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Gudo Wafu Nishijima
The American Academy of Religion
Society of Biblical Literature
Annual Meeting 1997
San Francisco, California
For information about Nishijima Roshi, and books and articles produced by
Windbell Publications Ltd, please visit our Web site at:
All translations and quotations from Master Dogen's Shobogenzo,
Shobogenzo Keiteki, and the Introduction to Master
Windbell Publications Ltd. 1997
Gudo Wafu Nishijima
The Meiji Restoration
The Meiji Restoration that engulfed Japan in 1868, although described
as a restoration, was in fact a complete revolution, which affected
all levels of society. Powerful feudalistic states, including Satsuma
(present-day Kagoshima Pref.), Nagato (present-day Yamaguchi Pref.),
Tosa (present-day Kochi Pref.), and Hizen (present-day Saga Pref.),
banded together and formed an army against the Tokugawa government of the day, with the aim of taking over the capital, Edo (presentday Tokyo). A succession of civil wars ensued, and during the last of
the Tokugawa Shogunates, Yoshinobu Tokugawa (18381913) took
the decision to restore to power the Imperial House which had ruled
Japan from the foundation of the state until 1192. The result was a
revolution of unprecedented scale, which had an impact on every
facet of lifecultural, economic, and political.
Religions too were caught up in the sweeping changes, and Buddhism was no exception. The historical events that unfolded in Buddhism in Japan caused major destruction and irreversible changes to
many aspects of the religion and its practices. In this paper, I would
like to discuss the concrete nature of some of these changes, in order
to set the modern face of Buddhism in Japan within a historical and
What is Buddhism?
In order that we may have a base for further discussion, I would like
to start by explaining what Buddhism is. A look at the situation of
Buddhism in modern-day Japan provides a very vague and confused
image of what Buddhism is about. There are many different points of
view, from the intellectual romanticism of D. T. Suzuki, through the
nothingness theories of Kitaro Nishida, to entirely academic interpretations of Buddhism based on Master
, which came through Chinese (Tr:
and was translated into Japanese as the Churon. Studying these
different theories in modern-day Japan will not yield any clear description of what Buddhism is really about. Further, after the Second
World War, many new Buddhist sects sprang up, promising believers great benefit and happiness in their secular lives. It is not a situation in which the central tenets of Buddhism stand out clearly, and
certainly there is no agreed fundamental idea.
When I was 18 years old I met a Buddhist monk from the Soto sect
called Kodo Sawaki Roshi. From that time I was drawn to study the
works of Master Dogen, and in particular, the Shobogenzo. I have
now been studying the Shobogenzo for more than 60 years, and my
understanding of it is now complete. I have been giving regular lectures at the Tokyo University Young Mens Buddhist Association, the
Asahi Culture Center, and other places, for 30 of those years. Through
my long studies of the Shobogenzo I have come to a clear and exact
understanding of Buddhist philosophy. However, I had always
thought of Master Dogen as one of many Buddhist thinkers, and that
his unique thoughts could not be put forward as a description of the
whole of Buddhism. However, about 10 years ago I started to read
in Sanskrit and subsequently went on to translate it into Japanese directly. As the translation proceeded, I found that the ideas set forth in the
w ere exactly the same as those in the
Shobogenzo. I have concluded that among the many philosophical
interpretations of Buddhism, there is one authentic theory, which can
be called Shobo or the True Dharma. Although the theory is complex, it has a unique, but rational structure which is mirrored in both
Master Dogens works and in Master
writings. I am convinced that this theoretical structure describes exactly what Buddhism
is. However, because the philosophical structure is so unusual, it is
difficult to understand. This is one reason why Buddhism has been
misunderstood by so many people for so long.
The Philosophy of the
The first two chapters of the l
damental statement of Master
give a clear picture of what he believed.
contain a funs Buddhist thought, and
(1) Affirmation of this world
At the beginning of the work, before the first chapter, Master
has written a four-line verse in which he sets down his
understanding of Gautama Buddhas teachings. The verse describes
Gautama Buddhas preaching of p t t
tpd , the fact that
the totality of all we can see is this world (p p
a), which is quiet
) and gracious (
(2) Denial of subjectivity and objectivity
In the first verse of the first chapter, Master
t ) and objectivity (p t ) are complete views of reality, or real entities in themselves.2 By subjectivity he means thoughts
and ideas, and by objectivity he means perceptions involving the sense
organs. Western civilization has given us two major philosophical
systems; idealism and materialism. Master
s denial of these
two positions is a criticism of the tenet that the idealistic viewpoint
alone, or the materialistic viewpoint alone, can tell us what reality is.
This is quite an assertion, but Buddhist philosophy has from ancient
times contained denials of the two extreme viewpoints,
h d d .
t d refers to belief in the eternal spirit and
so the eternity of this world, and as such is an ancient Indian form of
h d d refers to belief solely in the instantaneous
physical manifestation of the world; denying the existence or worth
of moral value, and asserting that the world is just matter that we
perceive in front of us. It is thus an early form of materialism. This is
what has led me to interpret Master
s denial of t d
h d d in the first verse as criticisms of the viewpoints of
idealism and materialism.
However, idealism and materialism are the fundamental philosophies
upon which our civilizations rest, and denying their validity seems to
leave us with no viewpoint that we can rely on. But Buddhism does
deny both, and in their place establishes a philosophy which is based
on action, or reality itself. It may seem strange for a philosophy to be
based on something which is not connected with the intellect; it is usual
to think that philosophy is about thinking itself. It is almost impossible
to imagine the content of a philosophy which is not based on the intellectual viewpoints of idealism or materialism. However, I am confident enough to assert that the philosophical system that is used in Buddhism is based on a philosophy with a viewpoint which is different
from both of these, and I would like to emphasize that this is a key fact
in understanding what Buddhism is.
(3) Four beliefs
Although in the first verse Master
denies that what we
think (subjectivity) and what we perceive (objectivity) are ultimate
descriptions of reality, he goes on to proclaim the existence of four
fundamental beliefs (pratyaya), which include both the subjective and
objective views. He states these beliefs as:  h t , reason, 
, the five attributes of things (that is, form, sound, smell,
taste and touch), 
t , having no interior, meaning the present
moment, and  t th dh p t
, the Lord-like real world.3 Master
defines these as beliefs, because with his sharp mind
he noticed that, although these four are fundamental to human consciousness, there is no way to prove their existence; thus we can only
believe that they exist.
In the fourth verse of the first chapter, Master
the separation between action (
) and the four beliefs (p t
He is pointing to the fact that in our actual lives, to act is much more
real than any of the four beliefs.4 Of the twenty-seven chapters that
make up the l
, fourteen (chapters 8 to 21) are
devoted to explanations of action.
In the second chapter he describes the absolute difference between
a real act at the moment of the present, and the concept action. This
is not a common subject in philosophy, but I think that recognition of
the difference between what we think and what we actually doour
actionis of fundamental importance.
