i used to see it happen all the time in philosophy, two interpreters fight over being known as the “go-to-guy” for a particular thinker. For instance brien letter and robert solomon, two amazing nietzschean scholars, used to engage in short lived pissing matches. In academia the “fight for power over ideas” is quite obvious and almost transparent. they try to outpublish each other in papers. in buddhism the empirical competition between apes calling themselves buddhists, who wish to aquire more power, especially in social media space and ideological space, in order to be recognized as the “go-to-guy” for that person, but these people are supposed to, kind of like christians, be above such worldly ways of governance. we imagine buddhists would somehow be above pissing matches but… we find brad warner, jundo cohen, and a few other teachers of zen in america fighting for the right to be considered “the dude who knows about the dogen practice”. their egos fight for the right to be king of a discipline that teaches people how to lose their egos completely, does anyone see the irony in this?
“i’m the best teacher of the process of the destruction of the ego through doing nothing!”
“NO I AM!”
my familiar approach to studying a topic is picking an interpreter to help me figure out incredible thinkers. i used to pick an interpreter and say “ok i’m going to trust X to interpret thinker Y for me”, as with nietzsche I chose robert solomon over brien letter. as with heidegger i chose to use hubert dreyfus to instead of simon critchley. i’m not going to take this approach when studying dogen, nor will i be distracted by the drama from anyone claiming to follow dogen. it is like being bothered by what christians do when you are trying to follow christ, but there are people whom you respect arguing with eachother over “Who is the best CS Lewis scholar” when cs lewis would rightly oppose anyone arguing over who knows him the best.
I imagine if dogen heard brad warner or jundo cohen discussing his ideas, he would approach them the same way marshall mcluhan approached the professor in “annie hall” and said “I heard what you were saying, you know nothing of my work, how you ever got to be a teacher on the subject of anything is absolutely amazing!”
why bother relying on these great men to interpret dogen for us? why not just read the text of Dogen himself wrote for us and come to our own conclusions? a short summary on dogen can be found on wikipedia. his greatest text is very short and easy to read and can be found here
my interpretation is this: dogen was a man interested in the tendai school of buddhism, but a central question in his mind was “As I study both the exoteric and the esoteric schools of Buddhism, they maintain that human beings are endowed with Dharma-nature by birth. If this is the case, why did the Buddhas of all ages — undoubtedly in possession of enlightenment — find it necessary to seek enlightenment and engage in spiritual practice?“
the best method of dusting off buddha nature within us is by sitting and doing nothing, through zazen, and in this text he gives us some specific ways to sit and maintain our body so that we can achieve spiritual power. but please come to your own conclusions! don’t trust a blogger to do your thinking and interpreting for you!
my philosophical view and pragmatic view is that even if one does away with the problem of “human nature” (whether or not we are naturally good or evil) one can still find a lot of pragmatic uses for zazen, because the effects on the mind are still true even if the esotericism is false or simply myth. if “Budda nature” is a useful analogy, i say we keep it, even if it is an error! it is a useful error– and we must be pragmatic about our beliefs!