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Dōgen’s Zen View of Interdependence
Hakuin's Daruma

Norimoto Iino
Philosophy East and West, Vol. 12, No. 1. (Apr., 1962), pp. 51-57
© University of Hawai'i Press

The concept of interdependence (parasparāpeksā) is of Indian origin,[1] and has since been interpreted in various ways. The Japanese Zen [2] man Dōgen ( 1200-1253 ) gave a many-sided interpretation to it.

Dōgen reminds us of the Buddha. He was born in a distinguished family of political achievements. His father was related to the Imperial Household, and was an influential member of the Cabinet. At the early age of 13, Dōgen decided to become a Buddhist monk, and came to live in the temple of his mother's older brother, who was a learned priest.

Dōgen was noted for brilliance, which is illustrated by a question he asked at the age of 15, "If the sūtra is right in that man has buddhahood, why it is that he has to go through the ordeal of rigorous Zen practice?" [3] No priest in the Kyoto area was able to give a satisfactory answer to this question except Eisai (1141-1215), who had studied Zen in China. He said to  Dōgen : "The buddhahood in man is only potential. Raw human nature is beastly. Hence the necessity of transmuting it by Zen."[4]

Dōgen  went to China at the age of 25 and studied Zen with the most famous Zen master of that generation, Nyojo. Dōgen  proved himself to be the best student of Nyojo, whose austere Zen practice is said to have radiated such compassion as to include not only mankind but even insects in the circle of his radiant virtue. Self-denial and enlightenment depend on each other- this is what Dōgen learned from his teacher. Upon his return to Japan, good positions were offered him, but he went to a snowy province of Fukui,' thinking that prestige and Zen would not go together. In the mountain area of Fukui he began his work of teaching.

Dōgen's Zen is thought of by some people as Sōtō Zen.' But he views it in terms of something vaster. With him, Zen is another name for all the values of all the schools of Buddhism. To confine Zen to one segment or sect of the whole historical process of Buddhism at its best is wholly to misrepresent it. He firmly believes in the complete interdependence of all values on one another. They, in turn, are rooted in the one "Crimson Heart of Cosmic Compassion,"[5] which is one ethereal ship [6]aboard which all mankind will be delivered to the Blessed Land of Enlightenment sooner or later. In fact, the whole cosmos is radiant with infinite compassion when we have our inner spiritual eyes opened through the practice of Zen. Zen is concentration on the truth of universal interdependence, which reveals the folly of the narrowness of self-centeredness.

If there is any remainder of selfishness in a man, he is not able to see the pervading presence of the cosmic compassion. His raw human nature must wither away, just as old leaves fall to the ground and decay as the fall season advances. Not only his soul but also his body — in other words, his entire personality-must be transformed into pure compassion itself. The rigor and austerity with which this change is brought about is characteristic of  Dōgen 's Zen. "Shinjin-hōge [7] or "tōtai-datsuraku"[8] is the way he expresses this soul-stirring experience of his. "Shinjin" and "tōtai" mean one's whole being most emphatically stated. "Hōge" and "datsuraku" mean the way leaves fall or a kimono is taken off. Here, cosmic compassion takes the initiative in causing men to feel like practicing Zen. Without this initiative, the Buddha would never have left his family to become a wandering truthseeker. Millions of Buddhists through the ages have followed the Buddha and were enlightened, all because of this initiative. So, Zen is not autonomous in a narrow sense. Dōgen uses the term "hukobarete,"[9] which means to "be carried." This reminds one of the Pauline experience of being transformed (metamorphoumetha) as recorded in Second Corinthians 3:18. So, Dōgen's Zen is theonomy or "Dharmanomy”, [10] or the cosmic law of compassion, does the work of enlightening men who do not enlighten themselves. Thus seeing the supremacy of the cosmic compassion guiding and sustaining him, Dōgen is dauntless and grateful, self-possessed and blessed. He stands on the rock of Dharma and is unafraid. Despite the rigor of his Zen, he is full of poise and joy. He has faith in the ultimate reality. Using a well-known phrase of the Prajñāpāramitā Śāstra by Nāgārjuna, he writes, "The vast sea of Buddhist Law is entered upon through faith." [11] He has faith because the Buddha once had faith, though neither Dōgen nor any human being can exhaust the values of this vast sea. Faith in the denial of the lower self and enlightenment depend on each other.

