MASTER DOGEN'S SHOBOGENZO - Book 1. Translated by Gudo Wafu Nishijima and Chodo Cross. 358 pp. London : Windbell Publications Ltd., 1998 (1994). ISBN 0 9523002 1 4 (Pbk).
The works of Zen Master Dogen (1200-53) are profound. They express the point-of-view of an enlightened Master. Such works, especially when written in a sinograph-based language such as Japanese or Chinese, present very real problems of interpretation, and there are few who are equal to the task of competently translating them. Of these few, Nishijima Roshi would certainly seem to be one.
Born in 1919 in Yokohama, he is a graduate of the prestigious Law Department of Tokyo University. Between 1940 and 1973 - when he became a Zen priest - he combined a career in the Ministry of Finance with daily practice in Zazen and study of the 'Shobogenzo.' In his brief but extremely interesting Preface he writes:
"I think that reading Shobogenzo is the best way to come to an exact understanding of Buddhist theory, because Master Dogen was outstanding in his ability to understand and explain Buddhism rationally" (page ix).
In comparing the present translation with three four others I have on my shelves, I was struck by what seems to me to be its greater clarity. Here, for example, is Norman Waddell's translation of the closing lines of fascicle 11 - Uji - Existence-Time :
"Such investigations in thoroughgoing practice, reaching here and not reaching there - that is the time of being-time" ('Eastern Buddhist,' Vol XII No.1, May 1979, page 129).
Here is the Nishijima-Cross translation of the same lines :
"When we experience coming and experience leaving, and when we experience presence and experience absence, like this [i.e., as in the immediately preceding scriptural quotation], that time is Existence-Time" (page 118).
One of the reasons for the difference between these two readings may have to do with Nishijima Roshi's expressed preference for a literal, as opposed to a more literary translation, as when he commented : "I like the translation from which Master Dogen's Japanese can be guessed" (page xi). But whatever may be the case, whereas the Waddell reading conveys little to me, the Nishijima-Cross reading immediately evokes such things as the felt presence of the absence that is death.
Besides its greater clarity, there are many other fine things in this book. These include the use, where appropriate, of Chinese characters (sinographs), and the fact that all passages have been keyed to the 'Gendaigo-yaku-shobogenzo,' Nishijima Roshi's 13-volume edition of the 'Shobogenzo' in Modern Japanese, features the advanced student will greatly appreciate. In addition, all of Dogen's extensive quotations from the Chinese Buddhist scriptures have been italicized, and the value of this becomes instantly apparent once one starts reading.
The book is rounded out with seven Appendices: 1. A Japanese-Pinyin table of the Chinese Masters; 2. The text of the Popular Edition of the Fukan-zazengi; 3. A table of the Buddhist Patriarchs; 4. An illustration of the Kasaya; 5. A ground plan and detailed description of a Traditional Temple Layout; 6. A bilingual Chinese-English collection of important passages from the 'Lotus Sutra'; 7. A detailed Glossary of Sanskrit terms. Finally we have been given no less than five Bibliographies.
The book is bound in a strong glossy wrapper, stitched, and well-printed on excellent paper. Those who may be new to Dogen would probably be better off starting with a book of selections such as Kazuaki Tanahashi's 'Moon in a Dewdrop,' but advanced students will certainly want to have this set.
All in all, it has to be one of the finest and most useful translations of the 'Shobogenzo' that we have ever seen. But since this first volume contains only the first twenty-one fascicles of the 95-chapter 'Shobogenzo,' to get the complete text you will of course also have to acquire Volumes 2, 3, and 4.