Shobogenzo Zuimonki consists of the dharma talks of Eihei Dogen Zenji (1200–1253) who transmitted Soto Zen from China to Japan. These talks were originally recorded by Koun Ejo Zenji, Dogen’s dharma successor, and probably edited by his disciples after Ejo’s death.
In this introduction, I’d like to briefly introduce Ejo Zenji since he is not as well known in the West as Dogen Zenji.
Ejo was born of a noble family, the Fujiwara, in Kyoto, in 1198. In 1215, at eighteen years of age, he was ordained as a Tendai monk under Master Enno at Yokawa on Mt. Hiei. He studied the fundamental philosophy of Buddhism; the Kusha (Abhidharmakosa-bhasya) Jojitsu (Satyasidhi-sastra), and Tendai teachings etc. However, he realized that studying for fame and profit or for high position in the Buddhist order was meaningless. Arousing bodhi-mind, he wanted to leave the monastery just as many other Buddhist leaders did in that age.
According to the Denkoroku (The Record of Transmitting the Light) of Keizan Jokin, who received ordination from Ejo and later became the successor of Tettsu Gikai, Ejo once visited his mother. His mother said; “I allowed you to become a monk not because I wanted you to rise to a high position and associate with the upper class. Just do not study or practice for fame and profit. I hope only that you will practice in poverty, wear black robes, hang a bamboo hat on your back, and walk on your own feet [instead of riding in palanquins].”
Upon hearing this, Ejo changed his robes and never went back to Mt. Hiei. He visited Shoku (1177–1247), a disciple of Honen and the founder of the Nishiyama School of Pure Land Buddhism in order to study the nenbutsu. Later, he practiced Zen with Bucchi Kakuan (?–?), a disciple of Dainichi Nonin (?–?).
At that time, Zen and Nenbutsu were the two main movements of the so called “New Buddhism”. One of the two leaders of Zen was Myoan Eisai (1141—1215). Eisai went to China twice, his second time staying there for five years to study Rinzai Zen. He received dharma transmission from Koan Esho (?–?) and introduced Zen to Japan. Another leader of Zen was Dainichi Nonin. He did not go to China, but rather practiced Zen by himself and attained enlightenment. Since he was slandered by people because he had not received dharma transmission, he sent two of his disciples to China with a letter containing his understanding of Zen. Nonin’s disciples visited Setsuan Tokko (1121–1203), and received inka for Nonin. His school was called the Nippon-Darumashu (Japanese Dharma School). Kakuan was Nonin’s successor. Not only Ejo, but also Ekan and his disciples, Gikai, Giin, Gien, and others, who later became Dogen Zenji’s disciples forming the Japanese Soto School, were originally disciples of Kakuan. Ejo practiced with Kakuan several years and received inka from him.
In 1227, Dogen Zenji came back from China after five years of practice
there and stayed at Kenninji, where he had practiced Zen with Myozen
(1184–1225), a disciple of Eisai, for seven years before leaving for
China. In the same year, Dogen Zenji wrote Fukanzazengi to
promote the practice of zazen which he studied under Tendo Nyojo.
Hearing of Dogen Zenji’s reputation, Ejo thought to himself; “So far I have practiced and accomplished the method of meditation of the Tendai School, have completed the essential practice of Pure Land Buddhism, and have been practicing Zen at Tonomine [with Kakuan] and attained kensho. What else does he (Dogen) have to transmit?”
In 1228, Ejo visited Dogen Zenji at Kenninji to examine what Dogen Zenji had learned in China.
According to the Denkoroku, for the first two or three days, everything Dogen Zenji said was in total agreement with Ejo’s understanding. So Ejo was delighted because he thought what he had attained was the same as that taught in China, and that his enlightenment was genuine. But later, perhaps since Dogen Zenji recognized Ejo was a sincere practitioner and capable of understanding the true dharma, he started to speak differently. At first Ejo was astonished and tried to argue, but soon realized what Dogen Zenji was saying was much deeper than his own understanding. He aroused bodhi-mind again and desired to practice with Dogen.
Dogen Zenji said, “I have received transmission of the true Way and am attempting to promote it in Japan. I am staying in this temple for the time being, but later I will find my own place to practice. After I have found a place, visit me again. You cannot practice following me here.”
