Sunday, May 24, 2009

Giving Credit Where Credit is Due

On this lazy Sunday I decided to pick up "To Meet The Real Dragon" by Gudo Nishijima and give it a read( for the millionth time).

What strikes me about this book, and Nishijima's writings in general(as well as Uchiyama's), is the unique approach he takes to explaining Buddhism and the teachings of Master Dogen. I'd go out on a limb and say there has never been a teacher like him. It is this latter statement that I feel has set Nishijima apart from all other Zen teachers in the last 100 years.

It seems to me that the orthodox Soto Zen community all but ignores him. In my opinion this is a good thing. Everything you read on the net seems to either be an over intellectualized version of Dogen's teachings or a handful of quizzical statements meant to take you "beyond words." Nishijma doesn't bite that bait. He gives you the most direct answer everytime. Everything relies on the balance of the ANS.

Too simplistic one might say? I don't think so. It is actually quite brilliant. No more chasing your tail, just fold your legs, face the wall, and align your spine vertcally.

This is probably quite threatening to those who have spent their whole lives trying to understand Dogen and Buddhism. If you break all of Buddhism down to keeping the balanced state, you have taken away their toys. Nothing more to play with and talk about. No reason to keep doing Dharma talks.

However, just because the toys have been taken away doesn't mean they won't be given back or serve no purpose. When you understand how to properly take care of your toys or tools, you can use them more efficiently and enjoy them more.

"To Meet The Real Dragon" is a great example of adding a new twist to the typical party line, that allow you to see the same old BS in a new light. It especially reveals a much more positive outlook on the human capacity for the proper use of logic. We are in the 21st century and if the teachings of Master Dogen and Buddhism are to survive they need to be packaged in big ol' box o' logic that appeals to those with a scientific bent. No more bizzare language, just simple and direct techings that doesn't waste a moment of time.

The biggest example of this is his and Mike Cross's translation of Hishiryo. I mean, how many internet arguements have ensued over the meaning of 'non-thinking.' Even the Soto Zen Text Project prefers to translate it this way. Nishijma/Cross go with 'It is different from thinking."

I don't know a lick about the Japanese language, so for all I know 'non-thinking' may be a more accurate translation, but it certainly isn't more direct to a westerner. I personally like 'different from thinking' better. Thoughts are thoughts, thinking is the process where by thoughts get linked together in a chain. It is a process of conception. Zazen lays that aside. We are not supposed to mess with the thoughts and give them a chance to meet each other and turn into thinking. We perform the act of sitting upright and letting our thoughts go. It is literally an act that is 'different from thinking.' What is so complicated about that? Nothing if you ask me.

The problem is that 'different from thinking' isn't something nebulous that can be argued over by scholars or the orthodoxy. In a way it destroys their God. I think the arguements over the literal meanings of Dogen's and the Buddha's works often turn into a shit throwing contest. It really is no different than argueing over Chrisitian scripture.

I'll finish my ramble for now, but I'd like to add that I am a total amature who knows nothing.
I just really find benifit in the writings of Nishijma and the like who use words as the logical tools that they are intended to be.



  1. Al,

    I really enjoy the new layout, and the idea of "taking their toys away."

  2. Thanks Lauren. I got the toy idea from Uchiyama.
    I changed the layout out to make it more readable.

    I'm very sorry to hear about your father in law's passing. Form birth to death it's just like this.



  3. Al,

    Nice post. I'm biased when it comes to Nishijima, but I think he's tried hard to make Buddhism understandable to more people.



  4. Peter,

    Thanks. In looking around the world of internet Buddhism, I've become disappointed that Nishijima's name isn't mentioned more. I mean, come on! The man has devoted his life to the works of Dogen more than any other Zen guy out there.

    Not to mention that he is approaching 90 and still finding a way to reach out to the world.

    He is a truly commendable person. I would really like to meet him(and you) at some point in the near future.