(scroll down for Mike’s modern interpretations!)

Meaning of 正法眼蔵 (SHOBOGENZO), “The Right-Dharma-Eye Treasury”

正 (SHO) means “right” or “true.” 法 (HO), “Law,” represents the Sanskrit “Dharma.” All of us belong to something which, prior to our naming it or thinking about it, is already there. And it already belongs to us. Dharma, is one name for what is already there.

法眼 (HOGEN), “the Dharma-eye,” represents the direct experience of what is already there. Because the Dharma is prior to thinking, it must be directly experienced by a faculty which is other than thinking.

眼 (GEN) “eye,” represents this direct experience which is other than thinking.

正法眼 (SHOBOGEN), “the right-Dharma-eye,” therefore describes the right experience of what is already there. 蔵 (ZO), “storehouse” or “treasury,” suggests something that contains and preserves the right experience of what is already there. Thus, Nishijima Roshi has interpreted 正法眼蔵 (SHOBOGENZO), “the right-Dharma-eye treasury,” as an expression of Zazen itself.

The eBooks available here contain the four volumes of the authorised version of the Shobogenzo published between 1994 and 1999 by Windbell Publications Ltd., the publishing company that I set up in the UK in 1990 to publish our translations of the works of Dogen Zenji. In 2007, the Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, the US arm of Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai (Society for the Promotion of Buddhism), requested permission to republish our 4-volume translation of the Shobogenzo in electronic form. The BDK version differs from the authorised Windbell version in that all footnotes are presented at the end of every chapter and do not contain the Japanese/Chinese kanji characters. In addition, some small editing changes made to the text and the kanji characters have been removed from the Lotus Sutra References and the Glossary of Sanskrit Terms in the appendices. For these reasons, the original authorised versions of the four volumes of the Shobogenzo have been made available here as eBookswith the kind permission of Mike Chodo Cross.

“At last I visited Zen Master Nyojo of Dai-byaku-ho mountain, and there I was able to complete the great task of a lifetime of practice. After that, at the beginning of the great Sung era of Shojo, I came home determined to spread the Dharma and to save living beings – it was as if a heavy burden had been placed on my shoulders… I will leave this record to people who learn in practice and are easy in the truth, so that they can know the right Dharma of the Buddha’s lineage. This may be a true mission.” (Shobogenzo Bendowa).

“The water is clean, right down to the ground. Fishes are swimming like fishes. The sky is wide, clear through to the heavens. And birds are flying like birds.”

“… children and grandchildren of the Buddhist patriarchs should unfailingly learn in practice that sitting in Zazen is the one great matter. This is the authentic seal which is received and transmitted one-to-one.” (Shobogenzo Zazenshin)

“The first Patriarch, the Venerable Bodhidharma, after arriving from the west, passed nine years facing the wall at Shorin-ji Temple on Shoshitsu Peak in the Sugaku mountains, sitting in Zazen in the lotus posture.

From that time through to today, brains and eyes have pervaded China. The life-blood of the first Patriarch is only in the practice of sitting in the full lotus position.” (Shobogenzo zanmai-o-zanmai)

“In learning the state of truth, we should, as the practice thereof, without fail diligently practice Zazen. This has been transmitted between buddhas without interruption from ancient times to the present. When we become buddha, we do not do so apart from this [practice]. Being transmitted by buddha it is beyond human supposition…”

“… only people who have experienced, in the mountain-still state, the Zazen that is different from thinking, are able to grasp it.” (Shobogenzo Butso-kojo-no-ji)

Modern interpretations of some of the Shobogenzo  chapters by Mike Eido Luetchford

I started doing modern interpretations of the chapters of the Shobogenzo as a result of giving talks on the Shobogenzo in the UK from 2000-2007. I noticed that people with no knowledge of Japanese language or culture find it extremely difficult to understand clearly the sometimes strictly literal translations that appear in the 4-volume version of the Shobogenzo by Nishijima Roshi and Mike Cross. Although I can usually explain the meaning of the passage in question, I often find myself unable to give them a satisfactory explanation of why the sentence is rendered in the way that it is.       

I came up with the idea of making my own rather free interpretations to help people to understand the meaning of the chapters based on my own understanding. To do this I have used three main sources. The first is the 4-volume translation of the 97 chapters of the Shobogenzo translated by my teacher, Nishijima Roshi and his longtime student and dharma heir Mike Chodo Cross, and published by Windbell Publications. This will always be the definitive reference for me, since it contains what Dogen Zenji wrote in a very exact style. The second source is an unpublished English translation of the Shobogenzo that Nishijima Roshi completed in 1979 and which I spent more than 6 years up to 1986 rewriting and editing. Those chapters are now available online here. The third source is my own understanding of the chapters that are the result of my more than 30 years of study, and Yoko’s understanding of the chapters — she studied the Shobogenzo in Japanese for as long as I studied the English version.

Calling these modern interpretations suggests that I use modern English expressions whenever possible, and also emphasizes that these are interpretations, not translations. That means that if you compare them with the original Nishijima/Cross translation, you’ll find that it doesn’t always match. Sometimes that’s because I’ve interpreted what Master Dogen is saying using modern terms, and occasionally it’s because the meaning of the English in our original Shobogenzo books is not clear enough, and so I have chosen to express it in a different form.

I do not in any way claim these interpretations to be more accurate or more truthful than existing versions. The process of making the Shobogenzo understandable to modern people has been a very long one. Nishijima Roshi spent more than 16 years translating the Shobogenzo into modern Japanese, and then a further six years to make his first English translation. Since that time, his students have worked together to produce an ever clearer English text. It will always be a work in progress. To render the metaphors and poetry of Dogen Zenji, written in mediaeval Japanese and Chinese, into modern English is almost impossible. There will always be compromises made in this process. Nevertheless I hope that my attempts to make these chapters more understandable will stimulate people to look at what Dogen Zenji was teaching. Since his understanding of Buddhist philosophy was complete, this is a very important task.

I welcome any comments, criticisms, and suggestions for improving the interpretations.  There are surely many mistakes.

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