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Beyond Thinking: A Guide to Zen Meditation [Paperback]

Dogen , Kazuaki Tanahashi
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

27 April 2004
Spiritual practice is not some kind of striving to produce enlightenment, but an expression of the enlightenment already inherent in all things: Such is the Zen teaching of Dogen Zenji (1200–1253) whose profound writings have been studied and revered for more than seven hundred years, influencing practitioners far beyond his native Japan and the Soto school he is credited with founding. In focusing on Dogen's most practical words of instruction and encouragement for Zen students, this new collection highlights the timelessness of his teaching and shows it to be as applicable to anyone today as it was in the great teacher's own time. Selections include Dogen's famous meditation instructions; his advice on the practice of zazen, or sitting meditation; guidelines for community life; and some of his most inspirational talks. Also included are a bibliography and an extensive glossary.

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Beyond Thinking: A Guide to Zen Meditation + Moon in a Dewdrop: Writings of Zen Master Dogen + The Zen Teachings of Bodhidharma
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Product details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Shambhala Publications Inc; 1st ed edition (27 April 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590300246
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590300244
  • Product Dimensions: 21 x 14.5 x 1.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 309,738 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Inside This Book (Learn More)
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THE ESSENTIAL WAY FLOWS EVERYWHERE; how could it require practice or enlightenment? Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Back Cover
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2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Useful Compendium 23 Dec 2010
Format:Paperback
"Spiritual practice is not some kind of striving to produce enlightenment, but an expression of the enlightenment already inherent in all things: Such is the Zen teaching of Dogen Zenji (1200-1253) whose profound writings have been studied and revered for more than seven hundred years, influencing practitioners far beyond his native Japan and the Soto school he is credited with founding. In focusing on Dogen's most practical words of instruction and encouragement for Zen students, this new collection highlights the timelessness of his teaching and shows it to be as applicable to anyone today as it was in the great teacher's own time. Selections include Dogen's famous meditation instructions; his advice on the practice of zazen, or sitting meditation; guidelines for community life; and some of his most inspirational talks. Also included are a bibliography and an extensive glossary." from Back Cover.

This is probably not the book to use as an introduction to Buddhism or Zen but for the practitioner with some experience it is a valuable single volume reference to what could be considered Dogen's main texts on "meditation".

Also edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi are Moon in a Dewdrop: Writings of Zen Master Dogen, Enlightenment Unfolds: The Essential Teachings of Zen Master Dogen and Treasury of the True Dharma Eye: Zen Master Dogen's Shobo Genzo.
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A showcase of Dogen Zenji's genius 21 April 2006
By Jason Clements - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book contains translated fascicles from Dogen Zenji's Shobogenzo, a massive and inscrutable philosophical work regarding the nature of life and reality.

Within are some of the most popular, influential, and profound selections of the Shobogenzo regarding zazen meditation practice, which can be everything from somewhat confusing to utterly nonsensical to anyone without a store of background knowledge in Zen Buddhism.

As a consequence, this book is best geared towards those who already have a significant understanding of the language and style of Zen. It is definitely not for someone who has never encountered Buddhist or Zen thought before.

That said, Dogen Zenji's philosophy is unsurpassed in its depth and influence in Japanese Zen and, to a large extent, Western Zen as well. The Shobogenzo, written in the 1200's, is still studied and revered today as one of the most brilliant works ever written regarding Buddhist philosophy and practice. Many Zen teachers have dedicated themselves exclusively to Dogen's thought.

This book, though it does not contain other seminal fascicles such as the Genjokoan, is a great resource to anyone interested in reading not second-hand explanations, but selected translations from one of the most famous teachers and reformers of Zen Buddhism.
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sitting Breaking the Skin Born of Your Mother 6 Dec 2008
By Lawrence - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Eihei Dgen was the founder of the St School and surely the greatest figure in the history of Japanese Zen. His enormous "Shbgenz" or "Treasury of the True Dharma Eye", is probably the greatest single work of Zen literature, the record of one of the most enlightened minds known to us. This book collects the sections related to meditation, with a few pieces on the same subject from elsewhere, though it's far from a straightforward "guide to meditation".

