What are the best translations of Dogen?

This is a modified version of the bibliography I provided at the end of my book Don’t Be a Jerk:

Complete English Translations of Shobogenzo (in Order of My Personal Preference)

• Nishijima, Gudo, and Chodo Cross, Master Dogen’s Shobogenz0, 4 vols. Windbell, 1994-1999 (now available as print on demand from Book Surge). This is the translation done by my ordaining teacher and his student Mike Cross (Chodo is his dharma name). It is the closest you’ll find in English to a literal translation of the original. Also available for free online (look to the right of this page for links to all four volumes). The link above is to the printed version of book 1. Here are the links to Book 2, Book 3, and Book 4.

• Tanahashi, Kazuaki, and the San Francisco Zen Center. Treasury of the True Dharma Eye Zen Master Dogen’s Shobo Genzo, 2 vols. Boston: Shambhala, 2013. Kaz Tanahashi translated Shobogenzo, with a group of teachers from San Francisco Zen Center acting as co-translators.  A different person worked on each chapter. This version isn’t as fastidiously true to the original Japanese as the one by Nishijima and Cross, but it is a little easier to read.

• Nishiyama, Kosen, and John Stevens. Shobogenzo: The Eye and Treasury of the True Law. 4 vols. Tokyo: Japan Publications, 1983. This was the standard English edition for a long time but has since gone out of print and can be hard to find. It’s more of a paraphrase than a translation but is closer to the original than my book Don’t Be a Jerk. When I made this page, the Amazon link above only took you to a page for the first volume, saying the book was out of stock. You can try your luck on eBay, though. That’s where I found my copies.

• Nearman, the Reverend Master Hubert. Shobogenzo: The Treasure House of the Eye of the True Teaching. 4 vols. Mount Shasta, CA: Shasta Abbey Press, 1996. This is the official edition used by Shasta Abbey, which was founded by Reverend Master Jiyu-Kinnett. It’s a reliable translation if you can get past the author’s habit of trying to make it sound like the King James Bible. The link above takes you to the PDF version available for free online. Good luck finding a printed copy. Maybe try eBay?

Shobogenzo in Japanese

Nishijima, Wafu. Gendaigo-yaku Shobogenzo, 12 vols. Yokohama, Jap.: Kanazawa Bunko, 1978. This is Nishijima Roshi’s complete translation of Shobogenzo into contemporary Japanese, which also contains the entire original thirteenth-century text, based on the 1815 edition compiled by Hangyo Kozen (which was reprinted in 1906, with previously missing chapters added). Wafu is the alternate pronunciation of Nishijima Roshi’s given name, Kazuo, and is part of his dharma name. When writing in English he went by Gudo, the other part of his dharma name, meaning “the Way of Stupidity.” The link above will take you to Amazon Japan’s page to order volume one. There are 12 volumes. I’m guessing anyone who really wants them all can figure out how to find the rest.

There are many other translations of Shobogenzo into modern Japanese, and the thirteenth-century text in Japanese is pretty easy to find too.

Partial Translations of Shobogenzo (in alphabetical order by author/translator)

Cleary, Thomas, trans. Shobogenzo: Zen Essays by Dogen. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1992. Contains thirteen chapters of Shobogenzo. Not my favorite translations, but they’re not too bad.

______. Rational Zen: The Mind of Dogen Zenji. Shambhala, 1992. More translations of Dogen by Mr. Cleary.

Cook, Francis Dojun, with a foreword by Taizen Maezumi. How to Raise an Ox: Zen Practice as Taught in Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 1999. Contains ten translated chapters of Shobogenzo, along with other material. I don’t refer to these translations very often myself, but I keep the book around to check alternate versions.

Soto Zen Text Translation Project. Shobogenzo: Treasury of the True Dharma Eye. Several translated chapters are available online from Stanford University. These are very good translations and I refer to them a lot. Unfortunately, only a few of them are available from the website I linked to above, while the rest are nowhere to be found (as far as I’ve been able to track down anyhow).

Tanahashi, Kazuaki, ed. Moon in a Dewdrop: Writings of Zen Master Dogen. New York: North Point Press, 1995.

______. Enlightenment Unfolds: The Essential Teachings of Zen Master Dogen. Boston: Shambhala, 2000.

______. The Essential Dogen: Writings of the Great Zen Master. Boston: Shambhala, 2013. The various chapters and excerpts from Shobogenzo in these books by Kaz Tanahashi were gathered into the complete translation listed above.

Waddell, Norman, and Masao Abe, trans. The Heart of Dogen’s Shobogenzo. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002. Contains nine chapters. Not bad translations. I don’t refer to them often myself, though.


Books about Dogen and/or Shobogenzo

Bein, Steve. Purifying Zen: Watsuji Tetsuro’s Shamon Dogen. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2011. This is a translation of the book that first brought a lot of popular attention to Dogen in Japan in the 1920’s. 

Bielefeldt, Carl. Dogen’s Manuals of Zen Meditation. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1990. This is a very detailed examination of Dogen’s famous manual on how to do zazen, Fukan Zazengi. More than you would ever want or need to know about that little book!

