Bendowa

Date Written: 1231
Fascicle number and English title in Hubert Nearman translation: 1. A Discourse on Doing One’s Utmost in Practicing the Way of the Buddha
Fascicle number and English title in Nishijima/Cross translation: 1. A Talk About Pursuing the Truth
Fascicle number and English title in Tanahashi translation: 1. On the Endeavour of the Way
Fascicle number in 12, 28, 60 and 75 fascicle editions: not included in original Shōbōgenzō
Commentaries: Don’t Be A Jerk chapter 1; Receiving the Marrow chapter 1; The Wholehearted Way by Shohaku Okumura and Taigen Dan Leighton
Audio reading: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0bRJQlGx3CM

Summary

While Fukan-zazengi contains Dōgen’s instructions for Shikantaza, Bendōwa is a more extensive explanation of the rationale and history behind this central practice of Sōtō Zen which he describes as a “subtle method which is supreme and without intention” and “transmitted only from buddha to buddha.” 

This fascicle also contains the expression of his notion of practice enlightenment in which he answered his own question of why practice is necessary despite all beings having (or being) buddha nature. 

Dōgen talks about his history of practice with different teachers and how he achieved awakening under Tendo Nyōjō (Tiantong Rujing) in China, returning to Japan to spread what he had learned. 

Questions are asked and answered in order to clarify doubts about the practice such as “Why do you see it [Zazen] as the only authentic gate?” (answer: because all of the Buddha ancestors attained the state of truth using Zazen) and how sitting idly can be a means of attaining enlightenment (which Dōgen says is a totally inaccurate characterization of the practice). 

Dōgen claims that Zazen is the foremost practice among Buddhist practices and traditions and that people should not talk of the ‘Zen Sect’ but rather see what he is teaching as the pure continuation of the Buddha-Dharma.  He encourages us to follow the example of Zen monasteries in China where Zazen occurs throughout the day and night. 

Dōgen refutes the notion that the mental essence of a person survives death, calling such a view ‘non-Buddhist’.  He affirms the practice of Zazen as something for both home-leavers (monks and nuns) and lay men and women, giving the example of two emperors who sat Zazen even while busy with the affairs of state.  He dismisses the idea of the ‘corrupt age of Buddha-Dharma’ (mappō) in which it is harder to awaken, as something for philosophers, stating that “all those who practice attain the state of truth.” Dōgen also rejects the notion that some countries and people are too dull-witted or crooked to become enlightened, pointing out various stories from the Buddha’s time in which many foolish and terrible people were awakened through his teaching.


Kōans and Stories

The story of Soku and Master Hogen in which Hogen tests Soku’s knowledge of his words “The children of fire come looking for fire” (meaning that we look for buddha nature despite already being it, seeking something separate and outside of what already is). 


Important passages

“For enjoyment of this sāmadhi, the practice of Zazen, in the erect sitting posture, has been established as the authentic gate.”

“This Dharma is abundantly present in each human being, but if we do not practice it, it does not manifest itself, and if we do not experience it, it cannot be realized.  When we let go, it has already filled the hand; how could it be defined as one or many?  When we speak, it fills the mouth; it has no restrictions in any direction.”

“If a human being, even for a single moment, manifests the Buddha’s posture in the three forms of conduct, while that person sits up straight in sāmadhi, the entire world of Dharma assumes the Buddha’s posture and the whole of space becomes that state of realization.”

“The world of self-consciousness, and the world of consciousness of external objects, lack nothing – they are already furnished with the concrete form of real experience.  The standard state of real experience, when activated [through Zazen] allows no idle moment.”

“The practice is not confined to the sitting itself; it strikes space and resonates, like ringing that continues before and after a bell.  How could this practice be limited to this place?”

“[W]e should realize that living-and-dying is just nirvāna.  Buddhists have never discussed nirvana outside of living-and-dying.”

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