Tuesday, November 3, 2009
This post probably could be filled with citations, quotes, historical data, and every other form of research-oriented, "fact" based information to back up my point. But I'm not going there for now. Maybe later, but for now, I'm just going to say what comes.
Also, to my readers who aren't steeped in Zen, and who don't know Dogen, I apologize. Maybe this post will spark some interest in you anyway, or maybe not.
So, I've been wondering for a long time about what almost feels like an obsession with Zen Master Dogen's teachings amongst those who teach and practice in convert Soto Zen communities. Specifically, what I have experienced in my own sangha at times over the years, and have also seen in writings and blogs of others, is a some times exclusive pairing of Dogen with root teacher X's teachings (Katagiri, Suzuki, and Maezumi being the most prominent) as the gospel of zen. Clearly, some of this is a function of what those root teachers focused on and handed down to us converts. However, I also wonder if there is also some attachment to the view that Dogen was the best, and that the teachings of root teacher X are the modern presentation of the most important parts of Dogen.
Obviously, spiritual traditions tend to revere founders, and look to their words and lives as examples of enlightened living. And clearly, Dogen was an amazing teacher whose words continually spark something within me, even when I find myself disagreeing with something. Yet, sometimes I wonder if such a heavy emphasis on a 13th century monastic, who broke from the past by emphasizing a single practice, zazen, above all else - I sometimes question if his words and life are the most appropriate teachings for us 21st century "in the world" practitioners.
Here are a few issues I have specifically questioned when it comes to Dogen:
1. How does the focus on zazen and monastic living in Dogen mesh or not mesh with living in the world lay practice? And does it matter if the two clash?
2. How much can we truly learn about sex, money, politics and social issues from Dogen? I remember talk during a class about the Tenzo Kyokun last winter that applied its teachings to these issues, but how much of that was simply projection or extension of something that wasn't actually there?
3. Can we always rely on Dogen's teachings? In other words, does he sometimes hit the mark completely and other times not so much? Partly, I think of some of the teachings in the Shobogenzo-zuimonki that seem rather rigid, and even extreme. People love to chalk this up to poor translation, or misinterpretation, but really, isn't that just a justification for continuing the narrative that Dogen was the best, and should go unquestioned? Or that our questioning about Dogen must be kept in the realm of how his teachings illuminate the truth of our lives?
4. What does the over-reliance on a single historical teacher, no matter how wonderful, do to the practice as a whole, and to our individual practices?
Posted by Nathan at 8:08 AM