As I understand it, Dogen says that, at least for those new to seated meditation, there is no enlightenment outside seated meditation.

Well, to me that if true that's awful! No speech, no writing, no solidarity, etc.? I think it's this that is the stumbling block along the buddha way, for me.

Does it even have an answer?

  • to improve your question, i suggest to quote exactly what Dogen said. Thanks. Regards Commented Aug 30, 2017 at 3:51
  • Dogen is not alone in his opinion. Samma samadhi is one of the factors of the eightfold path. Unless you meditate, your practice will never be as deep as it could be.
    – user698
    Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 17:47
  • @xxxx no i know that. i was referring to a more extreme claim
    – user2512
    Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 20:16

4 Answers 4


One of Dogen's major teachings is 'practice and enlightenment are one' - what is important for Dogen is continuous effort in the dharma, and the basis of that effort is seated meditation. This applies to all practitioners, new and old alike.

Dogen tended to be disparaging of other schools, but if you want a less partisan Soto opinion you could read 'The teachings of Homeless Kodo' which acknowledges the value of other types of practice.

  • 1
    To clarify a bit: I don't think Dogen means there's no enlightenment outside zazen, he means no difference can be found between enlightenment and the expression of enlightenment, and the expression of enlightenment is practice, whether that's formal zazen, samu (work), ceremonies, eating, washing, using the toilet etc. It's not an easy message to swallow, and not for everyone. Also, Dogen's writing is notoriously difficult, many think deliberately difficult. Good luck :)
    – user10515
    Commented Sep 1, 2017 at 11:43
  • 1
    samu ceremonies are not different from enlightenment even for those that have not sat zazen??
    – user2512
    Commented Sep 1, 2017 at 20:26
  • 1
    If you are mindful, everything is an expression of enlightenment.
    – user10515
    Commented Sep 2, 2017 at 3:51

Perhaps you're reading a paraphrase or mistranslation. Wikiquote says ...

Zazen is the ultimate practice. This is indeed the True Self. The Buddhadharma is not to be sought outside of this.

... which is more or less what you're quoting or referring to in the OP.

But read item 2-22 (page 64 of 145) of this translation of Shobogenzo Zuimonki -- it says ...

Apart from sitting, there is nothing to seek as the buddha-dharma.

If you read the whole story I think the emphasis is meant to be on "not seeking", that it's "not to be sought" ... perhaps the lesson is that "seeking" is a symptom of desire, craving, aversion, vanity, etc.

The story at the end ...

Baso said, “How can you make a mirror by polishing a tile?”
Nangaku replied, “How can you become a buddha by practicing zazen?”

... might even imply the opposite about zazen: that the act, or outward form, of sitting is not sufficient.

  • there are always corrections etc. in zen, ways to go beyond thinking and language... so yea, but then zazen is all effort. etc.
    – user19950
    Commented Nov 13, 2022 at 7:09

This is dorky, but, whatever atheists say, I think that zen is the truest way to celebrate!

Better than drinking the blood of your enemies anyway.

So, even if Dogen does not bring "good news": he bloody well should.


In his later writings, Dogen set forth a number of very detailed texts on topics like reading and reciting Sutras, cleaning the temple, liturgy and ritual, general temple discipline, etc. He said all of this constitutes “practice”, even stretching the definition of “Zazen” to include these things. So no, “just sitting” is not the whole story after all, or if it is, it includes a very wide range of affairs.

Dogen also wrote a powerful text on the importance of moral discipline, and the Lotus Sutra is mentioned several hundred times in the Shobogenzo. In the fascicle “Taking Refuge in the Three Jewels” he calls the Lotus Sutra “The great king and grand master of all the various Sutras that Shakyamuni wrote, with all the others serving as its loyal subjects” (Kie bupposobo, Dogen 2.37).

Daily Sutra study took place from 4-5 pm without fail according to Dogen’s schedule for activities at Eiheiji Temple.

Lastly there is the famous and beloved text he wrote on “Instructions for the Head Cook.” Deeply moved by the wisdom of a temple cook who was also a monk but had little time for seated zazen, Dogen stressed that the position of temple cook should be considered a special high honor to be bestowed on a wise monk. In minute detail, he describes the steps for food acquisition, preparation, kitchen cleaning etc. and seems to regard the intensely focused precision of a cook who follows the rules to the letter as a not only valid but esteemed form of special practice.

So…in short, just sitting can mean more than literally just sitting. And why not? Dogen’s legendary word play gives him license to do whatever he wishes with mere words, no?

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