Gudo Nishijima's, "Master Dogen's Shinji Shobogenzo" is one of only two complete English translations of Dogen's collection of 301 classic Zen koans, hence, it is an essential book for English reading Zen students/practitioners.
The "Shinji Shobogenzo" also known as the "Mana Shobogenzo" is a koan collection compiled by the 13th century Zen Master, Eihei Dogen. The koans of "Mana Shobogenzo" were recorded in Chinese (their native language), and should be distinguished from the "Kana Shobogenzo" (and the "Shobogenzo Zuimonki") which was written in Japanese. Eihei Dogen did not include any commentary with this collection of 301 koans; although he did offer commentary on most of in other records.
Dogen was one of the most prolific Zen master in the History of Zen Buddhism and is universally acknowledged as one of the most brilliant figures in Japanese history. His works have been the focus of intensive scholarly research in recent decades, resulting in a continuously expanding appreciation of his works by Zen students/practitioners, philosophers, historians, linguistic specialist, psychologists, etc.
When this work first became known, the Soto Zen sect, who claim Dogen as their Japanese founder, denounced the Mana Shobogenzo as spurious until modern scholarship provided incontrovertible evidence (including large selections in Dogen's own hand). The reasons for the Soto authorities denial was evidently based on this text's potential to weaken their hard-line assertions that Dogen (their founder) saw little value in Zen koans. Traces of this kind of "koan phobia" can still be seen by the zealous denial by the majority of Soto Zen teachers that Dogen recommended koan-introspection (meditation on koans) by. This in spite of the fact that his records seem to indicate just the opposite.
This also seems to be the reason for the odd statement in the introduction to this translation claiming that it is "very important" to understand that Dogen did not refer to these stories as "koans" (along with the standard insistince that he "never" recommended taking up koans in meditation).
This book does provide what seems to be a fairly decent translation of the koan cases themselves - although we surely miss the detailed precision of Mike (Chodo) Cross, Gudo Nishijima's co-translater of the superb rendition of the "Kana Shobogenzo."
Another odd characteristic of this book is the addition of case by case commentary by Gudo Nishijima explaining the "traditional" Zen meaning of the koans. The addition of "Zen" commentary would make more sense if it had been restricted to the few cases that were not already dealt with by Dogen in other records. As a contemporary orthodox Soto Zen teacher, it seems strange that he felt it necessary to "clarify" Dogen in some way.
Moreover, because Dogen did offer his own commentary on most of the cases elsewhere, a significant amount of confusion enters into the situation in light of the fact that Nishijima's commentary on the cases differs so widely from Dogen's.
Nevertheless, this book offers an essential text to contemporary English reading students. The "koan index" at the back of the book also provides some aid by refrencing most of the places these koans appear in Dogen's master work, the "Kana Shobogenzo." Unfortunately, this index does not include all the places Dogen's where references to thes koans appear in the Kana, nor where the koans appear in Dogen's other records (for a good reference table that does, see Steve Heine's "Dogen and the Koan Tradition."
The bottom line: An essential translation; but not up to the standards of his previous work with Mike (Chodo) Cross.