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The monk Dogen lived in dreadful times. A revolution culminating in 1185 had brought to power warriors who for centuries had served perhaps the most unwar-like aristocracy in world history, the effete but highly cultured ladies and gentlemen of the Heian Period (794-1185). Their day was done. They were swept aside. Sterner times lay ahead.

Dogen (1200-53) was born into a noble but impoverished Kyoto family. The new regime’s footing was still tenuous. Revolt simmered, pestilence raged, famine fed desperation, which fed crime and death en masse. Corpses rotted and stank in the streets. It was horrible.

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