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Content for this page is currently being edited and includes English translations and commentary from Rev. Koyama's lectures on Shōyōruku (kōans), Kannongyo (chapter 25 of Lotus Sutra), Dōgen's Uji, Hōkyō-ki, and Eihei Shingi. Content will be posted as it becomes available.

TEACHINGS

Hōkyō-ki

Foreword - Introducing the Lecture Series on Hōkyō-ki (Dōgen's personal notes in dialogue with Nyōjō)

This is an ongoing lecture series that began in the summer of 2022. 

Previous classes have been recorded and are now in the process of being edited for posted on this page. 

 

The text we are using - created especially for this class by Rev. Koyama- includes the original Japanese, a contemporary Japanese translation, and an English translation. This trilingual text makes it possible to compare the English to the Japanese versions, greatly clarifying and enhancing the text for English readers.

 

Dissatisfied with the Buddhist teachers he had encountered as a monk in Japan, at the age of 23, Dōgen undertook a hazardous voyage to China in search of a teacher who could impart the authentic Buddhist Dharma. In 1225 he met Nyōjo, the abbot of a temple on Tiāntóng Mountain who would become his most influential and respected teacher. 

 

Hōkyō-ki is Dōgen’s personal record of his private meetings with Nyōjo.

Dōgen’s great joy in having met Nyōjo and his eagerness to question him about all of the most important Buddhist issues of the time is clearly apparent throughout Hokyō-ki. 

 

Those of us who have searched long and hard to find a trustworthy teacher can easily relate to Dōgen’s delight and relief at having found Nyōjo who he refers to as “Ko Butsu” or ancient Buddha - the highest form of appreciation and respect.

 

In turn, Nyōjo's enormous regard for Dōgen’s dedication, sincerity and brilliance inspired him to provide deep penetrating answers to all of Dōgen’s questions. 

 

Together, Nyōjo and Dōgen consider the most important questions being debated about Buddhism and Buddhist practice in their time — questions which are still absolutely relevant today. 

For example:

 

  • If all beings are originally Buddhas, is there any need to practice and study?

  • Is there a Dharma transmitted outside of the scriptures without words?

  • Are all Mahayana sutras trustworthy? What about Hinayana teachings? 

  • How can we know which Buddhist sutras contain complete meanings and which don’t?

  • What should we think of teachers who answer student’s questions by shouting or hitting them instead of providing explanations?

  • What is meant by Nyōjo’s teaching of “Shinjin Datsuraku” (the casting off of body and mind)?

  • What are pitfalls students should avoid on the path to awakening?

  • How should we understand causality or the law of cause and effect?

  • What is the proper place for practices such as making prostrations, burning incense and reading sutras compared to shikantaza zazen?

  • What are the significant differences between Mokusho (silent illumination) Zen and Kanna Zen which teaches that Rinzai-style koan study is the way for students to gain enlightenment?

 

Because of the incredible vastness of Buddhist knowledge shared by Nyōjo and Dōgen, as we read Hōkyō-ki we encounter stories and teachings from every era of Buddhist thought. So, we often pause reading Hōkyō-ki to delve into an astounding number of relevant sutras, koans, and other teachings that serve to enhance our understanding and enjoyment of the text.

Michele Sevik

Editor

Foreword: Introducing the Lecture Series on Kōan Study: Shōyō-roku - The Book of Serenity

 

Does a dog have Buddha Nature or not? Why does a Zen master cut a cat in half and how could a guy wearing sandals on his head have saved it? Why does an abbot with a broken fan call for a rhinoceros? What does the great meaning of Buddhism have to do with the price of rice in Luling?

 

These questions and many like them abound in Zen kōans. At first, kōans seem mysterious, confounding and even nonsensical. What they teach isn’t immediately clear. So what good are they? It depends on who you ask.

 

The difference in the way the Rinzai School uses kōans and the way kōans are treated by Dōgen and his lineage is not superficial, nor is it limited to kōans themselves. Reflecting profound differences in their understanding of Dharma and practice, their disparate approaches are not merely dissimilar - they are irreconcilable.

 

The Rinzai School presents kōans as esoteric riddles defying all attempts to understand them intellectually. By repeating one word or phrase from a koan over and over during zazen and other activities, students hope to break through the limits of human reason and gain insights resulting in a transformative experience called Kensho, or “seeing Buddha Nature”. In their view, kōan training demolishes delusions, uncovers the “True Self”and eventually leads to “Enlightenment”.

 

My own limited experience responding to kōans given to me during sesshin by my previous Rōshi in the Rinzai lineage was pretty grim. Instead of going back to the zendo to do zazen, my mind was on a desperate mission to prove that I wasn’t totally lacking in the spiritual intelligence needed to perceive his version of “True Reality”. All the joy of practice vanished.

 

Eventually, hopeless and defeated, I decided to ignore kōans altogether. When the time came to give this Rōshi an answer he would approve, I just sat there in total silence. (Strangely, this received much more approval than any of my attempts to actually answer.)

 

Many years later when I found teachers in Dōgen’s lineage, I discovered that ignoring kōans is a serious mistake - like throwing a baby out with the bathwater.

