Montag, 10. Juni 2019

Milestones of Buddhism

When I met my future teacher Nishijima Roshi in 1996 at his center in Tokyo, he worked intensively on its own translation of a great Buddhist work by the famous Indian master Nāgārjuna . It is a didactic poem in verse discussing the Middle Way (abbreviated MMK - derived from Mūlamadhyamakakārikā , as it says in Indian language Sanskrit).

Nishijima Roshi was so fascinated by MMK that he, being over 60 years old, learned Sanskrit to understand it in the original language and interpret it from there. He repeatedly emphasized that it he found significant similarities with the famous fundamental work Shobogenzo of Zen master Dôgen and wanted to find out whether this approach would bear up against an in-depth analysis. He wondered: Did these great masters realized the authentic and true Buddhism and brought into words? They were certainly Buddhist masters and not scientists and therefore have had their own deep experiences. Because who hasn’t practiced and meditated himself, cannot authentically report Buddhism through their own reality.

Thus, Nishijima Roshi has been thoroughly engaged for about 25 years with the MMK, worked on it until his old age and refined his writings again and again. Together with his student, the famous Buddhist teacher and his successor Brad Warner, Nishijima has issued a comprehensive work on Nāgārjuna. [1][i]In my view that was a milestone into a new era Buddhism. He has gone completely new ways of understanding and interpretation. Based on its profound practical and theoretical experience in Zen Buddhism and, as he says, certainly with this grid of deep understanding, in my view, he advanced into entirely new areas of significance of the MMK. The reactions among experts ranged from enthusiastic approval to clear rejection. That was to be expected. Now, I would like to further develop Nishijima Roshi's work. I cooperated more than 17 years with him.

Prior to his translation of the MMK Nishijima Roshi had completely reprocessed the fundamental Japanese piece Shobogenzo ("The Treasury of the True Dharma Eye") of the great Zen master Dôgen in over 40 years of painstaking work and transferred it into English together with his student Chodo Cross. This four-volume version has prevailed among experts worldwide and constitutes now a key foundation for the works on Zen Buddhism and especially on Master Dogen. [i][ii

A few years after the English translation of Shobogenzo by Nishijima and Cross, Ritsunen Linnebach produced a German version for which I cooperated with her for about eight years. [ii][iii] Moreover, an important volume of the Shobogenzo is published in Spanish (Luis Diaz ).

Tanahashi: Powerful Center
Meanwhile, a second, in my opinion, excellent English edition of the Shobogenzo was published under the direction of Kazuaki Tanahashi  [iii][iv], so that we now have three truly reliable versions of this basic work of Zen Buddhism available in the West. Thus, the Dōgen research experienced a sustained recovery, and many irritating and inaccurate representations of Zen Buddhism have become obsolete. Particularly the misconception that paradoxical incomprehensible statements would be the most important element of Zen must be cleared out, because exactly the opposite is the case. In fact, Zen is trans-intellectual and follows a broad and profound reason, that analyzes extensively the dynamic of mind-psyche-body. Philosophically I’d like to describe this method as phenomenology, which was actually developed earlier in Buddhism than in western philosophy. In my opinion, Buddha realized the networking of nature and humanity 2500 years ago. We needed quite some time longer in the west! Zen approaches topics, questions and problems from different perspectives. That might confuse some western readers, as it goes out of the simple logic of yes-and-no-statements. However, only this way the central spheres of the developing and emancipating human being become visible with the necessary clarity and depth and therefore can be fostered. Man is not a machine that either works or is broken.

For me, the two works of Nāgārjuna and Dōgen mark splendorous moments of Buddhist life and spirit . On them I want to build my future work. Thereby I follow the fundamental aim of Nishijima Roshi to relate these two thinkers and buddhist masters to each other, to bring them into fruitful reciprocal effect and make them available for the west.

[i][ii] Dogen Shobogenzo (translated by Gudo Nishijima and Chodo Cross), English.
[ii][iii] Dōgen: Shobogenzo. The Treasury of the True Dharma-Eye, German.
[iii][iv] Dogen; Tanahashi, Kazuaki (Editor): Shobogenzo. Treasury of the True Dharma Eye.