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  • Visions of Awakening Space and Time: Dōgen and the Lotus Sutra
  • Douglas K. Mikkelson
Visions of Awakening Space and Time: Dōgen and the Lotus Sutra. By Taigen Dan Leighton. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. xiii + 189 pp.

First of all, a caveat: the ideal reader for this book would have a background in Mahāyāna Buddism in general and Dōgen in particular as well as familiarity with the Lotus Sutra and hermeneutical theory past and present, just for starters. But if one is ever bewildered, ample footnotes and an excellent bibliography are available for assistance. Furthermore, on the whole Leighton's introductory chapters are laudable for their succinctness and clarity, and could serve as a useful refresher course for important aspects of the aforementioned subjects.

The author's central focus is on chapters 15 and 16 of the Lotus Sutra. Therein we read of chthonic bodhisattvas who emerge from the Earth, much to the surprise of the bodhisattvas attendant on the historical Buddha, in order to hear him preach the Lotus Sutra. As Leighton indicates, the event is a pivot story to the entire work. Think of the pivot story first of all as indicating the structural relationship of the event to the Lotus Sutra as a whole, separating the previous "cause" chapters from the subsequent "results" chapters. Among Leighton's extended description of this division we might [End Page 168] add that one could understand this as a pivot story in a Zen sense—namely, that the sutra itself is a vehicle for the realization and actualization of enlightenment. Indeed, Leighton's subsequent development of a Zen Buddhist response, especially Dōgen's, demonstrates this point.

Chapter 2 draws upon and contributes to hermeneutical and methodological explorations pertaining to Dōgen and the Lotus Sutra. Certainly the character of the Lotus Sutra itself invites the employment of hermeneutical inquiries East and West. Leighton himself notes the employment of upāya as the basis for interpreting a subsequent series of parables, including the famous parable of the burning house in chapter 3 of the sutra. That one can find opportunities for insightful interpretive possibilities via Western hermeneutical theories can be demonstrated by analogies to this very story. I offer as an example Kant's hypothetical example of an "erotematic" teaching mode in The Metaphysics of Morals. Therein a teacher leads a student through a questioning process to construct and accept a version of the Argument of Design for the existence of God—the existence of God being a necessary postulate of pure practical reason in order to ensure the foundations of morality. That Kant himself rejected the argument from Design in The Critique of Pure Reason suggests that he is actually employing an "expedient device" the student must transcend in order to reach the ultimate truth. So, according to some interpreters of the Lotus Sutra, does the parable serve to explain why the Buddha has heretofore preached three paths of salvation when in reality there is only one.

Proposing the Kantian erotematic teaching mode and Buddhist upāya as analogous in this instance partly turns on reading the Lotus Sutra as articulating a hierarchy of Buddhist teachings, the epitome itself presented by the text, or at least by certain followers of the text. Drawing from William LaFleur's suggestion that hōben in Japanese is better rendered as "modes" than "expedient means," Leighton sees Dōgen's own reading of the Lotus Sutra as more in keeping with inclusive, nonhierarchichal readings of the text. Granted, he rightly notes how Dōgen at times does advance his own perspective while lambasting others. But commentators often note Dōgen's playful interpretations and misreadings of Buddhist texts and doctrines and his subsequent reinterpretation of his own writings and teachings in accordance with circumstances, and Leighton offers us valuble interpretive insight for how this may potentially unfold.

Leighton explores also the employment of the "fantastic" (images, visions, dreams, etc.) as a means of explicating Dōgen's take on the Lotus Sutra. This, as he notes, is concurrent with recent efforts to move studies of Buddhism beyond doctrine and philosophy. No doubt those who...


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