Monday, September 14, 2009

Sodo Yokoyama-Distracted Thoughts

Here is a wonderful article from Sodo Yokoyama aka; "The Leaf Whistling Monk". Yokoyama was a disciple of Sawaki Roshi and the dharma brother of Uchiyama Roshi.

Distracting Thoughts

"All you have to do is decide that wherever you are is the best place there is. Once you start comparing one place to another, there's no end to it." -- Sodo Yokoyama

"My teacher, the late Sawaki Roshi, often made the following self-evaluation: 'I am an eternally deluded person. No one is as deluded as I am. I am deluded with gold trimmings. How clear it is to me when I do zazen!'

"What a strange thing this zazen is. When we practice it, distracting ideas, irrelevant thoughts — in short, delusions, which ordinary people are made of, suddenly seem to feel an irresistible temptation to arise and appear on the surface. Then there is a desire to drive these thoughts away, in irresistible desire to which our complete effort is added. Those who don't do zazen know nothing about this. Why is it that when we practice, deluded thoughts continue to surface one after the other? The reason, which we learn from Zazen, is that each one of us, from prince to beggar, is an ordinary (deluded) person. The attempt to drive these deluded thoughts away — delusion being so much nonsense (interfering with the happiness of oneself and others) — is also something brought home to us through zazen. We tentatively call this zazen that guides us in this way, 'Buddha'.

"According to this teaching, simply the awareness that you are deluded, which comes from practising zazen, makes you, in reality, a Buddha. It's zazen that teaches us that we too are deluded, and hence delivers us from this delusion. When we actually practice zazen and look carefully at all the deluded ideas that keep popping up, we realize how ordinary we are and how little we have to be proud of or to brag about; nothing to do other than quietly hide away. This is, after all, what we truly are.

"Satori is being enlightened to the fact that we are deluded. There is then the desire, however small, to stop these deluded acts. That is how ordinary people are saved by zazen. So we realize, beyond a doubt, our ordinariness through our zazen practice, and any departure from zazen (Buddha) will give rise to the inability to deal with these delusions and hence we will lose our way. We can say that the world has gone astray because it can't deal with its delusions...All the troubles in this world, political, economic and so forth, are created from situations in which the awareness of one's ordinariness is absent.

"Sawaki Roshi said, 'Those who are unaware of their ordinariness are from a religious point of view shallow and comical.'

"The devil — that is, illusion — when seen as the devil, can no longer exhibit its powers, and disappears of its own accord.

"Shakyamuni was enlightened beyond all doubt to the fact that he was an ordinary person and became a Buddha. Then he began to live the life of a Buddha. When you realize your ordinariness, you are a Buddha, and when you are a Buddha, no matter how many distracting ideas and irrelevant thoughts appear they are no match for a Buddha and hence no longer remain obstacles. Delusions that no longer obstruct us are called fantasies. The Buddha way — the way of peace — is turning of delusion into fantasies."

— Sodo Yokoyama 1907-1980

Thursday, August 6, 2009

My Life

Sawaki Roshi: Human beings don't seem to wake up unless they are compelled to compete with each other for a prize. It would not be strange to run a race if we were ostriches; it would not be strange to swim a race if we were fur seals; it would not be strange to scramble for a ball if we were kittens.

Uchiyama Roshi: Spectator sports are popular now. Some people watch games all the time and make a big deal out of them. They hardly have any time to reflect on themselves. I wonder about them. If they say that it's just entertainment, I agree with them. But entertaiment, like everything else must be judged must be judged form the perspective of a constant questioning of the value of the content of our lives.

Sawaki Roshi: Because their bored, in order to kill time, people are always agonizing , falling in love, drinking wine, reading novels, or watching sports; they are always doing things randomly and living from hand to mouth. For them this world is ukiyo (floating or transitory world). It is the place were people are always wobbling, window shopping, and going by detours.
Sawaki Roshi: Everywhere in this world, people feel bored, so they go to war brandishing deadly weapons as if they were children's toys, saying, "Right Wing" or "Left Wing." They do so because they think there must be something to it. But there isn't. Only the grave waits for us.
Sawaki Roshi: Human beings boast that Man is the lord of creation, but in fact human beings don't even know how to take care of themselves and watch sports or pursue other vapid forms of entertainment to avoid facing themselves and then justify it all by saying that they are just like everyone else.
Sawaki Roshi: When children nag about something, their parents scold them and tell them they are being unreasonable. These parents are also being unreasonable. This is Mumyo, ignorance of the true nature of existence, one of the twelve links in the chain of dependent origination.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

In the Family

Sawaki Roshi: Too often, the home is nothing more than a place where husband and wife, parents and children, spoil one another and bind each other up in fatal ties.

Uchiyama Roshi: I don't think I'm qualified to give advice to other people, but this world is a strange place. I say that because there are many people who come to me for advice about their familt problems. They open their hearts to me and tell me about their home lives, sometimes travelling a great distance only for that purpose. Since this is a temple, they feel safe here, thinking that what they say will not leak out to others. I have been listening to them one by one for a number of years, frequently hearing the same story. People often get married only out of mutual sexual attraction. Although they reach fifty and their sexual passion diminishes, they treat each other like strangers or even hate each other and share a disordered house. They want to divorce, but cannot, because of the opinions of others, or their children, or their economic situation.

Consider the relationship between parents and children. No matter how much they hate each other, they are "similar figures" and when the corners of similar figures come into contact, there can be trouble: passionate mother and passionate daughter, stubborn father and stubborn son, greedy parent couple and greedy young couple, unfeeling parents and unfeeling children. It would be good if they could realize they have horns pointing in the same direction and sympathize with one another. If they continually butt one another, its just endless trouble. In order to create a home that is truly a place of rest, consideration, and love, we should respect each other's feelings and opinions, reflect upon oursleves, and make an effort to live in harmony with others.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Ghosts and the power of suggestion

Sawaki Roshi: People often ask me if ghost exist. Anyone who thinks about such matters is a ghost.

Uchiyama Roshi: Sawaki Roshi always expressed himself unequivocally. As long as you don't believe in ghosts, there are no ghosts, but once you become confused to whether ghost exist or not, you become a ghost yourself because of your confusion.