In the first verse of the second chapter, Master
an example the activity of going and asserts that gone (recognition
in the present of an action that took place in the past), going (recognition in the present of an action that is taking place in the present),
and not gone (recognition in the present of an action that has yet to
take place) are all different from the actual instantaneous act of going
performed in the present moment. Our life is not acted out in the
area in which we think, and neither is it acted out in the area of our
perceptions. Our life is action in the here and now. This is the central
theme of Buddhist belief, and from it all other Buddhist theories
When we are acting, we experience something, but what we experience is different from what we are thinking and different from what
we are perceiving. In our thinking process we make a separation between the subject who is thinking and the object of our thoughts: the
person who is thinking can recognize what it is that they are thinking
about. And in our perception processes, we make a separation between the subject who is perceiving and the object of our perception:
the person who is perceiving can describe what they perceive. But in
action, there is no separation between subject and objectthey are
one undivided whole. In the moment of acting it is difficult or impossible for the person who acts to describe or to observe what they are
doing while they are doing it. Because of this fact, although there
have been many philosophical systems in the history of human civilization based on idealistic viewpoints and materialistic viewpoints,
it has been extremely rare to have a philosophy based on something
other than these two viewpoints. It has been an accepted fact for thousands of years that all philosophies have an intellectual basis and
thus deal with all matters on an intellectual level. However, Buddhist
thinkers have repeatedly attempted to form a philosophy based on
action itself, and Master
s attempt is an extremely
(5) Identity of present action and Dharma
In the ninth verse of the first chapter, Master
when Dharma does not appear, it is impossible for nirodha, self-regulation in our action, to exist.5 I have interpreted nirodha to mean self
restriction, or self-regulation; that is, the state in which a person is
regulating themselves in present action. Master
, then, is
asserting that self-regulation and Dharma are identical; that when
we act at the moment of the present, then Dharma, this world, appears; and that acting at the present moment is the real existence of
the world. Although this view is unique to Buddhism, and may appear to be an extraordinary assertion to some, I am convinced that
this is the true meaning contained in the l
The Philosophy of the Shobogenzo
(1) Affirmation of this world
Many chapters of the Shobogenzo are concerned with the affirmation
of the existing concrete world. Examples are found in Genjo-koan (The
Realized Universe), Ikka-no-myoju (One Bright Pearl), Keisei-sanshiki (The
Voices of the River Valley and the Form of the Mountains), Sansui-gyo
(The Sutra of Mountains and Water), and Hokke-ten-hokke (The Flower
of Dharma Turns the Flower of Dharma).6 These chapters in particular,
and many other parts of the Shobogenzo, assert that this world really
exists. The theme is very strong throughout the work.
I have always harbored doubts as to whether the nihilistic interpretations of Buddhism popular in academic circles in Japan today are
true. However, after finding that the affirmation of this world in the
Shobogenzo is strongly supported by Master
assertions in the l
, I have come to believe that
a thorough examination of the basis of true Buddhism is becoming
(2) Denial of Senni-gedo (Non-Buddhist thinkers like Senika) and
h d d )
In chapter 1, Bendowa (A Talk About Pursuing the Truth), Master
Dogen quotes the following statement: In other words, this physical
body, having been born, necessarily moves towards death; but this mental
essence never dies at all. He then comments on the statement: The
view expressed now is absolutely not the Buddhist Dharma; it is the view of
the non-Buddhist Senika.7 In chapter 37, Shinjin-gakudo (Learning the
Truth with Body and Mind), Master Dogen quotes the words of Master Hyakujo Ekai: If a person attaches to the understanding that, being
originally pure and originally liberated, we are naturally buddha and
naturally one with the way of Zen, [that person] belongs among the nonBuddhists of naturalism. 8
These two quotations support my claim that Master Dogen denies both of the two fundamental philosophical viewpoints; the idealistic viewpoint that believes in an eternal spiritual essence, and
materialistic naturalism that believes in innate human perfection
and intrinsic liberation.
(3) Four layers of philosophies
In chapter 3, Genjo-koan (The Realized Universe), Master Dogen describes four philosophical viewpoints. They are:  When all dharmas
are [seen as] the Buddha-Dharma,  When the myriad dharmas are each
not of the self,  The Buddhas truth is originally transcendent over abundance and scarcity, and  It is only that flowers, while loved, fall; and
weeds while hated, flourish.9
I interpret these four viewpoints as follows . When all dharmas are
[seen as] the Buddha-Dharma means when all things and phenomena
are interpreted through a belief system called Buddhism, which suggests an idealistic viewpoint. When the myriad dharmas are each not of
the self refers to the case when all things and phenomena are examined from a non-subjective, that is, objective viewpoint. The Buddhas
truth is originally transcendent over abundance and scarcity means the
real act which is separate from subjective and objective criteria. It is
only that flowers, while loved, fall; and weeds while hated, flourish is a
description of the real state of thingsa description of reality.
(4) Reverence for action and the practice of Zazen
The Shobogenzo contains many chapters related with action. Examples include Bendowa (A Talk about Pursuing the Truth), Genjokoan (The Realized Universe), Ju-undo-shiki ( Rules for the Hall of
Heavy Cloud), Senjo ( Washing), and Shoaku-makusa ( Not Doing
Wrong).10 This reinforces my assertion that Buddhist philosophy is
about action itself. We all have two fundamental abilities: the ability to think and the ability to perceive. Using our ability to think,
we have established the most excellent idealistic philosophies. Relying on our ability to perceive, we have established exceptional
scientific theories. But Gautama Buddha noticed that as excellent as
these two abilities are, they do not form the basis of our lives; he
noticed that our lives are actually a series of actions at the present
moment. His realization of this fact formed the basis of Buddhism,
with a philosophical system based neither on idealism nor materialism. This is the reason that Buddhist philosophy is so hard to
understand. A detailed study of the Shobogenzo clearly reveals this
as the philosophical basis of Buddhism, and Master Dogen, just as
Gautama Buddha did before him, urges us to practice Zazen in order to notice reality, which forms the basis of Buddhist belief. He
insists that by practicing Zazen we can notice the nature of reality
in front of us, and realize what action is.
Buddhism before the Meiji Restoration
It would seem that the system of Buddhist thought expounded by
Master Dogen and Master
has been lost to present-day
Buddhists in Japan. This makes it important to confirm whether their
system of thought existed in pre-Meiji Japan or not. The problem
can be clarified by looking at the recorded works of the monk Master Bokuzan Nishi-ari (Kin-ei). A brief chronology of his life is as
Born in Hachinohe City in Aomori Prefecture, the son of
Becomes a Buddhist monk under Master Choryu Kinryu in
Choryu-ji Temple when he is 12 years old, and studies Buddhism there for 7 years.
Moves to Sendai City and studies Buddhism under Master
Ten-ou Etsu-on in Sho-on-ji Temple there.
Enters the monastery of Kichijo-ji Temple in Edo (present-day
Becomes a certified monk and receives the Transmission of
Dharma from Master Anso Taizen in Hon-nen-ji Temple in
Edo. Becomes Master of Horin-ji Temple in Edo.
