Notes on Hee-Jin Kim’s ‘Eihei Dōgen: Mystical realist’

Title: Eihei Dōgen: Mystical realist
Author: Hee-Jin Kim
Download this article: .pdf (94 kB), .ePub (28 kB), .mobi (86 kB)

hee-jin-kim-dogenI was first drawn to philosophy through the Eastern religions, but I spent the better part of the past two decades oriented towards ‘Western’ concepts designed to pin down some Truth that is out there. In the past year, my focus has shifted to realizations in the moment, incommunicable as they may be. Studying Dōgen complements this change, and this book’s author, Hee-Jin Kim, seems to grasp the 12th-century monk’s approach, and the various Zen schools throughout history, very well. The following quotes are Kim’s, except for those in single quotes as well, which are Dōgen’s.

Human nature is most fruitfully understood in terms of animal symbolicum and homo ludens. Religion is intimately related to mythmaking and playful activities—thus, it is nonintellectual, nonutilitarian, and nonethical at its core.
– Page 10, Location 756-758 (Amazon Kindle edition)

‘Those who regard mundane activity as an obstacle to the Buddha-dharma know only that there is no Buddha-dharma in the mundane life; they do not yet know that there is no mundane life in the Buddha-dharma.’
– Page 42, Location 1514-1515

[T]he matter of supreme importance in religion was not abstract doctrines and theories, but rather lived experience and activity, which was crystallized in zazen-only.
– Page 61, Location 1968-1969

[T]he authenticity or inauthenticity of practice, that is, of activity—rather than the superiority or inferiority of doctrine, or the profundity or shallowness of teaching—was the sine qua non of Buddhist truth.
– Page 75, Location 2320-2322

[T]he motif of realization, rather than that of transcendence, was the key motivating force in Dōgen’s thought about language and symbols, as in other aspects of his philosophy.
– Page 84, Location 2567-2568

[T]he nonduality of illusion and reality[.]
– Page 92, Location 2770

[T]he activity of philosophizing, like any other expressive activity, was restated in the context of our total participation in the self-creative process of Buddha-nature.
– Page 99, Location 2943-2945

The permanence of mind or soul independent of the perishability of body [i]s an illusion.
– Page 102, Location 3004-3005
This is especially interesting, considering most people’s concept of religion as a matter of immortality, of something beyond what we know as biological life. The quote helps in understanding ‘mystical realist’ in the title.

‘Marrow is not deepest, skin is not shallowest.’ To put it differently, Dōgen was concerned not with how and why all existence was as it was, but simply with the fact that all existence existed in thusness—he found Buddha-nature in this fact.
– Page 131, Location 3769-3771

Being and becoming [a]re not two separate metaphysical realities but one and the same in the process of impermanence.
– Page 142, Location 4038-4039

The toughest thing for me to swallow was Dōgen’s concept of time. At the point of reading there is no past and future, only present, my initial reaction was, “What crap is this?” But if we are to consider our actual lives by the moment, we grasp his meaning, or rather his state of mind, better.

[E]ach realized now constitutes a unique whole of actuality.
– Page 158, Location 4441

‘[T]he times of ancient and modern do not pile up, nor do they line up[.]’
– Page 161, Location 4510

But for all the seeming metaphysical wizardry at work, Dōgen was very much concerned with the moral and social.

‘Praise the virtuous, and have compassion for the wicked. As you take delight in affectionate words, they will gradually flourish; then even those loving words which were hitherto unknown and unperceived will show themselves.’
– Page 209, Location 5663-5665

[U]ltimately one confessed, repented, and was forgiven in the nondual purity of self and Buddha.
– Page 216, Location 5837-5838

For more notes on books I’ve read, visit
Buy Hee-Jin Kim’s ‘Eihei Dōgen: Mystical realist’ on Amazon, here.
This article is guided by the fair-use doctrine, and is for the purpose of critiquing and educating.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s