Wednesday, April 18, 2007


To appreciate the significance of poetry in the life and thought of Dogen (1200—1253), one must first consider the role of this Zen master and founder of the Sōtō sect in Japan as a philosopher and as a writer. Dōgen's philosophical writings have received high praise for their literary qualities, especially their eloquent poetic flavor. Dōgen employs a variety of verbal devices such as philosophical wordplay, paradox, and irony in order to stress that there is a fundamental identity of language and enlightenment. Rather than emphasizing silence or the transcendence of speech, Dōgen proves himself in his main work, the Shōbōgenzō, to be a master of language. He exhibits remarkable skill in revealing how ordinary words harbor a deeper though generally hidden metaphysical meaning. According to Tanabe Hajime, one of the leading modern philosophers in Japan associated with the Kyoto School, "viewed from the philosophical standpoint, Dōgen's Shōbōgenzō is matchless in its command of Japanese language and logic with the power to realize the ineffable in and through speech and discussion."-- Steven Heine (Tuttle Publishing, 1997).