What is Shobogenzo about?

Shobogenzo is Dogen’s opus magnum, but what kinds of things did he really write about? What was his focus? I’ve done a simple analysis by fasicle:

  • Philosophy: 42
  • Practice: 22
  • Doctrine: 14
  • Rules: 10
  • Tradition: 4
  • Ethics: 4

As expected, philosophical topics dominate; these are the “famous” fascicles such as Genjo Koan and Uji. Next comes practice, ranging from Bendowa, Dogen’s chatty overview of Zen, to Zanmai-O-Zanmai, a discussion of samadhi.

Doctrine follows, although of course, the fascicles I’ve classified as “doctrine” are also somewhat philosophical in nature, typically with Dogen taking up some Buddhist doctrine and putting his own unique spin on it, such as in Sokshin-ze-butsu, sometimes translated as “Mind Here is Buddha”.

In addition to being a thinker and writer, of course, Dogen was also running a big monastery, accounting for the 10 fascicles about rules, down to details of how to run a summer practice period (Ango), what to write on message boards in the kitchen (Jikuinmon), and how to wash yourself (Senmen and Senju), these fascicles among the longer ones, meaning that they occupy a greater proportion of the whole in terms of page count.

Bringing up the rear are tradition, the topic of fascicles such as Shisho (“Certificate of Transmission”), and ethics, under which I’ve categorized fascicles like Shoaku Makusa (“Do no Evil”).

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