When someone believes a spiritualist who tells him that he is haunted by an ancestor's soul, or that they can call up the soul of a dead person and solve all his problems, he becomes firghtened, is swindled out of his money, and loses his wits. One who can't walk a straight line in such matters really is a ghost. Moreover, a person who is easily influenced by the power of suggestion is unreliable. When he gets sick he gets sick and his condition deteriorates, he becomes really foolish. Even after his body has recovered from the illness, he still suffers, thinking that his doctor has given up on him. And he can't regain his wits because of the suggestion that he is sick. Under these conditions, he can easily be influenced by a charismatic religious leader and after a mesmerizing prayer, incanation, or laying on of hands believes that he has been cured. Anyone who is easily manipulated is a ghost.

Sawaki Roshi:
People often say that they saw the spirit of a dead person or that they dreamed of so and so when he was dying. It's just another detail in the vast landscape of samasra.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Given that I will die

Sawaki Roshi:

A shower
in the middle of a fight
about irrigation.

After a long drought, they fight over water for the rice fields. In the middle of the fight, a shower hits them. Since the fight about irrigation depends on the condition of dry weather, if it rains, there's no problem. There will be no difference between a beautiful and an ugly woman when they become eighty years old. The original self is empty and clear.

Uchiyama Roshi: Because the fight about irrigation depends on the condition of dry weather, if it rains, there's no problem. Let's see: there is the possibility that if I go out now, I will have a car accident that will finish me off. If I were rundown by a car and knocked out, my thoughts, "I want this, I want that," my frustrated anger. "Oh....that fool!" or my longing for a certain woman would all be resolved quite spontaneously, like a shower in the middle of a fight about irrigation. As long as we are alive, we will have problems which are based on the assumption that we will continue to live. But it is also important to look at these problems with the assumption that in the next moment, we will be in a coffin. Then we can live in a more leisurely fashion, knowing that we don't have to get stuck in our own opinions, gritting our teeth and furrowing our brows. In a word, zazen is to look back on this world as if you were already in your grave.

Sawaki Roshi: Imagine thinking of your life after your death. You see it didn't matter.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Everyone is naked

Sawaki Roshi: To wander from place to place in this transitory world is to pursue "name". A person is born naked. But then he is given a name, registered, and covered with clothes, and a nipple is stuffed into his mouth, and so on. When he grows up you say, "He is great, strong, clever, rich." You find consolation only in words. In fact, everyone is just naked.

Uchiyama Roshi: Rousseau said, Even emperors, nobles and great, wealthy men were born naked and poor, and at the end of their lives they must die naked and poor." This is absolutely true. For a short while between birth and death, human beings put on various and complicated clothes. Some wear beautiful costumes, some rags, some prision uniforms. There are the clothes of status and class, of joy and anger, of sadness and comfort, of delusion and enlightenment. We unwittingly take these clothes to be out true selves, and devote ourselves to obtaining, by any means, a satisfactory wardrobe.

As long as we live, we must wear some kind of uniform. I hope that we don't forget that our true selves are naked, and remembering these naked selves, we look once more at our clothed lives and put them in order. In the Heart Sutra it says, "No birth, no extinction, no defilement, no purity." This is the true, naked self, which has cast off even the clothes of birth and death and enlightenment and delusion.

Sawaki Roshi: When a woman dies, it doesn't make any difference whether she is beautiful or ugly. Is a beauty's skull superior to an ugly woman's? That has nothing to do with truth.
There are no rich, no poor, no great, no plain. These are only words that make us anxious.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


Sawaki Roshi: If you have no money, you are in trouble. But it's good to know that there are more important things than money. If you have no sexual desire, something is wrong. But it's good to know that there are more important things than sexual desire.

Uchiyama Roshi: If I were super-rich, I would by everything. If I gave a lot of money to neighbors and people around me, they would greet me with smiles. When someone is in trouble, in most cases they are suffering from a shortage of cash. I would give them money unsparingly and solve their problems. If I got sick, I would go to one of those hospitals furnished like aluxury hotel and hire several beautiful, young nurses. I could recieve medical treatment while feasting my eyes. When I got old, I could make people think that I was a kind and trustworthy person. I could enjoy a fabulous second youth. I could act as a peacemaker saying, "Hey, I'll buy the Vietnam War!" and resolve the conflict by giving both sides a fat lot of money.

There is always disagreement in the areas of economics, politics, and philosophy. Although they all seem to be very complicated, most problems can be solved with money, if we have enough of it. But when you believe it is possible to solve any problem with money, you become totally dependent on it. Unfortunately, the problem of the self can't be solved with money.

Once I met a man who had inherited a large fortune from his parents, but who was so worried about losing it that he became neurotic. We read that in Sweden there are many people who commit suicide out of despair, even though the country ensures a livelihood for all its citizens and has no problems with its economy. When people look into themselves, they do not find their lives at all settled.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Our inertial lives

Sawaki Roshi: A strange creature, the human being; groping in the dark with an intelligent look.
Human beings strive only to avoid boredom.

A lot of things in this world attract you. But once you do, or get them, they're worthless.
There are people who never find their own way in life.

Uchiyama Roshi: If I broach the subject of the essence of your life, you might feel as if some old, moldy clothes were being given to you. But when we reflect deeply on thge essence of our own lives, we will realize that this is not an old, moldy subject, but our lives as we live them are. Why? Because we get up sheerly through inertia, eat breakfast through inertia, encounter our aquaintences through inertia, watch televison through inertia, read magazines through inertia, and go to work through inertia. We spend most of our time this way.

How do we find our lives worth living at all? We are always running after one thing or another so that we don't have to consider this question. When we play mah-jong, we find the significance of life in winning a game. When we go to a department store, we find the significance of life in shopping. If we can't afford to buy things, we find the significance of life in imaginig that we could. When we watch baseball or sumo wrestling, we find the significance of life in hoping our favorite athletes will win. These activites are merely diversions. No matter how clamourous the times in which we live, we should sincerely reflect on the meaning of life.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Calculating The Difference

Sawaki Roshi: During World War Two, I visited a colliery and went into a coal mine in Kyushu.
Like the colliers, I put on a hat with a lamp and went down in an elevator. For some time, I thought the elevator went down steadily. Then I started to fell as if it were going up. I shined my light in the coal shaft and realized, "Oh! It's still going down." When the elevator starts going down, you actually feel that it's going down, but once the speed becomes fixed, it's possible to feel as if it were going up. That's the other side of the balance. In the ups and downs of life we are deceived by the difference in balance.
Saying, "I've got Satori!" is only feeling the difference in the balance. Saying, "I'm deluded!" is only feeling another difference in the balance. To say it's delicious or it tastes terrible, to be rich, to be poor, all are just feeling about the differences in the balance.
In most cases, common sense only shows a difference in the balance.
A human being puts his "I" into everything without knowing it. "Oh, that was good!" he sometimes says. What is good? It's just good for him, that's all.
The reason that we human beings are often exhausted is that we do things with personal profit in mind.

