"The Zazen I speak of is not learning meditation".
This bold, somewhat obscure, declaration was made by the prominent Japanese monk, Dōgen Zenji (道元禅師 1200-1253), in the year 1227, right after he came back to Japan from his long stay in China. Dōgen's unique articulation of Zen practice establishes him as one of the key figures to study in order to better understand the foundations of classical Japanese Zen. Dōgen has creatively managed to fuse traditional Mahayana and Ch'an principles and conceptual imagery, and introduced the unique form of practice he studied in china, namely shikantaza (只管打坐), or "simply to sit". Yet what is the meaning of "simply to sit"? And why should one sit if there is no merit to be gained? What is the basis for Dōgen's proclamation that “practice itself is awakening”?
This introductory course will offer a wide discussion of the above inquiries through a close consideration of the rich textual treasury left by Dōgen, mainly his philosophical meditations. Reading together the fundamental texts for his thought, we shall try and articulate the unique color of his suggested practice taking into account the religious backgrounds of China's Song period and the Kamakura period of medieval Japan. A special consideration will be given to the practical basis for Dōgen's view of Zen meditation, as seen through the traditions of Chinese Tien-T'ai and Japanese Tendai schools. The last section of the course will be dedicated to the theme of cross cultural transmission of the Dharma – especially the manner in which Dōgen's Zen is studied and practiced in modern day Japan and the West.