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Taigen's Teachings

Buddhist dharma and scholarship

Books by Taigen

Just This Is It: Dongshan and the Practice of Suchness by Taigen Dan Leighton (Shambhala, 2015)

This book discusses the teaching stories of Dongshan, the 9th century Chinese founder of the Soto tradition, later brought to Japan by Dogen. The joy of suchness–the ultimate true nature inherent in all appearance–shines throughout the teachings attributed to Dongshan. The teaching stories from the koans in which he is featured reveal the subtlety and depth of his teaching on the nature of reality. His subtle teachings about engagement with suchness, and how it is conveyed, remain vital today. These colorful stories concern the practice of engaging the tender freshness of Reality amid our busy lives. Taigen’s playful comments and those of modern figures such as Rimbaud, Donovan, Krishnamurti, Grace Slick, and Bob Dylan illuminate aspects of self and non-self, the immediacy of the path, and the practice nourishment offered by Dongshan.
Comments on Just This Is It: “What a delight to have this thorough, wise, and deep work on the teaching of Zen Master Dongshan from the pen of Taigen Dan Leighton. As always, he relates his discussion of traditional Zen materials to contemporary social, ecological, and political issues, bringing up, among many others, Jack London, Lewis Carroll, echinoderms, and, of course, his beloved Bob Dylan. This is a must-have book for all serious students of Zen. It is an education in itself.” —Norman Fischer, author of Training in Compassion: Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong
“In his wonderful new book, Just This Is It, Buddhist scholar and teacher Taigen Dan Leighton launches a fresh inquiry into the Zen teachings of Dongshan, drawing new relevance from these ancient tales. His inclusive and wide-ranging commentary applies these ancient Tang dynasty teachings of sentience and suchness to the problems of materialism and climate change that we face on our planet, today. Time-traveling from Dongshan to Dogen to Bob Dylan, by way of Rimbaud and others, Leighton’s approach brings this old Zen ancestor to life with immediacy and intimacy, strengthening our vital connections through lineage and across time.” —Ruth Ozeki, author of A Tale for the Time Being
“Just This Is It provides a masterful exposition of the life and teachings of Chinese Chan master Dongshan. True to the traditional sources yet with a distinctively contemporary flavor, Leighton is masterful in weaving together specific approaches evoked through stories about and sayings by Dongshan to create a powerful and inspiring religious vision. Leighton brings to light the panoramic approach to koans characteristic of this lineage, including the works of Dogen. This book serves as a significant contribution to Dogen studies, brilliantly explicating his views throughout.” —Steven Heine, author of Did Dogen Go to China?: What He Wrote and When He Wrote it.
“What a swell book!” —Setsuan Gaelyn Godwin, abbess of Houston Zen Center

Zen Questions: Zazen, Dōgen, and the Spirit of Creative Inquiry by Taigen Dan Leighton (Wisdom Publications, 2011)

Zen continuously questions—this does not necessarily involve finding answers, but rather remaining present and upright in the middle of sustained questioning. Comments on Zen Questions: “Zen Questions does not have the answers—which is just as it should be because it captures the very process of constructive questioning at its best. Yet in a deeper sense, this book does have answers, as thoughtful readers may discover and match their questions to this brilliant text.” —Steven Heine, author of Did Dōgen Go to China?
“Zen Questions is a series of lucid, held-open investigations into something very simple, but also subtle and complex: the fundamental question of how we inhabit this particular moment of human awareness, in this very body and mind, in this very world. The Zen awareness presented here reaches in many directions—Leighton shows how the understandings of Zen teachers over thirteen hundred years glimmer also in a line by Bob Dylan, a phrase from a poem by Wallace Stevens. Sometimes scholarly and historical, sometimes engaged with the most contemporary of our shared societal dilemmas, Zen Questions equally introduces and expands our American understanding of Buddhist teachings, and of the many possibilities in navigating our own lives.” —Jane Hirshfield
“A brave book, bringing the fierce spirit of Zen into the questions that all of us face today.” —Roshi Joan Halifax
“Taigen Leighton has long been writing about Dōgen with clarity and depth—yet here he also includes his wide-ranging perspectives on Dharma, society, and Bob Dylan to boot. These delightful essays take us another step down the road toward naturalizing Dharma into our own cultural matrix.” 
—Zoketsu Norman Fischer, author of Sailing Home
“This clear, accurate, and eminently useful book will save serious practitioners, or even curious novices, years of wasted error, wrong turns, and plain old delusion.” —Peter Coyote, actor and author of Sleeping Where I Fall
“Taigen Leighton is one of the West’s most important Zen scholar-priests and one of our foremost exponents of bringing out into the world the insights we find on the meditation cushion. This book contains some enormously important reflections on the nature of the Zen practice of just sitting, through a close reflection on the great master Dōgen, the Sufi poet Rumi, as well as Bob Dylan, Mary Oliver, and the American Zen original Gary Snyder. Perhaps even more importantly, Leighton offers a number of reflections and pointers for finding our way amid the messiness of life. This is an incredibly valuable book, useful for anyone who wishes to integrate their heart-work with work in the world.” —James Ishmael Ford, author of Zen Master WHO?
“Unique and scintillating. I highly recommend this book to anyone who cherishes the illumination of wisdom both ancient and modern.” —Lewis Richmond, author of Work as a Spiritual Practice
“This book comes as a welcome reminder that my own questioning is my completeness. I become whole simply by asking: What does it mean to be a human being? Giant thanks for this book that brings me the simplicity of zazen and a sense of deep engagement with the struggle for social and environmental justice—all woven together in Taigen Leighton’s big-hearted expression.” —Susan Moon
, “Zen teacher and leading Dōgen translator Taigen Dan Leighton offers his readers an impressive array of insights into Sōtō Zen meditation practice. Those who are fortunate enough to pick up this book will relish Leighton’s explorations of Zen ideas applied to many current issues.” —Christopher Ives, author of Imperial-Way Zen
“Taigen Dan Leighton has done his homework—he digs deep and comes up with treasure.” 
—David Chadwick