Uchiyama Roshi: Usually, we are terribly concerned about luck. Are there really such things as good luck and bad luck? There aren't. There are only calculating measures. Only when expect to make things profitable for ourselves, is it possible to feel that we didn't make it. Only when we compete with others, is it possible to feel the difference in the balance as loss.
True religion takes no notice of the human desire to make things profitable for ourselves or our calculating measurement. If we throw away our ordinary expectations and take an attitude of settling down on whichever side of the balance we fall, it is right there that a truly peaceful life unfolds. Doing zazen is to stop being an ordinary person.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Collecting Food and Hatching Eggs

Sawaki Roshi: Everyone steeps himself in his own life or lives, blindly believing that there must be something to his daily activity. But in reality, a human being's life does not differ from a swallow's, the males collecting food and the females hatching eggs.

Uchiyama Roshi: This is the season swallows are flying about. People working in the shadow of tall buildings in the city probably miss seeing swallows hatching in the spring. It's a lovely site to see them during spring and summer, isn't it? Some people just get by in life, live from day to day, and never see their lives as a whole. Kobo-Daishi(774-835, the founder of the Shingon Sect) called them Ishoteiyoshin, a flock of stray sheep.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Zen Master Patrick

Here is a funny parody on Zen.

Go to minute 3:30. In this instance, Stanley Squarepants is representative of what actually happens in zazen.

Enjoy :)


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

One's Own Opinion

Sawaki Roshi: Human beings are not the same. Our consciousness is our own individual possession.
Everyone just sees the world from their own hole. They drag their opinion and thoughts along with them; that's why there is so much trouble in this world.

Uchiyama Roshi: Usually we consider ourselves to be very important. We take it for granted that our own thoughts are the best measure of things and judge others' activities and the conditions around us as to whether they are good or bad. When things do not go well according to our judgement, we become angry , get into trouble, and carry around bad feelings afterwards. At times like these, if you can see that this world does not exist only for you, and that your evaluation of things is not absolute, you will be able to breathe more freely and need not cause trouble for others.

Prince Shotoku(574-622 A.D.) expressed it skillfully in the Constitution of Seventeen Articles. He said: "If you are right, then others are wrong; if others are right, then you are wrong. You are not right all the time; others are not right all the time. We are all nothing but ordinary people." This means not only others but you are also just an ordinary person.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Giving Credit Where Credit is Due

On this lazy Sunday I decided to pick up "To Meet The Real Dragon" by Gudo Nishijima and give it a read( for the millionth time).

What strikes me about this book, and Nishijima's writings in general(as well as Uchiyama's), is the unique approach he takes to explaining Buddhism and the teachings of Master Dogen. I'd go out on a limb and say there has never been a teacher like him. It is this latter statement that I feel has set Nishijima apart from all other Zen teachers in the last 100 years.

It seems to me that the orthodox Soto Zen community all but ignores him. In my opinion this is a good thing. Everything you read on the net seems to either be an over intellectualized version of Dogen's teachings or a handful of quizzical statements meant to take you "beyond words." Nishijma doesn't bite that bait. He gives you the most direct answer everytime. Everything relies on the balance of the ANS.

Too simplistic one might say? I don't think so. It is actually quite brilliant. No more chasing your tail, just fold your legs, face the wall, and align your spine vertcally.

This is probably quite threatening to those who have spent their whole lives trying to understand Dogen and Buddhism. If you break all of Buddhism down to keeping the balanced state, you have taken away their toys. Nothing more to play with and talk about. No reason to keep doing Dharma talks.

However, just because the toys have been taken away doesn't mean they won't be given back or serve no purpose. When you understand how to properly take care of your toys or tools, you can use them more efficiently and enjoy them more.

"To Meet The Real Dragon" is a great example of adding a new twist to the typical party line, that allow you to see the same old BS in a new light. It especially reveals a much more positive outlook on the human capacity for the proper use of logic. We are in the 21st century and if the teachings of Master Dogen and Buddhism are to survive they need to be packaged in big ol' box o' logic that appeals to those with a scientific bent. No more bizzare language, just simple and direct techings that doesn't waste a moment of time.

The biggest example of this is his and Mike Cross's translation of Hishiryo. I mean, how many internet arguements have ensued over the meaning of 'non-thinking.' Even the Soto Zen Text Project prefers to translate it this way. Nishijma/Cross go with 'It is different from thinking."

I don't know a lick about the Japanese language, so for all I know 'non-thinking' may be a more accurate translation, but it certainly isn't more direct to a westerner. I personally like 'different from thinking' better. Thoughts are thoughts, thinking is the process where by thoughts get linked together in a chain. It is a process of conception. Zazen lays that aside. We are not supposed to mess with the thoughts and give them a chance to meet each other and turn into thinking. We perform the act of sitting upright and letting our thoughts go. It is literally an act that is 'different from thinking.' What is so complicated about that? Nothing if you ask me.

The problem is that 'different from thinking' isn't something nebulous that can be argued over by scholars or the orthodoxy. In a way it destroys their God. I think the arguements over the literal meanings of Dogen's and the Buddha's works often turn into a shit throwing contest. It really is no different than argueing over Chrisitian scripture.

I'll finish my ramble for now, but I'd like to add that I am a total amature who knows nothing.
I just really find benifit in the writings of Nishijma and the like who use words as the logical tools that they are intended to be.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Human Advancement

Sawaki Roshi: After all their efforts, racking their brains as intensely as possible, people today have comeback to a deadlock. Human beings are idiots. We set ourselves up as wise men and subsequently do foolish things.
In spite of scientific advancement, human beings haven't come to greatness.
Since the dawn of history, human beings have constantly fought with each other. No matter how big or small a war is, the root cause is our minds, which have a tendency to make us growl at each other.
You should not forget that modern scientific culture has developed on the level of our lowest consciousness.
"Civilization" is always the talk of the world. But civilization and culture are nothing but the collective elaboration of illusory desires. No matter how many wrinkles of illusory desire you have on your brain, from the point of view of Buddhism, they will never bring about meaningful advancement for human beings. "Advancement" is the talk of the world, but what direction are we going in?

