He was formally initiated into the monkhood on mount Hiei, the center of Tendai Buddhist learning in Japan. For the next several years he studied the schools of Mahayana and Hinayana, versions of Buddhism, under the guidance of his teacher, abbot Koen.
By the time he was fourteen Dogen had become troubled by a deep doubt concerning one aspect of the Buddhist teaching.
This is the sutra that made him troubled to the very core of his being.
If, as the sutras say, “All human beings are endowed with the buddha-nature,” why is it that one must train oneself so strenuously to realize that buddha-nature, to attain enlightenment?
A very significant question. If everybody is a buddha, then to recognize it should be the simplest thing in the world. If you are potentially a buddha, then the barriers cannot be much; they cannot hinder you. Nothing can hinder you. A rose bush brings roses, a lotus seed brings the lotus. If every man is a seed buddha, then why so much discipline? He was only fourteen years of age, and just one year before he had been initiated, but this sutra disturbed him immensely.
It is obvious that if to be a buddha is our nature, then it should be the simplest thing…without any discipline, without any effort – just a natural phenomenon, as you breathe, as your heart beats, as your blood runs in the body. There is no need of all the nonsense that has been forced upon people to become buddhas, to achieve buddhahood.
At this point he left his teacher because the teacher could not answer him. The teacher was just a teacher. He could teach the sutras, but he could not answer. He could realize the great significance of the question. Either buddhahood is not everybody’s nature…it is some faraway mountaintop, that you have to travel through all kinds of hardships to reach. But if it is your very nature, then this very moment you can realize it – there is no need even to wait for a single moment. But the teacher could not say that, because he himself had not realized buddhahood. He had been teaching Buddhist scriptures, and not a single student had ever said, “This sutra is contradictory.”
In search of someone who could help rid him of his doubt, Dogen found himself with another teacher, Myozen.
Teachers are many. Just to graduate into a certain branch of knowledge is not anything unique or special. But to find a master is really arduous, in that they both speak the same language – the teacher, the master. And sometimes it may be that the teacher speaks more clearly, because he is not worried about his own experience. The master speaks hesitantly, because he knows whatever he is saying is not perfectly appropriate, does not express the experience itself…that it is a little way off.