Impermanence Is Buddha-Nature: Dōgen's Understanding of Temporality-Review by Lusthaus

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Impermanence Is Buddha-Nature: Dōgen's Understanding of Temporality-Review by Lusthaus

Citation: Lusthaus, Dan. Review of Impermanence Is Buddha-Nature: Dōgen's Understanding of Temporality, by Joan Stambaugh. Chanoyu Quarterly 69 (1992): 69–72.

Article Summary

Few premodern Japanese thinkers have received as much attention from Western philosophical circles as the thirteenth century Sōtō Zen master Dōgen. This interest has been sparked and facilitated by insightful English translations of key portions of Dōgen's masterful collected work, the Shōbōgenzō (especially those by Norman Waddell and Masao Abe), and by several book-length studies of Dōgen's thought—most notably those by Hee-jin Kim, Steven Heine, and Carl Bielefeldt. Kim and Heine, in particular, have examined Dōgen from a cross-cultural philosophic perspective.
      Professor Stambaugh, whose background is primarily German Philosophy of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, first turned to Dōgen in the climactic chapter of her book The Real in Not the Rational [Albany, NY, 1986]. Also the author of The Problem of Time in Nietzsche [Lewisburg, 1987], she has combined in her present work many of the concerns and issues raised in these previous works while embarking on several new avenues of investigation. She is genuinely impressed with Dōgen, and portrays him as a strong and critical voice capable of insights that frequently go beyond the formulations proffered by the Western philosophers whim whom she compares him, philosophers such as Aristotle, Hegel, Nietzsche, and Heidegger.
      Generally her method of argument in each chapter consists of setting out basic categories—such as transcendence-immanence, identity-difference, etc.— or sketching the view of a particular philosopher—such as Hegel's notion of dialectic—and then allowing Dōgen to either supplement or supplant what has been introduced. In the earlier chapter this method proves fruitful and she repeatedly zeroes in on crucial passages from Dōgen's seminal works: Uji ('"Being Time"), Genjokōan ("Actualizing the Kōan"), Busshō ("Buddha-nature"), Gyōji ("Ceaseless Practice"), and so on. She is a careful reader, sensitive to many of the philosophical subtleties of Dōgen's writings, and her insights are frequently illuminating and lucid. This is no mean task, given the difficult and unusual language Dōgen uses to express himself.
      She is particularly effective, I think, in her discussion of the Buddha-nature fascicle, clearly explaining why, for Dōgen, Buddha-nature is neither something that someone possesses nor a potentiality that someone develops or brings to fruition. (Lusthaus, Review of Impermanence Is Buddha-Nature, 69-70)