Uchiyama Roshi: People today are dazzled by advances in science and technology and take human advancement to be identical with the advances of science. Because the advances of science are significant primarily within the contexts of scientific disciplines, we must clearly distinguish them from human advancement. Arnold Toynbee said, "Our modern scientific culture increased the speed of Adam's orginal sin with explosive energy. That is all. And we never released ourselves from orginal sin." Real human advancement would release us from the mind of the lowest consciousness, which says, "I hope to make easy gain. In order to do that, I must struggle with others."

Monday, May 18, 2009

Loyalty part 2

Sawaki Roshi: With the Sino-Japanese War(1894-1895) and the Russo-Japanese War(1904-1905), we enlarged Japanese territory and annexed Korea. We believed that it really happened. But when we lost World War Two, we lost everything and tuely understood that we had only incurred the enimity of other countries.
People often ask about loyalty, but I wonder if they know the direction of their loyalty and their actions. I myself was a soilder during the Russo-Japanese War and fought hard on the battlefield. But since we had lost what we had gained, I can see that what we did was useless. There is absolutely no need to wage war.

Uchiyama Roshi: Because Sawaki Roshi fought in the Russo-Japanese War, his words are not only for others, but also for himself, as self-reflection. We who were educated before World War Two were taught that Japan wa the greatest country in the world and absolutely righteous in all its actions and that we would obtain personal immortality if we were faithful to it. We really believed it. After the war, most Japanese could see that it was not true, and some of them reacted against nationalism.

When we reflect upon our past and think about our future, we should question not only loyalty to Japan but loyalty to any nation. Whichever country you are devoted to, eventually it will only be a page in the book of history. "If the troops win, their side is called loyal; if the troops lose, their side is called a 'rebel'." The important thing is to have a clear-eyed view of the self and to behave sanely and soberly.

Sawaki Roshi: What is the true self? It is brilliantly transparent, like a deep blue sky, and there is no gap between the true self and all sentient beings.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Aiming at No Target Sitting in the Midst of Contradictions

Here is part two of the talk I posted yesterday. Another good one. On a side note, Okumura Sensei's website has just been updated and has a very good introduction to zazen audio file.



Aiming at No Target Sitting in the Midst of Contradictions
Second in a Two-Part Lecture by Shohaku Okumura

When our discriminating mind tries to understand what zazen is or is "good" for, then zazen becomes the object and we become the subject. If we look at it that way, then we are already thinking. That is really a problem. In zazen, there is no self-observation and no self-evaluation. We need to go beyond this subject-and-object dichotomy.

In "Opening the Hand of Thought," Kosho Uchiyama Roshi writes: "When we actually do zazen, we should be neither sleeping nor caught up in our own thought. We should be wide-awake -aiming at the correct posture with our flesh and bones. Can we ever attain this? Is there such a thing as succeeding or hitting the mark? This is where zazen becomes unfathomable." We cannot measure or observe it. We cannot say: "My zazen is getting better." If we say it that way, we are already thinking, it's not zazen. It's the same as when we are sleeping. We sleep almost one third of our life, and yet we cannot say, "I am asleep." We can say, "I want to sleep" or "I'm sleepy." If I say I'm sleeping, I'm not sleeping. Zazen is the same thing.

Uchiyama Roshi writes: "In zazen, we have to vividly aim at the correct posture, yet there is never a mark to hit. Or at any rate, the person who is doing zazen should never perceive whether he has hit the mark or not." If we perceive it, we're already thinking and we're already off the mark. When we are hitting the mark, there is no perception. We are just sitting.

Uchiyama Roshi says, "If the person doing zazen thinks he is really getting good or that he has hit the mark, he's merely thinking his zazen is good, while actually, he has become separated from the reality of his zazen." Yet that is what we all want to do. We want to make sure we are in the correct zazen. We want to make sure this is good for me, that this practice is meaningful for my life. Unless we believe it or think this way, it's really difficult to practice zazen. So before we sit, we have to really try to understand this point.

Uchiyama Roshi says that when we have a target we can aim. But if we know that there isn't a target, who is going to attempt to aim? I think all of us know why we have to sit, just aiming without hitting the target. It is because the person hitting and the target are the same thing.

This is not only true in zazen. Say we are running. The action of running and the person running is one thing. What can zazen be unless it is this person? This person is zazen itself. And what is zazen unless it is this person sitting? Zazen and the person sitting really is one thing. There is no separation. But when we explain it, we have to say I am "doing" zazen. In that case, there's a concept of we and a concept of action-zazen or sitting. But in actuality, there's no action without this person and no person without this action.

Our zazen is based on the essential philosophy of Mahayana Buddhism-that is, emptiness. Emptiness means no self and no other. Everything is connected as one thing. All beings are connected to each other. All beings interpenetrate each other. There's no separation between subject and object, particularly in our zazen. The subject is this person, and the object is also this person.

We practice zazen with this body and mind, but we can't practice zazen if we don't think about sitting. We are here because we want to sit, and we think sitting is good. I came from Minnesota to sit together with you, and the reason why I'm here is I think zazen is good for me to practice. Without thinking we can't take any action, but once we make up our mind we should do our action with moment by moment awareness.

There is a Zen expression: "Break through the bottom of the bucket." In zazen, the bottom of our thinking drops out. It's like a ladle of water running through a strainer. We have to break through the bottom of the bucket, and yet, according to Uchiyama Roshi, zazen is not a method to break through to anything. Usually we think it is. We practice in order to attain a certain stage of mind that is free from thinking. If our zazen is a means to break through the bottom of the bucket, then there's a target. That's the problem. That is a common idea in Zen-we have to break through our thinking, and our zazen is a method to do it. If we practice in that way, already there is a target and the basis of our practice is hitting that target-that is to break through our thinking. That is a contradiction. We just sit in the midst of this contradiction, in the correct posture, not thinking and not sleeping.

There's no target, no way we can judge whether we are doing good zazen, there is no way we can make sure if this practice is good for us or not. This is a basic contradiction in our zazen. We just sit in the midst of this contradiction. That is our practice. Although we aim, we can never perceive hitting the mark. We just sit in the midst of this contradiction that is absolutely ridiculous when we think about it with our small minds.

