Dogen (道元)

Infobox Buddhist

Dogen was a Zen monk in the early Kamakura period.
The founder of Soto Zen
Later in his life he also went by the name Kigen. Within the sect he is referred to by the honorary title Koso. Posthumously named Bussho Dento Kokushi, or Joyo-Daishi. He is generally called Dogen Zenji.

He is reputed to have been the one that spread the practices of tooth brushing, face washing, table manners and cleaning in Japan. Another story has it that he was the first one to bring Moso-chiku (Moso bamboo) to Japan.


Though some points are unclear about Dogen's birth, all accounts agree that he was born in the line of Udaijin (Minister of the Right) Michichika TSUCHIMIKADO (MINAMOTO no Michichika or Michichika KOGA). Although it is generally accepted that he was born in Shoden Sanso in Kohata, Kyoto, to Michichika and FUJIWARA no Ishi, the daughter of Daijo-daijin (Grand Minister of State) Motofusa MATSUDONO (FUJIWARA no Motofusa), recent research suggests that he may have been the son of Michitomo HORIKAWA, who was presumed to be his adoptive father. Another account says his father was the son of Michichika, MINAMOTO no Michimune or Michiteru KOGA. According to the biography "Kenzeiki", he lost his father (Michichika) at 3 years of age, his mother at 8, and was adopted by his half brother Michitomo HORIKAWA. Yet another account tells that his maternal uncle Moroie MATSUDONO (former Regent and Interior Minister) wanted to adopt him as an heir after his parents died, but Dogen, feeling the uncertainty of the world, declined.

There is a story that he was acquainted with Shinran, the founder of Shin Buddhism, as they were related via their mothers; but there is no proof. Some have said that the "Life and Death" section of his "Shobogenzo" was written for Shinran.


Kenryaku 3 (1213) - Visited his maternal uncle Ryoken at Mt. Hiei.

1214 - Entered the priesthood under Koen, the head of Tendai Buddhism, and took the name Buppobo Dogen.

1215 - Pursued Tendai religious studies under Koin at Onjo-ji Temple.

1217 - Studied under Myozen, a disciple of Eisai, at Kennin-ji Temple.

1223 - Left from Hakata with Myozen to Southern Song China and visited Jozan, where he received a certificate of dharma transmission from Soto Zen's Tendo Nyozo.

1228 - Returned to Japan.

1233 - Opened Kosho-ji Temple at Fukakusa, Kyoto.

Around this time he came under pressure from Mt. Hiei.

July,1243 - Moved to Echizen Shihi-no-sho at the invitation of Yoshishige HATANO, lord of Echizen Province. On the way, he stopped in Kutsuki at the invitation of the village chief, Nobutsuna SASAKI (this is the origin of Kosho-ji Temple in Takashima City).

1244 - Opened Daibutsu-ji Temple in Kasamatsu.

1246 - Changed the name of Daibutsu-ji to Eihei-ji Temple, and his own name to Kigen.

Around this time he went to Kamakura to teach, at the invitation of Regent Tokiyori HOJO and Yoshishige HATANO. Although he only spent half of a year in Kamakura, it was the beginning of a genuine flourishing of Zen in the Kanto region.

1253 - After falling ill and turning over Eihei-ji to his disciple Koun Ejo, he died at the house (Takatsuji-dori Nishinotoin-dori, Kyoto) of a lay disciple, Kakunen, at age 54. Cause of death was a boil.

His Thought

He emphasized that Buddhahood is not something that is completed once one has attained a certain level; rather, continuing to seek further Buddhahood through endless training, even after one has become a Buddha, is the essence of Buddhahood (Shusho Ichinyo); and the highest form of training is to be like the Sakyamuni and simply do sitting meditation (Shikan Taza).

