Monday, September 5, 2011

Trasmission of Light

I'm currently reading Transmission of Light (Denkoroku), translated by Thomas Cleary. Compiled and written in the thirteenth century by Keizan, Zen master of the Soto school, TOL chronicles the enlightenment of 53 masters, beginning with Shakyamuni and ending with Ejo, Dogen's chief disciple.

What fascinates me most about this collection is that, despite it being a key Soto text, all of its stories emphasize satori in some way. In fact, someone might argue that the stories themselves are vehicles for relating the Masters' enlightenment experiences.

Cleary addresses this in his introduction: the fact that in some modern Soto circles, satori or kensho is considered secondary, whereas in Transmission of Light, satori takes center stage. To use Cleary's own words, "Indeed, it is a rather well publicized fact in Japan that satori generally has been lost in the dominant sect of Soto Zen." He continues to explain that the claim "that enlightenment is identical to the Soto training system [is] based on a fragmentary selection of bits and pieces from Dogen's writing." What Cleary is suggesting is that Dogen's writing has been appropriated for institutional purposes--to maintain tradition, ritual, and all of the other accompanying religious accouterments.

Very interesting, to say the least. Give the book a read and tell me what you think.


  1. As a footnote, in the Harada/Yasutani Soto reform movement, which most notably restores a formal koan curriculum through Daiun Sogaku Harada, a Soto master who completed the Rinzai Hakuin koan system; in the H/Y system master Keizan's Lamp volume is used as koan.

  2. Definitely look forward to reading it.

  3. The volume as a koan--very interesting. I had never considered that. What a way to utilize the text. Thanks, James!