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Purifying Zen

Watsuji Tetsurō's Shamon Dōgen

translated and with commentary by Steve Bein

Publication Year: 2011

Purifying Zen: Watsuji Tetsuro’s Shamon Dogen makes available in a clear and fluid translation an early classic in modern Japanese philosophy. Steve Bein’s annotations, footnotes, introduction, and commentary bridge the gap separating not only the languages but also the cultures of its original readers and its new Western audience.” —from the Foreword by Thomas P. Kasulis

In 1223 the monk Dogen Kigen (1200–1253) came to the audacious conclusion that Japanese Buddhism had become hopelessly corrupt. He undertook a dangerous pilgrimage to China to bring back a purer form of Buddhism and went on to become one of the founders of Soto Zen, still the largest Zen sect in Japan. Seven hundred years later, the philosopher Watsuji Tetsuro (1889–1960) also saw corruption in the Buddhism of his day. Watsuji’s efforts to purify the religion sent him not across the seas but searching Japan’s intellectual past, where he discovered writings by Dogen that had been hidden away by the monk’s own sect. Watsuji later penned Shamon Dogen (Dogen the monk), which single-handedly rescued Dogen from the brink of obscurity, reintroducing Japan to its first great philosophical mind.

Purifying Zen is the first English translation of Watsuji’s landmark book. A text intended to reacquaint Japan with one of its finest philosophers, the work delves into the complexities of individuals in social relationships, lamenting the stark egoism and loneliness of life in an increasingly Westernized Japan. In addition to an introduction that provides biographical details on Watsuji and Dogen, the translation is supplemented with a brief guide to the themes and ideas of Shamon Dogen, beginning with a consideration of the nature of faith and the role of responsibility in Watsuji’s vision of Dogen’s Zen. It goes on to examine the technical terms of Dogen’s philosophy and the role of written language in Dogen’s thought.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xiii

The Japanese book Shamon Dōgun is important for multiple reasons. First, it represents a crucial turn both for modern Japanese philosophy and for its author, Watsuji Tetsurō (1889-1960), a major Japanese thinker of the twentieth century. At the beginning of that century...

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pp. xv-xvi

In the Rinrigaku, Watsuji suggests that our individuality is possible only because of the nurturing and support of our communities. I claim individual responsibility for any errors that appear in this book, but for its success I have a host of others to whom I am deeply indebted and whom...

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pp. 1-20

This book is called Purifying Zen because that was a goal shared by the two minds who meet in these pages. About eight hundred year ago Dōgen Kigen (1200-1253), a young monk from the Kansai region of Japan, came to the audacious conclusion that the Buddhism practiced in his homeland...

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Notes on the Translation

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pp. 21-22

The standards of scholarship in American academia, according to which attributing quotations to their original authors is sacrosanct, did not apply in Taisho era Japan. Watsuji never heard of "intellectual property" and would likely have been dismayed by the very idea of it. (in a world founded on Confucian values, knowledge made public...

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1. Preface

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pp. 25-33

Before touching on the personality and thought of Dōgen the monk1, first I would like to make the reader aware that I am a layman with regard to Zen, and that I express nothing but admiration for Dōgen. I can only write of my impressions of his admirable qualities...

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2. Dōgen's Period of Self-Cultivation

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pp. 34-44

The monks of Kenninji once turned to their teacher Eisai and said, "These days the Kamo River is getting close to the temple buildings at Kinninji. Someday it may flood up to our doorstep." Eisai answered, "Our temple will disappear someday; it's not necessary to think about such things...

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3. The First Sermon

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pp. 45-51

Having finished his period of self-cultivation in China, Dōgen returned to Japan at age twenty-eight. This was two years after the death of Minamoto no Yoritomo's wife, Hōjō Masako1. In Kyoto, Kamakura, and other cities, there were still attempts to overthrow the new government of the warrior class, but by this...

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4. The Method and Meaning of Self-Cultivation

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pp. 52-60

At the heart of Dōgen's teachings is the manifestation of eternal values. Therefore, the destruction of all worldly values must be the starting point of his project. Dōgen expressed this destruction of worldly values through the traditional Buddhist expression "You should contemplate impermanence." He says...

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5. Shinran's Compassion and Dōgen's Compassion

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pp. 61-71

The most remarkable part of Shinran's teaching is his explanation of boundless compassion. For Shinran, compassion is the image of the absolute being. It is the highest aspiration. Therefore, the best thing in human life must be the manifestation of compassion. But Shinran does not explain infinite compassion in phrases...

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6. Concerning Excellence

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pp. 72-77

Obviously, concern for moral excellence is not the primary obligation in religions that aim for oneness with the absolute. In the case of Shinran, the fact that he gives little explanation regarding excellence indicates his intense passion for the absolute. But here one can also see an inevitable difference...

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7. Concerning Social Problems

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pp. 78-81

Dōgen accepted the world of laypeople and their excellences. However, he did not try to teach that, when complete, the moral excellences of the laity are in agreement with the moral excellences of the clergy - or, in other words, that to leave personal interest behind and ascend to the will of the heavens...

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8. Criticism of Art

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pp. 82-84

Given his way of thinking, Dōgen soon came to disapprove of artistic efforts. The Buddhism of the Asuka period was represented by Prince Shōtoku and Hōryūji. Buddhism of the Tempyō period is represented by Empress Kōmyō and the Great Buddha Hall of Tōdaiji1. Buddhism in the Fujiwara period was in harmony...

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9. Dōgen's "Truth"

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pp. 85-117

All of Dōgen's ideas that I have explained so far are based on his most basic passion: the passion to cast off body-mind and realize the truth. Though I try to explain these ideas clearly, I could never get beyond even the outer boundaries of his "truth." So what is his so-called "Buddha's truth"? Here we encounter...

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Reading Shamon Dōgen

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pp. 119-141

Perhaps the greatest contribution Shamon Dōgen can offer readers of English is a distinctly Japanese interpretation of Dōgen's life and thought. Watsuji's perspective is unmistakably different from that of most of the Dōgen scholars working in English (and in other European languages, for that matter). Watsuji has had a significant influence on these studies...


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pp. 143-160


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pp. 161-168


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pp. 169-174

E-ISBN-13: 9780824860257
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824835101

Publication Year: 2011

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Subject Headings

  • Watsuji, Tetsurō, 1889-1960. Shamon Dōgen.
  • Zen Buddhism -- Japan.
  • Dōgen, 1200-1253.
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