Visions of Awakening Space and Time: Dogen and the Lotus Sutra by Taigen Dan Leighton (Oxford University Press, 2007)

As a religion concerned with universal liberation, Zen grew out of a Buddhist worldview very different from the currently prevalent scientific materialism. Indeed, Zen cannot be fully understood outside of a worldview that sees reality itself as a vital, dynamic agent of awareness and healing. This book explicates that worldview through the writings of the Zen master Eihei Dogen (1200-1253), considered the founder of the Japanese Soto Zen tradition, which currently enjoys increasing popularity in the West. The Lotus Sutra, arguably the most important Buddhist scripture in East Asia, contains a famous story about bodhisattvas (enlightening beings) who emerge from under the earth to preserve and expound the Lotus teaching in the distant future. The story reveals that the Buddha only appears to pass away, but actually has been practicing, and will continue to do so, over an inconceivably long life span.The book traces commentaries on the Lotus Sutra from a range of key East Asian Buddhist thinkers, including Daosheng, Zhiyi, Zhanran, Saigyo, Myoe, Nichiren, Hakuin, and Ryokan. But the main focus is Eihei Dogen, the 13th century Japanese Soto Zen founder who imported Zen from China, and whose profuse, provocative, and poetic writings are important to the modern expansion of Buddhism to the West. Dogen’s use of this sutra expresses the critical role of Mahayana vision and imagination as the context of Zen teaching, and his interpretations of this story furthermore reveal his dynamic worldview of the earth, space, and time themselves as vital agents of spiritual awakening in the bodhisattva project. Broader awareness of Dogen’s worldview and its implications can illuminate the possibilities for contemporary approaches to primary Mahayana concepts and practices.
Reviews: “This richly woven study brings us new insights into the dynamic role of Earth in Mahayana Buddhist understandings of enlightenment. Leighton reveals a transmission of the Buddha Dharma in which the utter reality of the phenomenal world is not to be questioned, nor is impermanence to be transcended. Time and space are rather to be experienced as the spiritually nourishing womb of our awakening. Right now, when ecological crises imperil the future of conscious life, and when, at the same time, Gaia theory invites us to understand ourselves as intrinsic parts of a living Earth, this work of scholarship is good news indeed.” —Joanna Macy
“A premier translator of two of Dogen’s major works, Eihei Shingi and Eihei Koroku, has now turned his sights to an analysis of Dogen in East Asian theoretical contexts with illuminating results. This very thoughtful, informative, and highly original study makes a significant contribution to both Dogen and Lotus Sutra studies by showing how Dogen’s Zen is rooted in Mahayana worldview, and also how the Lotus Sutra was a key resource for Japanese Zen. Leighton does an outstanding job of juxtaposing the seminal Lotus Sutra with the main writings of Dogen, along with other prominent thinkers in Zen and Chinese and Japanese Buddhism. He also sheds important light on contemporary applications and interpretations of Buddhist theory.” —Steven Heine, author of Dogen and the Koan Tradition
“Among the eminent Buddhist figures of premodern Japan, perhaps none has drawn more attention in the West than the Zen master Dogen (1200-1253). In a fresh approach, this volume moves beyond Dogen’s explicitly Zen heritage to explore his indebtedness to the imagery and rhetorical strategies of the Lotus Sutra in articulating his vision of practice. Leighton is sensitive to the playfulness and creativity of Dogen’s hermeneutics. His study will be welcomed by readers interested in the Mahayana as literature and in situating Dogen within the broader intellectual currents of his day.” —Jacqueline I. Stone
“This book is an exploration of Dogen’s writings on space and time, especially as they relate to the central message of the Lotus Sutra . It demonstrates unity of practice and book learning in Japanese Zen and the unity of the Zen tradition and Buddhist teaching traditions such as Tendai and Kegon. Anyone interested in philosophical or literary aspects of Dogen’s teachings and their relationship to Buddhist scriptures will find much to savor. Buddhist practitioners who wish to know how traditional scriptures can speak to contemporary concerns will find much to digest. ” —William Bodiford, author of Soto Zen in Medieval Japan.

