Dogen on Zen Sectarianism

Dogen on Zen Sectarianism

Do not concede that the Buddha-Dharma might even exist among people who claim to be ‘the Zen sect.’ Who has invented the name ‘Zen sect’? None of the buddhas and ancestral masters has ever used the name ‘Zen sect.’

Shobogenzo, Butsudo, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

The identification of Dogen’s doctrine and methodology with the Soto sect was not established by Dogen or his successor, Koun Ejo (1198-1280). Only well after his death was Dogen identified as the ‘founder of the Soto sect.’ Moreover, Dogen not only did not intend to found a sect, but that he explicitly and forcefully disparaged the very notion of it.

The view that Buddhism is divided into separate entities is fundamentally contrary to Dogen’s teachings. Buddhism was authentic Buddhism or it was not Buddhism at all. The notion that ‘Zen’ itself consisted of a distinct school or sect of Buddhism is adamantly refuted in Dogen’s writings. In Shobogenzo, Butsudo, his most comprehensive elucidation of what is and is not authentic Buddhism, Dogen articulates his view in no uncertain terms:

Remember, the name ‘Zen sect’ has been devised by demons and devils. People who have called themselves a name used by demons and devils may themselves be a band of demons; they are not the children and grandchildren of the Buddhist patriarchs.

Shobogenzo, Butsudo, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

Dogen, of course, recognized that, regardless of its accuracy, Buddhism was and is commonly discussed in ‘sectarian’ terms by reliable sources as well as unreliable ones. However, in his acknowledgement and explanation of the causes for the term ‘Zen sect’ having fallen into common usage, he makes no apologies or justifications, as is common today, but plainly describes it as ‘a degeneration.’

We should be absolutely certain that [the Buddha’s truth] has never been called ‘the Zen sect.’ Nevertheless, the common folk of recent ages, in their stupidity, do not know the old customs, and people who have not received the transmission of past buddhas wrongly say, ‘Within the Buddha-Dharma there are the lineages and customs of the five sects.’ This is a degeneration that has been left to follow its natural course.

Shobogenzo, Butsudo, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

Dogen’s repudiation was clearly inclusive of any and all notions of separate schools or sects within the Buddha-Dharma, many of which he named and described in detail – including the very ‘sect’ that his own lineage had come to be identified with. Indeed, he treated the identification of authentic Buddhism with the ‘Soto sect’ to the fullness of his not small capacity for expressing contempt:

The great master has never shown to the assembly any fist or wink of an eye that advocated the use of the name ‘Soto sect.’ Furthermore, there was no flotsam mixed in among his disciples, and so there was no disciple who used the name ‘Tozan sect.’ How much less could they speak of a ‘Soto sect’? The name ‘Soto sect’ may be the result of including the name Sozan. In such a case, Ungo and Doan would have to be included too. Ungo is a guiding master in the human world and in the heavens above, and he is more venerable than Sozan. We can conclude, in regard to this name ‘Soto ,’ that some stinking skinbag belonging to a side lineage, seeing himself as equal [to Tozan], has devised the name ‘Soto sect.’

Shobogenzo, Butsudo, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

 As Dogen’s words leave no doubt concerning his own views on the matter I need not dwell on the point, except to stress that it harmonizes perfectly with a central principle of his whole vision; the unity of all authentic Buddhist expressions (i.e. form/essence transmissions of truth). The summum bonum of the Buddha-Dharma, the ‘supreme truth’ of enlightenment, according to Dogen, is at once various and differentiated (i.e. a manifest appearance in and as duality) and unified and undifferentiated (i.e. a manifest appearance in and of nonduality) – each and all the myriad expressions of Buddhas are the one thing ‘which every buddha and every patriarch transmits and authentically receives.’

That which every buddha and every patriarch transmits and authentically receives is the right-Dharma-eye treasury and the supreme truth of bodhi. The Dharma that the Buddhist Patriarch possessed has been transmitted in its entirety by buddhas, and there are no innovations to be added to the Dharma at all. This principle is the bones of the Dharma and the marrow of the truth.

Shobogenzo, Butsudo, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

 

Clearly, Dogen’s view of the unity of the Buddha-Dharma is not confined to a ‘select collection’, ‘authorized version’, or ‘special transmission.’ Not only did Dogen refute all notions of sectarian exclusivity, he explicitly asserted the unity of all the traditional Buddhist expressions and all the expressions of genuine Zen ancestors (i.e. verbal and written doctrines, treatises, records, koan collections, etc.). In Dogen’s view, to understand the expression of Zen as a ‘separate transmission outside the teachings’ literally, was not only to be deluded about Zen/Buddhism, but to be in the dark about the basic nature of language, thinking, and reason. All notions about written or verbal teachings as somehow non-essential to authentic Zen practice-enlightenment were denigrated by Dogen as delusional and heretical, even imbecilic and vulgar.

To Dogen all the expressions of Buddhas and Buddha ancestors, written or otherwise, are part and parcel with Buddhism itself, intrinsic elements of the ‘rightly transmitted Buddha-Dharma.’ All expressions of Buddhas are expressions of truth, and all expressions of truth are expressions of Buddha.