In Grateful Thanks to the Bodhisattva Hee-Jin Kim
In 1975 many brought up on notions of Zen as “a special transmission outside of written teachings” were literally (pun intended) knocked off their cushions.
1975 was the year that Hee-Jin Kim’s landmark book, Dogen Kigen: Mystical Realist (revised and reissued as, Eihei Dogen: Mystical Realist) was published.
Professor Kim’s book presented a series of astonishing revelations challenging nearly every fundamental assumption of the prevailing understanding of Zen. when Mystical Realist revealed that Zen was not incommunicable, ineffable, or outside of written teachings” after all. More, Kim’s book convincingly demonstrated that Shobogenzo, Dogen’s Zen masterpiece, comprehensively elucidated in explicit detail how and why there could be no Zen apart from communication, understanding, and language.
In effect, Hee-Jin Kim’s Mystical Realist fixed a 10,000 watt spot-light on the emperor. There could be no hiding of shortcomings in that light; the emperor was shamefully revealed to be – like so many American Roshi’s’ – bare-assed naked.
Not only had the issue of whether “to philosophize or not to philosophize” been left unresolved, it had not even been the real issue.
The issue was not so much whether or not to philosophize as it was how to philosophize… ~Hee-Jin Kim, Eihei Dogen: Mystical Realist, p.98
Even some of the more open-minded within the community of practitioners must have choked on the notion that philosophical pursuit was compatible with Zen practice. We can only imagine how those a little less open-minded must have reacted upon realizing the full import of Kim’s revealing exposé – philosophical pursuit was not only compatible with Zen practice, it was essential to it – more:
[The] philosophic enterprise was as much the practice of the bodhisattva way as was zazen. ~Hee-Jin Kim, Eihei Dogen: Mystical Realist, p.98
As was to be expected, Hee-Jin Kim’s book was initially regarded by many with a great deal of skepticism.
However, the accuracy of every significant point revealed by Mystical Realist has long since surpassed all critical standards. During the nearly 40 years since its publication none of its central findings has been refuted or even seriously challenged. On the contrary, over the past 4 decades the revelations of Mystical Realist have been vastly reinforced by Zen and Dogen scholarship, which in turn has itself been greatly enhanced by Kim’s insights.
Clearly then, claims pertaining to Dogen that directly contradict the findings of Mystical Realist would have to be backed up with some powerfully convincing evidence to be taken seriously.
For a Dogen specialist or Zen teacher to claim that Dogen recognized “action” as the “existence of something” independent of thought or perception would be like a history teacher claiming the USA invasion of Iraq was about weapons of mass destruction! Nobody in their right mind would attempt to openly make such assertions without some very compelling new evidence to offer.
While the truth of Zen revealed by Mystical Realist may be unpopular among certain factions of the Zen community, it nevertheless is the truth of Zen – and therefore Hee-Jin Kim is revered by all genuine Zen practitioners with the deep gratitude entitled to all the great Bodhisattvas.
108 Full Bows