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Reviewed by:
  • Shōbōgenzō: Yui Butsu yo Butsu [and] Shōji
  • Joan Stambaugh
Shōbōgenzō: Yui Butsu yo Butsu [and] Shōji = [parallel French title:] Shōbōgenzō :Seul Bouddha connaît Bouddha [and] Vie-mort: Extrait de Shōbōgenzō de Dōgen Zenji[,] Maître Zen de XIIème Sieècle = [parallel English title:] Shōbōgenzō: Only Buddha Knows Buddha [and] Life-death: Extract from Shōbōgenzō by Dōgen Zenji[,] XIIth Century Zen Master. By Dōgen. Traduit du japonais et annoté par Eido Shimano Rō shi et Charles Vacher = Translated from Japanese and annotated by Eido Shimano Rō shi and Charles Vacher [trilingual edition]. La Versanne, France: Encre Marine, 1999. Pp. 152.

Eidō Shimano Rōshi and Charles Vacher have completed their second effort at translating selections from Dōgen's Shōbōgenzō into English and French. Their first effort was a translation of Uji (Being-time), an early work. Now later works follow: Yui Butsu yo Butsu (Only Buddha knows Buddha) and Shōji (Life-death).

The most striking feature of the translation here of the "Yui Butsu yo Butsu" fascicle is a more meaningful rendering of the title. Whereas most other translations read "Only Buddha and Buddha"—which is at best enigmatic, if not [End Page 320] unintelligible—this translation has "Only Buddha knows Buddha," a distinct improvement. The fascicle deals with the ability to know and recognize other beings of the same kind: fish knowing the fishes' heart, birds finding the birds' trail. Four-legged animals have no inkling of the birds' trail; it lies outside their ken. Similarly, an ordinary person, lacking the Buddha-eye, cannot recognize a buddha, able to see only the outside surface, only attributes and not the traces or trails. "Trace" or "trail" is intended here in the sense not of anything left over or behind—a kind of defilement—but rather of an indicator of where a buddha has gone.

The phrase immediately following "Only Buddha knows Buddha" and repeated throughout the fascicle much like a Leitmotif reads: naino gūjin, complete combustion. These words are not to be found in the Sanskrit "original" text of the Lotus Sūtra, but were formulated by Kumārajīva, the translator of the Lotus Sūtra into Chinese. He was thus inspired to capture the gist of the Suō tra: only Buddha knows Buddha: complete combustion. With these words the nonduality of the working and presencing of Buddha with that of the entire universe is given expression.

It is the particular merit of this translation to formulate "Only Buddha knows Buddha," in contrast to other translations that have a nearly meaningless "Only Buddha and Buddha," and to recapture Kumārajīva's brilliant interpretive words "complete combustion." The two are inseparable. When only Buddha knows Buddha, complete combustion, that is, penetration and presencing, takes place, the nonduality of samsāra and nirvāna.

To say that searching for the true self is the unavoidable fate of human beings (p. 79) sounds a bit deterministic. It would perhaps be preferable to say that it is the wish or desire of all human beings.

Shōji (life-death) has been used in China and Japan to translate samsāra, the repeated cycles of birth and death. The brief fascicle "Shōji" emphasizes the non-duality of samsāra and Buddha (nirvāna). Buddha or awakening is to be found in samsāra, nowhere else. The commonsense attitude is that life turns into—becomes—death. In contrast, Doōgen states that life is a temporary condition with its before and after. Thus, life is beginningless. Death is a temporary condition with its before and after. Thus, death is deathless. If we crave life and abhor death, we lose the very life of the Buddha that is to be found nowhere else than in the midst of the whole of birth-life-death.

The fascicle concludes with the admonition to remain unattached, yet to have compassion for all beings.

This process of birth-life-death is not something that begins at physical birth and terminates with physical death, but is ongoing from moment to moment. Thus...


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