Dogen and the game of Go (II)

I recently posted on a mention of the game of Go in the “Spring and Autumn” fascicle of Dogen’s Shobogenzo.

You’ll recall the setting: Chinese Zen master Wanshi is commenting on an old story about heat and cold. I translated Dogen’s paraphrasing of Wanshi’s comment as:

Discussing this is like two players playing Go, where you’ve got to answer my move if you don’t want to get taken for a ride. You won’t grasp what Tozan is saying until you’ve internalized this.

Dogen then comments on the commentary:

Sticking with the go analogy for now, the real question is what’s happening with the two players. The minute you talk about two players playing go, you’ve become a bystander, which is no good because bystanders can’t play go. Playing go means one player and his opponent facing each other, it must be said.

I’ve now belatedly come across a translation of this fascicle by Francis Dojun Cook, in his How to Raise an Ox . This is an excellent, readable translation, with solid commentary, by someone who is a Buddhist scholar rather than a Zen master. I recommend it. For this section, however, he gives:

Now, the example of playing checkers is quite appropriate, but what sort of thing is this business of two people playing? If you speak of two people playing, you are still caught in duality [literally, “there will be eight eyes”]. And if you are caught in duality, there is no checker game. How can there be? Therefore, shouldn’t it rather be said that only one person is playing checkers and that he is his own opponent?

Quite a jump from “eight eyes”—which has a perfectly well-understood translation as “bystander”—to “duality”. And it is not “if you are caught in duality, there is no checker game”, but the opposite: you can’t play in the Go game if you’re outside looking at it.

I also recently acquired the three-volume Nishiyama/Stevens translation, the first complete English translation of SBGZ, done back in the ‘70s, which is now inexplicably out of print (perhaps it suffered from a lack of notes and commentary). This translation, as well, was done by Buddhist scholars and translators rather than Zen masters, and it shows it. Their translation of this portion of Shunju is the most accurate yet:

What is the meaning of “two people playing go”? If we say “Two people are playing go” it means we are a third party not actually playing. If we say such things then we must stop talking and directly face our opponent.

2 Responses to “Dogen and the game of Go (II)”

  1. peko Says:



    Quote: No-Mind: The Structure of Conflict ‘’The Way of the game is not about victory but about self-realization through discipline. (…) “The proper method, said the man, was to lose all awareness of self while awaiting an adversary’s play” (…) One immediately recognizes here the Zen concept of “no-mind” as it appears in Japanese martial arts. It describes the peculiar form of self-forgetfulness involved in effective sport or combat. (…) “non-attachment” can be extended down to the level of attentive processes, freeing the actor from inhibiting concentration on either self or other. This loosening of focus banishes hesitation and fear and improves fighting performance. (…) The doctrine of no-mind agrees that apparent dualities reveal a more fundamental unity. (…) the goal is not to rise above conflict in reconciliation but to achieve total identification with the context of struggle in the very course of playing one’s own conflictual role. If conflict can be transcended, it must be from within, without setting up a third consciousness above the fight. The same point can be made in relation to Go. Insofar as the players identify completely with the situation of the board, i.e., with the “whole,” they can assume their role unreservedly and carry it out apart from any concern with survival or victory. This no-mind is not a mystical unconsciousness, but a consciousness that has become one with the formal requirements of the activity frame and that sees its role within that frame as in some sense “logically” entailed rather than personally motivated. Good play thus has nothing to do with one-sided personal aggression; at the height of the most intense competition, the players are joined in harmony in the construction of the board, much as singers respond to each other in a piece of complex choral music. Their unity, expressed in their mutually responsive moves, takes precedence over their struggle. Ultimately, they “form one single person.” ‘’

    Or in short: the winner cannot achieve the win without the help of the other.

  2. peko Says:

    yet more is here:

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