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paraversing dogen: to multiply an aphorism



Dogen (1200-53) is the Japanese Zen master best known for his advice to people intent on storming heaven: "Rather than striving to be a god, strive to become human!"  Another, less famous statement suggests he found such seeking counterproductive if not dangerous to the soul: 

If we seek the Buddha outside the mind, the Buddha changes to a Devil.

-- tr. R. H. Blyth

Doubtless, the word translated as "mind" is kokoro, also translatable as "heart."  In surveys about the relative popularity of various kanji (Chinese characters), this character (kokoro) always comes in first place.  The "Buddha" to a Buddhist is "God" "Savior” or "Godhead," in the sense of something to be re-joined, which makes it “Enlightenment” and "Heaven," too.  So we need not stick to "Buddha" when translating.  Moreover, since Japanese has no number, we are free to pluralize the god/devil as well.  Unfortunately, I can not find the original. (I’m sure Blyth gave it but I cannot find my Blyth).

For my paraverses, I follow Blyth and choose the singular, for it fits the conceptual nature of the aphorism, but I adopt God, rather than Buddha in a big way, for two reasons. First, “Devil” cannot help but retain a whiff of Christianity, so it makes sense to couple the Devil with the likewise tinted God.  Second, God is a monosyllable and we know what the soul of wit is.  If it were, rather, BOO for Buddha versus YAWEH for God, I would have taken the former.


God sought without is the Devil within.

Look out for the Devil! Look in for God!

Seek God outside, and the devil will come in!

Seek God without, find the Devil within!

Seek Heaven outside ye, and find Hell within be!

Seek your God outside ye, and you'll find the Devil within ye!

The God found without, becomes the Devil within.

To go out for God, is to bid the Devil in!

To seek God apart is to give the Devil your heart!

The Savior sought without, turns Satan within!

To look out for God is to look up the Devil!

To seek God without is to be without God.

When we go shopping for God, the Devil waits at home.


If you dislike the Western feeling of "God" and "Devil," change the "God/Savior" to Buddha and the "Devil" or "Satan" to Yama. For example:

Seek Buddha without, find Yama within!

Blyth has much more of interest to say about Dogen and other radically entertaining zen patriarchs (see his hokuseido press series, zen classics).  His translations are generally bland, but his always witty and occasionally outrageous (especially concerning women) explanations provide ample assistance to the reader's understanding. This makes his translations perfect game for paraversing.

So saying, I am a not a hundred percent confident that this Dogen translation (and, by extension, all of my paraverses!) is correct.   That is because when I googled for the original, I found a Kawabata Yasunari version in English coming from his 1968 Nobel Prize speech and it went like this:

“There can be no world of the Buddha without the world of the Devil. And the world of the devil is the world difficult of entry. It is not for the weak of heart . . . If you meet a Buddha, kill him . .”

I also found another quote attributed to Blyth (“As Dogen said, outside the mind, the Buddha changes into a devil”) almost identical with the original I had jotted down. It was on the hit-paragraph for a site selling a book of his, but not at the site itself(?)!  And, at another site, I saw “If we seek the Buddha outside the mind, the Buddha changes into a devil,” and it was said to be “translated extraordinarily well by Dr Suzuki Daisetz.”  Daisetsu was, according to Blyth, the only person who could talk Zen to him without making him nauseous.

Either there are two separate Dogen originals, or  the Suzuki/Blyth reading is wrong (I am not being rhetorical, for I doubt Suzuki could be wrong)!   Before, paraversing the Kawabata reading to give the Devil his due,  I must get to the bottom of this!   Any reader who knows what’s what, please write c/o gloss@paraverse.org and we will fill out the box with "nothing" below.