Sawaki Roshi is my teacher's teacher. One of his most famous sayings is "Zazen is good for nothing." It's difficult to sell something that is good for nothing. It's like selling you the air. When we practice this kind of zazen and just sit, how unsatisfied or completely lost we may feel. Our zazen is not an easy thing.

There are many different traditions in Buddhism. The Theravada tradition in Thailand, Burma, and Sri Lanka. The Mahayana schools in China, Korea, Japan and Vietnam, and the Vajrayana Tradition in Tibet. Each school has its own approach to meditation, and what it means to practice meditation. In Buddhism, skillful means are important. Those different paths are considered to be skillful means to encourage people not to stop practice. Teachers and teachings show a kind of a goal that encourages practice, and when a student reaches that stage, the teacher shows the next goal. That's the way a student practices with encouragement. That's the meaning of stages in Buddhist practice, but Dogen Zenji says our practice is very unique. He doesn't use this kind of skillful means.

If a person is just thrown in the ocean without knowing how to swim, there is no step-by-step instruction. In the midst of the ocean of the Dharma, we have to learn how to swim by ourselves. We have serious problems in each moment when we practice in this way. We always have to be questioning. We always have to inquire about what we are doing, and whether our practice is heading in the right direction or not.

In our practice, the function of the teacher is different from the Rinzai school. In Rinzai, teacher and student sit facing each other and the teacher gives a question, and the student answers. In our practice, the teacher doesn't face the student. Uchiyama Roshi says, "I never face my students and watch them, but I am facing Buddha." And we face Buddha as well. As a practitioner, we have to walk with our own two feet in the same direction our teacher is walking.

In our practice there's no goal, no target to hit. We don't feel safe. But Uchiyama Roshi says this is the most important and wonderful part of our practice. When we are confused, and insecure, that is the best thing: "This small foolish self easily becomes satisfied or complacent. We need to see complacency for what it is-just a continuation of the thoughts of our foolish self." If we feel satisfied, we should question whether we are doing the right thing or not. When we are doing things based on my thinking, my desire, and even if our desire is desire to be enlightened, to be free from our egocentricity, from ourselves, there's a basic contradiction. This desire or aspiration which makes us practice is in a sense an obstruction in our practice. The goal of Buddhist practice is to be free from ego. Our desire to be free from ego comes out of ego. That is a problem. How we can go beyond this desire even to become Buddha?

This is really an essential point in our practice. Dogen Zenji said we should give up even the aspiration to become Buddha in our zazen. And this is the meaning of just sitting. When we practice in this way, just aiming at and letting go even of the aspiration to be enlightened, then Buddhahood is there. When we are actually doing that letting go, then Buddha nature is truly revealed. When we give up our gaining mind, then our true life force arises and is actualized.

He concludes by saying: "It is precisely at the point where our small foolish self remains unsatisfied, or completely bewildered, that the immeasurable natural life beyond the thought of that self functions. It is precisely at the point where we become completely lost that life operates and the power of Buddha is actualized."

This is a really important point. Keep this in your mind, when you practice or whenever you read Buddhist texts. Then you will find out what this means. And please don't think about this when you sit.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Mind and Zazen

Here is one of my favorite articles. It was a talk given by Shohaku Okumura at the Stillpoint Zen Center in Pittsburgh. Enjoy!

Mind and Zazen
A Lecture by Shohaku Okumura

Posture, breathing and mind are the three most important points in our practice. This morning I'd like to talk about mind in our zazen or meditation. Actually, we do nothing with our mind. Why we do nothing is a very important point in understanding the meaning of our practice. I think Uchiyama Roshi is one of the few people who could explain why in an understandable way for modern people. So I'd like to share his teaching with you this morning about the quality or nature of our sitting meditation practice.

In "Opening the Hand of Thought," as a conclusion or explanation of how to sit and how to breathe, he said doing correct zazen "means taking the correct posture and entrusting everything to it." It seems very simple, and yet it's not easy.

So it is with our mind. We are usually doing something with our mind. We are always like a hunter. We want to hunt something, and we have tools to catch it. When we have some object or gain, we think, "What is the best way to get it?" When we don't have an object, how we can catch it? That's a problem. And we are confused about it.

Not only in the practice of zazen but in Buddhist teachings, the basic philosophy or understanding about reality is: no separation between self and others, subject and object. And since we are a hunter, there's an object and subject. As far as we are in that kind of relationship with the object or things we want, we are against the basic philosophy of Buddhism. Even when the gain is enlightenment or reality or peace of mind, if it's a gain or object, our attitude is going against the philosophy of emptiness. Emptiness means no subject and no object, everything working together. So actually this is one life, and there's no one who is hunting and who is hunted.

In our meditation, the whole is our life. When we want to attain peacefulness of mind or some kind of insight or wisdom, that is ourselves. The one who wants to do it is ourselves, so both subject and object are ourselves. And also in the case of meditation, we meditate and the object of meditation is reality or truth or nirvana or our true self. If we watch our true self, like we're watching the mirror, what we can see is only the reflection. We cannot see this person. So actually, subject cannot be seen. It's simple reality. We cannot see our eyes. This is a difficult point to understand and to practice. The problem is ourselves, and our intention to see it. We have to be very careful about this, and how we can deal with it. That is a main point to understand our practice.

Our practice is a really unusual, unique practice. We have no object to watch or meditate. So actually, our sitting practice is not meditation or contemplation, because there is no object.

It's really important to first have a kind of intellectual understanding about what our practice is. When we sit on the cushion, we should forget about it, and just sit. It's the same as when we drive a car, or when we learn how to drive a car. First we have to study about the parts of the car, and how to deal with it. But when we really drive a car, we should forget about that knowledge, and just drive.

The same is true for our meditation practice. First we have to understand it. When we really practice, we should forget it and just sit. Intellectual understanding is also important in our practice. While we are in the zazen position, if we continue our thoughts, we are thinking and no longer doing zazen. So we have to think before we sit and practice zazen, or after we stand up. Uchiyama Roshi says: "Zazen is not thinking; nor is it sleeping. Doing zazen is to be full of life aiming at holding a correct zazen posture." Thinking and sleeping, or in Dogen Zenji's expression, dullness and destruction, are two problems in our zazen.