 

The way students of Dōgen and his lineage approach kōans is radically different. How could it be otherwise when Dōgen taught that Shikantaza is itself realization, that Buddha nature is not something that can be seen and that there is no “True Self” or Atman to be uncovered under all those layers of delusion?

 

While students of the Rinzai School are led to believe that awakening is something an individual must achieve by working hard to resolve impenetrable mysteries and destroy delusions, students of Dōgen’s lineage are instructed to see for themselves that awakening is already manifested when we practice Shikantaza and loosen our grip on the ego-centered point of view by dropping off body and mind (shinjin datsuraku). These are not only different views. They are fundamentally oppositional.

 

These divergent views of Dharma and practice originated many centuries ago but they are being debated just as fiercely today.

 

Although koans are hard for us to understand, they were not incomprehensible to the Tang Dynasty monks who were their intended audience. For these monks, well versed in the literature, mythology and viral memes of their culture, koans were full of well-known characters and familiar imagery.

 

In Rev. Issan Koyama’s lecture series, 100 koans selected by Wanshi Shogaku and assembled into Shōyō-roku (The Book of Serenity) by his disciple, Banshō Gyōshū, are explored in depth from the point of view of Dōgen’s lineage.

 

Using texts created especially for this class featuring the original Chinese and a Japanese translation, Issan offers original English translations that will eventually be compiled into an ebook available to all who are interested.

 

Along with a literal translation of every important Chinese character, Rev. Issan Koyama puts each kōan into context by discussing the historical events, stories, references and poetic metaphors featured in each one. His extensive knowledge of Buddhist literature is enhanced by untranslated commentaries by teachers like Kōdō Sawaki, Kōshō Uchiyama, Yogo Seigan, Shundō Aoyama and Shōhaku Okumura. 

 

Most importantly, Rev. Koyama uses a wealth of real-life examples to clarify how kōans are relevant in our lives today. Diving fully into kōans in this way, we find that they really are about us and that they can be comical, enjoyable and as helpful in the situations we encounter in the 21st century as they were to people centuries ago.

This is an ongoing lecture series that began in the spring of 2021. Previous classes have been recorded and are now in the process of being edited. When complete, they will be posted on this website. 

 

An All-Day Study Intensive will be offered on zoom on Saturday April 13th from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm to introduce newcomers to this lecture series and enable them to jump in without too much confusion.

 

Subsequent lectures will be offered in person, when Rev. Koyama is not traveling, as well as on Zoom Monday evenings from 6:30 PM - 8:00 PM beginning April 15th.  An introduction will be offered to newcomers to this lecture series that enable them to jump in without confusion.

 

Michele Sevik

Editor

Shōyō-roku
Avatamsaka Sutra

Foreword: Introducing the Lecture Series on “The Avatamsaka Sutra: An Annotated Translation of The Avatamsaka Sutra”

Study of Volume 3 of the “The Avatamsaka Sutra: An Annotated Translation of The Avatamsaka Sutra”

Translated by Bhikshu Dharmamitra. Published by Kalavinka Press.

For students of Dōgen, familiarity with the foundational Buddhist texts that most influenced him and our lineage is unambiguously worthwhile. For this reason, in recent years, Rev. Issan Koyama has offered lectures on the Prajñāpāramitā Sutra, the Lotus Sutra and the Vimalakīrti Sutra.

 

Now, inspired by the publication of a new English translation, Rev. Koyama is offering a 2-day study intensive on the Flower Adornment Sutra (Kegon Kyō in Japanese).

 

This massive sutra had a major impact on Buddhism and culture in East Asian countries and entire sects were established with it as the primary text. It is impossible to look into the Sōtō Zen canon without encountering quotes, symbols, images and metaphors from this sutra. The texts we are currently studying - from the kōans in Shōyōroku to Menzan’s Jijuyu-zanmai - all quote from it.

 

This study intensive will focus on the last chapter of the Flower Adornment Sutra entitled “Entering the Dharma Realm.” 

 

Originally an independent sutra in its own right, “Entering the Dharma Realm” is widely considered one the most important and influential sections of the Flower Adornment Sutra. It follows the pilgrimage of a young bodhisattva named Sudhana as he seeks wisdom and guidance on cultivating and practicing the Bodhisattva Way from 53 spiritual guides.

 

Beginning with Mañjuśrī and ending with Samantabhadra, the bodhisattvas Sudhana visits represent every stratum of society and a great diversity of occupations. They include children, mothers, elderly sages, royalty, spirits, slaves, professionals, householders, laymen, heavenly beings, a sea captain, a cook, a courtesan and many others.

 

The sumptuous scenery of the Flower Adornment Sutra is staggeringly vast, infinitely multifaceted and exquisitely detailed. Readers are ushered into a mind-blowing cosmic landscape that is endlessly fantastical, exuberantly flamboyant, intensely psychedelic and unceasingly astonishing. Depicting an extraordinary spiritual journey through innumerable interpenetrating multiverses and boundless fractal topologies, “Entering the Dharma Realm” is an unrestrained passionate celebration of Dharma.

 

As the date of this workshop approaches another announcement will be made regarding the specific sections of “Entering the Dharma Realm” that will focused on.

Michele Sevik

Editor

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