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Reviewed by:
  • Dōgen and Sōtō Zen ed. by Steven Heine
  • Taigen Dan Leighton
Dōgen and Sōtō Zen. Edited by Steven Heine. Oxford University Press, 2015. 336 pages. Hardcover £74.00/ $105.00; softcover £23.99/ $31.95.

This volume of collected essays by respected academics is another valuable contribution from editor Steven Heine. This book offers many original insights into both Dōgen (1200–1253) and the influence of the Sōtō school that his teachings later inspired. The material on Dōgen delves further into areas already broached in previous studies. Outside Japan, the study of later developments and current practices of Sōtō Zen is still at an early stage, so these essays open interesting new pathways for research.

Heine is one of the most eminent and prolific scholars of Dōgen and Zen koan literature in the West. His numerous edited compilations, many done in collaboration with Dale Wright, include books focusing on Dōgen, koans (Ch. gong'an), and other topics pertinent to Zen. This reviewer has contributed essays to a few of those collections. Heine has also independently authored valuable books about Dōgen and koans, of which two are particularly noteworthy. Dōgen and the Kōan Tradition (SUNY Press, 1994) is an essential, highly under-appreciated work about Dōgen's mastery of the vast koan literature in China, and how he used this material to develop his own unique approach to teaching and practicing Zen. Dōgen's position on koan study continues in some of modern Sōtō Zen practice, quite apart from how koan practice is conventionally understood today in most of American Zen. Equally valuable is Heine's Did Dōgen Go to China? What He Wrote and When He Wrote It (Oxford University Press, 2006), which provides a much-needed, subtle, and nuanced overview of the many phases of Dōgen's teaching career and how he shifted teaching emphasis and styles in accordance with his audience. Thus, Heine overturns simplistic stereotypes about periods of Dōgen's teaching that posit major shifts in his primary doctrinal positions.

Dōgen and Sōtō Zen includes ten essays, five on aspects of Dōgen's teaching and five on later developments in the Sōtō tradition, all of which display a wide variety of interests and approaches. The section on Dōgen begins in chapter 1 with Griffith Foulk's "Dōgen's Use of Rujing's 'Just Sit' (shikan taza) and Other Kōans," which starts by dispelling the obvious delusion, still sadly adhered to by scholars and sectarian spokespersons, that only Rinzai, and not Dōgen or Sōtō, used koans. Foulk describes being attacked at a conference in Korea where this distinction, imposed upon Rinzai and Sōtō schools by the Meiji government in the second half of the nineteenth century, was still ignorantly upheld due to Japanese scholars influential in Korea (pp. 23–26). Anyone who reads Dōgen knows that a clear majority of his writings comment on the old dialogue encounters that are enshrined in the classic koan collections. Foulk's article itemizes contexts for Dōgen's extensive deployment of koans, including in his sutra commentaries and discussions of monastic procedures. [End Page 287] The article then focuses on Dōgen's approach to meditation and the concept of "just sitting" (shikan taza), originating from Rujing, Dōgen's teacher in China, and sometimes considered central to Dōgen's meditation style. This essay explicitly acts as a sequel to Foulk's article in a previous Heine collection and comprehensively elucidates how just sitting has been misunderstood by modern commentators as a dismissal of other practices such as sutra reading, koan study, or ritual expressions, all of which were very much part of Dōgen's practice and teaching.1 As Foulk clarifies, shikan taza was not the primary term Dōgen used in discussing Zen practice. Other terms appearing more often include "going beyond buddha" (bukkō jōji), which encourages sustained practice, "dropping off body-mind" (shinjin datsuraku), and "the oneness of practice-realization" (shushō no ittō). Foulk emphasizes the extent to which Dōgen speaks of...


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