Some have criticised this book for being hard to understand. But why would you buy a book about things you understand already? The pieces intended for beginners are in the first section, "Entering Zazen." Go on from there. Don't think of this as a book to polish off quickly, but as a precious possession to accompany you through life, revealing more and more of itself.

When you're a child, you see scenes of grown-ups or teenagers kissing on TV or in the movies and you think, "Ew yuck, I'm never going to do that when I grow up." You haven't yet had the experiences that will make sense of this for you. The same with Dgen-zenji. As your practice deepens, you will find that things you were mystified by become as clear as day. Maybe some things you'll never get to understand, but that's no problem: Dgen's endless probing subtlety reflects the profundity of the way things are. Still, as other reviewers have said, this is Not a book for anyone with only a casual interest in Zen.

As in other books by this translator, the idiom is somewhat curious: but it's not easy turning fluid, intricate and elliptical Classical Japanese into modern English. I think a good balance has been struck between clarity and retaining the flavour of the original: I have seen far worse versions of some of these pieces. The texts, especially in the latter sections, are dense with references to Zen lore, but as in "Moon in a Dewdrop" a comprehensive glossary has been provided
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars If you are looking for an intro book, go somewhere else 10 Mar 2006
By grouchy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is definitely an advanced book on practice. To learn meditation out of this book is not recommended --- the author lived in the 13th century. Reading this book gives insights, realizations, and wonderful ideas on the practice of meditation to those who have a grounding in the process.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dogen 20 April 2010
By Lily Penny - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The book "Beyond Thinking" is a collection of writings by the Zen Master Eihei Dogen that has been edited and pieced together by Kazuaki Tanahashi. The result is a book split into four sections teaching on "Entering Zazen", "Zazen Experience", "Zazen in Community", and "Zazen Through the Seasons". This book offers wisdom, guidance, and specific instructions on almost every aspect of sitting meditation. It is intended for just about any audience who is interested in Zazen, from practicing monks to new people who have never heard of the practice before. The book starts with instructions for sitting and some fairly basic explanation of the ideology behind it. This continues through the first two-thirds of the work into the "Zazen Experience" section, which delves deeper into teachings and ways of understanding Zazen. Starting in the "Zazen in Community" section, however, we see a change to a much more specific route of study. This section offers instructions for every action you would take while living in a monastic community, from times for sitting to how to properly use the restroom or wash your face. The last section is the shortest and gives a detail of the ceremonies and teachings connected to specific times of the year.

Due to the intense nature of its rules and regulations this book would be incredibly helpful for someone who is familiar with the approach and already practicing, but would cause confusion and possibly frustration for the casual or beginning reader. As this work is a composition of other writings, it essentially relies on the authority of Zen Master Dogen, from whom these teachings are taken. In the introduction, Norman Fischer explains that Dogen's traditionalist teachings have been followed and studied for the almost 800 years it has been since his death, and this would lead most readers to accept the authority of Dogen's writing. Fischer also explains that it is this traditionalist approach that posits all of the specific rules and regulations surrounding Zazen. These rules make an excellent guidebook for the experienced practitioner, and offer an authoritative collection of ways to do things within the monastic community. Even the earlier sections of the book offer a good base of understanding for beginners, and most of the ideas are explained in an easy-to-follow manner. As the book moves on, the specific customs and practices become almost overwhelming, and very intimidating to new readers. Personally, I would be afraid to try to approach a monastic experience because I would be so afraid to do something wrong.