Becomes a student of Gettan Zenryu in Kaizou-ji Temple in
Kanagawa Prefecture, who is very famous for his study of
From 1862 onwards Nishi-ari becomes Master of the following
temples in succession: Nyorai-ji (Shizuoka Pref.), Eicho-in
(Kanagawa Pref.), Sosan-ji (Tokyo), Hosen-ji (Gunma Pref.)
After the Meiji Restoration in 1868, Buddhist monks are
permitted to use their own family names, and so he registers
his own family name as Nishi-ari.
After 1875 he becomes Master of the following temples in
succession: Hokou-ji Temple (Aomori Pref.,) Chu-ou-ji Temple
(Hokkaido,) Kasuisai Temple (Shizuoka Pref.,) and Denshinin Temple (Shizuoka Pref.)
A sponsor builds a temple, named Saiyu-ji, for him in
Becomes Abbot of Soji-ji Temple (Ishikawa Pref.), one of the
two main temples of the Soto Sect.
Dies in Yokohama City on 4th December, aged 90 years.
From this biography we can see that Bokuzan Nishi-ari studied Buddhism in the Soto Sect tradition before the Meiji Restoration, and before Japans Universities exerted any influence on Buddhist thought.
It is fortunate that his many lectures on the Shobogenzo have been
recorded in his Shobogenzo Keiteki and are available today. Reading
the records of his lectures we can get a clear picture of his understanding of Buddhism. The Shobogenzo Keiteki contains the following
Bendowa (A Talk about Pursuing the Truth), Maka-Hannya-Haramitsu
( h P
t), Genjo-koan (The Realized Universe), Ikka-nomyoju (One Bright Pearl), Sokushin-zebutsu (Mind Here and Now Is
Buddha), Uji (Existence-Time), Sansui-gyo (The Sutra of Mountains
and Water), Shin-fukatoku (Mind Cannot Be Grasped [The Former]),
Kokyo (The Eternal Mirror), Kankin (Reading Sutras), Bussho (The Buddha-Nature), Gyobutsu-yuigi (The Dignified Behavior of Acting Buddha), Jinzu ( Mystical Power), Z azenshin ( A Needle for Zazen),
Butsukojo-no-ji (The Matter of the Ascendant State of Buddha), Inmo
(It), Kai-In-Zanmai (
dh , State Like the Sea), Juki (Affirmation),
), Arakan (The Arhat), Hakujushi (Cedar Trees),
Komyo (Brightness), Shinjin-gakudo (Learning the Truth with Body and
Mind), Muchu-setsumu (Preaching a Dream in a Dream), Gabyo ( A
Picture of Rice Cake), Sesshin-Sessho ( Expounding the Mind and
Expounding the Nature), Shoho-jisso (All Dharmas Are Real Form),
Mujo-seppo (The Non-Emotional Preaches the Dharma), and Shoji
The Philosophy of Master Bokuzan Nishi-ari
(1) Affirmation of this world
In the Ikka-no-myoju (One Bright Pearl) chapter of Shobogenzo Keiteki,
Master Bokuzan gives his interpretation of One Bright Pearl: that
in the case of Gautama Buddha the whole Universe in ten directions might
be interpreted as the Dharma of the One Vehicle or All Things and Phenomena which are real form. Summarily he [Gensa] calls the situations which
are seen as the world of the limitless Dharma in one sight, as piercing through
from the eternal past to the eternal future, nothing above it, nothing under
it, solving the difference between outside and inside, manifesting the oneness of the world of Dharma, and stopping discussions of practice and experience or delusion and enlightenment.13
In this commentary Master Bokuzan clearly affirms the real existence of this world as Dharma.
(2) Denial of
t d and
h d d
In the Bendowa (A Talk About Pursuing the Truth) chapter of the
Shobogenzo Keiteki, Bokuzan asserts that both Dan a nd J o a re nonBuddhist concepts.
Dan is an abbreviation of Danken-gedo. Dan means to cut, Ken means
view, Ge means outside, and Do means Buddhist Way. Danken-gedo
thus refers to the non-Buddhist view which denies that the continuance of happiness or unhappiness relies upon moral behavior. Dankengedo is the translation into Chinese of the Sanskrit
h d d , which
points to the materialistic philosophical systems of ancient India.
Jo is an abbreviation of Joken-gedo. Jo means constant, Ken means
view, Ge means outside, and Do means Buddhist Way. Joken-gedo thus
refers to the non-Buddhist view that believes in the eternity of the
spirit and interprets all things and phenomena on the basis of mind.
Joken-gedo is the translation into Chinese of the Sanskrit
t d ,
the ancient Indian philosophy that believed in the eternity of this
world and the eternal Spirit.
Master Bokuzan denied both Danken-gedo a nd Joken-gedo i n the
The Non-Buddhist views are just the two views of Dan and Jo. The
two views of Dan and Jo are what are strongly forbidden in
Buddhism. Dan and Jo, which Non-Buddhists and ordinary people
insist on, are to think the natural big mechanism of this world as
their own narrow mind and because they utilize delusions and considerations, sometimes they use Dan and sometimes they use Jo.
Those ideas are all opposite to the real form of Dharma, and so they
are totally poisonous views that go against nature. Therefore what
they recognize as Dan or Jo are not what they experience as Dan
and Jo synthesizing material and mental miscellaneous Dharma,
but experience Dan and Jo thinking intellectually about material
and mental miscellaneous Dharma. So their Dan and Jo can be called
relative Dan and Jo. 14
Reading these sentences we can see clearly Master Bokuzans insistence that Buddhism is completely different from idealistic philosophy like that of Senika, or materialistic philosophies like those of the
Six Non-Buddhist Thinkers, who lived at the time of Gautama
(3) Four layers of philosophies
We have seen the four fundamental beliefs in the
and the four philosophical viewpoints in the
Shobogenzo. Can we now find the same four-phased structure in
Master Bokuzans work? The following passage is taken from the
Bussho (Buddha-nature) chapter of Shobogenzo Keiteki:
Mountains are high and the ocean is deep; a man walks upright and
a rat runs on a crossbeam. Those all belong to superficial philosophies. Even Mount Fuji can be destroyed if we [want to] destroy it,
and even the ocean can be buried if we [want to] bury it. What we see
in front of us all belong to secular philosophies and are manifesting
superficial form. If there is any time when all the heaven and the earth
change, there is nothing which can be called the unchangeable in eternity. There is no fact here which is described The T th t is always
constant and there is no change or transformation. All are superficial philosophies. Therefore concepts are also superficial. And because
of these situations people usually repeatedly declare [their belief in
the concept] emptiness. In these situations, when we think about
fact and form, even though it is in theory just empty form, they are
just the real existence of all things and phenomena in real form.
