50 years of work brings age-old wisdom to West

by Don Lattin, San Francisco Chronicle, October 29, 2010

San Francisco, CA (USA) -- Kazuaki Tanahashi was still in his 20s, a self-described "arrogant kid," when he showed up at the Soto Temple in Japantown where a Japanese Buddhist priest was offering meditation lessons to a small but intense band of beatniks.

<< Kazuaki Tanahashi, shown at the San Francisco Zen Center, has just published an English translation of "Treasury of the True Dharma Eye" by the 13th century monk Dogen Zenji. The Berkeley resident began translating Dogen's work in 1960.

Tanahashi, a Japanese artist on his first visit to the States, asked the priest why he wasn't telling his Western novices about Dogen Zenji, a 13th century monk and the founder of the Soto School of Zen Buddhism.

"Dogen is too difficult for Americans to understand," the Rev. Shunryu Suzuki replied.

"Really?" Tanahashi replied. "If you are teaching foreign students, don't you think you should present your best? It doesn't matter if people don't understand it."

Tanahashi, now 77, sat down one day last week in a small meeting room in the San Francisco Zen Center at Page and Laguna streets. He stroked his long, wispy beard and laughed as he recalled his 1964 encounter with Suzuki, who would go on to become a key figure in bringing Buddhist meditation to a Western audience.

At Tanahashi's side was a freshly published, two-volume, 1,171-page translation of Dogen's masterwork, "Treasury of the True Dharma Eye" - the culmination of his 50-year collaboration with Japanese scholars and some of the Zen Center's best and brightest American teachers. Tanahashi has spent his entire adult life putting together this profound and poetic rendering - the complete works of one of Buddhism's most important teachers.

Celebrating the book

Tanahashi, who now lives in Berkeley, will be joined next weekend by an impressive array of scholars, artists and poets gathering in San Francisco for a series of public events celebrating the book's publication. There will be meditation instructions and a film about Dogen at the Zen Center, a panel and musical performance at Fort Mason Center, and a meditation and Sunday dharma talk (Buddhist sermon) at Green Gulch Farm at Muir Beach. (For a list of events, go to www.sfzc.org/ztf.)

Treasury of the True Dharma Eye" (Shambhala Publications; $150) is a monumental accomplishment, bringing together Dogen's essays on the essence of Buddhist teaching and detailed instructions on how to meditate or lead a monastic life, not to mention this medieval monk's paradoxical ponderings on the nature of time and space.

"He challenges us with an urgent question: How do we live each moment fully and meaningfully? He makes us feel not confined and tiny, but free and enormous," Tanahashi said.

Subject, object are one

Dogen (1200-53) is famous for having traveled to China in search of authentic Buddhist teaching. He returned to his native Japan stressing the importance of meditation, or "just sitting," rather than focusing on empty prayers and rote scripture study. He saw meditation as the only way followers of the Buddha could truly experience an enlightened state of "non-separation," which Tanahashi sees as the central tenet of Dogen's teachings. "In meditation," Tanahashi writes, "the body experiences itself not as separate from the mind. The subject becomes not apart from the object."

William Bodiford, a professor in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at UCLA, said Dogen thought of himself as bringing Buddhism to Japan for the first time.

"Japanese people had already been Buddhists for 600 years, but Dogen felt they hadn't fully grasped what Buddhism was really about," Bodiford said. "That's why Dogen is especially relevant for non-Japanese today. Even though Westerners have been studying, writing about and even practicing Buddhism for two centuries or more, Dogen's words force us to see Buddhism with new eyes."

Steve Stucky, the current abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center, said Dogen saw meditation as a way of "dropping your selfishness."

"He calls it 'dropping off body and mind.' We understand that as dropping off your preoccupations with yourself and your own ego. That can open up a vast world of possibilities."

Stumbling onto Dogen

Tanahashi's fascination with Dogen began in the late 1950s, when he was 25 years old and just making a name for himself in Japan with his calligraphy paintings. Raised like his father to be a Shinto priest, Tanahashi began looking for another kind of spiritual guidance. That's when he stumbled across some of Dogen's more esoteric essays.
Kazuaki Tanahashi, shown at the San Francisco Zen Center,...Kazuaki Tanahashi (left) has devoted decades of his life,... View All Images (3)

"I didn't understand him," Tanahashi recalled, "but I could feel so much depth in his writings."

His work as a Dogen translator began a half-century ago, in 1960, when Tanahashi had a six-day show of his paintings in the Japanese city of Nagoya. He noticed with curiosity how an old man came to see his paintings every day. They started talking about Dogen, and it turned out the old man was Shoichi Nakamura, the head of the Zen Culture Institute.