This was the first meeting between Dogen and Ejo. Dogen was twenty-nine and Ejo was thirty-one.
In 1230, Dogen Zenji left Kenninji, and moved to a hermitage in Fukakusa. During that year he wrote Bendowa (Talk on Wholehearted Practice of the Way);
“…I returned home in the first year of Shotei (1227). Spreading this
dharma and saving all living beings has become my vow. It feels like
I am carrying a heavy burden on my shoulders. For the time being, however,
I will set aside my vow of propagating this dharma, as I have to wait
for the proper time for it to flourish. Now, for a while, I will live
alone moving from one place to another like a cloud or a water-plant
and follow the way of the ancient sages. However, suppose there are
some sincere practitioners who are not concerned with gaining fame
or profit and, who have true aspiration to seek the Way. They will
be vainly led astray by false teachers and lose sight of any correct
understanding, consequently becoming drunk in their own confusion and
sinking into delusion forever. How will it be possible for them to
nurture the true seed of prajna (ultimate wisdom)? And how can they
ever expect to attain the Way? Since I am now spending a life like
a cloud or a water-plant, how will they be able to visit me and practice
with me? Feeling compassion for those people, I have decided to compile
the things I learned about the way of practice in Chinese Zen monasteries
and the teachings I received from my teacher. I wish to leave them
for sincere practitioners of the Way to enable them to know about the
true dharma of the Buddha.”
It is obvious that Bendowa was for people like Ejo. Doyu Takeuchi, the author of Eihei-niso Koun Ejo Zenji Den (The Biography of Koun Ejo, the Second Abbot of Eiheiji-monastery), has surmised that the eighteen questions and replies in Bendowa were mainly based on the discussion with Ejo at their first meeting at Kenninji.
In the spring of 1233, Dogen Zenji founded Koshoji in Fukakusa. In that year, he wrote Shobogenzo Genjo Koan, and Shobogenzo Makahannyaharamitsu, which became the first and second chapters of the seventy-five-volume version of Shobogenzo. He also refined Fukanzazengi. Thus, Dogen began his active life of propagating the dharma.
In 1234, Ejo visited Dogen Zenji again and became his disciple. In the Denkoroku we read,” [Dogen Zenji] spent two years with no one visiting him. Finally, Ejo came to practice with him. It was the first year of Bunreki (1234). Dogen Zenji was delighted and permitted him to stay. They talked about the Way of the patriarchs for several days and nights.”
Until he moved to Echizen (presently Fukui Prefecture) to found Eiheiji in 1243, Dogen Zenji put all his efforts during the next ten years into founding the sangha at Koshoji. He built the first formal sodo in Japan, educating the monks and writing many chapters of the Shobogenzo as well as other works such as Gakudo-Yojinshu, Tenzokyokun, etc. Ejo received the “Bodhisattva Precepts” on August 15, 1235, and formally became his disciple. Ejo received dharma transmission in 1236, the year the sodo was built at Koshoji. Ejo was appointed the first shuso (head monk) for the first practice period there and gave lectures in behalf of Dogen Zenji. (see 4-5 of Zuimonki) Thus, Ejo became Dogen Zenji’s closest assistant. Zuimonki is a record of Dogen Zenji’s informal dharma talks to his disciples, visiting monks and lay students during the period 1235 to 1237.
Later on, until Dogen Zenji’s death in 1253, Ejo assisted him as his personal attendant (jisha) even when he was in charge of other things. It is said that Ejo missed seeing Dogen for but ten days because of sickness during the twenty years of their association.
After they moved into Eiheiji, Dogen Zenji had Ejo carry out all the
ceremonies in his place. When asked why he replied, “My life will not
be long. You will live longer than I and surely will propagate my Way.
Therefore, I value you for the sake of the dharma.”
After Dogen Zenji passed away in 1253, Ejo took over the abbotship of Eiheiji. Ejo himself died in 1280 when he was eighty-three years old.
Ejo’s sole writing consisted of a work entitled Komyozo-Zanmai, written when he was eighty-one years old. He did, however, work on the compilation of the Shobogenzo and other writings. Today we can read Dogen Zenji’s teachings thanks to his dharma successor, Ejo.