How to Raise an Ox:
Zen Practice as Taught in Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo
Francis Dojun Cook
Foreword by Taizan Maezumi Roshi
Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2002
180pp.; $16.95 (paper)
“The Zen of Dogen is the Zen of practice,” Francis Dojun Cook tells us in How to Raise an Ox, a reissue of his collection of essays and translations from the works of Dogen Kigen, the thirteenth-century founder of Japan’s Soto Zen school. Cook’s purpose is to clarify what Dogen’s “Zen of practice” actually means. We can measure his success not only by the vividness of his introduction to Dogen’s thought but also by the surprise we find in discovering the breadth and diversity of “practice” as Dogen meant it.
Dogen is the great propagator, though not the originator, of the idea that practice itself is attainment. The practice of zazen, or sitting meditation, is itself the manifestation of Buddhahood. Practice “is not a means to an end. True practice is the enlightened activity of the Buddha we already are.” Zazen is the actualized expression of intrinsic enlightenment. “Practice and enlightenment are the same; to practice is to be a buddha.”
This view begs the question, “If I am already the Buddha, why should I practice at all?” Indeed, it was this very question that led Dogen on a spiritual quest to China, where he practiced until he attained awakening. His answer was that although we may intellectually acknowledge that we are Buddhas, we have not directlyrealized it, and “our unrealized Buddha-nature does not illuminate and transform our everyday lives.” Cook likens Buddha-nature here to a talent for music: it is a potential that only becomes evident through practice.
But isn’t that the same as saying that Buddha-nature is a potential that must be cultivated in order to be actualized? We cannot turn to Dogen for dialectical analysis of Buddhist philosophy, but the question that drove him in his youth has always been the basic critique made by the analytical, gradualist schools of Buddhism. They view the notion that we are already perfectly complete buddhas to be nonsense, because it is obvious that we are suffering beings who must practice a path of gradual development in order to become buddhas.
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