Therefore when we look at them on the basis of theory, they are
forms of emptiness, but when we look at them on the basis of the form
of facts, they are inevitably real existence. For this reason, we say that
existence and non-existence are both superficial in reality. And so we
call what is different from non-existence and different from existence
the Middle Way. However the Middle Way does not have a real entity
other than the name. Leaving existence/non-existence there is nothing which is called the Middle Way. But leaving attachment to the
form of existence/non-existence, we look at all as the Middle Way.
Therefore in Tiantai theory they say both are not the Middle Way,
both illuminate The Middle Way. In our denials that it is different
from existence or it is different from non-existence, [real] existence is
directly the Middle Way and [real] non-existence is directly the Middle
Way. The Middle Way is directly the Buddha-nature.15
This passage shows that Master Bokuzan accepts existence and nonexistence as concepts, but he thinks that they are superficial concepts;
just thoughts in our brains and the results of our perceptions. He asserts that the Middle Way is that which is real and different from
concepts, and he identifies it with Buddha-nature.
(4) Reverence for action and the practice of Zazen
In the Gyobutsu-yuigi (The Dignified Behavior of Acting Buddha) of
Shobogenzo Keiteki, Master Bokuzan writes:
Buddhas, being in the Buddhas state of truth, do not expect enlightenment. Enlightenment means the balanced enlightenment or
the splendid enlightenment, but we do not need to expect the Buddhist effect of balanced enlightenment or splendid enlightenment. The
meaning of the words that it is not necessary to expect enlightenment
as the result, is the Masters thoughts that Buddhas in the past, present,
and future, are just simply the Acting Buddha. Mastery of action in
the Buddhas ascendant state of truth Buddhas do not stay at the
place of Buddhas, and this situation is described as the ascendant
state of Buddha. To replace ourselves there, is called the mastery of
action. To master action in the ascendant state of Buddha, or to enter
the circumstances of Buddha directly is just meeting Buddha ourselves right now, and it is impossible for us [to do so] when we rely
upon discussing Buddha. What shall we rely upon? We rely only
upon acting Buddha. Therefore it is necessary for us to understand
acting Buddha. Where we act, acting Buddha appears at once. When
we practice Zazen one inch, we can become one inch Buddha. Wanting to become Buddha is just a delusion. Buddha does not have any
fault. Wanting to become Buddha is just a delusion. Instead of thinking about it, just practice Zazen: there exists Buddha directly.16
These sentences show Master Bokuzans own mastery of action and
Japanese Buddhism after the Meiji Restoration
The Meiji Restoration took place in 1868, and was a political and social revolution. Up to that time, due to the increasing development of
capitalistic economic activities, the feudalistic social system under
which Japan functioned had become weaker and weaker. Furthermore, western countries were now urging Japan to open its ports to
trade. Eventually some of the stronger feudalistic states realized the
inevitability of the need to establish a new and powerful government
suited to ruling a modern nation. Forming a strong alliance, these
states proceeded to organize an army that was able to defeat the existing Tokugawa government.
One of the slogans of the Meiji Restoration was Osei FukkoRestore the Monarchy. This was used to encourage the population in their
enthusiasm to destroy any cultural habits and institutions that had been
central to the Tokugawa era. Buddhism did not escape. For about five
years from the start of the Meiji Restoration, a popular movement to
destroy Buddhism raged unchecked, many Buddhist temples were
destroyed, and thousands of Buddhist monks and nuns were forced
back into secular society. This movement was given the name Haibutsu
Kishaku. Hai means to throw away, butsu means Buddha, Ki
means to abolish, and shaku refers to Shakamuni (Gautama Buddha).
Throw away Buddha and abolish Shakamuni! The movement had
an irreversible effect on traditional Buddhism in Japan, despite the efforts of movements who tried to protect the traditions. The relentless
flow of history swept away all in its path.17
Buddhist Studies in the New Universities
After the Meiji Restoration, the new government was eager to learn
the ways of the West, and in 1878 the University of Tokyo was established, soon followed by other universities. In Buddhist studies, new
streams appeared, intent on studying Buddhism in a more western
and scientific manner. Bun-yu Nan-jo (18491927), Junjiro Takakusu
(18661945), Kaikyoku Watanabe (18721895), Unrai Ogiwara (1869
1937), and others, went to England, Germany, and France, in order to
study Buddhism on the basis of western thought.
h Buddhism, Hi means not, Bussetsu
means Buddhist teachings, and Ron means theory. Thus DaijoHi-Bussetsu-Ron means the theory that
h Buddhism is not
[true] Buddhism. In these powerful new streams of Buddhist studies
were scholars such as Sensho Murakami (18511929) and Masaharu
Anezaki (18731949). They believed that Buddhism could be understood only by scholarly study of what Gautama Buddha taught directly in his lifetime, and that the many complex theories that emerged
after his death are not true Buddhism. They claimed that
Buddhist teachings were therefore unreliable, as they were additions
to the original teachings, and could only mislead people.18
The Changes Wrought Upon the Study of Buddhism
Following the enormous influences on Buddhism from the upheavals of the Meiji Restoration, and especially the Haibutsu Kishaku
and Daijo-Hi-Bussetsu-Ron movements, Buddhist scholars implemented four important changes in what was to become the accepted
understanding of Buddhism:
(1) Erasure of the distinction between p
th (Jap. shintai) means the highest or whole truth, spiritual
knowledge, often translated as ultimate truth, and
zokutai) means common occupation; being, existing, becoming, or
happening, often translated as relative truth. For thousands of years
Buddhism had maintained a clear separation between these two terms.
It is not easy to clarify the original meaning of the difference between
these two terms, but we must attempt it if we are to have a clear
understanding of original Buddhism.
Chapter 2 of the l
is entitled Examination of Gone and Not Gone. It is an explanation of the difference
between the conceptual world, in which language and social custom exists, and the real world, which exists prior to, and outside of,
the conceptual state. Master
contrasts the process of the
conscious recognition of an act (memory) , with the instantaneous
act itself at the moment of the present. He uses the examples of
gone, not gone, and going as conscious recognition, to set
against the real act of going. This sharp distinction between the conceived function and the real act itself forms the fundamental basis
of Buddhist philosophy.
The human race is endowed with formidable intellectual powers,
and our civilizations rest upon these powers of thought and perception. Sometime, as did Plato, we find ourselves believing that the
thoughts in our brains are real entities. Or sometimes, as did Karl
Marx, that the forms that we perceive through our sense organs are
real entities. When he was sitting in Zazen, Gautama Buddha noticed
that neither of these is true; both are illusions. He noticed that what
was real was his sitting. It became clear to him that his thoughts and
perceptions both existed in the area of conceived recognition, and
that his act at that present moment was the only thing that was real.
This simple recognition of the way things are is the fundamental
starting point of Buddhism. In Chapter 2, again using to go as his
explains the difference between the conceived recognition of an act that has been performed: gone ( t );
an act that is yet to be performed: not gone (
t ); action as a process in the present: going (
); and the real instantaneous act in the present (gamyate). His explanations are exceptional
in their clarity. Based on these explanations, I interpret
mean our conceived recognition, in the areas of thinking and feeling,
th to mean the Buddhist philosophical viewpoint based
on action, reality, Dharma. By reality, I do not mean only physical
matter, as is believed by materialists, but real experience, different
from both thought and physical substance.
