Dōgen and the Kōan Tradition

A Tale of Two Shōbōgenzō Texts

By Steven Heine

Subjects: Asian Religion And Philosophy
Series: SUNY series in Philosophy and Psychotherapy
Paperback : 9780791417744, 329 pages, October 1993
Hardcover : 9780791417737, 329 pages, November 1993

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Table of contents




Chinese and Japanese Eras


Part I. Methodological Issues

1. Text and Untext: On the Significance of Koans

Introduction to the Two Texts
Postmodernism and Zen Discourse
Satori Dialogues in Relation to Sung Zen Genres
Multiple Implications of the Term "Koan"
Significance of the Koan as a Zen Symbol
A Zen Problematic: Textuality and Untextuality

2. Mythology and Demythology: The Aporetics of Koan Studies

Two Sets of Problematical Issues
Nishitani's View of "Self-Surpassing" Zen
Five Main Aporetics of Zen Studies
The Function of Literary Criticism
The Koan as Religious Symbol
Discourse Analysis in Dogen and Koan Studies

Part II. Interpretive Studies

3. Inter and Intra Textuality: A Tale of Two Shobogenzo Texts

On Contextualizing Dogen's Texts
Conventional View of Dogen and the Koan Tradition
Rethinking the Conventional View
Contrasting Dogen and Ta-hui
The Two Shobogenzo Texts

4. Narratology and Tropology: Skin, Flesh, Bones, Marrow/Marrow, Bones, Flesh, Skin

On Resolving the Aporetics of Koan Studies
Section A. "Skin, Flesh, Bones, Marrow"
Rethinking the Conventional View
On the Formation of Zen Genres
Roots and Branches
Section B. "Marrow, Bones, Flesh, Skin"
The Elements of a Tropological Interpretation
Dogen's KS Text in Comparison with Koan-roku Texts
Conclusions: Does the Koan Have Buddha-Nature?

Appendix I. Translations of Kana Shobogenzo Fascicles
Appendix II. On the Mana Shobogenzo
Glossary of Sino-Japanese Terms, Names and Titles


This book has three major goals in critically examining the historical and philosophical relation between the writings of Dōgen and the Zen koan tradition. First, it introduces and evaluates recent Japanese scholarship concerning Dōgen's two Shōbōgenzō texts, the Japanese (Kana) collection of ninety-two fascicles on Buddhist topics and the Chinese (Mana) collection of three hundred koan cases also known as the Shōbōgenzō Sanbyakusoku. Second, it develops a new methodology for clarifying the development of the koan tradition and the relation between intellectual history and multifarious interpretations of koan cases based on postmodern literary criticism. Third, the book's emphasis on a literary critical methodology challenges the conventional reading of koans stressing the role of psychological impasse culminating in silence.

Steven Heine is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Pennsylvania State University. He is author of Existential and Ontological Dimensions of Time in Heidegger and Dogen and editor of Masao Abe's A Study of Dogen: His Philosophy and Religion, both published by SUNY Press. He has also written A Blade of Grass: Japanese Poetry and Aesthetics in Dogen Zen and A Dream within a Dream: Studies in Japanese Thought.


"It is at the very top of Dogen scholarship and one of the finest works written on the koan, elucidating the development from the original words of Chinese masters to Dogen's interpretation. It is also a comparative work that improves on conventional understanding and interpretation of the koans by introducing the author's own 'discourse analysis,' which use the subtleties of postmodernist thought to clarify the various aporetics of the koan. It is Japanese Buddhist scholarship at its finest. No student of Japanese thought and culture should be without this book. " — Kenneth Inada, State University of New York at Buffalo