Modern Interpretations of the Shobogenzo
by Michael Eido Luetchford

Here  are the modern interpretations of the Shobogenzo  chapters that I have completed so far.

I've started doing what IÍm calling modern interpretations of the chapters of the Shobogenzo as a result of giving talks on the Shobogenzo in the UK over the last 5 years. I noticed that people with no knowledge of Japanese language or culture find it extremely difficult to understand clearly the sometimes strictly literal translations that appear in the 4-volume version of the Shobogenzo by Nishijima Roshi and Mike Cross. Although I can usually explain the meaning of the passage in question, I often find myself unable to give them a satisfactory explanation of why the sentence is translated in the way that it is.
       I came up with the idea of making my own rather free interpretations to help people to understand the meaning of the chapters based on my own understanding. To do this I have used three main sources. The first is the 4-volume translation of the 97 chapters of the Shobogenzo translated by my teacher, Nishijima Roshi and his longtime student Mike Chodo Cross, and published by
Windbell Publications. This will always be the definitive reference for me, since it contains what Dogen Zenji wrote in a very exact style. The second source is a complete and unpublished English translation of the Shobogenzo that Nishijima Roshi completed in 1979 and which I and others spent more than 6 years up to 1986 helping to rewrite and edit. The third source is my own understanding of the chapters that are the result of my 25 years of study, and Yoko's understanding of the chapters -- she has studied the Shobogenzo in Japanese for as long as I have studied the English version.

       Calling these modern interpretations suggests that I use modern English expressions whenever possible, and also emphasizes that these are interpretations, not translations. That means that if you compare them with the original English translation, youÍll find that it doesnÍt always match. Sometimes thatÍs because IÍve interpreted what Master Dogen is saying using modern terms, and occasionally itÍs because the meaning of the English in our original Shobogenzo books is not clear enough, and so I have chosen to express it in a different form.

       I do not in any way claim these interpretations to be more accurate or more truthful than existing versions. The process of making the Shobogenzo understandable to modern people has been a very long one. Nishijima Roshi spent more than 16 years translating the Shobogenzo into modern Japanese, and then a further six years to make his first English translation. Since that time, his students have worked together to produce an ever clearer English text. It will always be a work in progress. To render the metaphors and poetry of Dogen Zenji, written in mediaeval Japanese and Chinese, into modern English is almost impossible. There will always be compromises made in this process. Nevertheless I hope that my attempts to make these chapters more understandable will stimulate people to look at what Dogen Zenji was teaching. Since his understanding of Buddhist philosophy was complete, this is a very important task.


I welcome any comments, criticisms, and suggestions for improving the interpretations. Please email these to me. There are surely many mistakes.

Bendowa - A modern interpretation

Ikka no Myoju - A modern interpretation

kuge- A modern interpretation



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