I'm pleased to make available "First Dogen Book," translations of four key essays by Dogen, the 13th-century Japanese philosopher and religious figure. These translations are distinguished by an intensive level of research and analysis not seen in other translations, as well as an obsessive attention to style, rhythm and nuance.
The essays were chosen to span the range from introductory to advanced. "Dialog on the Way of Commitment," or Bendowa, is an introductory essay directed towards the newcomer to Zen Buddhism. "Truth Unfolding," or Genjo Koan, is a definitive, elegant exposition of the importance of practice, one of Dogen's primary themes. "A Particular Hour," or Uji, is a compelling testament to the urgency of attending to the moment. Finally, the latest translation "Why the First Patriarch Came from the West," or Soshi Seirai I, is a Zen meditation on the human condition. Together, they represent the essence, albeit highly distilled, of Dogen's writings and teachings.
The translations are exhaustively annotated. The annotations are not in general meant to elucidate the essays' deeper meaning. Dogen can speak for himself if only given the voice to do so. Rather, the focus is on pointing out interesting aspects of Dogen's prose and possible alternative interpretations. The notes also present historical and cultural background.
Here are some comments on my translations:
“Dear Bob, thank you for your translation of Genjokoan. It reads really well and I will use it.”
—Charles Tenshin Fletcher, Abbot, Zen Mountain Center
“I like your translation of Genjo-koan. It is clear and understandable and nice writing style too.”
—Eido Michael Luetchford, Dogen Sangha Bristol
First Dogen Book contains translations of four chapters of Shobogenzo, accompanied by lots and lots of fascinating notes. Not so much notes as complete essays, with notes engrossing and revealing essay/notes, exploring in depth key problematic aspects of the original text and others attempts to render them into English. Very good stuff. Not necessarily correct, but certainly very good. Very original translations clarified by very original notes.
I've read Dogen as translated into English by four different translators, and Myers is without question the best. I found his translation of the Bendowa on the internet, read it, thought about it for a week, read it again, read the footnotes, read it again, and printed it out and gave it to three friends. It is absolutely superb. For a newcomer, it is exceptionally lucid and avoid the kind of Buddhist jargon that bogs down so many other translations and causes beginner Zen practitioners to put down their books and read something else. For specialists or those with a background in Japanese or Classical Chinese, Myers has included extensive footnotes a la Red Pine. These are invaluable both for a deeper reading of the material and for appreciating the depth of Myers's command of the language and his extraordiary feel for the material.
As I said, I've read a lot of Dogen, and this translation of the Bendowa was a real revelation. The other writings in this volume are the core of the Dogen corpus, and along with Bodhidharma are the fundamental teachings of Zen Buddhism. For the best introduction available to the way of the patriarchs, Red Pine's translation of Bodhidharma and Myers's translation of Dogen.
—A. Woods, Brooklyn
First Dogen Book contains several key essays from Eihei Dogen's Shobogenzo translated into English from the original text. This book is distinguished by featuring extensive notes in separate chapters that discuss -- for each couple of sentences -- the linguistic and historical background, different possibilities of translation and interpretation, and reasons why particular decisions were made.
For anyone interested in Dogen and the translation in-depth, this is invaluable. The 'notes' chapters Myers provides sometimes include key phrases in the original languages, word-for-word translations and comparison of existing translations. These chapters represent the real 'treasure' of this selection of Shobogenzo. Unsurprisingly, they take up 50% more pages than the translation itself, and themselves include extensive footnotes in smaller print.
First Dogen Book by Bob Myers is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
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