The changes brought about by Daijo-Hi-Bussetsu-Ron have erased
this fundamental insistence in Buddhist philosophy of the distinction between the conceptual or intellectual viewpoint (
tt ), and
the viewpoint based on action (p
(2) Misunderstanding of t
, the Shobogenzo, and Shobogenzo Keiteki
are all constructed around the same layered philosophical structure;
one that uses four viewpoints. This is not a coincidence, but reflects
the fundamental Buddhist principle called t
t , o r four
viewpoints. They are: d
It can be said that Buddhism consists of efforts to
find what reality is. But as reality is beyond concepts, in the end it
proves impossible to describe what reality is with words. Because we
normally identify what something is by the meaning of the word that
we assign to it, we are constantly confusing our conceptualized view
of reality with itself, reality which exists outside of the conceptual
area. Although we are always living in reality, the main characteristic
of reality is that it transcends both thoughts and perceptions; it is
different from what we think it is, and it is different from what we
perceive it to be. In order to attempt a description of reality, we need
to adopt a unique approachthe four-phased method called t
t (philosophy of anguish) suggests idealistic philosophy. When we think about something, our ideas are always more
perfect than the real situation, and for this reason we feel anguish at
the difference between our perfect plans and imperfect reality. Thus
t suggests a philosophy of anguish, or idealism, as it
existed in ancient India.
t (philosophy of accumulation) suggests a philosophy based on the accumulation of material elements. When people
become disappointed by the imperfect nature of reality measured
against their ideals, they often swing to the opposite extreme, and
become trapped in a materialistic view of the world. They start to
believe that the only thing that can be relied upon is physical substance. Thus
t suggests a philosophy of materialism,
as it existed in ancient India.
t (philosophy of self-regulation) suggests a philosophical system based on action. Gautama Buddha was disturbed by
the contradiction between idealistic thought and the material world,
and it took him many years of searching to realize that action at the
present moment is the basis of reality. He then constructed his philosophy around this fact. In the whole history of philosophy there
has never been another philosophy based on action at the moment of
the present. For this reason, the philosophy of action sounds strange
to our ears. However Buddhisms excellence in describing the real
world as it is comes from having its basis in such a unique
t (philosophy of the Way) suggests a philosophy that
is based on the identity between action and the Rule of the Universe.
Buddhism asserts that our life is just a succession of actions at the
present moment, which suggests that the most important thing in life
is to make our action here and now right. This is the foundation of
Buddhist moralitya morality that is not abstracted from our present
actions, but that is here with us at every moment. We can say that
right actions are in harmony with the Universe; they obey its rules.
So right action at the moment of the present is following the Rule of
t , the four philosophies, gives us these four layers
with which to explain reality, and we find that they form the basic
structure behind Buddhist philosophical works.
(3) Making light of practice
Buddhism is not an intellectual pursuit; it is a practical pursuit,
which suggests that practice is central to the establishment of Buddhist philosophy. Japanese Buddhist scholars after the Meiji Restoration, however, as a result of the earnestness with which they pursued the western rational method, began to feel that the idea that
we need to rely on some kind of practice in order to clarify Buddhist theory was ridiculous. They thought that the idea that we need
to rely on practice to establish theory was neither rational nor scientific. Such scholars had come to believe that all ideas could be
understood purely by intellectual effort, and this led them to encourage Buddhism to abandon its traditional practices after the Meiji
Restoration. This attitude shut the door to the study of the philosophy of action, and so Buddhists in Japan lost the way to study Buddhism based on practice.
(4) Loss of Buddhist realism from practical Buddhism to intellectual
It is impossible to deny the belief in the existence of this world expressed by Master
in the l
by Master Dogen in the Shobogenzo. We find that their philosophical writings express a realistic view which is quite different from
the idealism and nihilism expressed by Japanese Buddhists scholars after the Meiji Restoration. These scholars place Buddhism firmly
in the area of intellectual studies and, further, they do not like to
affirm this world as a real place. They interpret the Sanskrit concept
as a nihilistic concept meaning empty or void, to suit
their insistence that the world in front of us is not real existence. But
interpreted from the viewpoint that affirms the real world in front
has another meaning; it means hollow, barren, desolate, deserted, in the sense of the bare, bald, naked, raw and transparent state of reality just as it is. The translation we select for
this concept depends on our fundamental Buddhist viewpoint. If
we believe that Buddhism does not affirm this world, then the meaning of emptiness or void may make sense to us; but if we believe
that Buddhism expresses a profound affirmation of the reality in
front of us, then the meaning of as it is may be more suited. Both
Master Dogen and Master
insisted that Buddhist philosophy is realistic. Realistic, not in the sense of practical materialism, but in the sense of present action. Many materialistic people
think that they are realistic, that the material world is the only basis
for realism. But Buddhism asserts that what is real is neither ideas,
not physical matter, but action at the present moment in this place.
So there is an important distinction between materialistic realism,
which believes in the absolute existence of matter through time, and
Buddhist realism, which believes that the world exists at the present
moment. However, after the Meiji Restoration, Japanese Buddhist
scholars threw away Buddhist realism and changed Buddhist philosophy into a kind of idealistic nihilism.
After the Second World War
Almost a century after the Meiji Restoration, Japans defeat by the
allied armies in 1945 wrought further enormous changes. The nationalistic spiritualism that had dominated Japan was almost completely
destroyed, and the people of Japan swung heavily to the opposite
directionbecoming an increasingly materialistic society. Buddhism
lost almost all of its power and has subsequently turned into a religion of funerals.
(1) The appearance of new religions
In postwar society new religions emerged, almost entirely based on
Buddhism, but offering to believers happiness, and financial reward
for their devotion. In the confusion and spiritual vacuum of the postwar years, many ran to these religions for security and the promise of
(2) Nihilistic Buddhism
One well-known philosopher at Kyoto University, Kitaro Nishida
(18701945), established his own unique philosophy, based around
the concept of absolute nothingness. Nishida attracted many excellent students to his ranks. Some of these students had studied Buddhism in the Rinzai sect and they established their own Buddhist
theory, based on Nishidas philosophy and formed around the concept of mu or nothingness.
(3) The common authorized view
Japanese Buddhist scholarship has based itself around an authorized theory which has been taken up by virtually all Buddhist
scholars in Japan. The theory has three basic concepts: engi,
mujisho, and ku.
Engi comes from the Sanskrit word p t t
tpd , which
was rendered into Chinese by
a s causes and conditions. En means conditions and gi or ki means to occur. Thus
engi translates as what has occurred relying on conditions. This
is interpreted by most Japanese scholars to mean the mutual relationship which arises relying on conditions and which is not a
Mujisho comes from the Sanskrit
is a negative particle and
t m eans essence of self. So the words
t a nd
mujisho are interpreted as a denial of self as a real entity. This is a
further instance of the nihilistic attitude that pervades Buddhist studies in Japan.
