Dogen has come a long way. When Zen first got hot in the U.S. during the 1960’s, Dogen was just another obscure Japanese master in the writings of D.T. Suzuki and Alan Watts, and the American version of Dogen’s Soto Zen school was just a handful of kids in San Francisco doing zazen at Sokoji with Shunryu Suzuki. These days, Soto Zen is all over the country and Dogen’s name is all over Amazon (780 hits). Dogen must be by now our most famous Zen master, ranking up there in the pantheon of Buddhist authors with stars like Nagarjuna (664 hits).
Dogen’s rise to stardom may be partly a function of the spread of his school in America, but his reputation as a Buddhist author goes beyond his status as founder of the Japanese Soto Zen tradition. Like Nagarjuna, and unlike most Zen masters, he is seen as a philosopher. Unlike Nagarjuna and most Zen masters, he is seen as a philosopher with important things to say about Buddhist practice—both how we should think about it and what we should do about it.