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Shōbōgenzō (正法眼蔵, lit. “Treasury of the True Dharma Eye”) is the title most commonly used to refer to the collection of works written in Japanese by the 13th century Japanese Buddhist monk and founder of the Japanese Sōtō Zen school, Eihei Dōgen. Several other works exist with the same title (see above), and it is sometimes called the Kana Shōbōgenzō in order to differentiate it from those. The term shōbōgenzō can also be used more generally as a synonym for the Buddha Dharma as viewed from the perspective of Mahayana Buddhism.
Shōbōgenzō as a General Term
In Mahayana Buddhism the term True Dharma Eye Treasury (Japanese: Shōbōgenzō) refers generally to the Buddha Dharma, and in Zen Buddhism, it specifically refers to the realization of Buddha’s awakening that is not contained in the written words of the sutras.
In general Buddhist usage, the term “treasury of the Dharma” refers to the written words of the Buddha’s teaching collected in the Sutras as the middle of the Three Treasures of the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. In Zen, however, the real treasure of the Dharma is not to be found in books but in one’s own Buddha Nature and the ability to see this Correct View (first of the Noble Eightfold Path) of the treasure of Dharma is called the “Treasure of the Correct Dharma Eye”.
In the legends of the Zen tradition, the Shōbōgenzō has been handed down from teacher to student going all the way back to the Buddha when he transmitted the Shobogenzo to his disciple Mahākāśyapa thus beginning the Zen lineage that Bodhidharma brought to China.
The legend of the transmission of the Shōbōgenzō to Mahākāśyapa is found in several Zen texts and is one of the most referred to legends in all the writings of Zen. Among the famous koan collections, it appears as Case 6 in the Wumenguan (The Gateless Checkpoint) and Case 2 in the Denkoroku (Transmission of Light). In the legend as told in the Wumenguan, the Buddha holds up a flower and no one in the assembly responds except for Arya Kashyapa who gives a broad smile and laughs a little. Seeing Mahākāśyapa’s smile the Buddha said,
I possess the Treasury of the Correct Dharma Eye, the wonderful heart-mind of Nirvana, the formless true form, the subtle Dharma gate, not established by written words, transmitted separately outside the teaching. I hand it over and entrust these encouraging words to Kashyapa.
Here is an extract of the Shōbōgenzō by Dōgen which is reported as being a part of a lecture at Yoshimine Temple in 1243.(!) This comes from “Moon in a Dewdrop” edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi