Shōbōgenzō by Eihei Dōgen


Eihei Dōgen (1200-1253) brought what is now called the Sōtō school of Zen Buddhism to Japan from China. He wrote the first important Buddhist works in Japanese, rather than in Chinese. He founded the Temple of Eiheiji. His masterwork, the Shōbōgenzō, is a collection of ninety-five fascicles concerning Buddhist practice and enlightenment. It is considered to be both a literary and religious classic.

The most recent English translation of this work is by the Reverend Hubert Nearman, O.B.C., who performed the translation at the request of the late Reverend Master Jiyu-Kennett, founding Abbess of Shasta Abbey, a Buddhist monastery in Northern California.

A dear friend lives in Weed, California, very near the City of Mt. Shasta where a local book store sells the translation. He bought it for me and it’s still on its way to me.

Meanwhile, I discovered that Shasta Abbey Press offers a free digital copy online.

Although this book was written for the guidance of monks and nuns, it is instructive and enlightening for others interested in the observance of Mahayana Buddhism and in the history of Buddhism.

One cannot summarize a work of 1,114 digital pages, one that stands on its own in its completeness. I will, however, present here the subject-titles of some of the 95 fascicles:

6. On ‘Your Very Mind Is Buddha’
7. On Washing Yourself Clean
9. On ‘Refrain from All Evil Whatsoever’
18. On ‘The Mind Cannot Be Grasped’
21. On Buddha Nature
32. On Kannon, the Bodhisattva of Compassion
36. On Learning the Way Through Body and Mind
38. On Expressing What One Has Realized
40. On Functioning Fully
45. On What the Mind of an Old Buddha Is
47. On the Vines That Entangle: the Vines That Embrace
49. On the Real Form of All Thoughts and Things
52. On the Heart-to-Heart Language of Intimacy
53. On the True Nature of All Things
55. On Washing Your Face
60. On Seeking One’s Master Far and Wide
62. On Everyday Life
82. On the Spiritual Merits of Leaving Home Life Behind
85. On Giving Rise to the Enlightened Mind
88. On the Absolute Certainty of Cause and Effect
93. On Life and Death
94. On the Mind’s Search for Truth
95. On ‘Each Buddha on His Own, Together with All Buddhas’

In an attempt to further interest the reader, I offer the ten precepts of Mahayana Buddhism which are referenced in this work:

1. Not killing
2. Not stealing
3. Not indulging in sexual greed
4. Not speaking falsehood
5. Not misusing intoxicants
6. Not talking of the faults of others
7. Not praising oneself nor slandering others
8. Not begrudging the dharma or materials
9. Not being angry
10. Not slandering the Three Treasures : the Buddha, the Dharma & the Sangha (spiritual community)

These ten Precepts seem very like the Ten Commandments given to Moses by YHWH. Both these guides for pious behavior tell you what not to do, but only The Commandments tell you what to do:

Honor your father and mother.
Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy.

In addition, the Commandments make reference to God but the Precepts do not. Any Buddha is not a god, but an ‘enlightened one.’