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Koans in the Dogen Tradition: How and Why Dogen Does What He Does with Koans

From: Philosophy East and West
Volume 54, Number 1, January 2004
pp. 1-19 | 10.1353/pew.2003.0052

Abstract

A hallmark of Dogen's legacy is his introduction of Chinese Ch'an koan literature to Japan in the first half of the thirteenth century and his unique and innovative style of interpreting dozens of koan cases, many of which are relatively obscure or otherwise untreated in the annals. What constitutes the distinctiveness of Dogen's approach? According to Hee-Jin Kim's seminal study, Dogen shifts from an instrumental to a realizational model of koan interpretation. While this essay agrees with some features of Kim's approach, especially his emphasis on the importance of language, it is argued that Kim overlooks the diversity of aims and intentions in Dogen's use of rhetorical and narrative strategies to highlight diverse doctrinal and ritual themes. There is no single underlying view of koans for Dogen, who continually modifies his interpretive approach to particular cases in order to articulate specific themes.