Most of Kamakura Buddhism affirmed the notion of the decadent age, but in his Shobogenzo Zuimonki he wrote "I tell you now, this is completely false. The idea of the decline of true Buddha-dharma is only a temporary means for teaching. The true teaching is different. By training according to the teaching, anybody can achieve enlightenment. The monks at the time of the Sakyamuni were not all outstanding people. There were those who had rare and incredible evil in their hearts, and there were fools. The many rules that the Saykamuni made were for the bad and foolish people. People are all owners of the quality to be able to become Buddha. Don't think that you are not qualified. If you train according to the teaching, you will surely attain enlightenment." He thus noted that the disciples at the time of Sakyamuni were not all outstanding people, denying the decadent age by saying that it is nothing more than a skillful means.

Literary Works

"Shobogenzo, Shobogenzo Zuimonki: Japanese Classic Literature Collection 81" Commentary by Minoru NISHIO et alia. Iwanami Shoten, 1965. "Shobogenzo in Modern Japanese (1-12)" Translation by Wafu NISHIJIMA. Kanazawa Bunko, 1970. "Shobogenzo (1-4)" Commentary by Yahoko MIZUNO. Iwanami Bunko, 1990. "Shobogenzo" Translated by Kyoji ISHII. Kawade Bunko, 2004. "Eihei Koroku" Translated by Kyoji ISHII. Kawade Shobo Shinsha, 2005.
"Eihei Shingi"
"Tenzo Kyokun"
"Tenzo Kyokun: Fushuku Hanho" Translation and commentary by Shohachi NAKAMURA et alia. Kodansha Scholastic Collection, 1991.
"Fushuku Hanho"
"Shobogenzo Zuimonki" Ejo Edition - Lectures by Dogen.

"Shobogenzo Zuimonki: New Annotated Edition" Commentary by Doshu OKUBO. Sankibo Buddhist Books, 1958. "Shobogenzo Zuimonki" Translation and commentary by Shokin FURUTA. Kadokawa Bunko, 1960. "Shobogenzo Zuimonki" Edited by Tetsuro WATSUJI. Iwanami Bunko, 1982 revised edition. "Shobogenzo Zuimonki" Translated by Yahoko MIZUNO. Chikuma Scholastic Collection, 1992. "Shobogenzo Zuimonki in Modern Translation" Translated by Rosan IKEDA. Okura Publishing, 1993. "Shobogenzo Zuimonki" Translation and commentary by Masakazu YAMAZAKI. Kodansha Scholastic Collection, 2003. "The Complete Works of Dogen Zenji" Supervised by Genryu KAGAMISHIMA, Shunjusha Publishing.

Reference Works
Ton SATOMI: "The Story of Dogen Zenji" Iwanami Bunko
Michio TAKEUCHI: "Dogen" Yoshikawa Kobunkan (Biographical Series), 1962
Shinkichi TAKAHASHI: "The Life of Dogen Zenji" Hobunkan, 1963
Taijo TAMAMURO: "Dogen" Shin-Jinbutsuoraisha, 1971
Aishin IMAEDA: "Dogen: A Shamon's Life of Zazen" NHK Books, 1976
Akira SUGANUMA: "An Encyclopedia of Dogen" Tokyodo Publishing, 1977
Genryu KAGAMISHIMA and Koshiro TAMAKI, editors: "Dogen Lectures" 6 Volumes, Shunjusha, 1979-81
Koshiro TAMAKI: "Dogen" Shunjusha, 1996
Ryotaro SHIBA: "Dogen: The Roads of Echizen", in 18 On The Road no. 49-61, Asahi Shimbun

Ryotaro SHIBA "A Monk in the Mountains" ibid. no. 63-76

Ryotaro SHIBA "The Itinerant Priest of Hokyo-ji Temple" ibid. no, 77-89

Ryotaro SHIBA "The Portrait of Jakuen" ibid. no, 91-104

Wahei TATEMATSU: "Dogen Zenji" Tokyo Shoseki, 2007

[Original Japanese]