Uchiyama Roshi says that if we become sleepy while doing zazen, our energy becomes dissipated and the body limp. If we pursue our thoughts, our posture will become stiff. He writes: "Zazen is neither being limp and lifeless nor being stiff. Our posture must be full of life and energy." So in our zazen, we should be really awake and full of energy. Zazen is not thinking and not sleeping, just being there.

And he says, this posture of not chasing after thinking and not being sleepy is important, not only in our zazen but in our day-to-day lives, too. He says it's like driving a car. If the driver is drunk, sleepy, or nervous, this too is dangerous. Being too caught up in our thinking while we are driving is also dangerous, because we don't see things around ourselves.

This really applies to any kind of work, any activity. The life force should be neither stagnant, or dull, nor rigid. It should be relaxed, awake and relaxed. The most essential thing is that our life force live to its fullest potential. Zazen is the most condensed form of life functioning as wide awake life.

The practice that directly and purely manifests that life is the most crucial thing in our life, and at the same time, a tremendous task. It's not an easy thing. You need to be really mindful, not too caught up in thinking or not sleepy. Then we can be aware of things happening inside and outside of ourselves. This is really difficult because we want to know the effect or result or benefit we get from that. When we are thinking benefit, then our zazen becomes object again-self and others, subject and object, separated. We cannot observe it. We can just keep doing.

Often when we try to understand, we have to use language. The basic function of language-thinking, using words and concepts-is separation. So there's a basic contradiction between our outer life, which is one with all beings, and thinking. Even when we think that we are one with all beings, still we separate from the idea that we are separate from all beings. There is no way to become one by using words. The only possible way is by using negative expressions-something like "not two." That's why Buddhist or Zen phrases or expressions are paradoxical or negative. Only by negating our thinking or intellection can we express the reality before separation of subject and object. [To be continued]

Monday, May 11, 2009

Loyalty part 1

Sawaki Roshi: When Hojo's troops attacked Masashige Kusunoki's Chihaya castle, it was said that fallen warriors of the Hojo Clan were praised by their friends as they met "gloroius death" on the battlefield:

" A man lays down his life in vain for the sake of fame, why doesn't he give up clinging to life for the sake of the Dharma?"

Monday, May 4, 2009

The hallucination caused by quantity

Sawaki Roshi: Because modern religious groups develop on a large scale, many people eventually think that these institutions represent true religion. A large number of believers does not make a religion true. If large numbers are good, the number of ordinary people in the world is immense. People often try to do things by forming groups and outnumbering the opposition. But they make themselves stupid in this way. Forming a party is a good example of group paralysis. To stop being in group paralysis and to become the self which is only the self, is the practice of zazen.

Uchiyama Roshi: No matter how many coal cinders there are, they are just coal cinders. But if a huge amount appears before them, people will be impressed by the volume and think it's significant. People mistake quantity for quality. Some people, understanding mob psychology and taking advantage of it might say, "Let's form a group, organize, build a huge temple and become rich and powerful."

True religion does not cater to human desires for money, fame social position, or health. To lead a life based on religious insight is to deeply examine the universal human ideal, realize it within oneself, and live it moment by moment. If something mistakenly referred to as religion spreads everywhere by flattering the desires of the masses, it shouldn't be called a world religion. We must see it as a heresy prevailing over the whole world like an epidemic. A religion that honestly examines the universal human ideal and shows human beings how to realize it can be called a world religion, even if only one, or half a person devotes his life to it.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Vouge

Sawaki Roshi: Often a kid does things by blindly following others. When his friend eats a potato, he wants to eat one. If his friend wants candy, he wants some. When someone he knows gets a Kintama-bue (a bamboo whistle with a balloon attached to one end), he begs his parents, "Please buy a kintama-bue for me." And he is not always a kid.

Uchiyama Roshi: At the time that Dakkochans (a type of plastic doll) were in fashion, I read a letter in the readers' column of the newspaper. It said, "Because my daughter wanted to have a Dakkochan, we went to buy one at a department store. We had to stand in line, but they sold out while we waited our turn. We have a very disappointed daughter. Please produce many dolls for the girls so that everyone who wants one can get one."

It was really a stupid letter, but I found it interesting because it expresses an attitude that is so common these days. I remember the letter exactly; the mother complained as if she were weeping. Dakkochans would soon go out of fashion and no one would pay anymore attention to them, but for her, being behind the times was a fate worse than death. Similarly, parents think that in order to go to a first class primary school, their childeren must go to a first class kindergarden, so they stand in line in order to obtain admission. (Acceptance is base on the ordr of arrival.) Kyoiku-mama wants her chideren to play the piano, so they go into debt to buy one.
By following the fads of the day in buying things, many people find their lives worth living. First, three kinds of electric appliances; next a camera; after that a new car; and then an air conditioner. "Grow up a little" is my immediate response.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Mob Psychology

Sawaki Roshi: Mob psychology seems so strange to me. If people don't know anything they'd better not say anything. People do things, say things, an hang on to others, without any convictions of their own. They don't know themselves at all. This is ukiyo, the floating world.
Although you think you did a brave deed in trying circumstances, if you did it imitating others, it cannot be called a truely brave deed.
Do not lose your head in distracting circumstances. Don't be intoxicated in an intoxicating atmosphere. This is the only true wisdom. Do not be won over to any idea, or "ism", or any orginization. Have nothing to do with the big fool called "human being."

Uchiyama Roshi: The recent trouble at Waseda University is a good example. I myself was a student at Waseda during a strike in 1931, and I wactched the whole process of the student movement from within. I can appreciate how easily people can become intoxicated in such an atmosphere. Next time however, instead of passing around pamphlets, they should put big banners on the clock tower that read, ALTHOUGH YOU THINK YOU DID A BRAVE DEED IN TRYING CIRCUMSTANCES, IF YOU DID IT IMITATING OTHERS, IT CAN'T BE CALLED A TRUELY BRAVE DEED AT ALL, and DO NOT LOSE YOUR HEAD IN DISTRACTING CIRCUMSTANCES, and DON'T BE INTOXICATED BY AN INTOXICATING ATMOSPHERE and demostrate while looking at those banners.

