writing—succinct and poetic—can be a challenge. When
you listen to Dogen it seems he says one thing and then another. "This
is no good," you
might think. "This doesn’t help." But
it can help. Dogen shows the way your mind works.
It’s the trajectory of Dogen’s words
which gives us a hint. It’s not any particular
thing he says, but it’s the trajectory of
As other teachers have said:
writing of the first chapter of "Shobogenzo" is
very short and poetic. (In translation) ...it's
almost impossible to convey the beauty of the
rhythm and sound, the rich associations and profound
implication and suggestion of many important
words. …He uses very beautiful images about
practice and enlightenment, using the moon's
reflection in the water, fish in the ocean or
a bird in the sky. Shohaku Okuhura
wrote at the outermost edge of human communication,
touching with every sentence such mysteries
as self and other, self and no-self, meditation
and realization, the temporal and the time-less,
forms and the void… He wrote of the
attitude necessary for understanding, of
the practice required, of the various insights
that emerge, and of the many pitfalls. He
did not generally write for beginners-most
of his points require very careful study,
and a few of them elude almost everybody.
These challenges are compounded by his creative
use of the Japanese language of his time.
It has been said that he wrote in Dogenese,
for he made verbs of nouns, nouns of verbs,
created new metaphors, and manipulated old
sayings to present his particular understanding. Robert
Why study Genjo Koan?
The Genjo Koan addresses how one can live one’s
You don’t have to read it. But if you want to
engage with a great teacher’s engagement, it
may help you to open our heart and change your habits
of thinking and acting.
Dogen was talking about something that was very close
to him and his style was the best way
he could say what was really true
help people. It can be difficult. It’s not
like “Take two aspirins and see me in the morning” The
world is vast and wide. And you’re part it. You’re
part of the solution. If you’re trying to solve
it, to fix it, you’re not seeing your participation
Is Genjo Koan about
how to gain realization and enlightenment?
Dogen uses terms like realization and enlightenment
precisely because they’re
so loaded. You think
there’s something special that’s going
to stick out, so he uses that as a carrot…
How do you study Genjo
Koan? Should you study each verse? Every line?
not to work on the verses. It’s to work on your
life. This is the koan of your life; it’s not
the koan of Dogen’s. You’re not going to
study something called Genjo Koan, which is something
that Dogen has which is special. Rather Dogen is pointing
out that the question — the koan or the contradiction
of our life — is always in front of you.
asking you for the Genjo Koan.
Dogen is asking- “What is
the question of your life?” He’s asking
you for the Genjo Koan. He’s not giving
you what the Genjo Koan is. He's asking: How do you
understand your life? What
are you doing? Who are you? That’s
what he’s doing. He’s not saying, “Here
it is, figure out who it is.”
As you do this course, reflect on
Dogen's words. You're not trying to
figure them out — "What does
You're not trying to figure Dogen
out — "What
is he telling me?" Follow the trajectory
of Dogen's words in your mind.
Occasionally you'll come across a
box like this where you are guided in
what to reflect on in the verse you are
engaging. However, in this course every
line of Dogen's is to be reflected on.
Remember: These are not to be analyzed,
not to be "understood" — but
to reflect in your mind as a koan for