- Visions of Awakening Space and Time: Dōgen and the Lotus Sūtra
Taigen Dan Leighton has done it again. Following Dōgen's Extensive Record (Wisdom Publications, 2005)—his acclaimed translation, with Shohaku Okumura, of the Eihei kōroku—Leighton has produced yet another work of consummate scholarship that expands our understanding not only of the Sōtō Zen founder Dōgen (1200– 1253) but also of Zen Buddhism in general. Visions of Awakening Space and Time: Dōgen and the Lotus Sūtra convincingly demonstrates the pervasive influence of Tendai's central scripture on Dōgen's thought well after he left the Tendai headquarters at Enryakuji as a young man. It specifically examines the vivid spatial and temporal images in chapters 15 and 16 of the Lotus Sūtra, and highlights Dōgen's appropriation of the form and content of these chapters in his own highly idiomatic writings.
Chapter 15 of the Lotus Sūtra imparts the Tathāgatagarbha lesson that the world itself is the womb for awakening. To illustrate this sentiment, it recounts the extraordinary episode in which myriad enlightened beings magically spring forth from "the empty space under the ground" to preach the Lotus dharma. Chapter 16, by contrast, teaches the monistic Hua Yen lesson of jijimuge, the non-obstruction of all dharmas (things/events). To illustrate this sentiment, one learns that Śakyamuni's apparent death does not obstruct the fact of his inconceivable life span, which, one learns, really extends ad infinitum from the eternal past to the unimaginable future.1 By locating enlightenment in the earth itself, and by reconciling impermanence with perpetuity in this way, these two pivotal chapters give full voice and fantastic vision to the Mahāyāna teaching of Buddha's universal and eternal omnipresence throughout all space and time.
Dōgen's appropriation of these spatial and temporal motifs is evident throughout his oeuvre, in terms of both form and content. In terms of form, Dōgen's notion of "practice equals realization" reflects the mediating position of these two chapters between the "cause" and "effect" halves of the Lotus Sūtra, which Sino-Japanese commentaries first identified and which Leighton adeptly summarizes for the reader. The Japanese Tendai founder Saichō (767–822) is curiously absent from his analysis, but Leighton does discuss the commentaries of Daosheng (ca. 360–434), Zhiyi (538–597), Zhanran (711–782), Saigyō (1118–1190), Myōe (1173–1232), Nichiren (1222–1282), and even later Zen figures Hakuin (1686–1768) and Ryōkan (1758–1831). Furthermore, Dōgen's entire approach to teaching reflects the self-legitimating device of the Lotus Sūtra, which proclaims itself to be the embodiment of Buddhist truth. While the argument is too complex to go into at length here, Leighton creatively invokes Ricoeur's hermeneutics of manifestation and proclamation to indicate how Dōgen's statements both describe and demonstrate Buddhist truth. As a result, one better appreciates how Dōgen's very form of discourse—his wordplay, sentence restructuring, and interchangeable term-swapping—is designed to manifest the nonduality of all dharmas (his own words included). [End Page 425]
In terms of content, the spatial and temporal motifs in chapters 15 and 16 also helped to shape Dōgen's worldview and, perhaps more importantly, his timeview. The image of the earth itself giving birth to enlightened beings, in chapter 15, is echoed in such fascicles as Dōgen's Mountains and Rivers Sūtra (Sansuikyō), which teaches that nature's insentient forms incessantly preach the Dharma (mujōseppō). Furthermore, in chapter 16, the mystifying lesson of the Buddha's infinite lifespan (despite his finite parinirvāa) is later echoed in such fascicles as Dōgen's Being Time (Uji), which teaches that all beings are times that can enfold and unfold one another throughout the unobstructed past, present, and future.
Should the reader feel lost in such abstractions or claims of "young fathers and old sons," Leighton's clear, articulate...