Sawaki Roshi: To do zazen is to look at the world anew after being in hibernation.
It is best not to anything but zazen. If you do something else, maybe the devil made you do it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Group Paralysis part 2-Uchiyama's Commentary

Uchiyama Roshi: In Buddhism, the problem of delusion is often mentioned. The importance of the various forms of delusion has differed from one period to another. In ancient India, the biggest delusion was thought to be sex, so Buddhist practitioners tried hard to repress their sexual desires.

Dogen Zenji said, "Attachment to fame is worse than violating one of the precepts," and he regarded chasing after fame and wealth as the worst form of delusion because in his day, many Buddhist preist in Nara, and on Mts Koya and Hiei competed with each other for fame and wealth.

Practitioners must be aware of the delusions of sexual desire and chasing after fame and wealth. But by coining the term "group paralysis" Sawaki Roshi has pointed out a major delusion of modern times. Today men and women live their lives relying on groups and organizations and simply drift along in them without forming any real roots. Buddhism is the practice of waking up from all forms of delusion, of opening the "clear eyes of the self".

Monday, April 13, 2009

Laughter Through The Tears

After my last post I decided to copy Uchiyama's book into a PDF document. Here it is. Let me know if you are having trouble opening it and I'll email it to you.



Group Paralysis-Part 1-Sawaki Roshi

Sawaki Roshi: When a person is alone, he's not so bad. When a group is formed, paralysis occurs, and people become so confused that they cannot judge what is right and wrong. Some people go into a group situation on purpose, just to experience group paralysis, even paying a fee. Often people advertise in order to bring people together for some political or spiritual purpose and only create group paralysis. Buddhsit practitioners keep some distance from society, not to escape from it, but to avoid paralysis.

My note: This is an extremely potent teaching from Sawaki Roshi. I was born and raised(and still live) in the Washington D.C. area, so you can probably guess the type of "group paralysis" I've been exposed to. The worst of it comes from those of great affluency. Anyone looking for a great book on the nature of mass movements should check out Eric Hoffer's "The True Believer". Classic.

From now one I'm going to psot Sawaki's comment one day and Uchiyama's the next. I type extremely slow and it is taking me longer than I originally thought to enter the both of them, especially because Uchiyam was quite verbose.

Speaking of Uchiyama, I found this the other day: It is a book by Uchiyama called "Laughter Through The Tears" and is his thoughts on a life of Takuhatsu. As far as I know this is the only place this book exist.

Thanks to everyone who stops by.


Monday, April 6, 2009

The Production of Sutras

Sawaki Roshi: The person who has left home must create his own life.

Uchiyama Roshi: This was one of his favorite sayings. The "homeless life" was his creation. Preaching the dharma by using colloquial in profound and inventive ways instead of using Buddhist technical terms was his own uniques style. But as his disciple, if I merely imitate his life or only repeat his sayings, I will not be following his teaching. If I am to be his true disciple, I must go beyond him and create my own way of life and express Buddhism in my own words. So, I can't be satisfied by only repeating or explaining his remarks. He often said, "All Buddhist scriptures are only footnotes to Zazen." I want to continue to practice Zazen even more intensely than I did before his death. I also want to describe the meaning of Zazen in a language that is intelligible to modern mena and women.

Buddhism has become stagnent becuase monks and scholars only expound the old Buddhist scriptures. No one produces sutras for our age. For several centuries around the time of christ, the extensive Mahayana buddhist scriptures were produced by "Zazen-men." they were responsible for the rise of a vivid Mahayana Buddhism. I would like this to be a new age for the production of Mahayan Buddhist scriptures. Religion sinks and loses its vitalty in mere exposition and maintenence of the pre-established religious order. Only when each and everyone of us seeks the reality of ourselves for ourselves and responsibley creates our own life, will religion be a real scource of transformation in this age.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

How to Sit

When you enter a zazen hall, it is not just to practice zazen - you also have to keep to the rules of the hall. First, go to your seat and bow toward your cushion, turn around and bow the opposite direction, then place your behind on the zafu, taking care not to use more than half of it. Don't sit on the full cushion. Your zafu is just as important for your zazen as is the sword for a samurai. It is important that it has the right size and height for your body.

Now place your right foot high up on your left thigh, then place the left foot high up on the right thigh. Your knees should rest firmly on the mat, just like shells that attach themselves to a rock in the ocean.

Next, place your right hand on your left foot, palm facing upwards. Then put the palm of the left hand on top of the right hand, with thumb tips touching each other. After that, sway your body left and right, making first big movements that gradually become smaller, until after seven or eight movements you settle firmly in the zazen posture. Take one deep breath and relax your shoulders completely. Push your lower back forward. Resting on your hip bone, your spine should be straight and unmoving.

Stretch your neck as if you tried to pierce with your skull through the ceiling. Draw back the chin. Sitting like this, your nose should be straight above your navel, and your ears straight above the shoulders. Put the tongue against the roof of the mouth, while the back teeth sit on each other. Keep the eyes slightly open and cast them down on the tatami 3 to 4 feet in front of you.

Take care not to pull the inner organs upward. That doesn't mean though that you should exert any force down in your lower belly. The inner organs should rest naturally in the body. If you are too hard on your organs, you'll become sick. Breathe naturally. If you have difficulties to breathe, this caused by an unreasonable strain. Make sure that your hips are always bend forward and your consciousness sharp and clear. Don't forget that the vital point of zazen lies in the hip/waist/pelvis area.

You should always be alert. Don't make a sleepy face - or you'll look like a ball of cotton wool! Pull back the chin and make a lively face


Sawaki Roshi: Nowadays, young gangsters and hoodlums often say, "My circumstances were bad," as an excuse when they commit a crime for which they are arrested. What kind of circumstances are good or bad? What a pity if, even though you are a human being, you are not aware of the true self. That is a really bad circumstance!

Uchiyama Roshi: When Sawaki Roshi was five years old, his mother died. When he was eight years old, his father died. He was then adopted by Bunkichi Sawaki. Bunkichi paper-lantern making as a cover, but was really a professional gambler. Soon after Sawaki Roshi started living with his new parents, his stepfather asked him to watch out for the police. Tough as he was, Saikichi (Sawaki Roshi's name as a layman) was amazed by that. His home was on a back street in the red light district.