Burning incense or reading Sūtras is secondary. To follow the Buddha is primary. After he renounced his worldly promises, the Buddha practiced Zen for six years, alone, without any teacher to guide him. According to the Sutta-nipāta," [12] the Buddha's smādhi (deep concentration) was deep thought of birth and death, such that his disembodied soul was serene enough to see the Dharma, resisting Namuci’s [13] temptation. This is samādhi ,[14] dhyāna,[15] Zen, as the Buddha practiced it. It is preceded by his great renunciation. It is a stern resolve to do away with all that is in the way of true enlightenment. The Buddha was interpreted by Dōgen as one who fathomed the highest dimensions of truth. Dōgen's hut was in the midst of deep snow up in the mountains of northern Japan and not on the bank of the Neranjanā River in tropical India, but the cold is as much a hardship as the heat. Dōgen  interpreted "viewing oneself as nothing self-supporting" [16] (drstvāmanam niratmanam) in terms of completely annihilating the lower self. The Buddha had personally taught the secret of Zen to his outstanding pupil, Kāśyapa. This intimate transfer of Zen mystery from the master to the pupil is the only supremely Buddhist way.  Dōgen learned it under the personal tutorage of his Chinese master. Through this practice of Zen, the buddhahood of each man will be realized.

Thus, the right teacher is indispensable. The right place is important, too. It should be a quiet place in the bosom of animate Nature, away from noise, fame, possession, power, greed, anger, vindictiveness, complaint. The voice of the vale and the hue of the peak bespeak infinite compassion. The cicada of the forest and the music of the rain do likewise. Once the buddhahood of a man is revealed through Zen, all his activity is as full of compassion as the act of Zen itself. The temple bell does not ring all the time. But when it is still it is just as eloquent in speaking the language of compassion as when it is actually ringing.[17] This is another meaning of interdependence. Man is enlightened, and by means of this bliss the inanimate world becomes enlightened vicariously, so that the cosmos of trees, grass, air, light, and sea also becomes the personification of buddhahood. Here Dōgen's view reminds us of a kind of panpsychism without the precise and scientific analysis of a Leibniz or a Whitehead.

According to Dōgen, the murmuring of the brook and the cry of the monkey [18] are perpetual teaching of the reality of cosmic compassion to one whose spiritual eyes have been opened by the constant practice of Zen. In the ninth book of Shōbōgenzō, he says that if man ungrudgingly deprives himself of the will to fame and wealth, the mountain peak and the valley torrent will be eloquent in giving 84,000 discourses. The fragrance of the chrysanthemum, the water boiling in the teakettle, and the twinkling of the star are signs of the same compassion. As the spring season comes around again, the Zen man, standing on the hill, overlooks the village down below, where peach blossoms smile quietly. This charming scene is one great symphony of the same music of calm compassion. The crescent sailing in the zenith, and the insect singing in the bush, and the impressive pagoda of mountain clouds—all teach the same truth.

Dōgen’s reputation spread over the country. The Kamakura Shogunate asked him to come to teach its chief administrators. So,  Dōgen  stayed in Kamakura for half a year. But on one spring day, as he was surrounded by the whiteness of the plum blossoms and the redness of the peach blossoms, a sudden thunder shook the whole capital, as if to tell Dōgen that he should return to the poor people in the cold mountain area where he had begun his work so devotedly. "Eating whitened rice, being away from the monkish hut, I have spent six months. Amid the fragrance of plum blossoms I suddenly hear the thunder, echoing and re-echoing, while the capital is clad with peach kimono." [19] This is a Chinese poem he then composed, chastising himself.

All things depend upon one another. This Indian thought of interdependence is interpreted by  Dōgen in the sense that being is time. Time is everywhere. It is interwoven with all things. Dōgen claims that buddha as the ultimate reality is time, of which all things are made. The bamboo is time; the tiger time; enlightenment time; man time. The present moment is the best occasion for enlightenment, though the past, the present, and the future are three occasions of all-encompassing time. Each passing moment is precious. It should be appreciated as a great gift to be spent well.