This intimidation comes in part from the authority of Dogen and in part from the language used to talk about the rules. Reading any work by a very prestigious author can be intimidating, especially for readers who are new to the field of study; readers often do not want to misinterpret the book, and so avoid reading higher-level works until they are comfortable with some basic ideas. The second part, the language, also causes new readers to shy away from the later material in this book because it is so serious. For example, in the section on "Regulations for the Auxiliary Cloud Hall" on pages 99-102 there are lists of regulations stated as "Do not", followed by a reason. This language makes the admonitions seem much more serious and dire than they probably are. Most of these rules are simply so that you do not disturb the peace of the other monks around you, but the way they are written makes them seem extremely important. Other rules are so arbitrary that you have to wonder why they could possibly be necessary. For instance, "Do not enter or leave with your hands hanging down" (Dogen 101). What could be the need for this? As a new reader without much experience in Zen, this particular statement left me confused and looking for answers. I am sure that a more experienced reader would know the reason for this, and see this rule as more of a reminder of something he already knows. For this reason, I think this book is well-written, but probably should be intended more for use by people who already practice Zazen and know the basics.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars scattered bright pearls 8 Jan 2013
By Autonomeus - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Eihei Dogen (1200-1253) is considered the founder of the Soto School of Zen Buddhism in Japan, renowned for "just sitting" meditation. This little book is the third in a series of translations of Dogen by Kazuaki Tanahashi and a team of translators for the San Francisco Zen Center.

In his helpful 12-page introduction, Norman Fischer points out that in recent years there has emerged among Zen practitioners a new willingness to view Dogen critically. My review is in that spirit.

The book is divided into three main sections:

Entering Zazen (4 essays)
Zazen Experience (7 essays)
Zazen in Community (3 essays)

The first section introduces sitting meditation, and will not surprise anyone familiar with the practice. The book is mis-titled -- it does not serve as a very good guide to meditation. The longest (22-pages) and most significant piece is called "On the Endeavor of the Way," which is basically a polemic against other versions of Buddhism, and illustrates the dogmatic strain in Dogen mentioned by Fischer in the introduction.

The third section consists of detailed instructions for monks. If you are not engaged in monastic practice, and have no plans to join a Buddhist monastic order, this is of academic interest only. Fischer makes a case for the importance of monastic practice to Dogen's overall worldview, and I have no doubt of its importance for Dogen and for Buddhism historically. But for the contemporary American interested in Zen its practical benefit is minimal.

The middle section, Zazen Experience, is where the reader will find the bright pearls in this collection. Dogen's strength is not logic, but rather poetic imagery. As the saying goes, "he who says does not know, and he who knows cannot say." That is to say, the insights on the path of enlightenment are difficult if not impossible to put into words, and definitely not possible to understand through conventional logic. "Dragon Song" includes the stunning image of "a dragon singing in a withered tree." Dogen's commentary sheds little light on the image, but reflection on it conveys something profound about life, death, and eternity. "Ocean Mudra Samadhi" is another great image that conveys the nature of enlightenment as far as words can. Here is a beautiful rendering of part of Dogen's essay:

"It is the mudra of emptiness. It is the mudra of mud. The mudra of water is not necessarily the mudra of ocean. Going beyond is the mudra of ocean. This is called ocean mudra, water mudra, mud mudra, and mind mudra. By transmitting the mind mudra, you mudra water, you mudra mud, you mudra emptiness."

Make sense?

For a perfect realization of mock profundity, see "Awesome Presence of Active Buddhas." It is unintentionally hilarious, unless it is meant to be a self-parody, in which case hats off to Dogen! "Blazing flames in the spreading sky are buddhas expounding dharma; the spreading sky in blazing flames is dharma expounding buddas." Yes!

The best of these writings, the bright pearls, are great examples of poetic Mahayana imagery. I have been attracted to this style of Buddhism ever since reading Gary Snyder's "Smokey the Bear Sutra" back in 1970. It's a judgement call whether this volume has enough bright pearls to make it worth seeking out, given all the other Buddhist writings now available.

(verified purchase from City Lights Books, San Francisco)
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