From The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen translated by Michael H. Kohn; © 1991 by Shambhala Publications, Inc. Reprinted by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc., www.shambhala.com
also Dōgen Kigen or Eihei Dōgen, 1200–1253; Japanese Zen master who brought the tradition of the Sōtō school to Japan; without any question the most important Zen master of Japan. He is also considered Japan’s greatest religious personality and is venerated there by all Buddhist schools as a saint or bodhisattva. However, he is often misunderstood as having been a philosopher and referred to as the “most profound and original thinker” ever produced by Japan. What is missed here is that his writings, although they do treat the most profound existential questions, do not represent a philosophy of life. What Dōgen writes does not originate in philosophical speculation and is not the result of a thought process but rather is the expression of immediate inner experience of the living truth of Zen.
In 1223 Dōgen traveled to China, where he experienced profound enlightenment under Master T’ien-t’ung Ju-ching and received from him the seal of confirmation (inkashōmei) of the lineage of Sōtō Zen (Ch’an). In 1227 he returned to Japan and lived for ten years in Kyōto, first in the Kennin-ji monastery, then in the Kōshō(hōrin)-ji monastery. In order to protect his lineage from the influence of worldly power, which in the imperial city was often all too great, he withdrew to a hermitage in Echizen province (today Fukui province). From the hut in which he then lived gradually developed a large monastery, first called Daibutsu-ji, later Eihei-ji. It is still today, with Sōji-ji, one of the most important monasteries of Japanese Sōtō Zen. Dōgen’s principal work, Shōbō-genzō, is considered one of the most profound writings of Japanese Zen literature and as the most outstanding work of the religious literature of Japan.