Dōgen’s Take on Zazen, Sutra Reading, and Other Conventional Buddhist Practices
This chapter is based on a close reading of passages in the Shōbōgenzō and elsewhere on sutra reading, which is one of the practices that Dōgen says is unnecessary in the oft-quoted passage attributed to his mentor Rujing, cited in Bendōwa (also found in Hōkyōki and “Gyōji”): “You can only succeed by just sitting, without a need to make use of burning incense, prostration, recitation of buddha names, repentance ceremonies, reading scriptures, or ritual incantations.” Based on the ritual practices that he followed, it is shown that Dōgen did not mean to reject literally any of those standard Buddhist training methods. Why, then, does he disparage them? The answer is actually simple and clear, and is well illustrated in “Kankin”: one should engage in all practices, ideally without attachment to them, but even with attachment if one has not figured out yet what nonattachment really is. Nonattachment for Dōgen is insight into the emptiness of dharmas, which in plain English means the ultimately false (albeit useful) nature of all conceptual categories, starting with the category of “thing.” From that point of view, all practices (including zazen or sitting meditation) are rejected because, after all, there is no such thing as “practice”—it is just a conventional category—and yet all practices are also accepted and endorsed.
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