This talk will take a materialist approach to analyzing Dogen’s first fascicle, “A Talk on Pursuing the Way,” or Bendowa, dated to 1231. Scholars to date have primarily emphasized the Bendowa’s profound philosophical teachings, and significant portions of this text are often chanted in Zen temples today, but a close materialist analysis of this text also uncovers Dogen’s implicit concern with harnessing both the physical and financial resources necessary for building his first monastery at Koshoji just two years later in 1233. In this fascicle, Dogen first invokes Chinese material theory by alluding to the five phases (of earth, water, fire, wood, and metal), yin yang theory and fengshui geomancy in order to lay out a new, biaxial Zen temple plan. He then addresses the more prosaic demands of fund raising for his vision of a pioneering Zen temple in Japan, and finally considers the soteriological potential of both the nonhuman and human “grasses and trees” (somoku) of Koshoji. In this way, this talk lays bare the implicit Chinese Daoist dimensions that lie at the very heart of Japanese Zen thought and expression, reclassifies this fascicle as a fund raising appeal that informs as it persuades, and blurs the distinction between inanimate and animate matter that is so central to Buddhist teachings on interdependence. Philosophically speaking, moreover, such a study also contemplates the feedback loop between words and objects in Zen Buddhism, since ultimately, objects are prior to and generative of language, but conventionally, language can also generate objects, and texts like the Bendowa can make new material realities such as Japan’s first Soto Zen monastery.
Add to Calendar