So, Dōgen viewed being as time. He did not do this in accordance with the Kāla Hymn of the Atharva Veda, [20] in which Time is the Source and Sustainer of-the cosmic process. In Book I1 of Shōbōgenzō, he expounds the concept of time as the ultimate spring of all existence. Here he does not depend on the Veda; nor does he draw from Plato's hupodoxchē, or chora, as Space-Time, viewed as the foster mother of all becoming, working with the Maker and Father of the universe, Theos aisthetos, expounded in the Timaeus.[21] These three sources converge in seeing the ultimate importance of time for philosophy and religion. It is interesting to note that Whitehead, in his Process and Reality and Adventures of Idea, regards all things as occasions. God is a series of occasions; man a series of occasions; matter a series of occasions. And occasion is a concept denoting time. Here Whitehead seems to aim at avoiding spatialization in describing the interweaving of all things.

Causality is explained by Dōgen similarly, as an expression of interdependence. There is a logical difference between cause and effect. Logically speaking, cause comes before effect. But this should not be viewed in terms of spatial relations. Cause and effect are not like two billiard balls, one of which hits the other, thus causing it to move. When an effect is brought about its cause is in it, not side by side with it, or preceding it in place. The buddhda-nature, the cause (ground) of enlightenment, was in Dōgen . That is why  Dōgen , too, was enlightened. Hume [22] and Kant [23] were not able to explain causality, because they viewed its two aspects, cause and effect, in terms of spatial separation. Hume saw contiguity; Kant, precedence. But  Dōgen  talks about the spatial simultaneity of cause and effect. The cosmic cause of infinite compassion pervades the past, the present, and the future, causing Dōgen to be enlightened. Hence his agnosticism as to causality.

With Dōgen, monism, dualism, and pluralism [24] are three facets of the same reality. The all-encompassing ultimate reality is one, in which each man or each atom lives, moves, and has its enlightenment. This cosmic cause is the cause of the existence of every being and the realization of every value. But, logically speaking, the dualism of cause and effect is valid. And the ultimate reality works in many causes, such as the Buddha as a human being,  Dōgen's Chinese teacher, and the many manifestations of the world in which Dōgen lived. In this sense, causal plurality is true, too. The tenth and seventy-first books of Shōbōgenzō explain causality that monism, dualism, and pluralism are ultimately interdependent.

The sense of sight is not able to grasp the ultimate reality. Dōgen illustrates this by referring to a man who tries to see it, thus losing sight of it, as if it were separated from him by "10,000-mile clouds." As he tries to reach for it, he feels that it is as high as heaven. But as soon as he ceases to depend on the sense of sight and is guided by Zen to enter upon the realm of compassion, he is perfectly safe in the bosom of the "One Crimson Heart of the Buddha." To be more accurate, he has been there always, without realizing it.

Dōgen makes use of the statement found in an Indian sūtra which in Japanese reads "jimitokudo sendota," [25] that is, "Before one crosses over, he should cause all others to cross over." A true Buddhist deliberately refrains from entering into nirvāna for the sake of continuing to help all his fellow sufferers at his own cost.[26] This is true enlightenment. "Do not wish to become a buddha, even when you are entitled to," writes Dōgen.[27] If a seven-year- old girl sees this truth, this fact will be the best teacher of the masses of the people.[28] It will result in four things — gift-giving, gracious speaking, profiting all, caring for all others as oneself.[29] Gift-giving does not always mean the giving of a material gift. It can be the giving of a kind word, if one has nothing else to give. What one says should be thoughtful and consoling. This is gracious speaking. One should do whatever he can to profit others. And there should be no separation between caring for others and love of oneself. All this altruism should be thought of as a spontaneous outburst of one's gratitude to the Buddha. Even a tortoise remembers the kind way in which it was helped in time of danger. A sparrow remembers the past kindness done it in case of illness. Man should be grateful all the more because of the whole scheme of enlightenment due to the Buddha's renunciation, suffering, fasting, and pioneering experience. And the Buddha's influence lives on, always. Interdependence of the three temporal movements, past, present, future, is the source of man's gratitude.

