Dogen's Life Print E-mail

Dogen was born to Koga Michichiki, a government minister, and to Ishi, daughter of Fujiwara Motofusa. Fujiwara was one of the most important clans in Japan. Both his parents died while he was youung.

Dogen was uncompromising, both as student and teacher. As a demanding student of Buddhism, he challenged his Tendai teachers with the question: if we all are inherently enlightened, why do Buddha's still strive for enlightenment? None could answer, so Dogen pursued his question with other teachers, and finally overseas.

In China, he traveled widely seeking a teacher with whom he could resolve the question. He despaired of success until he met Tiantong Rujing. Rujing was the teacher who could and did liberate him from his question.

Returning to Kyoto, Dogen did what was needed to nurture Rujing's living Buddhism in the new land. Eventually, this meant that he abandoned the capital, to establish the Eiheiji monastery in the countryside. In doing so, he founded the Japanese sect of Soto Zen.

Dogen's writing reflects the same uncompromising nature seen in his life. In the Shobogenzo, he points directly at reality, shifting perspective continuously to block the reader from straying into any complacent, facile understanding.

A Dogen Timeline
1200 born to politically important family.
1202 father dies.
1207 mother dies.
1212 enters Tendai monastery Enryakuji on Mt Hiei.
1214 moves to Onjoji temple.
1217 studies Zen at Kenninji with Myozen.
1223 travels to China with Myozen.
1226 attains dropping away of body and mind under Tiantong Rujing (Tend? Nyoj?).
1228 returns to Japan, to Kenninji temple.
1231 writes earliest chapter of Shobogenzo.
1233 establishes the Kannon Dori Koshohorin-ji in Kyoto.
1244 founds Eiheiji near Echizen.
1253 dies September 29 in Kyoto.