By Sara Isayama

It’s worth pointing out, that one of the reasons why many people in the west may be unaware of just how mystical and spiritual Soto Zen is; is due to the intentional omission of such passages from Buddhist texts by western translators.

In one example, the Denkoroku,which is translated by Thomas Cleary, which has been characterized as “a complete modern translation.” Entire sections, involving extended paragraphs, where Keizan recounted the visions and other mystical experiences of Dogen and other Ancestors are simply absent, without any indication that anything has been omitted.

As one article I have points out:

“We cannot of course, know why this omission occurred, but the effect is clear: his reader can only surmise that The Denkoroku contains no reference to such events as prophetic dreams or visions related to the life of Dogen.”

While both Rev. Hubert Nerman’s translation, as well as Francis Cook’s translation do contain these references, in the Cleary translation they are simply absent.

This is not the first time this has occurred.

I have a copy of the Lotus Sutra, that omits any and all references to spirits, and spiritual experiences and encounters, that as you might expect, requires omitting large sections of the entire Sutra.

For example, most of Chapter 12 is missing.

Dogen and Keizan both had a great deal of visionary experience, Keizan more so. However even Dogen had a great deal. One example of an account of an experience by Dogen, is illustrated by the plate above, a wood block print that shows a vision that Dogen had while meditating of being visited by Zen Master Damei Fachang and receiving transmission from him.

While westerners may be unaware of these accounts, the Japanese and Chinese texts are literally full of them.

Many people may not be aware of the spiritual connection of Soto Zen and several dieties, and I will post something on that at a later date.

One of the issues is that many of these texts have not been translated into English. The vast majority of Soto Zen texts are still sitting in their original Japanese, (or even Chinese) and so a great deal of the teachings of our tradition have not been made accessible to most westerners.


Sara IsayamaSara Isayama is a Buddhist scholar and layperson, who is a practitioner of the Soto Zen linage of Coadong/Ts’ao-tung Buddhism. She has been a formal Buddhist practitioner for 15 years, having taken the Precepts in 2005 after which spending some time living and training in a monastic environment. She practices in the Manzan line of Soto Zen, in Jiyu-Kennett’s lineage, and lives in Washington State with her spouse. She spends her spare time transcribing obscure Buddhist texts, and writing about the Dharma in the view that the gift of the Dharma excels all other gifts. As a scholar, she has particularly focused on the Buddha’s teachings in the Sutra’s, Dogen and Keizan’s spiritual lives, and the history of Soto Zen and Buddhism in Japan, as well as in China.



Editor: Daniel Scharpenburg
Photo: Teiho Kenzeiki Zue, 1806