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Moon In a Dewdrop: Writings of Zen Master Dogen Paperback – October 31, 1995
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“Moon in a Dewdrop is empty and clear at the same time, like the reflection of the moon in a drop of water.” ―San Francisco Chronicle
“Kazuaki Tanahashi and his colleagues at the San Francisco Zen Center...have given us an accessible and comprehensive Dogen in English.” ―Vajradhatu Sun
“Kazuaki Tanahashi...has preserved Dogen's spirit and character in his careful and comprehensive translations.” ―East West
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Eihei Dogen (1200-1253), who was an exceptionally gifted child, was born into an aristocratic household in Kyoto. The death of his mother when he was eight years old so impressed upon him the central Buddhist truth of impermanency, that he forsook his aristocratic privileges when he was thirteen and went to Mt. Hiei to study to become a Buddhist monk.
But since no-one in Japan could satisfactorily answer his questions - not surprising when you consider that he was the greatest genius Japan has ever produced - he went off to China in 1223 in search of a Master. There he studied under the Soto Ch'an (Zen) Master Ju-ching (1163-1228), attained enlightenment, and returned to Japan to become the founder Japanese Soto Zen.
Zen first became known to the West largely through the writings of D. T. Suzuki, who was a follower of the 'Sudden Enlightenment' or direct koan-using Rinzai Zen. Soto Zen, in contrast, is a gentler method which places greater reliance on Zazen or deep meditation, and is the method that has gained the largest number of adherents in Japan.
To discover just how profound Dogen was, you will have to turn to his magnum opus, the 'Shobogenzo' or 'Treasury of the True Dharma Eye.' This has been translated, in whole or in part, a number of times, but an edition I can heartily recommend is the present book.
Besides twenty texts from the 'Shobogenzo,' this 356-page book includes four additional texts and a selection of Dogen's poems. It also contains a fine Introduction on Dogen's Life and Teachings, four Appendices, full Notes, an incredibly full and detailed bilingual Glossary of a kind you will not find elsewhere, a Selected Bibliography, and some interesting illustrations.
Dogen's Japanese is an excruciatingly difficult Japanese, so much so that some think it should be called 'Dogen-ese' and not Japanese. Think 'Finnegans Wake' and you'll get an inkling of the problems involved in translating him. The language and thought of the 'Shobogenzo' come from such a height that there can be no such thing as a definitive interpretation, and hence no such thing as a definitive translation.
'Moon in a Dewdrop' is the result of a collaborative effort by a team of highly competent American Zenists, some of them very well known. It has always seemed, in my humble opinion, that, considering the difficulties, they did a very fine job. To give you a taste, here are a few lines from the 'Genjo Koan' as translated by Robert Aitken and Kazuaki Tanahashi:
"The buddha way is, basically, leaping clear of the many and the one; thus there are birth and death, delusion and realization, sentient beings and buddhas. / Yet in attachment blossoms fall, and in aversion weeds spread" (page 69).
Prepared and sensitive readers will be bowled over by 'Moon in a Dewdrop.' Dogen leaves most other thinkers behind in the dust. But if you've never read any Dogen before, it might perhaps be better to start with Reiho Masunaga's 'A Primer of Soto Zen.' This is a translation of Dogen's 'Shobogenzo Zuimonki,' a short book of brief talks and instructions for Zen beginners and lay followers. In the 'Zuimonki' you can ramble at leisure the plains and foothills of Dogen's mind before attempting the mountains.
His immense masterwork, the "True Dharma-Eye Treasury," covers all aspects of Buddhist practice from rarefied metaphysics to behaviour at mealtimes: all dualities are comprehended in Enlightenment, leaving no distinction between the mundane and the sublime.
I have four books of excerpts, but this is my favourite: the poetic and metaphysical chapters predominate over practical and instructional ones. Literary Japanese, supple, intricate and elliptical, was wildly different from modern English, but the translators have done wonders in achieving clear and (fairly) natural versions, though word-choices sometimes puzzle. A good balance has also been struck between a surfeit of footnotes and too many baffling allusions.
This is a book to read, re-read and grow into, depth after depth. It expresses as much of the beauty, mystery and profundity of Zen (and existence itself,) as can be expressed in words... and then a little more. Even when I'm reading a passage I can't make head or tail of, I feel my body go cold, as when reading great poetry. This is a book that haunts, astonishes and humbles, a book to trudge through the snow for, to swim icy rivers for... and you can buy it so easily.