1 Hajime Tanaben thinks that the Vedānta concept of parasparāpeksā is the most appropriate word to describe the structure of reality. It means the uniqueness of each entity and the interdependence of all entities. See his Tetsugaku Nyūmon ("Introduction to Philosophy") (Tokyo: Chikuma Shobo, 1950), Vol. IV, pp. 45-90. Professor Brand Blanshard of Yale, too, for example, is convinced that the world is internally coherent and that each part of it hangs together with all others with a perfect systematic coherence. See his The Nature of Thought (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1939), Vol. I, chap. XXVII.
2 D. T. Suzuki’s best book in English is Zen and Japanese Culture. Bollingen Series, Vol. 64 (New York: Pantheon Books, Inc., 1959). In summarizing the meaning of Zen, he says that it discovers a meaning hitherto hidden in our daily concrete particular experiences, such as eating, drinking, or business of all kinds. He does not stress the idea of the sublimation of the lower self to the realization of the potential buddhahood as Dōgen does. See pp. 16, 17.
3Hakuju Ui: Bukkyō-Hanron' ("Introduction to Buddhism") (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1948), Vol. 11, p. 473.
4 Dōgen, Shōbōgenzō ("The Highest Truth of Buddhist Enlightenment"), Eto Sokuo, ed. (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1939), Book 22, Book 37, on buddhahood. He compares man's buddhahood to a seed which begins to grow as the Dharma rain comes. Book 22 in Vol. 11, p. 3 17
5 Dōgen , op. cit., Book 7 1, in Vol. 111, p. 11.
6 “kokũisseki,” that is, the whole cosmos interpreted as a vehicle of enlightenment.
7 "shinjinhoge," that is, the whole person radically transmuted. See Dōgen  , op. cit., Book 1,
in Vol. I, p. 57. This is needed by science and art and philosophy, too.
8 "totaida~suraku," that is, the whole body thoroughly renewed. See Norimoto Iino, Kirisilto to Buddhau ("Christ and Buddha") (Tokyo: Risosha, 1957), pp. 65-93.
9 Iino, ibid.
10 I have coined this word "Dharmanomy."
11 Dōgen  , op. cit., Book 73, in Vol. 111, p. 22.
12 This is the oldest Buddhist Surta in Pali.
13 Surta-niplita, verses 425- 449 . In Hajime Nakamura, trans., into Japanese, "Buddha no Kotoba" ("Buddha's Words") (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1958), pp. 74-77
14 Sutta-nipata, verse 226; Nakamura, op. cit., p. 44.
15 Sutta-nipata, verse 17; Nakamura, op cit., p. 13.
16 Sutta-nipata, verse 77; Nakamura, op. cit., p. 22.
17 Dōgen, Book 1, in Vol. I, p. 59.
18 Dōgen's Japanese poem in Dōgen  Goroku ("Recorded Words of Ddgen") Okubo Dōshu, ed. (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1950), p. 133.
19 Dōgen's Chinese poem in ibid., p. 121
20 XIX. 53
21 Pp. 28, 49, 73, 88, 92.
22 David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Haruhiko Otsuki," trans., into Japanese, Jinseiron" (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1953), Vol. I, pp. 262, 335.
23 Immanuel Kant, Kritik der reinen Vernunft (Leipzig: Philipp Reclam, 1878), pp. 223ff
24 A. N. Whitehead uses three categories of the ultimate (one, many, and creativity), while eight categories of existence, 27 categories of explanation, and nine categories of obligation supplement the categories of the ultimate, thus "framing a coherent, logical necessary system of general ideas in terms of which every element of our experience can be interpreted." See his Process and Reality (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1929), pp. 4-45 . Whitehead assembled data of science, ethics, aesthetics, and religion, holding that a vast interdependence characterizes all things in the cosmos and that in isolation things are meaningless.
25 Dōgen, op. cit., Book 70, in Vol. 11, p. 408
26 Arrnold Toynbee sees this Buddhist teaching when he expounds it in his book An Historian's Approach to Religion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1956), especially p. 279. See Daihannebangyō (Parinirvāna Sūtra) in Bukkyō Seiten (Buddhist Sacred Sūtras) (Tokyo: Sanshōdo Publishing House, 1955), pp. 183-190.
27 Dōgen, op. cit., Book 70, in Vol. 11, p. 409
28 Dōgen , Shūshōgi ("Testimony on Zen Practice") (Tokyo: Sanshōdo Publishing House, 1920), pp. 250-252
29 Sutta-nipāta, verses 207-221. The way of the quiet sage is Zen. Zen is an Oriental tradition. Philosophy is an appreciative and critical examination of tradition, in its coherent relation to whatever new insights may emerge, so that we may see how much of that tradition is true.