Wisdom within Words is the first complete bilingual edition and annotated translation of the poetry collection entitled Kuchugen, which features 150 Chinese-style verses (kanshi) written by Dōgen Zenji (1200-1253), founder of the Soto Zen sect in early medieval Japan, and compiled in the eighteenth century by Menzan Zuiho. These poems are essential in highlighting several key aspects of Dōgen's manner of thinking and process of writing creatively while transmitting the Chan/Zen tradition from China to Japan in the first half of the thirteenth century. Dōgen learned the Chinese style of writing poetry--featuring four rhyming lines with seven characters each--when he travelled to the mainland in the 1220s. It was there that he first composed 50 verses, the only texts available from this career stage. He continued to write Sinitic poetry throughout his career at both Koshoji temple in Kyoto and Eiheiji temple in the remote mountains.
Dōgen's poems had various aims, including reflecting on meditation during periods of reclusion, commenting on cryptic koan cases, eulogizing deceased patriarchs, celebrating festivals and seasonal occasions, welcoming new administrative appointees at the temple, remarking on the life of the Buddha and other aspects of attaining enlightenment, and highlighting various teachings or instructions. Although Dōgen's poetry has often been overlooked by the sectarian tradition, these writings have played valuable roles in the development of East Asian Buddhist contemplative life.
Steven Heine is Professor of Religious Studies and History and founding director of the Asian Studies Program at Florida International University. He has published three dozen monographs and edited volumes on the history and thought of Zen Buddhism in East Asia, with a special emphasis on the life and teachings of the master Dōgen.
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