The Shōbōgenzō is the recognized spiritual masterpiece by the 13th- century Japanese Sōtō Zen Master Eihei Dōgen. It is comprised of discourses that he gave to his disciples, in person or in writing, at various times between 1231 and his death 22 years later at age 53. These discourses cover a wide range of topics pertinent to those in monastic life, though often also relevant to those training in lay life. He discusses matters of daily behavior and religious ceremonial as well as issues involving the Master-disciple relationship. He also explores the deeper meaning that informs the so-called Zen kōan stories, which are often puzzling in their seeming illogicality and contrary nature.
The 96 discourses were originally written out by hand, primarily by his chief disciple and amanuensis, the Second Japanese Sōtō Zen Ancestor, Kōun Ejō. The majority of the discourses focus on exploring the spiritual significance of some topic drawn from Buddhist Scriptures or Chinese Chan (Zen) texts. Dōgen’s commentaries on these texts are not lectures as would be understood in academic circles, but are talks that arise from a Zen Master’s deepest understanding of the spiritual meaning and relevance of his topic to Buddhist training and practice. They come out of Dōgen’s mind of meditation and are being presented to his monastic and lay disciples, who are presumably listening from their mind of meditation.
The discourses carry a strong flavour of the conversational and the personal, and he enriches them with colourful Chinese and Zen phrases, as well as with medieval Chinese and Japanese colloquialisms. When translated literally, many of these metaphors and figures of speech may well have little meaning for English-speaking readers and listeners. However, by the 13th century they would have been a common way for a Buddhist Meditation Master to refer to That which is the True Nature of all beings.
The function of these metaphors is, to some extent, to ‘ground’ a Master’s disciples by providing them with a colorful and more easily remembered image instead of some more abstract, ‘intellectual’ definition. They point to the Great Matter for which one trains in Serene Reflection Meditation, which is to awaken to one’s True Nature. This recording of the Shōbōgenzō features the fine translation by the Rev Nearman of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives of the Sōtō Zen tradition, who, based at Shasta Abbey in Northern California, was responsible for a number of key Japanese Zen texts. Rev Nearman provides not only useful, concise introductions to each of the Discourses, but also copious footnotes clarifying the text, which have been incorporated into the main narrative. This classic Zen text receives an engaged reading from Brian Nishii, whose presentation is deepened by his fluency in Japanese and Mandarin. An accompanying PDF is included with the download, providing a comprehensive glossary of Buddhist terms used in this Dharma Audiobooks recording.
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