Dogen's literary style

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laic
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Dogen's literary style

Post by laic »

New to the forum, I have been surfing around. As said in my Introduction, although Pure Land I have a long interest in all Dharma ways. Dogen has been an interest. Many of those "disorientated" by our modern world and its loss of direction have found various understandings within Dogen's large corpus of writings.

As I understand it, Dogen wrote in a very flowery "ancient" Japanese language (perhaps like Chaucer's English) and interpretation is rather difficult. Certainly, from commentaries I have dipped into on his various essays and poems, his words can be understood in various ways. Again, he seems to have developed his own views over time.

Anyway, not really much to say. I just love his "circle of the way" and our "movement toward Buddha". I remember that Dogen's own teacher in China once said to him that "the power of the present moment is the only moment", that this was "a skillful teaching of buddha ancestors". Nevertheless, that "this doesn’t mean that there is no future result from practice".
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Re: Dogen's literary style

Post by Matylda »

laic wrote: Thu Sep 22, 2022 5:16 pm Dogen wrote in a very flowery "ancient" Japanese language (perhaps like Chaucer's English) and interpretation is rather difficult.
Not really. Dogen wrote according to the grammar and standards of his time. Ancient it is for us, but it is 800 years later, so naturally the language was different. It was classical Japanese or classical Chinese which was dharma language in East Asia, not only in Japan, but also Vietnam, Korea, and of course China.

What was pecular to Dogen was the style, syntax he used, which was unusual. But in fact it was not for literary flowery style, but something different was behind it.
He wrote from the depths of his great realization, nothing else. His perfect education since he was a child was very helpful. But most interpreters missed badly the point, since they could not reach that level of insight he had completed. Actually, Dogen`s interpretations are something very new in soto zen. It started in the second part of the 19th century, when soto zen tradition was already badly damaged, and the power of realization was deeply disrupted. And in the meantime, it did not improve, just the opposite. It became worse, much worse. Today we have talkative intellectuals; they give their own interpretation of Dogen`s teachings, but it is very intellectual, so far away from his purpot.
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Johnny Dangerous
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Re: Dogen's literary style

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What is considered the best translation of the Shobogenzo, generally?
Don’t you see what’s wrong with the world today? Oh Everybody wants somebody to be their own piece of clay.

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Re: Dogen's literary style

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There is an interesting essay on Dogen's writing style to be found in "Treasury of the True Dharma Eye" under the headng "Dogen's Style of Writing"

A brief excerpt:-

While some of his poetry was composed in Japanese, Dogen wrote all official statements, most of the monastic guidelines, and many of his poems in Chinese. The Chinese language has thousands of ideographs and is rich in expressing poetic images and philosophical concepts. Meanwhile, it has no grammatical conjugations and lacks definite parts of speech. The relationship between words is often implicit. Thus, its sentence structure is suggestive and ambiguous. The Japanese writing system combines Chinese ideographs and Japanese phonetic letters. Its grammar has inflections and parts of speech, so sentence structure is usually explicit. The logical structure of the Japanese language thus allowed Dogen to pioneer a genre of immensely critical essays in his own language.

I've found myself that translations of Dogen himself can be immensely varied. While Dogen's insights and understanding were no doubt profound, how such are "transmitted" and shared is another matter. Then again, in my own rather limited understanding, as I see it he sought his very own path, time and place, as we must find ours.
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Re: Dogen's literary style

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Some English translations of Shobogenzo fascicles

— in 95-fascicle order, with transliteration of Japanese title and dates delivered, as given by Heine in DC, p. 242-5.

For the three complete editions (T+, NC and SA), numbering and transliterations of Japanese titles are given when they differ from column 1. Other translations are listed in rightmost column, using these abbreviations:

BT: Beyond Thinking (Tanahashi 2004)
CS: Cleary, Shobogenzo (1986) (in Classics of Buddhism and Zen v.2)
DC: Did Dogen Go to China? (Heine 2006)
DKT: Dogen and the Koan Tradition (Heine 1994)
DMZ: Dogen's Manuals of Zen Meditation (Bielefeldt 1988)
EU: Enlightenment Unfolds (Tanahashi 2000)
MD: Moon in a Dewdrop (Tanahashi 1985)
NC: Nishijima and Cross, Master Dogen's Shobogenzo (Book 1, 1994; Book 2, 1996; Book 3, 1997; Book 4, 1999)
Ox: How to Raise an Ox (Cook 1978)
RG: Realizing Genjokoan (Okumura 2010)
RZ: Rational Zen (Cleary 1995) (in Classics of Buddhism and Zen v.3)
SA: Shasta Abbey (Nearman 2007)
SVS: Sounds of Valley Streams (Cook 1989)
SZTP: Soto Zen Text Project
T+: Tanahashi and others, Treasury of the True Dharma Eye (2010)
WA: Waddell and Abe, The Heart of Dogen's Shobogenzo (2002)
WW: The Wholehearted Way (Okumura and Leighton 1997)

from https://www.gnusystems.ca/SBGZ.htm which has a comparison table between translations of Shobogenzo
svaha
"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Sarvē mānavāḥ svatantrāḥ samutpannāḥ vartantē api ca, gauravadr̥śā adhikāradr̥śā ca samānāḥ ēva vartantē. Ētē sarvē cētanā-tarka-śaktibhyāṁ susampannāḥ santi. Api ca, sarvē’pi bandhutva-bhāvanayā parasparaṁ vyavaharantu."
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 1. (in english and sanskrit)
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Re: Dogen's literary style

