Beyond Categories: Dogen’s Exploration of Ultimate Reality

By Anshi Zachary Smith

An illustration of Eihei Dogen in robes, seated in a chair

Exploring Dogen's approach to Zen, we encounter his insightful perspectives on dualism, ultimate reality, and self-nature. These teachings not only deepen our understanding of Buddhist philosophy but also enhance our own spiritual practice.

In the realm of dualism, Dogen's interpretation aligns with the Mahayana doctrine of two truths. He sees ultimate reality as an interconnected web, transcending conventional understanding. Our everyday habit of categorizing and defining is contrasted with this view, where Dogen encourages a broader perspective on the interdependence of all things. This notion resonates with the teachings of the Heart Sutra, which emphasizes that all constructs, including the self, lack an independent essence. Dogen’s teachings urge us to embrace this understanding, integrating it into our spiritual practice.

Regarding aspiration, Dogen underscores the ongoing quest for deeper understanding and spiritual awakening. To embrace a Buddhist life, in Dogen's view, is to live in accordance with the path of awakening at every moment. This approach involves nurturing a dedication to Buddhist principles by questioning our fixed views. 

The lack of independent self-nature means there's nothing inherent in a fixed category like 'beautiful' that makes it completely independent from 'ugly.' These categories are interdependent, lacking a distinct, separate essence, illustrating their interdependence. This perspective extends to our understanding of self, presenting us as a composite of interactions and relationships. Recognizing this interconnectedness is key to our spiritual development.

For contemporary practitioners, Dogen's teachings offer more than historical insight; they provide practical applications for our spiritual journey. His ideas prompt us to engage in reflective practice, enhancing our understanding of reality and our role within it. When we sit in zazen, we're challenging our conventional perceptions.

In the upcoming course Bendowa: Dogen and the Practice of Zazen, we'll delve deeper into Dogen's teachings, discovering how they can inform and enrich our zazen practice today. This exploration invites us to connect with Dogen's insights and apply them to our modern lives, offering a fresh perspective on the timeless teachings of Zen.

Complete and Continue