Ku come from the word Sanskrit word
, which is interpreted
to mean emptiness, nothingness, rather than, as I suggested earlier,
as bare, naked the state of things as they are.
Thus the three pillars of authorized Buddhism in Japan are entirely
based upon nihilistic assumptions.
The Importance of Open Discussion
I have described some of the enormous changes in Buddhist belief
and philosophy that have taken place in Japan since the Meiji Restoration, and which have affected the very essence of Buddhist thought.
It is very important for discussion to continue. The problem is a serious oneto what extent have the changes that took place during the
Meiji Restoration effected the core beliefs of Buddhism in Japan? It is
my belief that Buddhism before the Meiji Restoration was a practical
Buddhism, based on practices such as Zazen and so forth, and that
the Buddhism that emerged from the great upheavals of those times
is an intellectual Buddhism, a religion based only on ideas, and not
grounded in experience. I hope very much that Buddhist scholars
will be motivated to take up this theme and study the historical facts
in greater detail. I think that research will be able, not only to shed
light on the changes that have taken place, but to clarify in greater
detail the original body of beliefs, and the original philosophical system that were central to Buddhism prior to those changes.
Nishijima, Chap. 1.
Ibid. Chap. 1, Verse 1.
Ibid. Chap. 1, Verse 2.
Ibid. Chap. 1, Verse 4.
Ibid. Chap. 1, Verse 9.
Gudo Nishijima & Chodo Cross , Master Dogens Shobogenzo,
Book 1 (Windbell Publications 1994).
Ibid. Book 1, p. 14
Ibid. Book 1, pp. 25354.
Ibid. Book 1, p. 33.
, trans. Gudo Wafu
10. Ibid. Book 1.
11. Komazawa University, Zengaku Daijiten (Taishukan Shoten
1978). Vol. 2, p. 977.
12. Bokuzan Nishi-ari, Shobogenzo Keiteki (Daihorin-kaku 1978),
13. Ibid. Vol 1, p. 354.
14. Ibid. Vol 1, pp. 15657.
15. Ibid. Vol 2, p. 177.
16. Ibid. Vol 2, p. 330.
17. Zen-nosuke Tsuji, Meiji Bukkyo-shi no Mondai (Ritsubun Sho-in
1949), pp. 481.
18. Yusen Kashiwabara, Nihon Bukkyo-shi: Kindai (Yoshikawa
Kobun-kan 1990), pp. 8792.
was written by
, a Buddhist philosopher who lived in India circa 150 to 250 A.D. Around this period,
h Buddhism was at its zenith, and
was the most
excellent of all the Buddhist thinkers of his age. Although he wrote
many books on Buddhism, it is likely that he wrote
to record the conclusions of his philosophical
journey. What is written in l
is very simple
and direct, and to me this suggests that he wrote the work near the
end of his life, when his thoughts were mature. Because of these facts,
to study the l
is possibly the best way to gain
an understanding of the
h Buddhism of ancient India.
However, there is another reason why I started to translate the
. I have spent more than 60 years studying
the works of Dogen Zenji. During my studies, it became clear to me
that the Buddhist thought of Master Dogen is unique among the many
Buddhist thinkers of India, China and Japan. I concluded that Master
Dogens thoughts, despite being excellent and compelling, were somehow one isolated example among the many Buddhist theories in
After reading and understanding the l
however, I realized that Dogen Zenjis theories are not at all peculiar.
I found in fact that the philosophical structure which
out in the l
is in fact identical to the theories
of Dogen Zenji. I have now come to believe that Dogen Zenjis thought
is far from an isolated view; it is in fact an exact and excellent expounding of the original theories of Buddhism. Both
Dogen expound true Buddhist philosophy. The reason that they have
both been seen by so many people as unique and isolated in their
view comes, I think, from the fact that they were both so excellent
that few Buddhist thinkers, from ancient times right through to the
present, have been able to understand what they wrote; their thinking represents the very highest level of Buddhist philosophy.
This is a very important fact, but I fear that many people will not be
able to accept it, and will think that my opinion is rather odd. For this
reason I think that it is more than just importantit is my dutyto
explain what it is that has led me to this conclusion. This is why I
embarked on an English translation of the l
following my translation into Japanese. When people are able to read
this translation, they will be able to follow the path that has led me to
my conclusion, and will, I hope, be able to agree with me.
This, then, has been my aim in this translation, but in reality things
have not been so simple. Before beginning the translation, I read translations into English by Kenneth K. Inada, David Kalupahana and
Ramchadra Pandeya, and into Japanese by Hajime Nakamura and
Jushin Saegusa. I found two things; the first was that all of the translations were completely different in meaning. The second was that I
could not understand any of them, even after extensive efforts to do
so. I concluded from this that there was no reliable translation of the
in existence, and no clear commentaries on
the meaning. I reached the point where I realized that if I wanted to
understand the meaning of the l
I would have
to translate it myself.
Method of Translation
I adopted the following four methods in translating the
1. Precise meaning of each word
In reading the existing translations, I found that all of them adopted
quite a loose interpretation for the meaning of individual words. While
reading existing translations I looked up words which I did not know
in the dictionary, but frequently was unable to find the meaning attributed to the word in the translation. In my translation I used three
Sanskrit-English dictionaries: by Monier Monier-Williams, by Arthur
A. McDonnell, and by Carl Cappeller. I decided to use only the meanings given in these dictionaries in order to maintain consistency and
accuracy, and to further this aim, I have listed the meaning adopted
for each word at the start of every verse.
2. Strict interpretation of Sanskrit grammar
In reading existing translations I came across many examples where
the rules of Sanskrit grammar had not been followed in rendering a
translation. In these situations, it is natural to conclude that the translated text does not follow the meaning of the original. If there is not
strict adherence to the rules of grammar in a translation, then that
translation cannot be called reliable. I therefore resolved to follow
the rules of Sanskrit grammar as closely as I was able. To support
this, I have added grammatical notes at the start of each verse.
3. Not referring to previous translations and commentaries
In translating original texts, most people proceed by studying all existing translations and references, and then starting their own translation. In the case of the l
, there are some
problems with this method. l
from Sanskrit to Chinese around the end of the 4th century to the beginning of the 5 th century by
. His translation was so fluent, so elegant and concise that it was accepted widely and received
great acclaim in China and subsequently in Japan. However, on checking his translation against the original Sanskrit, I found innumerable
problems throughout the whole translation.
Many early commentaries that were written by Indian Buddhists
were subsequently translated into Chinese relying on
interpretation. It is highly doubtful that these Chinese versions of the
commentaries retain any of the original meaning of the
. At the least, they cannot be relied upon.
These are some of the factors that led me to resolve not to refer to
other translations or commentaries, but to endeavor to translate the
as systematically and objectively as possible.
I think that this is the most meaningful and rational approach to take.
