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PMZC Fall 2023 Class Syllabus: Genjokoan

Description: In this class, we will study the foundational elements of the Buddha Way as expressed in Genjokoan, Eihei Dogen’s fascicle composed in 1233, a few years after his return from pilgrimage and awakening in China. The Genjokoan is one of the fundamental texts in Soto Zen Buddhism, chanted daily at many services around the world. In this fascicle, Dogen elaborates on the teachings of practice-realization in Mahayana Buddhism, in one of the most poetic and puzzling of all Buddhist texts, presenting a series of poetic assertions and allusions that establish and clarify Dogen’s Zen. With study and practice, gradually we will come to understand the fascicle as a profound guide to the practice and awakening at the heart of the Bodhistattva Way.

On this journey, we recognize, study, and gradually transform the presence of dukka or suffering in human life. In the practice of zazen and the study of the sutra, we also discover that this transformation happens both in the moment and gradually over time, as we deepen our practice and realize experiential understanding. Always, Dogen encourages us to practice; above all else, this is his central teaching: practice IS enlightenment. As in earlier classes, we actively engage the practice-based elements of gratitude, faith, and compassion in ending that suffering and dis-satisfaction. And, in studying and practicing with the Genjokoan, we actively let go clinging to self, embracing emptiness and complete inter-dependence.

We will study and practice with Shohaku Okamura’s book Realizing Genjokoan: The Key To Dogen’s Shobogenzo (2010). Each week, after zazen, we will investigate the teachings and puzzling methodology of the Genjokoan, investigating practices and insight together during our evening class session. Week by week, we can reflect on and investigate two chapters of the fascicle, contextualizing it both historically and at the center of daily zazen. Each of us incorporates the practice and study of zazen as it opens into experiential realization of emptiness, the deepening understanding into emptiness of self, and the deepening of compassion in our moment-by-moment practice. 

Meeting and studying the presence of dukka or suffering plunges practitioners into three inter-related aspects: their difficulties to awakening to fundamental truth in this life; the challenges that facing directly presents; and the profound openings that direct, active practice of compassion manifests. Studying the sufferings of the self, we inhabit and become intimate with them. Turning towards practice, we concentrate, practice, and deepen our vows by active practices in the emptiness of all dharmas, all beings.


This 6-week class at Prairie Mountain Zen Center will be online via Zoom for any interested practitioners. Reverend Chikyo Ryunin Ewan Magie will offer the class on Thursday evenings after zazen for 6 weeks starting early October 2023 and concluding mid-November. Zazen begins at 6:30 and the class runs from 7-8pm. Each week there will be brief presentation followed by group sharing to keep classes interactive. And the class atmosphere involves respectful use of Right Speech, judicious selection in personal sharing. It is not a confessional or tell-all group.


Texts: Realizing Genjokoan: The Key to Dogen’s Shobogenzo  by Shohaku Okamura (2010)



Supplemental Texts: 

Everyday Zen Study Guide (



Week 1: Dogen’s Life and the Meaning of Genjokoan: Disaster, Practice, Awakening.


Week 2: Buddha Way from Three Sources –flowers fall, weeds spread.


Week 3: Realization; Dropping Off Body and Mind– those who greatly realize delusion are buddhas.


Week 4: When We Seek We Are Far Away–past and future cut off.


Week 5: The Moonlight in the Water – something is still missing.


Week 6: A Fish Swims, A Bird Flies –the nature of water.



Concluding Remark: Incorporating both Realizing Genjokoan: The Key to Dogen’s Shobogenzo (2010) by Shohaku Okamura into our zazen enhances our understanding of Zen practice, the way to “study the self” in relation to our suffering and struggles in the long spiritual journey. Ideally, we practice them together to enhance our moment-to-moment awareness and deepen both wisdom and compassion. Each of us can engage these practices both in the zendo and in daily life as a way to deepen our experience of Zen practice. Learning by ourselves and with others helps nurture the Bodhisattva spirit within each of us, manifesting wisdom and compassion amongst all beings in the ten directions. 

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