A genuine Dharma Heir explores the cosmology underlying Dogen's Zen
A truly unique book on Dogen's Zen.
"Visions of Awakening Space and Time: Dogen and the Lotus Sutra, by Taigen Dan Leighton, is a unique examination of the records of the thirteenth century Zen master, Eihei Dogen.
In this book Taigen Dan Leighton, a Soto Zen priest and Dharma heir, reveals how Dogen's teachings are thoroughly grounded in the classic Mahayana Buddhist Sutras, primarily the Lotus Sutra, as well as the classic Zen records, especially Zen's most unique contribution to Buddhist literature, the great koan literature collections.
Leighton begins by emphasizing that because Dogen was an authentic Buddhist master, he was primarily concerned with the liberation of all beings, hence his teachings on practice-realization, or enlightened practice can only be appreciated in the context of the tradition and cosmology from which Dogen addressed his listeners/readers; the Buddhist sutras and the classic Zen records.
This Soto Zen master then introduces the basic Buddhist teaching that the universe itself is not apart from the myriad things, demonstrating the fact that any attemt to understand Dogen, or any Zen master for that matter, must begin with a fundamental understanding of the cosmological field from which they teach. Leighton highlights the fact that for the authentic Zen master, each thing, time, and event is itself the full expression of reality, or Buddha nature.
In the words of this Soto Dharma Heir, "Zen cannot be fully understood outside of a worldview that sees reality itself as a vital, dynamic agent of awareness and healing."
Leighton then offers an explication furnishing the reader with an overview of the Mahayana teachings as expounded in the Lotus Sutra. He emphasizes the key passage of that sutra in which myriad Bodhisattvas suddenly emerge from under the ground (a scene he returns to repeatedly throughout his exploration). His discussion moves naturally into an examination of the vital dynamic of Buddhist hermeneutics from a variety of historical Buddhist contexts.
Next, Taigen Dan Leighton presents Dogen's own interpretation of the story from the Lotus Sutra (of the Bodhisattvas emerging from under the ground), citing some of the numerous references, familiar to Dogen students, which permeate his massive corpus of writings. With all of this firmly under the reader's belt, Leighton proceeds to present a grand view of Dogen's cosmology, revealing some surprising implications of time, space, and existence.
While using the Lotus Sutra as his primary pivot point, this Dharma Heir draws on his own extensive familiarity with Dogen's work as well as the classic literature of Buddhism and Zen. From Dogen's collection of 300 classic koans to the "ten times" doctrine of the Avatamsaka Sutra, Leighton demonstrates the his skill for using language without being used by language to present a wonderful overview of the universe through the eye of Zen master Dogen.
Rising way above the simplistic formulas and myopic dogmatism of popular sectarian cultists, Leighton transcends those presentations of Dogen propagating narrow views of "only-one-right-practice," or superstitious notions that "sitting like Buddha is being Buddha."
This Soto masters refuses to 'water down' Dogen's profound teachings and offers a spiritually mature explication, illustrating that Dogen's revelations of the nonduality of practice-and-enlightenment should not be confused with the simplistic cultic declaration that 'practice equals enlightenment', but understood as the continuous ongoing practice of enlightenment, and enlightenment of practice.
Rather than the familiar dull mantra that 'sitting is itself enlightenment', this Soto Heir declares that Dogen's teaching is a, "complex vision... as multidimensional, dynamic and not separate from or independent of the actual existence, activity, and awareness of each particular being..."
Other areas where he bucks the familar cultic and pop-psychology opinions of Dogen's Zen include:
* Koans - Leighton sees the role of koans in the same light as Mahayana sutras, "not didactic works presenting systematic doctrines, but rather spiritual texts aimed at inciting particular samadhi, or concentration, states and insights..."
* Goals - Rather than asserting that Dogen preached a Zen of "no goal", this Dharma Heir insists, "The purpose of Buddhism is liberation from the karmic cycle of suffering via awakening, and the goal of the Mahayana is the awakening of all beings."
* The role of literature in Zen- Noting that although many take a narrow view of the dictum of Zen being "outside words and letters", he illustrates how texts and verbal teachings are as important to authentic Zen as wholehearted practice, clearly revealing Dogen's teaching that "expression is itself the Buddhadharma."
* Duality - Leighton points out that, contrary to some popular opinions, duality is as important to authentic Zen practice-enlightenment, as is nonduality. For instance, "Dogen here profoundly reaffirms the reality of nonduality. Usually nonduality is considered opposed to duality... But... he is clearly talking about the nonduality of duality and nonduality, not about merely transcending the duality of form and emptiness. This deeper nonduality is not the opposite of duality, but the synthesis of duality and nonduality..."
* Sudden enlightenment - Discussing the important work of Jan Nattier, Leighton analyzes the story of the "Bodhisattvas emerging suddenly from under the ground" in the light of what Nattier characterizes as "leap philosophies," Leighton points out that "this story embodies the leap out of the realm systemized stages of accomplishment in practice, based on insight into the fundamental emptiness of all stages."
* Other views setting this Soto master apart Psuedo masters include, Dogen's implementation and exhortation of a wide variety of practices (not just sitting meditation), the nondual aspect of "practice and ordinary activity", and the vital importance of deep, continuous textual study in the authentic practice/enlightenment of Zen.
The Bottom Line: Visions of Awakening Space and Time: Dogen and the Lotus Sutra, by Taigen Dan Leighton, presents an inside view of the cosmology, or "worldview" informing the writings of Eihei Dogen. In the process, this book manages to debunk many of the simplistic and cultic notions espoused by quacksalvers dressed up like Zen masters, which have resulted in the reductionism of sectarian stereotypes that are all too common among writers of popular "Zen" books. By restoring Dogen's Zen to its proper place as one of the all time greatest expressions of Buddhism, Leighton demonstrates the authentic characteristics of a genuine Dharma Heir.