Dogen (1200–1253)

  • The moon in a drop of water

    Dogen is seen as the founder of the Soto school of Zen Buddhism which today is among the largest communities of believers in Japan. His teachings are best encapsulated as the “unity of exercise and enlightenment”.

    Dogen does not regard enlightenment as an experience that humans have once, perhaps by chance, perhaps as a result of great efforts. Enlightenment is attained when humans recognise the example of the Buddhas and patriarchs and follow it. As soon as this happens, in such action - in the “practice” - unity with the examples is reached directly. This means that the light of the enlightenment has a place in every human being who opens himself to it by practice.

    Seated meditation, zazen, was the most important form of practice for Dogen: “When your body is in this posture, regulate your breathing. As soon as a thought forms in you, be attentive to it. As soon as you have been attentive to it, then let it go. Forget all attachments for a long time and you will become one.”

    Dogen describes the state of unity as being like the moon on water: “Enlightenment is like the moon reflected on the water. The moon does not get wet, nor is the water broken. The whole moon and the entire sky are reflected in dewdrops on the grass, or even in one drop of water.”

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    Audio (German): “Practising zazen” by the Master Dogen