We say our practice
should be without gaining ideas, without any expectations, even of
enlightenment. This does not mean,
however, just to sit without any purpose.
I was very interested while listening to a tape by
Okamura-Roshi when he said that right after the Shobogenzo was written and
after Dogen Zenji died, immediately there was a split in the interpretation of
Dogen’s teaching especially concerning the use of koans and kensho or the
The first commentators on the Shobogenzo interpreted Dogen’s
writing as very critical of koan practice. These first commentators saw Dogen’s approach as very
oppositional to the Rinzai School.
This way of thinking became the mainstream Soto understanding of Dogen’s
But there was another smaller group of interpreters who said
that Dogen’s teaching was more similar to Rinzai and that his criticism was
against a certain kind of shallow understanding of koan, kensho and
enlightenment experiences. His
writing, they say, points out a way to deepen our understanding of the
so-called enlightenment experience.
There interpretation indicates more common ground with the Rinzai
Suzuki-Roshi, Katagiri-Roshi, and Uchiyama Roshi were in
lineages that followed the mainstream traditional understanding of Dogen’s
teaching, which did not emphasis the kensho experience (even though of course
it must have been present in their zendos). They call the Rinzai approach
“ladder-climbing Zen”. They rather emphasized the Genjo-koan, the koan of
expressing reality merged with daily life.
of this with Katagiri-roshi was his refusal to acknowledge an opening
experience through talk or praise.
He was adamantly against praising people’s practice or one could say,
verifying people’s experiences, because he felt that “verification” just
emphasized people’s ego-centricity and the sense of a separate self. I remember once having an opening
experience and Katagiri Roshi’s answer to that was a harrumphing sound and the
next thing I knew I was out of the zendo and in the kitchen as the tenzo. (the
On the other hand, their has been a line of Soto lineage
holders who have felt the need to deepen their satori experience and have gone
to Rinzai teachers and done the koan training of that school. Yasutani roshi, Aiken Roshi, Phillip Kapleau Roshi, and Maezumi
roshi have all been in the school of using koan practices and emphasizing
kensho. These teachers may use
Dogen’s teaching in their schools but have quite a different approach and
emphasis then the mainstream Soto tradition.
I have always known this to be an extremely sensitive point
in the teachings. It has helped me
to learn the history of this split.
This tension between schools has existed for hundreds of years. Various teachers over the centuries
have had different approaches and have tried to merge these dichotomies in
different ways. This study
of history has made me more tolerant of all the different ways to practice and
to release the ever-present fundamentalism of “my school is Right!”
Labels: different interpretaton of shobogenzo, Dogen, Kensho, Koans, ladder-climbing Zen, Rinzai School, satori, Soto School