4. The role of Buddhist philosophy
It is normal when reading a classical work to attempt as far as possible to throw away all personal prejudice and bias, and read the work
as objectively as possible. But in reality, we all have our own biases
and beliefs, and it is impossible for us to throw them away completely.
It is actually impossible to read a work without imposing our own
beliefs on it.
In my case, I have been studying the works of Dogen Zenji, a Buddhist monk who lived in the 13th century, for more than 60 years, and
my Buddhist beliefs now rely entirely on his thoughts. I have translated his works into modern Japanese and some of them into English,
and I have been giving lectures on his works regularly for the last 30
years. My understanding of Buddhist thought is so deeply influenced
by Dogen Zenji that I feel my beliefs are identical to his. In this situation it is impossible for me to read the l
without bringing with me Dogen Zenjis philosophy.
Fully aware of this fact, it was therefore a revelation to me to find
that in fact l
contains exactly the same philosophical structure as Dogen Zenjis work. As it turned out, my deep
knowledge of Dogen Zenjis philosophy was the one thing above all
that enabled me to understand and translate the
The Structure of the
As the l
is a highly structured work, I think
it helpful for the reader to have an idea of the overall structure of the
work to better understand the translation.
1. Four main groups
The 27 chapters that make up the l
divided into four groups according to the main focus of each chapter.
Group 1: Chapters devoted to philosophical explanations of
the fundamental basis of Buddhist thought.
Chapter 1 Examination of Fundamental Beliefs
Chapter 2 Examination of Gone and Not Gone
Group 2: Chapters devoted to philosophical explanations of
the external world
Chapter 3 Examination of the Eyes and Other Sense Organs
Chapter 4 Examination of Aggregates
Chapter 5 Examination of Physical Substances
Chapter 6 Examination of Passion and the Impassioned
Chapter 7 Examination of the External World
Group 3: Chapters devoted to explanations of the philosophy
Chapter 8 Examination of Action/Conduct
Chapter 9 Examination of Prior to the Moment
Chapter 10 Examination of Flame/Combustion
Chapter 11 Examination of Ends Before and After
Chapter 12 Examination of Anguish
Chapter 13 Examination of Doing
Chapter 14 Examination of The Undivided Whole
Chapter 15 Examination of Subjective Identity
Chapter 16 Examination of Restriction/ Emancipation
Chapter 17 Examination of Action/Result
Chapter 18 Examination of Soul
Chapter 19 Examination of Time
Chapter 20 Examination of Grasping the Whole
Chapter 21 Examination of Coexistence and Universal
Group 4: Chapters devoted to philosophical explanations of
Chapter 22 Examination of the Appearing of Reality
Chapter 23 Examination of Change
Chapter 24 Examination of Holy Realities
Chapter 25 Examination of
Chapter 26 Examination of the Twelve Causes and Effects
Chapter 27 Examination of Doctrine
Although when I had read the whole of the
it was obvious to me that the chapters fall into
four groups, there may be some who question the four groups I have
used. These groups or categories are in fact taken from Verse 2 in
Chapter 1. In that verse,
states the existence of t
, or four fundamental beliefs. These are: h t o r reason,
or what is hanging down,
or the present moment,
and t th or reality. It is these four categories that I have used in classifying the chapters into groups.
Overall Intent of the Work
1. Simple acceptance of this world
w rote an introductory verse to the
which he placed before Verse 1 in Chapter 1. In
that verse he proclaims Gautama Buddhas message as simple acceptance of p t t
t pd , the totality of visible, recognizable phenomena. This proclamation is of fundamental importance in understanding the central principles of Buddhism.
Later, some of the sects that sprang up in China and Japan asserted
that Buddhism does not affirm the real existence of the world. However, at the culmination of
h Buddhism in India,
clearly and positively affirms this world.
2. Denial of subjectivity and objectivity
In the first verse of the first chapter,
denies that either
(subjectivity) or p t (objectivity) are true pictures of reality. If we
define subjectivity as a view of the world based on thought, and objectivity as a view of the world based on perception, then what
is saying here is that ideas are not real existing entities, and also that
things we perceive with our sense perceptions are also not real entities.
We normally call things that we perceive matter, and in this verse,
is saying that matter as we perceive it is not real.
These assertions are extremely important in understanding Buddhist philosophy, for when
denies that ideas are real, he is
also denying idealistic philosophies. And when he denies that matter
is real, he is also denying materialistic philosophies. These two denials are startling when we examine them, because if we deny both
idealistic and materialistic philosophies, then we leave nothing in the
intellectual area that we can affirm as real. These two philosophical
systems, which have been with us for thousands of years, both lose
s denial in unequivocal; he clearly states that neither idealism nor materialism is able to explain the real nature of this
world. Although human beings have been making efforts for thousands of years to explain reality with the twin tools of idealistic and
materialistic philosophies, they will never achieve their goal.
says that the reality in which we exist is completely different from intellectual explanations from idealistic or materialistic viewpoints. In saying this, he is reaffirming true Buddhist theory; the teachings passed down by a small number of Buddhist Masters for two
thousand five hundred years from Gautama Buddha himself.
We can find exactly the same insistence in the writings of Dogen
Zenji. In Shobogenzo Bendowa he asserts that Buddhism is completely
different from the beliefs of the non-Buddhist Senika, who was a believer in the idealistic Brahmanism of ancient India.
And he also asserts in Shobogenzo Sansui-gyo that Buddhism is completely different from naturalistic beliefs, by which he means the kind
of materialistic beliefs that assert that this world is composed of only
matter. These kind of materialistic beliefs were very strong in India at
the time when Gautama Buddha was living.
So Dogen Zenji also denied both the idealistic beliefs of the Brahman Senika and the materialistic beliefs of naturalist thinkers.
From these two great Buddhist thinkers, we can conclude that Buddhism is originally based on a denial of both idealistic and materialistic thought. It was from this position that Buddhism developed
a philosophy based on action. A philosophy of action sounds
strange; how can such a philosophy exist? What is it based on? Both
and Dogen Zenji expounded a philosophical structure
for Buddhism based around a denial of the traditional subjective/
objective dialectic. In fact they both expound a philosophy based
on action. They assert that reality is not what we think it is, and not
what we perceive it to be; but is in fact action at the moment of the
present. And a series of moments comprises our experience of reality. They both explain the nature of reality from the perspective of
present action, and affirm the identity between action and Dharma,
the rule of the Universe.
3. The four beliefs
In the second verse of the first chapter of the l
p roclaims his belief in four fundamental beliefs
( t p t
). The four beliefs are h t , or reason, l
or objective things and phenomena,
t , or the present moment,
and t th dh p t
, or Thisreality like a Lord. Although he
denies subjectivity and objectivity as inclusive views of reality, he
affirms the existence of four fundamental beliefs: reason, the external
world, the present moment, and this world as reality. He found that
it is impossible to deny the existence of ones own consciousness, of
the world outside oneself, of the moment here and now, and of reality itself. But at the same time, his sharp intellect noticed that although
we cannot deny the existence of the four, we cannot prove their existence either. For this reason he calls them beliefs. What is more surprising is that he strongly asserts that there exists no fifth belief. This
is the mark of his confidence in his Buddhist convictions.