DOGEN’S EXTENSIVE RECORD: A TRANSLATION OF THE EIHEI KOROKU Translated by Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura; Edited and introduced by Taigen Dan Leighton (Wisdom Publications, 2004)

Eihei Dogen, the thirteenth-century founder of the Japanese Soto School of Zen, is renowned as one of the world’s most remarkable religious thinkers. He is known for two major works. The first work, the massive Shobogenzo (‘Treasury of the True Dharma Eye’), represents his earlier teachings and exists in numerous English translations. The second work, the Eihei Koroku, is a monumental collection including teachings from before he left Kyoto in 1243, but also almost all of what remains from Dogen’s mature teaching in his last decade at Eiheiji. Here are 531 short formal discourses to the monks training at his temple; longer informal talks; his choice of ninety koans with Dogen’s own verse comments; and his Chinese poetry from his student years in China to his last years. The Shobogenzo has received enormous attention in Western Zen and Western Zen literature, and with the publication of this watershed volume, the Eihei Koroku will surely rise to commensurate stature.
Comments on DOGEN’S EXTENSIVE RECORD: “This is a significant time in terms of understanding Dogen in the West, [with] Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura’s translation of the Eihei Koroku coming out. People are going to see an entirely different style in this collection of Dogen’s later teachings.” —Steven Heine, Professor of Religious Studies, Florida International University
“I can’t keep my hands off my copy of Eihei Koroku! A phenomenal job….it reads so well and is just what I’ve been needing. Dogen has become the bedrock for my own practice and now these Dharma Talks speak directly to the matter. I feel as though I were standing in that assembly, trying to field the ball and heave it back. This all smacks of the man himself, talking to real people. I fear I may be one of those who reads and relishes every word.” —Tonen Sara O’Connor, Dharma teacher of the Milwaukee Zen Center
“Thank you so much for the the translation of Dogen’s weighty tome. The many hours of dedicated work will be much appreciated by all of us now and in the future who value Dogen’s inspired writing and talks.” —Mel Weitsman, abbot of the Berkeley Zen Center
“I am filled with deep appreciation for your generosity and effort in making these teachings accessible to the West. The book is wonderfully edited and translated and it is completely reassuring to have such a clear eyed teacher bringing Dogen’s teachings to us.” —Dae Gak, Zen Master of Furnace Mountain Zen Center, Kentucky
“This massive work will be a valuable asset for all students of Zen and Buddhism in general. The Extensive Recordallows us to see Dogen lecturing and performing as a teacher. The translators, Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, two Soto Zen teachers active in North America, have done an admirable job of rendering Dogen’s thirteenth-century Chinese into modern English. The text is remarkably easy to read while also remaining faithful to Dogen’s idiom. The translation and introductions meet high academic standards. Leighton provides extensive suggestions on how one might read Dogen’s Extensive Record as a tool for improving one’s daily practice. This translation allows Western readers to discover a new side of Dogen, the side he presented to his own students on a daily basis. It will reward careful study.” —William Bodiford, Professor, East Asian Languages and Cultures, UCLA

Faces of Compassion: Classic Bodhisattva Archetypes and Their Modern Expression—An Introduction to Mahayana Buddhism Revised Edition; Formerly published as Bodhisattva Archetypes: Classic Buddhist Guides to Awakening and Their Modern Expression by Taigen Dan Leighton; Foreword by Joan Halifax (Wisdom Publications, 2012)