"People used to say that there were only three people in Japan who understood the 'Shobo Genzo' (the Japanese name for "Treasury of the True Dharma Eye"). He was one of them, so I suggested that he translate it into modern Japanese," Tanahashi said. "He said, 'I will, but only if you help me.' "

Thus began Tanahashi's first Dogen collaboration, translating the work into modern Japanese from its original blend of Chinese, medieval Japanese and Dogen's own idiosyncratic language.

Shift to San Francisco

Tanahashi was still working on that translation when he ran into Suzuki at the Soto Temple in Japantown in 1964. Suzuki invited him to give a talk on Dogen to the group of young American seekers that would soon grow into the San Francisco Zen Center. Suzuki died in 1971. His successor, Richard Baker, invited Tanahashi to return to San Francisco in 1977 and work for seven years as a scholar-in-residence. About four years ago, Michael Wenger, a longtime Zen Center leader, suggested that Tanahashi and the Zen Center work with Shambhala Publications to produce a complete translation of Dogen's work.

Tanahashi said Dogen's writings can sometimes seem hopelessly esoteric and impenetrable. Other times they appear dogmatic and obsessive. But patient students begin to appreciate his unique blend of ancient wisdom and postmodern insight.

"Body and mind are not separate. Matter and time are not separate, just as Einstein said. We can experience something extremely large in something very small, just like nuclear science shows us," Tanahashi explained. "If we become free of conventional ideas of self and other, subject and object, moment and eternity, we can find freedom and vast potential."

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/10/29/DDKT1G2ENG.DTL#ixzz13xJlYCPB

We Need Your Help to Train the
Buddhist AI Chat Bot
(Neural Operator for Responsible Buddhist Understanding)

For Malaysians and Singaporeans, please make your donation to the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your name in the payment slip. Thank you.

Dear Friends in the Dharma,

We seek your generous support to help us train NORBU, the word's first Buddhist AI Chat Bot.

Here are some ways you can contribute to this noble cause:

One-time Donation or Loan: A single contribution, regardless of its size, will go a long way in helping us reach our goal and make the Buddhist LLM a beacon of wisdom for all.

How will your donation / loan be used? Download the NORBU White Paper for details.

For Malaysians and Singaporeans, please make your donation to the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your purpose of payment (loan or donation) in the payment slip. Thank you.

Once payment is banked in, please send the payment slip via email to: editor@buddhistchannel.tv. Your donation/loan will be published and publicly acknowledged on the Buddhist Channel.

Spread the Word: Share this initiative with your friends, family and fellow Dharma enthusiasts. Join "Friends of Norbu" at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/norbuchatbot. Together, we can build a stronger community and create a positive impact on a global scale.

Volunteer: If you possess expertise in AI, natural language processing, Dharma knowledge in terms of Buddhist sutras in various languages or related fields, and wish to lend your skills, please contact us. Your knowledge and passion could be invaluable to our project's success.

Your support is part of a collective effort to preserve and disseminate the profound teachings of Buddhism. By contributing to the NORBU, you become a "virtual Bodhisattva" to make Buddhist wisdom more accessible to seekers worldwide.

Thank you for helping to make NORBU a wise and compassionate Buddhist Chatbot!

May you be blessed with inner peace and wisdom,

With deepest gratitude,

Kooi F. Lim
On behalf of The Buddhist Channel Team

Note: To date, we have received the following contributions for NORBU:
US$ 75 from Gary Gach (Loan)
US$ 50 from Chong Sim Keong
MYR 300 from Wilson Tee
MYR 500 from Lim Yan Pok
MYR 50 from Oon Yeoh
MYR 200 from Ooi Poh Tin
MYR 300 from Lai Swee Pin
MYR 100 from Ong Hooi Sian
MYR 1,000 from Fam Sin Nin
MYR 500 from Oh teik Bin
MYR 300 from Yeoh Ai Guat
MYR 300 from Yong Lily
MYR 50 from Bandar Utama Buddhist Society
MYR 1,000 from Chiam Swee Ann
MYR 1,000 from Lye Veei Chiew
MYR 1,000 from Por Yong Tong
MYR 80 from Lee Wai Yee
MYR 500 from Pek Chee Hen
MYR 300 from Hor Tuck Loon
MYR 1,000 from Wise Payments Malaysia Sdn Bhd
MYR 200 from Teo Yen Hua
MYR 500 from Ng Wee Keat
MYR 10,000 from Chang Quai Hung, Jackie (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from K. C. Lim & Agnes (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from Juin & Jooky Tan (Loan)
MYR 100 from Poh Boon Fong (on behalf of SXI Buddhist Students Society)
MYR 10,000 from Fam Shan-Shan (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from John Fam (Loan)
MYR 500 from Phang Cheng Kar
MYR 100 from Lee Suat Yee
MYR 500 from Teo Chwee Hoon (on behalf of Lai Siow Kee)
MYR 200 from Mak Yuen Chau

We express our deep gratitude for the support and generosity.

If you have any enquiries, please write to: editor@buddhistchannel.tv