Thomas Cleary, the well-known translator of Oriental texts, has been performing a valuable service for many years by placing before the Western reader many interesting texts, some of which might otherwise never have been translated. His translations, though they may serve the uncritical reader well enough for ordinary purposes, ought wherever possible to be supplemented by alternate translations as they cannot be relied upon for scholarly purposes. Cleary's work tends to be uneven, with some of his books being much better than others.
Dogen's Japanese is highly idiosyncratic and extremely difficult, so much so that some Japanese will claim that his language can't be considered Japanese at all. Think 'Finnegans Wake' and you will appreciate their perplexity. Given the difficulty of Dogen's language, and the profundity of his thought, it would seem to follow that only a lengthy immersion in, and deep pondering of, his text could result in an 'excellent' translation.
If you run an Amazon search for 'Thomas Cleary,' it will produce over 140 items. Now then, I could be wrong, but given the sheer massiveness of Cleary's output, one suspects a preference for quantity over quality, particularly if one considers that just one of these items is the incredibly long 1643-page 'Flower Ornament Scripture,' a translation that could have taken a 'lesser' man ten or more years.
I know that there are some good things in Cleary's edition, because I used to have the book. But before deciding, readers might care to look at the Dogen translations of Francis H. Cook - 'How to Raise an Ox' and 'Sounds of Valley Streams.' Cook's output, numerically, is nowhere near as impressive as that of Cleary, but in addition to being a Zen adept his scholarship is impeccable, and some readers may find his readings more to their taste.
Personally, I think it would be very hard to better Cook's translation of the 'Shobogenzo genjokoan,' of which the following is a brief extract:
"Conveying the self to the myriad beings to authenticate them is delusion; the myriad things advancing to authenticate the self is enlightenment" [Sounds of Valley Streams, page 66].
But whether you plump for Cleary, or Cook, or other translators such as Kazuaki Tanahashi or Gudo Nishijima, you should certainly get hold of somebody's reading of Dogen. You'll be impressed. He leaves most other thinkers behind in the dust.
Thomas Cleary has translated 13 of the 95 chapters of Dogens masterpiece, Shobogenzo, in this wonderful book. Besides the general introduction at the beginning of the book, he provides a modest but succinct introduction to each chapter, and footnotes at the end of each chapter. He has chosen 13 of the best chapters, including such classics as Genjokoan, and Uji. The only flaw is the fact that there now remain 82 chapters that must be read either in Japanese or by less qualified translators. (Cleary has translated a couple other chapters in "Rational Zen", now out of print.)Anyone interested in Dogen will be happy to read and re-read this powerful collection of his writings. Tom, if you're listening, more, more...