In the fourth verse of the first chapter,
action, is different from the four beliefs, and different from not having any belief. He recognized that existence is something much more
direct and real than belief. He believed that the most fundamental,
basic state of existence is action at the present moment. And from this
basic belief, he developed his philosophy to embrace a description of
the whole of reality.
s thoughts thus originate from, and developed relying
upon, action at the present moment. I also assert that action at the
present moment is the fundamental basis of the Buddhism which
Gautama Buddha established.
In the ninth verse of the first chapter,
states that action
and Dharma are identical. Dharma has always been the ultimate object of worship in Buddhism, but here
identifies it as the
same as action at the present moment. Buddhist philosophy includes
the concept of the instantaneousness of the worldthat this world,
Dharma, appears and disappears at every moment. If we accept that
action at the present moment and Dharma are the same, then we can
realize that this world, which is our action, appears and disappears
at every present moment. I think that this theory is the most important in Buddhism.
6. Distinction between thought and act
In chapter two,
d escribes the difference in dimension
between thought and action. For better or for worse, human beings
are endowed with unrivaled intellectual powers. Because of our excellent intellect, we sometimes mistake our thoughts for reality; that
is, we take the world inside our heads to be the real world. This is the
reason that some people believe that ideas are absolute truth, and
believe in the absolute truth of idealistic philosophies. Other people
think that what we perceive through our senses is completely reliable, and that the things we perceive are real entities; they believe in
the absolute truth of materialistic philosophies. But Guatama Buddha doubted the absolute nature of both of these views, and urged us
to realize what this world is really like.
This same fundamental philosophy can be found in
work, and he expounds on it in chapter two under the title Examination of Gone and Not Gone. Gone is recognition of an action
completed in the past, and not gone is recognition of an action yet
to be performed. In the second line of the first verse, he also introduces the concept going, which is action in the present as a continuous process. He then goes on to assert that all of these three descriptive concepts are completely different from the actual act itself,
which can only take place in the moment of the present. It is only
with the greatest difficulty that modern people, with our ingrained
intellectual view of the world, can see the truth of this subtle distinction. But it is just this subtle and fine distinction between what we
think and what things are actually likereal action at the present
momentthat lies at the heart of Buddhism.
7. The external world
The five chapters from chapter 3 to chapter 7 are devoted to explanations of the external world. There are many Buddhist scholars, especially in Japan, who insist that Buddhism does not affirm the existence of this world. They do not think that Buddhist philosophy is
talking about reality. However,
clearly affirmed the existence of this world, although his sharp intellect noticed that it is not
something that can be proven; it remains a fundamental belief. It is
against this backdrop that he explains what the external world is in
these five chapters.
In chapter 3, he describes the sense organs as windows on the
external world, and in chapter 4 he discusses the five skandha or aggregates. In chapter 5 he discusses the dht , or physical elements
which Buddhism uses to explain the external world. Chapter 6 is devoted to a discussion of passion and the impassioned, and
as our perception of the external world is heavily influenced by our
emotional state. His description, in Chapter 7, of the external world
is so precise, that it is next to impossible to believe that he had any
doubts about the existence of the external world.
8. Philosophy of action
Buddhist philosophy is based on action, and it is important to notice
clearly that action is in a fundamentally different dimension from
thinking or feeling. Of course, we can discuss action intellectually
from both idealistic and materialistic viewpoints, but the real act upon
which Buddhism centers its philosophy is not the same as the concept action; it is real action at the moment of the present. It is precisely because Buddhist philosophy is based upon real action in the
moment of the present that it is so difficult to understand.
devotes the 14 chapters from Chapter 8 to Chapter 23 to an explanation of the philosophy of action. On reading
these 14 chapters the unique philosophical standpoint of Buddhist
thought that pervades the whole work is clarified. It becomes clear
that the whole of the l
, rather than being a
theoretical explanation from idealistic or materialistic bases, is a direct and exact description of the real facts in front of us, which relies
on the intuitive consciousness that comes with the state of balanced
body/mind, and which is called p
In Chapter 8,
explains that real action at the present moment is not divided into act and behavior, into content of action and
way of acting. Chapter 9 is devoted to describing the moment just
before the present. Although real action exists only in the present, it
is impossible for us not to think about the moment that went before
the present moment. He goes on to explain, in Chapter 10, the oneness of action in the present moment by using the simile of real fire
and its two component concepts; flame (form) and burning (content).
Chapter 11 continues with a description of the boundaries of life; birth
and death. Acknowledging their importance,
goes on to
explain that they are simple facts at the moment of the present. Looking at the two events in this way as action in the present, both birth
and death are seen as present states, and in that sense, not fundamentally different. The subject of Chapter 12 is anguish, which
also explains as a simple fact in the present, and Chapter
13 deals with performance. In Chapter 14 he goes on to describe the
oneness/totality of acting at the present moment, and in Chapter 15
he denies again that there can be any subjective awareness during
action. He goes on in Chapter 16 to describe restriction and freedom,
insisting that both restriction and freedom are combined into the oneness of action in the present; they do not exist as separate entities.
Chapter 17 explains that in real action, there is only action, and nothing exists that can be called result. He denies the existence of anything called soul in present action in Chapter 18, and asserts that
action can only take place in the present, and at this place, in Chapter
19. Chapter 20 is devoted to an explanation of the totality/undivided
wholeness that is manifested in present action, and Chapter 21 describes the philosophical relationship between co-existence and universal existence in present action.
uses the final six chapters, from Chapter 22 to Chapter 27
to describe the ultimate state in Buddhismthe state of realization.
He first explains the meaning of the word t th t , which is usually
interpreted as meaning a person who has arrived at reality, or a person to whom reality has come. However, in Chapter 22 he describes
the arrival of reality itself. He discusses the state of arrived reality,
denying the existence of any sudden, tremendous change in this
world. In Chapter 23 he goes on to explain that, as the world is existence at every moment, it is impossible to experience a sudden change
of the order that is commonly connected with the words satori or
enlightenment. In Chapter 24 he describes sacred reality. Because
life is just at the moment of the present, it is important that our conduct in the present is in tune with, identified with, the law which
governs the Universe. In Chapter 26,
identifies our dayto-day life with
. He says that daily life is just
is just our daily life. Chapter 26 is devoted to an explanation of the mutual relationship between the twelve causes and
effects, and in the final chapter, Chapter 27, he denies that doctrine
has value. We usually adopt some particular doctrine and attempt to
lead our lives according to that doctrine, believing it to be the truth.
doubts the value of doctrine, and suggests that the most
valuable thing is not doctrine, but the balanced state, which reveals
the origin of everything and all phenomena that are spread in front
[Note: this Introduction is from a work-in-progress English translation of
Windbell Publications Ltd. hopes to publish
Nishijima Roshis complete translation within the next two years.