The Rediscovery of a Text: the Case of Shôbôgenzô

Shôbôgenzô is the most important and best known work of Dôgen (1200-1253), and a masterpiece not only of Buddhist doctrine and practice, but also a landmark in the history of Japanese thought. It was written over a long span of time, from 1231 to the year of the author's death in 1253. There are known to exist versions that consist of 12, 75, and 95 chapters.

Surprisingly, however, the text of Shôbôgenzô lay dormant for centuries, and its importance was not acknowledged until a relatively recent date. Its author was a great Buddhist master from whose teaching there sprang one of the most important schools of Buddhism. and yet the text played a very minor role in the history of the Sôtô Zen school until the mid-eighteenth century. It was not recognized as one of the central texts in Japanese thought until even later, until the second decade of the twentieth century. By
investigating the reasons for the remarkable changes in the fortunes of this particular text we can understand better how and why certain texts are rediscovered, given importance and even canonized.