Bodiford, William. Soto Zen in Medieval Japan. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2008. A very scholarly history of not only Dogen but the lineage he founded.

Bokusan, Nishiari, Shohaku Okumura, Shunryu Suzuki, and Mel Weitsman. Dogen’s Genjo Koan: Three Commentaries.Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, 2013. Interesting commentaries on Dogen’s most famous essay.

Cook, Francis. Sounds of Valley Streams: Enlightenment in Dogen’s Zen. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989. I occasionally used this book for reference, but I must admit I haven’t read it all the way through.

Heine, Steven. Did Dogen Go to China?: What He Wrote and When He Wrote It. Oxford University Press, 2006. Spoiler alert: He did. This book examines Dogen’s writings about his journey to China in great detail.

______. Dogen and Soto Zen. Oxford University Press, 2015. Essays about Dogen from scholars and practitioners.

______. Dogen and the Koan Tradition. State University of New York Press, 1994. This one is a super nerdy/scholarly book about Dogen’s use of the Chinese koan tradition.

______, ed. Dogen: Textual and Historical Studies. Oxford University Press, 2012. More essays about Dogen (actually this was published before the one listed above, but comes after it in alphabetical order.)

______. Shifting Shape Shaping Text: Philosophy and Folklore in the Fox Koan. University of Hawaii Press, 1999. This is a book all about the famous koan Hyakujo’s Fox with a chapter about Dogen’s two very different commentaries on it. If Amazon tells you it costs $1000, tell them to shove it and try again. There are used paperback copies available for $5.

Kim, Hee-Jin. Eihei Dogen: Mystical Realist. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2000. Originally published in 1975, for a long time this was just about the only book about Dogen in English you could find. It’s a little bit dated nowadays, but still very useful. None of the stuff that’s now dated would matter much to anyone but really finicky scholars.

Kodera, Takashi James. Dogen’s Formative Years in China: An Historical Study and Annotated Translation of the Hokyo-ki. Boulder, CO: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980. More about Dogen’s trip to China and what he wrote about it.

LeFleur, William R. Dogen Studies. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1985. Another book of scholarly essays about Dogen.

Leighton, Taigen Dan Visions of Awakening Space and Time: Dogen and the Lotus Sutra. Oxford University Press, 2007. A super-scholarly, super-detailed look at Dogen’s writings about the Lotus Sutra.

Leighton, Taigen and Shohaku Okumura, trans. Dogen’s Pure Standards for the Zen Community. State University of New York Press, 1995. A translation of Eihei Shingi, Dogen’s written works about monastic rules. Includes the famous Instructions for the Cook.

Nishijima, Gudo Wafu, trans. Master Dogen’s Shinji Shobogenzo. Guildford, Eng.: Windbell, 2003. This is my teacher’s translation of the book of 300 traditional Chinese koans that Dogen copied in China and used as the partical basis for Shobogenzo. If you look it up on Amazon in the US, you’ll find copies listed at $500. They’re £20 on Amazon UK, so I’d advise you to get it from them instead.

Okumura, Shohaku, ed. Dogen Zen and Its Relevance for Our Time. San Francisco: Soto Zen Buddhism International Center, 2003. Another book of essays about Dogen. It’s incredibly expensive these days.

______. Realizing Genjokoan: The Key to Dogen’s Shobogenzo. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2010. An absolutely wonderful book about Dogen’s most famous essay. Written in very accessible plain English, not the scholarly doublespeak so common to books of this nature. Get it.

______. Living by Vow: A Practical Introduction to Eight Essential Zen Chants and Texts. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2012. Another incredibly good, very easy-to-read book by Shohaku Okumura. Get this one too.

______, trans. The Wholehearted Way: Translation of Eihei Dogen’s Bendowa, with Commentary by Kosho Uchiyama Roshi. North Clarendon, VT: Tuttle, 2011. A very thorough examination of one of Dogen’s most famous essays.

Suzuki, Shunryu. Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. Boston: Shambhala, 2011. This is one of the best introductions to Dogen’s style of Zen. It’s not the least bit scholarly. This is a collection of lectures by Shunryu Suzuki, founder of the San Francisco Zen Center. It’s not really about Dogen per se, but it is so deeply influenced by Dogen’s work that I have included it here. Another book you need to get.

Uchiyama, Kosho. How to Cook Your Life: From the Zen Kitchen to Enlightenment. Shambhala 2015. A very useful translation of Dogen’s famous Instructions to the Cook along with a commentary by one of Japan’s leading teachers of Soto style Zen.

Warner, Josho, Shohaku Okumura, John McRaie and Taigen Dan Leighton Nothing is Hidden: Essays on Zen Master Dogen’s Instructions for the Cook. Weatherhill 2001. This book is exactly what its title says it is! Very useful and not terribly scholarly or difficult.

Yokoi, Yuho. Zen Master Dogen: An Introduction with Selected Writings. Boston: Weatherhill, 1976. My teacher, Gudo Nishijima Roshi, did not think very highly of Prof. Yokoi’s translations of Dogen. But he was one of Japan’s most respected scholars of Dogen, and one of the few Japanese Dogen scholars whose work is available in English.