Dogen’s prophesy consists of many texts, which incorporate his teaching. His writings cover different topics and shed light to different nuances of religious practices. Dogen is famous not only for his prose, but also poetry. Core idea about the importance of Zazen practice and oneness of practice and enlightenment are presented in practically all his works. When writing his books, Dogen often used Japanese language, which was very uncommon for his time, when most of the religious texts had been written in Chinese.
Rich vocabulary and multiple stylistic devices sometimes make his texts difficult for comprehension for unprepared readers but the depth of thoughts contained in these texts is worth effort put in understanding them. In his fundamental work Shobogenzo, translated as Treasury of the Eye of the True Dharma he expresses his attitude towards traditional Buddhist teaching and gives his own understanding of Zen Buddhism. In one dialogue from the book a woman, who sells rice refuses to sell a rice cake to a famous scholar, a master of Diamond Sutra.
She explains her actions asking the only question “I have heard it said in the Diamond Sutra that past mind cannot be grasped, present mind cannot be grasped, and future mind cannot be grasped. Which mind do you now intend to refresh with my rice cakes? If you can tell me, I will sell you a rice cake. If not, I will not sell you my rice cakes”( Tanahashi, 112). When Tokuzan fails to answer the question of rice-seller he sits quietly humiliated.
The very dialogue illustrates the relationship between ordinary people and Buddhist masters, who present different attitudes towards religion but each of them fails to catch the very essence of being. Woman represents the spirit of ordinary people, who express skepticism when it comes to complicated religious doctrines, which are difficult to apply in everyday life. Tokuzan, as theologian is preoccupied with sacred Buddhist texts and misses present moment and reality, which exists at the present moment.
Each of the participants of the story, including the Master Dogen, who appears there as impartial narrator, have their own truth and all follow their own paths. As states Terry Muck in his comments to this dialogue, “Dogen shows us that these three characters demonstrate both the wrong way and the right way to proceed. The wrong way is to isolate a method that does not have the wherewithal to go the whole way: the rationality of the scholar, the skepticism of the postmodern thinker, the otherworldliness of the theologian.
The right way, perhaps, is to recognize that all three of these methodologies are essential in the arduous task of getting sentient beings moving toward enlightenment” (Muck, 1998). This dialogue perfectly reflects the difficulty of the way, chosen by Dogen. His decision to step away from religious norms and doctrines put it under the threat to be misunderstood by orthodox scholars and traditional masters. On the other hand he does not descend to the level of average people, who can only criticize existing religions.
He goes further and combines rich experience of the past with the wisdom of every moment proposing his own path and own method. All teaching presented by Dogen is a description of experience, which stands beyond a person’s mind. That is the reason it can be so difficult for comprehension. This experience can be reached only through deep mediation and great concentration on the present moment. All his teachings and methods can not be understood intellectually. All his writings show the way for the readers and call them to see reality and it can be really difficult because the readers are also a part of this reality.
As he wrote in his Genjo-koan, In order to learn the nature of the myriad things, you must know that although they may look round or square, the other features of oceans and mountains are infinite in variety, whole worlds are there. It is so not only around you, but also directly beneath your feet, or in a drop of water. (Tanahashi, 115) Despite Dogen paid a lot of attention to spontaneous insights and direct experience, there are several basic principles, which are peculiar for the founder of Soto school of Zen Buddhism in Japan. Dogen paid special attention to Zazen, or practice of sitting meditation.
He claimed Zazen to be the main Zen practice and insisted on the necessity of regular practice of Zazen. He believed that studying Zen was impossible without Zazen study. The practice of Zazen, introduced by Dogen is a kind of mediation, which consist of setting quietly and doing nothing. The main purpose of such meditation is to stop the constant flow of thoughts. Such a meditation requires a deep concentration and the task and becomes almost unattainable when those who meditate try to stay concentrated without any object. As Dogen states in his Fukan Zazengi.