I started a recent thread to highlight the many beautiful interpretations, ways of expression, approaches and the like even to doctrines and stories that the various flavors of Buddhism(s) seem to share.In fact, there a great difference in how we interpret shared symbols (perhaps starting with the radically different ways we often envision "Buddha" itself). Each way is meaningful and powerful for the practitioners with whom it resonates, maybe not so much (and even head scratching) for those outside, of a different turn of mind, less trained in the particular tradition and so with less familiarity and comfort with its approaches, assumptions and "lingo."
One important example is Dogen Zenji's approach to Nagarjuna and the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā (MMK) (although it is even questionable whether Dogen had knowledge of that text at all) in contrast to the approach to these in other cornerless corners of the Buddhist world. In a nutshell, our "Nagarjuna" is not (as well as is ... and is is not etc. ) their "Nagarjuna." The difference is one of approach, in which our dance with Nagarjuna is less based on philosophical analysis and intellectual understanding, more by feeling in the bone, more "impressionistic", focused on praxis in emphasizing Zazen and all of life as the pivot point where all this quiet insight into the MMK is realized. For that reason, persons outside the Zen world ... and particularly outside the Soto Zen sphere ... have to be cautious in applying their methods, interpretations and assumptions to "our Nagarjuna" (or rather, our version of Nagarjuna).
In fact, I feel it is a sliding scale, with some schools' approaches being more on the philosophical side, some being more on the "feeling" side, and perhaps most somewhere between or a bit a both. However, the fact is that in the Soto world I believe we (beginning with Dogen, although an extremely well studied individual) tend to find intellectual and philosophical analysis and pondering of the "meaning of MMK" as actually creating barriers to understanding MMK through the mind's creation of categories, divisions, sides, arguments and distance which actually separate one from the piercing of categories, divisions, sides, arguments and distance that a work such as MMK is meant to reveal to the heart.
There are several writings on the relationship of Zen to Nagarjuna and the MMK. Some find a great influence of the MMK on Zen doctrine, some believe there is none ... all emphasize that the "Zen ways" of approaching Nagarjuna and the MMK are rather different from those in many other schools. On one extreme is this:
While any Mādhyamika influence on Zen is surely indirect, the latter tradition’s particular debt to the Prajñāpāramitā literature (the Vajracchedikā, or “Diamond,” Sūtra figures most importantly here) perhaps explains why many modern observers are inclined to see affinities with Madhyamaka.
Vladimir K notes:
Zen’s adoption of sunyata as a soteriological device negates all intellectual speculation and places the emphasis on the practical aspects of achieving enlightenment and liberation. At first, this seems quite different from Nagarjuna’s dialectical approach and it is indeed different. But the difference is only in the methodology, the upaya, not in the purpose. Both Nagarjuna and the old Zen masters were after the same goal: a method of awakening the ignorant and the suffering to the truth of Buddhism. The methods may have been different, but the purposes were identical. Zen Buddhism took up Nagarjuna’s dialectic and turned it into a dynamic and forceful teaching that brought many to truth and the ending of suffering. http://www.thezensite.com/ZenEssays/Nag ... arjuna.pdf
Hsueh-Li Cheng in "The Roots of Zen Buddhism" strongly advocates the connection of MMK to Zen, but even he notes:
Zen masters follow the Maadhyamika not to allow themselves to become attached even to the Buddha and Buddhism. It seems that the only main difference between Maadhyamika and Zen concerning this is that the former used logical tools and presented arguments to show that all speculative theories are unintelligible and should be discarded, while the latter did not engage in arguments but simply accepted the conclusion of the Maadhyamika reasonings and put it into practice.
http://www.thezensite.com/ZenEssays/Nag ... of_zen.htm
But perhaps the most on point essay regarding Nagarjuna and Dogen is this by scholar and practitioner David Loy, " "Language against its own mystifications: Deconstruction in Nagarjuna and Dogen"":
Why Nagarjuna and Dogen ...? Such a comparison is inviting because both are obvious and difficult. On the one hand, they are arguably the two greatest Mahayana thinkers, linked by their commitment to its understanding of the world and (if we accept the traditional account) by a transmission lineage that extends from Sakyamuni through Nagarjuna to Dogen and his successors. On the other hand, however, are vast cultural differences, due not only to the geography and the millennium that separate them but just as much to the disparity between their very different languages, Sanskrit and Japanese.
These linguistic differences are further reflected in their extraordinarily different---I am tempted to say opposite---textual styles. ... Dogen's major work, the Shobogenzo ..., written in his own very idiosyncratic Japanese, is as poetical and allusive as Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamakakarika is dialectical and dry. Ddgen's text is mostly metaphor and Nagarjuna's has almost none. While Nagarjuna seems preoccupied with splitting what some see as conceptual hairs, Dogen is concerned with exploring the semantic possibilities of Buddhist texts to discover new meanings, willing and even eager to "misinterpret" certain passages to make his point.
