Shobogenzo is back!

Grumpiness alert. In a post on his Hardcore Zen blog, Brad Warner is pitching the Nishijima/Cross translation of Shobogenzo:

In case anybody’s been looking for the Gudo Nishijima / Chodo Cross translation of Dogen’s Shobogenzo and couldn’t find it, or else found it for a ridiculously high price, check out the link below or click on the title of this article. The full four volume set is now available through at just $23.99 per volume.

This is the best, most reliable English translation of the complete Shobogenzo that ever has been or ever will be produced. I’ve sat down with the Japanese version and this translation open to the same passage a great number of times and it’s like someone gave you magic glasses that enabled you to read exactly what the original Japanese text says in crystal clear English. You cannot do this with any other edition.

It’s great to see this available once again. Buy a set or be a loser!

I suppose it’s the “best” translation of the complete Shobogenzo because it’s the only one currently in print (the Nishiyama/Stevens translation, the only other complete translation, is out of print). As for whether or not it’s the best that “will ever be produced,” I guess Zen masters must be able to foresee the future. As for whether it’s the best in terms of the translation of any particular fascicle which has been translated elsewhere, the anwer is—far from it.

These “magic glasses” give us text like the following (from Bendowa):

When the budda-tathagatas, each having received the one-to-one transmission of the splendid Dharma, experience the supreme state of bodhi, they posess a subtle method which is supreme and without intention.

Which parses the Japanese incorrectly, interprets it wrongly, and renders it into broken English. Chodo Cross has referred to the work of translating Shobogenzo, or rather Nishijima’s modern Japanese translation of it, as “donkey work.” Let’s just say—that attitude shows.

It’s odd that Brad, who espouses a modern, in in-your-face brand of Zen, would be so attached to this overly literal, tired translation.

Western Zen students would be far better off with one of the Cook translations, such as How to Raise an Ox, or Sounds of Valley Streams . Or, one hopes, at some point, a fluent, informed, new definitive translation.

2 Responses to “Shobogenzo is back!”

  1. iju Says:

    Can you elaborate on what you feel is wrong with the passage you cite? Thank you.

  2. mark Says:

    have you read any steve hagen works he light touches upon Shobogenzo and i find that his over approach to Dogen interesting.

Leave a Reply