzuki, eds. Dōgen Zenji Zenshū, vol. 4, pp. 58-59.

[27] Waddell and Abe, The Heart of Dōgen’s Shōbōgenzō, pp. 59-98.

[28] Okumura and Leighton, trans., The Wholehearted Way, p. 22.

[29] Leighton and Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record, pp. 465-466. Kosaka and Suzuki, eds. Dōgen Zenji Zenshū, vol. 4, pp.