What, then, can be gained from comparing them? My argument is, first, that Nagarjuna and Dogen nonetheless point to many of the same Buddhist insights because they deconstruct the same type of dualities, most of which may be understood as versions of our commonsense but delusive distinction between substance and attribute, subject and predicate. ... The second part of this essay, however, is concerned with determining the limits of this similarity: for, although both texts work to undermine our dualistic ways of understanding ourselves "in" the world, they reach quite different conclusions about the possibility of language expressing a "true" understanding of the world---a disagreement that may reflect the different possibilities of their different languages.
Nagarjuna's dialectical arguments are foreign to Dbgen. In fact, the Shobogenzo is interested not in Buddhist philosophy as such, but in semantic analysis of passages from Buddhist Sutras and Ch'an texts. Such analyses are not inspired by any conventional piety toward such scriptures, for Dogen offers many deliberate, and often brilliant, "misinterpretations" of these passages. By his readiness to transgress the traditional readings and contradict orthodox teachings, Dogen is able to challenge our usual understanding and generate a new way of "taking" the world freed from our usual linguistic dualisms, including conventional Buddhist ones such as that between language and silence. ...
Dogen is doing more than twisting traditional texts to make them say whatever he wants them to mean. In the examples above, he is using the freedom of a poet to conflate a problematic dualism, that is, a deluded way of thinking that causes problems for us; and, despite the fact that this literary approach to language is so different from Nagarjuna's dialectical one, in each case there is a parallel with deconstructions in the Mulamadhyamakakarika. For example, ho-setsu denies any duality between the one who preaches the dharma and the dharma that is taught, even as many chapters of the Karikas challenge the duality between an agent and his or her action. Uji denies any duality between beings and their temporality, between springtime and its flowers, between us and our birth/death; this parallels Nagarjuna's deconstruction of the difference between time and things in chapters 19 and 13. The Bussho fascicle denies the duality between sentient beings and their Buddha-nature, which may be seen as another instance of Nagarjuna's repeated attack on the duality between things and their attributes. Higan-to (like many other reconstructions) denies the usual duality between practice and realization (means and ends), just as Nagarjuna's nirvana chapter deconstructs the usual Buddhist duality between sarm sara and nirvana.
In each case Dogen, like Nagarjuna, does not allow himself to be limited by the usual dualisms of our language, and of our thought. While Nagarjuna's dialectic exposes the unintelligibility of these dualisms by showing how we cannot relate the two terms back together, Dogen exploits the different resources of the Japanese language to concoct expressions that leap out of the bifurcations we get stuck in. For both thinkers, however, these deconstructions may be understood as conflations of various recurrences of the subject-predicate dualism: nirvana is not something I can attain; the dharma is not something I can preach; Buddha-nature is not something I have (or do not have); "my" time is not something distinguishable from me. This is all the more striking because, although Dogen sometimes refers to Nagarjuna (Jpn: Ryuju), these references are largely confined to quotations and passages from various Chinese collections, and so far as I know they do not reveal any familiarity with the arguments in primary texts such as the Mulamadhyamakakarika.
However, this basic similarity also serves to highlight the differences between them. Part of this difference is emphasis, a shift in focus necessary to respond to the historical development of Buddhist teachings in the thousand years between thema development due in no small part to Nagarjuna's enormous influence. As we have seen, the dualisms that most preoccupy Dogen are versions of the practice/enlightenment-means/ends bifurcation. Granted, nirvana is not something that can be attained, but it still needs to be realized, and by his time many traditional Ch'an/Zen stories and metaphors designed to encourage this process had themselves become more problematical than helpful, in his view.
Within the Buddhist tradition, this move from transcendence of language to reorientation within it is perhaps best exemplified by the difference between Nagarjuna and Dogen. The latter shows us that words and metaphors can be understood not just as instrumentally trying to grasp and convey truth (and therefore dualistically interfering with our realization of some truth that transcends words), but as being the truth-that is, as being one of the many ways that Buddha-nature is. To the many dualisms that Nagarjuna deconstructs, then, Dogen explicitly adds one more: he denies the dualism between language and the world. If we are the ones who dualize, why blame the victims? A birdsong, a temple bell ringing, a flower blooming, and Dogen's transpositions, too, blossoming for us as we read them: if we do not dualize between world and word, then we can experience the Buddha-dharma-our own "empty" nature-presencing and playing in each.
Both Buddhist thinkers exploit the very different strengths of their respective languages. The complex syntax of Nagarjuna's sophisticated Sanskrit permits precise and terse philosophical analysis. The looser syntax of Dbgen's Japanese, due to the greater flexibility and ambiguity of its Chinese ideographs, allows a poetic allusiveness that lends itself to his semantic transpositions. We have seen that this difference is further reflected in their respective attitudes toward language: to Nagarjuna it seems to be fundamentally problematical, for he limits himself to employing it negatively, solely to deconstruct the dualities that are delusive (from the higher point of view) although necessary in daily life (from the lower point of view). In contrast, Dogen views and uses language more positively, by emphasizing the innovative possibilities that Chinese and Japanese encourage but Nagarjuna's philosophical Sanskrit apparently did not.
http://www.thezensite.com/ZenEssays/Dog ... gainst.htm
Identical truths yet sometimes quite different in what and how revealed, reality approached and expressed in very different ways, each style and technique with its own poignancy and power.