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Diane Manuel, News Service (650) 725-1945; e-mail:

Hundreds of Buddhists convene for symposium Oct. 23 and 24

Buddhists from around the world will gather on campus Oct. 23 and 24 to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the birth of Dogen Zenji (1200-1253), founder of the Soto School of Zen Buddhism in Japan.

A symposium, "Dogen Zen and Its Relevance for Our Time," will feature lectures and discussions by leading Japanese and American teachers and scholars of Zen Buddhist thought and practice. The occasion also will mark the first time an official celebration of the Dogen's birth will be celebrated outside of Japan. Three hundred Zen teachers, students and scholars are expected to attend.

The symposium is free and open to the public. It is co-sponsored by the Stanford Center for Buddhist Studies and the Soto Zen School in Japan.

Lectures and discussions will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 23 and 24, in Kresge Auditorium. A press conference will be held at noon Sunday in Kresge.

"The transmission of Soto Zen to the West must be counted as one of the most significant religious developments of the 20th century," says Carl Bielefeldt, director of the Stanford Center for Buddhist Studies. "One hundred years ago Soto and its founder, Dogen, were virtually unknown outside Japan. Now, at the century's end, there are centers of Soto practice throughout Europe and America, and the writings of Dogen have entered the spiritual literature of the world."

Bielefeldt adds that "the symposium may be seen as a celebration not only of [Dogen's] birth, but of the rebirth of his Buddhist tradition as an international religious resource."

Dogen was born into a noble family of high standing, took the tonsure at the age of 13 and first studied the doctrines of the Tendai school. Overcome by doubts regarding the need for cultivated practice and the significance of esoteric rituals, he changed his affiliation to Zen and went to China at the age of 24. There he continued his studies and eventually became a successor to his teacher, Ju-ching (1163-1228), after which he returned to Japan and founded the Japanese Soto school.

Symposium speakers include Bielefeldt; Griffith Foulk, professor of Asian religions at Sarah Lawrence College; professors Tetsuo Otani and Yasuaki Nara of Komazawa University in Tokyo; Zenkei Blanche Hartman, abbess of the San Francisco Zen Center; Shohaku Okumura, director of the Soto Zen Education Center; Daido John Loori, abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery, Mt. Tremper, New York; Sojun Mel Weitsman, abbot of the Berkeley Zen Center; Hozan Alan Senauke, director of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship; and poet Gary Snyder. Poet Michael McClure will read some new Zen-inspired poems at the end of Saturday's sessions.

"Dogen Zenji lived in an age of radical upheaval in both Japan and Europe, which was heralded by the rising of philosophies and cultures," says the Rev. Gengo Akiba, general director of the Soto Zen Administrative Office of North America. "It is interesting to note that both St. Francis and Thomas Aquinas were Dogen Zenji's contemporaries."

People throughout Europe and North America now study Dogen Zenji's Buddhism and scholars also are studying and discussing his teachings from an academic perspective.

For more information about the symposium visit the Stanford Center for Buddhist Studies website at and click on "Dogen Zen Symposium" on the home page. You also may call Mark Gonnerman of the Religious Studies Department at 724-5180.


By Diane Manuel

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