Dōgen Zenji 1200-1253

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Eihei Dōgen went on to found the Sōtō school of Zen in Japan.

Dōgen Zenji 道元禅師 1200-1253) was born into a noble family in Kyōto, and became the founder of the Sōtō school of Zen in Japan. Dōgen's father died when Dōgen was 3 years old, and his mother when he was 8. Affected by this early glimpse of impermanence Dōgen, at the age of 13, decided to become a monk. Initially, he went to Mount Hiei, Here, while studying the Buddhist sūtras, he became possessed by a single question:
"As I study both the exoteric and the esoteric schools of Buddhism, they maintain that human beings are endowed with Dharma-nature by birth. If this is the case, why did the Buddhas of all ages—undoubtedly in possession of enlightenment—find it necessary to seek enlightenment and engage in spiritual practice?"

In 1223 Dōgen decided to make the dangerous passage across the East China Sea to China to try to find an answer. His teacher Myōzen accompanied him on the trip. In 1225, he studied with master Tiantong Rújìng 天童如淨 1163-1228, the thirteenth patriarch of the Cáodòng (Soto) lineage of Zen Buddhism, on Mount Tiāntóng 天童山 near Níngbō. Rujing was reputed to have a style of Chan that was different to the other masters whom Dōgen had thus far encountered.

In 1227, Dōgen received Dharma transmission and inka from Rujing and returned to Japan in 1227 or 1228, to the Kennin-ji in Kyoto, where he had once trained under Eisai. However, tensions soon arose as the Tendai community began taking steps to suppress both Zen and Jōdo Shinshū, the new forms of Buddhism in Japan. In the face of this tension, Dōgen left Kyōto in 1230, and temporarily settled Uji, south of Kyōto. He then relocated to Fukui, Echizen province where he built a new temple the Daibutsuji 大仏寺. It was later renamed the Eihei-ji 永平寺. The Eiheiji remains one of the two head temples of Sōtō Zen in Japan today, the other being Sōji-ji in Tsurumi near Yokohama.

Dōgen spent the remainder of his life teaching and writing at Eiheiji. Shortly before his death, he wrote his death poem:

Fifty-four years lighting up the sky.
A quivering leap smashes a billion worlds.
Entire body looks for nothing.
Living, I plunge into Yellow Springs.

Dogen's teachings were collected and form the Shobogenzo, his most famous work, that lay hidden in Soto temples for hundreds of years.

Dōgen is noted not his prose, and also for his poetry in Japanese waka style and in Chinese.

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