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Johnny Dangerous wrote: Fri Sep 23, 2022 12:13 am What is considered the best translation of the Shobogenzo, generally?
Hi Johnny, I've long been interested in the art of translation, where we enter the "treacherous sea of language"! I remember a few words of Sangarakshita (aka Dennis Lingwood of Romford..... :smile: ) who said that it may at times be found that translations which are, from the literary point of view, uncouth and clumsy in the extreme, but which have been made by persons possessed of genuine insight into the Dharma, are capable of opening the inner eye of the student in a way which the most exact and polished translation made by the mere scholar is powerless to effect.

That may be true, something to consider.

There is a well known saying of Dogen often found here and there concerning weeds and flowers. Often it is quoted as a simple sentence:-

The flower petals fall though we love them, the weeds grow though we hate them - that is just how it is.

This is a small part of Dogen's "Genjokoan" and therefore has a wider context. Some would argue that context is everything. Here are a few translations of this but within a slightly wider context.....

The buddha way, in essence, is leaping clear of abundance and lack; thus there is birth and death, delusion and realization, sentient beings and buddhas. Yet in attachment blossoms fall, and in aversion weeds spread.


Another:-

Since the Buddha Way by nature goes beyond abundance and deficiency, there is arising and perishing, delusion and realization, living beings and buddhas. Therefore flowers fall even though we love them; weeds grow even though we dislike them.

And another:-

In itself, the way of the buddhas leaps clear of both the richness and the lack of categories. Therefore, there is birth-extinction; there is delusion-realization; and there are ordinary beings-buddhas. Yet, despite all this, cherished blossoms only scatter to our regret and weeds only flourish to our dismay.


Obviously, some are more prosaic than others. What takes your fancy? I'd say that you would need to read the entire Genjokoan to find the full context of the weeds and flowers and of our dislike and love of them. Then again, the full context is our own life and life experiences.

A work of art is not a piece of fruit lifted from a tree branch: it is a ripening collaboration of artist, receiver, and world.

 (Jane Hirshfield, from "Ten Windows.")
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Re: Dogen's literary style

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We use the Nishijima/Cross translation for primary reference. The Shasta Abbey translation we ony use as contrast when discussion arises of word choice, but generally the N/C edition takes precedence. The Tanahashi translation is also favored by some of the group.
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Re: Dogen's literary style

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I have the Nishima/Cross volumes, I was just wondering at people’s recommendations.

While not in the Zen works directly anymore, I’ve always felt like I’m not on the same page with Nishimas general view in things, and have wondered if it’s worth looking at other versions.
Don’t you see what’s wrong with the world today? Oh Everybody wants somebody to be their own piece of clay.

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Re: Dogen's literary style

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Folks in the sangha like Tanahashi because apparently its more "poetic", whatever that means lol. The Shasta Abbey translation does seem to take some liberties with what sometimes looks like significant rewording OTOH sometimes that amounts to an unexpected shot from left field that gets discussion unstuck or inspired, so we kept it handy. Right now we're working through a book of koans, so maybe back to another of the Shobogenzo volumes next year, circumstances permitting.
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Re: Dogen's literary style

Post by Genjo Conan »

We tend to use both the Tanahashi and the Nishijima/Cross translations. The N/C version is a little bit clearer, but also a little dry. One of Kaz's goals was to maintain as much as possible the flavor of the original. So yeah, it is more poetic, but it can sometimes be a bit more work to read.

The Shasta Abbey translation is famously...creative. On the other hand, it's free, which has its own benefits.
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Re: Dogen's literary style

Post by Aemilius »

I like the translations of Thomas Cleary.


Shobogenzo: Zen Essays by Dogen
by Eihei Dogen (Author), Thomas Cleary (Translator)

Rational Zen: The Mind of Dogen Zenji (Shambhala Dragon Editions)
by Thomas Cleary
svaha
"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Sarvē mānavāḥ svatantrāḥ samutpannāḥ vartantē api ca, gauravadr̥śā adhikāradr̥śā ca samānāḥ ēva vartantē. Ētē sarvē cētanā-tarka-śaktibhyāṁ susampannāḥ santi. Api ca, sarvē’pi bandhutva-bhāvanayā parasparaṁ vyavaharantu."
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 1. (in english and sanskrit)
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Re: Dogen's literary style

Post by laic »

Just to share, a small quotation from Stephen Heine found in "The Poetry of Dogen" which speaks, in part, of Dogen's "style"....


many Zen patriarchs used language to defeat language, or as a “poison to counteract poison,” resulting in a realization beyond thought and scripture. Dogen, on the other hand, employs a variety of verbal devices such as philosophical wordplay, paradox, and irony in order to stress that there is a fundamental identity of language and enlightenment, or a oneness of the sutras and personal attainment. Rather than emphasizing silence or the transcendence of speech, Dogen proves himself in his main work, the Shobogenzo, to be a master of language. He exhibits remarkable skill in revealing how ordinary words harbor a deeper though generally hidden metaphysical meaning.
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