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Journal of Japanese Philosophy

Volume 3, 2015

Shigenori Nagatomo
Pages 31-52

Dōgen’s “Do No Evil” as Nonproduction of Evil”
An Achievement and Its Micro-Macrocosmic Correlativity

Dōgen’s treatment of evil starts with a reflection on four statements found in the Pali Buddhist Cannon, namely, “Do no evil, Do good, and Purify the mind. This is the teaching of the Buddhas.” In order to grasp his philosophical reflection on evil, we must cast our inquiry within the wider issues that conceptually frame these four statements; namely, the idea of karmic retribution and an agent trapped in it. This requires us to clarify why “do no evil” precedes “do good,” and why there is a demand to “purify the mind.” The first two injunctions deal with an issue of human nature, and the third with the practice of Zen meditation, which is Dōgen’s method for “purify[ing] the mind.” His reflection on medi­tation experiences enabled him to discover how “do no evil” changes into “nonproduction of evil.” Dōgen’s contention then is that “do no evil” as an ethical imperative transforms into “nonproduction of evil.” Therefore, an ethical imperative as understood by an ordinary person is not the true intent of the above injunction for a practicing Buddhist. This is because the practice of meditation renders a practicing Buddhist inca­pable of producing evil. “Nonproduction of evil” describes an achieved state of personhood. It is for Dōgen a term of achievement, that is, a transformative process reached from a prescriptive imperative to a state descriptive of embodied, meditational experience. With this transforma­tion, one comes to understand “the teaching of the Buddhas.”

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