The Shōbōgenzō of Dōgen Zenji


Jun 11 2023


8:00 am - 9:00 am

Dogen Zenji ( also known as Dōgen Kigen, Eihei Dōgen) was a Japanese Buddhist priest, writer, poet, philosopher, and founder of the Sōtō school of Zen in Japan. He was born in 1200 and died in 1253. In 1223 he undertook the dangerous passage across the East China Sea to China in order to study Zen. Around this time the Mongol Empire was waging wars on the various dynasties of China. Dogen returned to Japan 1228 and began teaching, writing and founding communities of practice.

Dogen’s Treasury of the True Dharma Eye (Shōbōgenzō), is considered one of the greatest examples of spiritual writings. Consisting of a collection of diverse lectures on doctrines and rituals given by Dogen over the course of twenty years, and further edited by Soto monk-scholars over the centuries, its key passages have been compared to classical philosophy and medieval mysticism, as well as modern psychology, physics, and environmentalism.

Dogen was a strong advocate of shikantaza – “just sitting” meditation (or silent illumination, serene reflection). Dogen taught “practice-realization”… his view was that enlightenment, rather than being a fruit of practice, is practice itself—and that practice is itself enlightenment. Because a great deal of his writing also involves various styles of commentary on the traditional “encounter dialogues” between teachers and students, he could be regarded as the introducer of koan literature to Zen.

“When you first seek dharma, you imagine that you are far away from its environs. At the moment when dharma is correctly transmitted, you are immediately your original self.

When you ride in a boat and watch the shore, you might assume that the shore is moving. But when you keep your eyes closely on the boat, you can see the boat moves.

Similarly, if you examine myriad things with a confused body and mind, you might suppose your mind and nature are permanent. When you practice intimately and return to where you are, it will be clear that nothing at all has unchanging self.

~ Dōgen Zenji

The event is finished.

All programs and events on Platform Sutras are freely offered. If you find what I do has value in your life, please consider a donation.


About Sunday morning

Sunday Morning Contemplation is informed by Eastern and Western contemplative traditions. The first, lectio divina has its origins in 6th century Europe. It unfolds in four steps or stages: reading (lectio), reflecting (meditatio), responding (oratio), and silent abiding (contemplatio). Our Eastern inspiration come from the Indian Upanishads (800-200 BCE), where contemplative practice consists of three steps or stages: listening (śravana), reflecting (manana), and meditating (nididhyāsana or dhyāna). Our contemplative practice on Sundays embraces both approaches, and each contemplation will be based on a reading from either tradition.

The texts and teachers I have chosen played a significant role in my life and I believe have much to offer. I will read presellected texts, slowly, with pauses between verses or quotes. The readings will be accompanied by soothing background music. To lessen distraction, I suggest participants close their eyes and listen. However, the screen will display the text so that people can choose to read along or mute the sound and read on their own. If there is time remaining after the contemplative period, participants can choose to either leave or stay for a short discussion.

As a preface to the reading, I will provide a 10-15 minute introduction to the text. When relevant, I’ll review facts about the author/teacher’s life. I will also present a brief explanation of the terms and language encountered in the reading.

Finally, when the contemplation is over, all texts read will be available online to read and/or download at any time on the website.

What I mean by
The Symbolic Life

This website makes liberal use of classical Indian visual art and refers mostly to traditional Indian texts (for example, the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Yoga Sutras) in the courses, seminars, and discussions on offer. However, I am not presenting lessons in Hinduism; in fact, teaching mainstream Hinduism is neither my area of interest nor expertise. Rather, my interest in Yoga and Tantra is grounded in the concrete situation in which we find ourselves, in the places where we arrive and from which we depart. Beginning in the here and now, we will explore the underlying meaning of the symbols, stories, images, philosophies, and techniques found in Indian philosophical texts and practice, in light of our world and our current circumstance. We will excavate the meaning of the aphorisms and teaching stories; the symbolic figures of gods, people, and nature; and the sometimes terse, sometimes poetic, philosophy of the texts. Thus, in referring to the Symbolic Life of Yoga and Tantra, I mean not just the symbols themselves, but the rich explication of life that the symbols represent.

Our lived, concrete situation is wonderfully captured in the Sanskrit word loka, whose ancient meaning is “the world.”  The root meaning of both the Sanskrit loka and the English locate (and local, locale, and location) is identical. In the ancient Indian mind, the world is where we are located, in our current circumstance. Thus, the meaning of the symbols of Yoga and Tantra can occur only in the now, in the places where we find ourselves, and not in any imagined ancient and/or foreign world.

To emphasize our place of origin and return, I use the terms “archetypal” and “symbolic” quite frequently. Archetypal meaning is associated with the universal and collective aspects of human experience—what we intimately share with all others regardless of culture or era or epoch—while symbolic language forms a bridge between the realms of the universal with the culturally specific and local. Symbols are the scaffolding upon which human beings build a world and imbue it with meaning.

Think for a moment of pain and pleasure, sorrow and joy, hatred and love, and greed and generosity—universal experiences that ancient Indian thinkers called the dvandva-s. This Sanskrit term is a combination of two words, or rather, one word spoken twice: the word dva (meaning the same as the English “two”) duplicated. Dvandva is commonly translated as “the pair of opposites” or literally “the two-twos” (dvadva). The ancients who coined this compact symbol gave voice to an archetypal human experience that can be further unpacked to reveal deep insights into the human condition. Once we gain an understanding of the various symbols of Yoga and Tantra, we can further excavate their meaning and the archetypes they convey, and thus gain access to, in a practical and meaningful way, the vision of life experienced by the sages. These insights are available to us and are still relevant today, as are the resilient and adaptable techniques and forms of practice that can help us lead richer and more fulfilling lives