Read some excerpts from this book This book provides a practical introduction to the psychology of Bodhisattva practice, imagery, and imagination through the seven major archetypal bodhisattvas celebrated in East Asian Buddhism. Surveys of the iconography, basic Schools and teachings, colorful folklore, cultic history, and their primary liberative practices are presented for figures such as Manjushri, the sword-wielding prince of wisdom; Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion known as Chenrezigin Tibet, Kannonin Japan, and Guanyin“Goddess of Mercy” in China; Jizo, the monk/earth mother guardian of the afterlife and of hell beings; Maitreya, the next future Buddha, celebrated in China in his incarnation as Hotei, the fat “laughing buddha”; and Vimalakirti, trickster and vastly enlightened lay-disciple of the historical Buddha. In addition, modern culture figures who exemplify aspects of the archetypal qualities and spiritual values and strategies of the different bodhisattvas are suggested, including persons ranging from Einstein, Dr. King, Gandhi, and Mother Teresa, to Bob Dylan, Gloria Steinem, Muhammad Ali, Elie Weisel, Toni Morrison, Rachel Carson, Thomas Merton, Tom Jefferson, Helen Keller, and Clint Eastwood.
Praise of Bodhisattva Archetypes: Winner of the 2013 Nautilus Book Award Gold Prize
Vigorous and inspiring, Bodhisattva Archetypes guides the reader into the clear flavors of the awaking life within both Buddhist tradition and our broad contemporary world. This is an informative, useful, and exhilarating work of deeply grounded scholarship and insight.—Jane Hirshfield, author of Woman in Praise of the Sacred
“Such a useful book. Mr. Leighton clarifies and explains aspects of Buddhism which are often mysterious to the uninformed. The concept of the Bodhisattva—one who postpones personal salvation to serve others—is the perfect antidote to today’s spiritual materialism where “enlightened selfishness” has been enshrined as dogma for the greedy. This book is useful as a fine axe.” —Peter Coyote,
“I appreciate Taigen Daniel Leighton’s elucidation of the bodhisattva as archetypes …. In naming, describing, and illustrating the individual bodhisattvas, his book is an informative and valuable resource.” —Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D.
“In Bodhisattva Archetypes Taigen Leighton provides us with a clear-as-a-bell introduction to Buddhist thought, as well as a short course in Far Eastern iconography and lore that I intend to use as a desk reference. What astonishes me, however, is that along the way he also manages, with surprising plausibility, to portray figures as diverse as Gertrude Stein, Bob Dylan, and Albert Einstein, among many likely and unlikely others, as equivalent Western expressions of the bodhisattva archetype. His discussion provides the sort of informed daring we need to make Buddhism our own.” —Zoketsu Norman Fischer, Co-Abbot San Francisco Zen Center, author of Jerusalem Moonlight “Like boys flying kites, spiritual writers tend to let their teachings jounce high in the clouds somewhere. Not so Taigen Daniel Leighton. He resolutely reels them down. In Bodhisattva Archetypeshe presents Buddhist ideas and ideals embodied in flesh-and-blood people, examples whom we can love, admire, emulate: a stroke of genius. The result: A sparkler among contemporary Buddhist writings.” —Brother David Steindl-Rast, O.S.B., author of Gratefulness the Heart of Prayer

Cultivating the Empty Field: The Silent Illumination of Zen Master Hongzhi. Translated by Taigen Daniel Leighton with Yi Wu. (Revised, expanded edition, Charles E. Tuttle Co., 2000)

Read some excerpts from this book Hongzhi twelfth century Chinese Zen master who was predecessor of the famed Japanese spiritual writer Dogen’s celebrated in Zen literature as one of its most artistically graceful stylists. In these inspirational writings Hongzhi uses nature metaphors and poetical prose to articulate the experience and awareness of silent illumination, the nondual objectless meditation commonly known to modern Zen students as “just sitting.” The introduction places his writings in the Zen tradition, including a discussion of the five ranks and the dialectics of Zen philosophy.
Comments on Cultivating the Empty Field:: “An inspiring book and an important document in the Zen tradition. While Chinese poetry and philosophy is loaded with metaphors drawn from nature, few poets employ metaphors in such an engaging manner as does Hongzhi.” Tricycle magazine.

