Book Review: Steven Heine's "Readings of Dōgen's "Treasury of the True Dharma Eye"

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Book Review: Steven Heine's "Readings of Dōgen's "Treasury of the True Dharma Eye"

Post by jundocohen » Wed Jul 08, 2020 11:50 pm


I would like to offer a little review of a wonderful book by the noted historian of Zen and "Dogenologist," Prof. Steven Heine, in his new "Readings of Dōgen's 'Treasury of the True Dharma Eye.'"
I would also like to make an early announcement that Steve Heine will be coming to lead a Zazenkai and Talk at Treeleaf on Sunday, July 26th, to which you are all invited, stay tuned for details in the coming days.

For those of you who don't know Prof. Heine and his many books and essays on Dogen: "Steven Heine is professor of religious studies and history and director of the Institute for Asian Studies at Florida International University. Heine's research specializes in the life and thought of Zen master Dogen (1200-1253), the founder of the Soto sect in Japan, and he has published twenty books and dozens of articles on Japanese culture. His publications include Did Dogen Go to China? (Oxford, 2006), The Zen Poetry of Dogen (Tuttle, 1997), Dogen and the Koan Tradition (SUNY, 1993), Shifting Shape, Shaping Text (Hawaii, 2000), Like Cats and Dogs: Contesting the Mu Kōan in Zen Buddhism (Oxford University Press, 2013) and more."

For point of disclosure, I (Jundo) am the author of another book on Dogen to be published in October of this year by Wisdom Publications, entitled, "The Zen Master's Dance: A Guide to Understanding Dogen and Who You Are in the Universe." I mention that in the review 👍.
REVIEW of Steven Heine's "Readings of Dōgen's "Treasury of the True Dharma Eye"

This book, quite simply, may be the single best detailed survey and explanation of what Dogen was on about that I have ever read by an academic. Prof. Heine covers most of the same ground as other members of the "Dogen Club" (such as the wonderful volumes by Hee-jin Kim, Shohaku Okumura, Kaz Tanahashi, Taigen Leighton, Carl Bielefeldt, Francis Cook and others), but Steve's presentation is unusually clear, comprehensive and focused, well organized and well expressed, especially given the fine subject matter.

I do not believe that Dogen can be presented more completely and ... most importantly ... accurately than Steven has done in this book. I believe that the book may become the main "go to" guide ahead of others as the first book to turn to for a serious dive into Dogen's bottomless depths. Many folks sometimes criticize "scholars" as being unable to "get Dogen" because they are not practitioners and thus are supposedly "outside" or lost in their own ideas. That is very, very true quite often. However, not at all in this case: Dr. Heine (who, by the way, has been a practitioner over the years) simply knows the man better than about anyone alive, has Dogen's number, gets his game. Period. Nine Bows.

Now, that said, let me add a couple of comments:

Steve's presentation is precise and intelligent, and avoids academic jargon, but the prose can be dense. The professor's writing style consists of entangling vines of beautiful words and multi-perspective layered observations, although the density of his writing style may be necessary for precision in expressing Dogen's equally tangling and layered offerings. For example, Steven often joins 5 or 6 clauses into a single elegantly structured sentence, all to hit the target on what Dogen was doin', and I feel that Steve succeeds in hitting that target 99.9% of the time. However, it will be difficult going for readers who are not already extremely well versed in Dogen's ways to start. Personally, I enjoyed the book because I think I already know something of Dogen, so I could follow along pretty well with Steve's prose and where he was leading the reader in trying to express where Dogen was leading. But, for that same reason, folks new to Dogen might find the book hard as a first entrance, although people who know Dogen pretty well will sing its praises, in my opinion. I would hesitate to recommend the book to folks very new to Dogen, but I would say that anyone who already digs Dogen and gets his music will savor this as a tour de force.

As a side note, I am hoping that my little effort with "The Zen Master's Dance: A Guide to Understanding Dogen and Who You Are in the Universe" (coming out in October 😋) is a bridge for folks who struggle with Dogen to be better able to "get the Genzo," and get a handle on the man. In my book, I try to make Eihei understandable to those who are often befuddled by what Dogen was expressing in all his lyrical rambles. What Heine calls Dogen's "disruption" of language and basic Buddhist ideas, I call Dogen's "Zen Jazz" hot riffin' and rockin' on the "old standards" song book of the Buddhist classic stories and doctrines, trying to squeeze new juice out of the well worn tunes. I hope that my book helps Soto folks and others get their heads around Dogen's sound, as I seek to simplify but not dumb down. I also hope that I have covered much of the same territory and subject matter as Steve's book, but in an easy to approach and easy to travel format (hopefully not too easy) offering a hand to those folks who find the Shobo a "no go." THEN ... after folks who struggle with Dogen read a book like mine, and really want to get the "high octane" and challenge the amazing maze of Dogen, they should move on to a book like this. (Okumura Roshi's "Realizing Genjo Koan" and "Mountains and Waters Sutra: A Practitioner's Guide to Dogen's "Sansuikyo"" are also the place to go, whether before or after Steve's book, as well as Taigen Leighton's classic writings on Dogen and the Lotus Sutra, then Dr. Kim and the others.)

Steven Heine's book should be on the shelf of every true Dogen fan. If anyone comes to me in the coming years as to what they should read for a comprehensive explanation of Dogen and Shobogenzo, especially if it is someone who already has some good appreciation of Dogen, I will point them to this book as where they should head ... besides the sitting cushion, of course!


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