The Wholehearted Way: A Translation of Eihei Dogen’s “Bendowa” with Commentary by Kosho Uchiyama Roshi translated by Taigen Daniel Leighton and Shohaku Okumura. (Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1997) ISBN: 0-8048-3105-X

Zen Master Dogen (1200-1253) is widely considered one of the most profound, poetic, and insightful writers of the Buddhist tradition. This book includes an annotated translation of Dogen’s primary essay about the essential meaning and spirit of Zen meditation, along with an extensive, down-to-earth, and entertaining commentary by a prominent modern Japanese Zen Master, Uchiyama Roshi.
Comments on The Wholehearted Way:
“This book will take Dogen Zenji’s teachings on practice/enlightenment into the 21st century. … presented with such clarity and precision by Shohaku Okumura and Taigen Dan Leighton that we enter Dogen Zenji’s presence as though in dokusan.” Zenkei Blanche Hartman, Abbess of San Francisco Zen Center
“A fine introduction to the spirit of Zen, both past and present. Dogen’s famous text on Zen practice comes alive. … The translation well captures both the sense of Dogen’s original text and the clarity and humanity that have made Uchiyama Roshi one of the most attractive Zen teachers today.” Carl Bielefeldt, Professor of Religious Studies, Stanford University  

Dogen’s Pure Standards for the Zen Community: A Translation of “Eihei Shingi” translated by Taigen Daniel Leighton and Shohaku Okumura; Edited with Introduction by Taigen Daniel Leighton. (State University of New York Press, 1996)

This book is a complete translation of “Eihei Shingi,” the major writing by the great thirteenth century Japanese Zen master Eihei Dogen about monastic practice and the role of community life in Buddhism. In addition to detailing procedural guidelines and instructions for monastic forms, in this work Dogen, noted for his profound and poetic insight, focuses on the appropriate attitudes and psychology for practitioners in community, and provides a collection of koans, or teaching stories, about spiritual community life. Along with the translation, the book includes a substantial introduction, informative annotation, and glossaries of persons mentioned in the stories and of traditional technical terms.
Comment on Dogen’s Pure Standards for the Zen Community: “A very careful and readable translation of a very important work by Dogen which has just begun to receive attention. … A ‘must read’ for those interested in studies of Dogen, Zen, and Japanese Buddhism.” Steven Heine, Professor of Religious Studies, Florida International University

Song’s for the True Dharma Eye: Verse Comments on Dogen’s Shobogenzo by Taigen Dan Leighton (Browser Books, 2007)

The short verses in this book are responses to the 95 essays in Zen Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo [True Dharma Eye Treasury]. The intention in all the verses was to respond to the essence of what Dogen was saying. Sometimes this meant trying to distill the main point, sometimes responding to what seemed most provocative or impactful in each essay, always with the aspiration to somehow join in conversation with the ancestral master.
“Poetry alchemizes whatever it looks at, by passing it through the full, 360 degree array of our human capacities. Without such capacious permeability, there can be no poem, only a shell resembling poetry’s living shape. … Present equally in these poems is a wonderful buoyancy—humor, mind-suppleness, cultural sampling, at least one atrocious pun, a continual refreshing of vision. Zen, however austere it may at times appear from the outside, is not a practice of purity, rigidity, or strictness. Like poetry, Zen asks us only one thing: to become permeable and awake to the full range of our lives.” — From the foreword by Jane Hirshfield Shunju/ Spring and Autumn “When You’re Not You’re Not” Chillin’ in the deep freeze, frying on the hot seat, When upright dry ice smokes, does it ever also shiver? Dancing in the center beyond sensation and perception, A black cat purrs curled up among the zafus. Nyorai Zenshin/ The Whole Body of the Tathagata “All of Us So Close to Buddha” The whole body of the One Thus Come Falls in the raindrops and drips from the eaves. Hearing this sutra in the cool morning calm, Relics run like rivulets amid the mud and leaves.

Taigen’s Audio Dharma Teachings

In addition to our Ancient Dragon Zen Gate podcast, you are welcome to enjoy additional audio recordings of teachings by Taigen.

Below are links to Dharma Talks given by Taigen Dan Leighton at other locations and available from other web sites in MP3 format. You can listen to the talks in your browser by clicking the name of the talk. To save the MP3 to your computer you need to right click on the talk name (or hold the control key and click if you have a Mac) and select “Save link as”. All Dharma Talks are by Taigen Dan Leighton unless otherwise noted.

Don’t miss the large collection of his talks at Ancient Dragon Zen Gate in our Dharma Podcast Library.


Additional Transcribed Dharma Talks by Taigen