When he returned home from the Russo-Japanese war because of a nearly fatal wound, Sawaki Roshi had found that his stepmother, who had been a prostitute, had gone crazy. She was tied up and smeared with her own shit. His stepfather had stayed out to gamble, so he stayed with a neighbor. Later his stepfather came and said to him, "Your mom has gone crazy and I'm broke. What shall I do? Give me some money!" Even though he grew up in such an environement, Sawaki Roshi lived his life only for the sake of the buddha-dharma. Anecdotes like the one related above are an expression of his impatience with the young people of today.
At the same time, they have limitless value as a warning to most of us because we feel bound by the circumstances of our personal lives.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Returning To The Self

Sawaki Roshi: You can't exchange farts with anyone, right? everyone has to live his own self. Who is good looking? Who is smart? You or I? There is no need to compare yourself with others.

Uchiyama Roshi: Sawaki Roshi devoted his whole life to Zazen. How did he describe it? In his early teaching, he often said, "Zazen makes the self into the self," and "To do Zazen is to become familar with the self." To do Zazen is to cast off everything and just sit, making "the self into the self."

Soon, final and entrance exams will be given in the schools. Some students will attempt suicide because of their poor grades on exams. Today's educational system only teaches competition. It does not teach how to return to the self. That's why such tragedies occur.

Whether you defeat others or are defeated by them, you live out the self which is only the self.
You never become someone else. Without being concerned about success or failure, go back to the self. Zazen is the practice in which you, "Let go of all associations, and put all affairs aside."(Dogen Zenji's Fukanzazengi). In the Sutta-Nipata, Buddha said, "Make yourself your refuge, walk in the world and be unchained from everything." Dogen wrote in Genjokoan, "To study Buddhism is to study the self." Without being pulled every which way through comparing yourself with others, settle down to the true self. According to Buddha's teaching, this is the essential way of pacifiying the mind. It is the purest zazen.

Sawaki Roshi: Sit firmly in the place beyond any question of whether you are great or not.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Greatness of Sawaki Roshi

Sawaki Roshi: Someone said, "Sawaki Roshi wasted his whole life in zazen."

Uchiyama Roshi: This was his self-appraisal in the series called "The Unpainted Face," published in the Asahi Journal last year(1965). Since his death on the 21st of December, his followers have come to Antaiji to offer incense for the repose of his soul. Most of them do not remember him as a person who, "wasted his whole life in zazen." One person said, "Sawaki Roshi told off General Ugaki." Another said, "When he encountered old Mr. Matsunaga, he did such and such." Still another said, " When I asked him about the Suez Canal affair I was very impresses with his answer, alhough I didn't quite understand what he meant. He said, 'You should cover the canal with a kesa.' "

In the Russo-Japanese War(1904-1905) he was a courageous and highly decorated soldier. He always sadi, "As a daredevil, I am second to none." But then he would say, "That is only the greatness of Mori no Ishimatsu(a gambler famous for his bravery)."

Sawaki Roshi was from birth a vital and stimulating person who dominated other people and attracted them like a magnet. That was his karma, as natural for him as a cat catching mice or a musk deer emitting an attractive fragrance; it was not his greatness as a Buddhist.

Sooner or later a collecton of anecdotes about his life will be published, but that will only entertain people, not teach them Buddhism. Sometimes we miss the point in praising a person. In this case, there is no connection between his, "wasting his whole life in zazen" and the greatness of his character.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Seeing Clearly

Sawaki Roshi: If you steal other people's things, you become a thief. Some people think that you become a thief only after you have been arrested by a policeman, questioned by a public prosecutor, had a judgment passed on you, and gone to jail. A corrupt politician considers himself a man of virtue and resource if he can avoid scandal and escape responsibility for his actions. People are so idiotic!
Alexander the Great, Ceasar and Genghis Khan were just big thieves. Ishikawa Goemon and Tenichibo were nothing compared to Hitler and Mussolini. Hitler and Mussolini were like Kunisada Chuji who said, "Let's go as far as we can," but they did it on a big scale. Gangsters of this sort are very highly spoken of by their followers.
We are always falling into ruts. A man with political power, with the help of school teachers and intellectuals, tries to force new conventions on us. The ways of distortion are very deliberate and complicated. The wisdom of Buddhism sees through this distortion.

Uchiyama Roshi: Most people have been made stupid. It would be fine in the presidents and premieres and other V.I.P's were really important to us, but it is a problem if they are felt to be important only because of convention and distortion. Buddhist practice allows people to open their eyes anew and see clearly, instead of falling prey to distortions. In order to straighten out the warped and deadly situation in world politics, everyone must open their eyes and criticize what they see.

Monday, March 16, 2009


Sawaki Roshi: There are students who cheat in the university preparatory schools. Because of that, they must also cheat on the college entrance exams. This is the bent and twisted condition known as stupidity. Everyone in this world does things like that.

Uchiyama Roshi: All human beings are short-sighted in one way or another. Some people go into debt to buy luxury cars because they are symbols of wealth. In order to help his corrupt boss rise to a high position, a faithful lackey will take the rap for him even if means going to jail. We tend to act inconsistently, as if we couldn't think or havea sense of direction. In modern society, people try to increase their efficiency in every area of life. But where are they going? No matter how efficiently they act, unless they are going in the right direction, there is no difference between them and the insects that start buzzing around when spring arrives.

Science and technology have made great advances. This doesn't always mean improvement for human beings. We should clearly recognize the difference between these two. We should think deeply about what real progress is for human beings.

Sawaki Roshi: The world has become small because of developments in transportation. What are they doing, flying around in their quick cars? They drive fast only to save their worthless time. They are going to play pinball.(bloggers note: or X-Box)
A familiar site is the red-eyed co-worker taking vitamin pills and saying, "I was up all night playing Mah-jong."(bloggers note: A very popular form of Japanese gambling)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Ultimate Life

Sawaki Roshi: A religion which has no connection with the fundamentals of life is futile. Buddhist practice shows the way to full actualization of the ultimate goal of human life, here and now. "Converting non-Buddhists" means to allow people to live in this way, thereby transforming their random, fradulent and incomplete ways of life.

Uchiyama Roshi: It has been over fourteen hundred years since Buddhism was introduced to Japan. The achievements of Buddhist priests have been admirable. They have never taught the religious essence of Buddhism. A priest's job is without comparison because no one else can live such an idle life. If you make a mistake chanting the sutras, the dead do not complain.

Sawaki Roshi said that Buddhist practice shows the way to the ultimate goal of human life. This was the teaching of Buddhism in the time of the Buddha, but since then the rubbish of Buddhist teaching has been emphasized and the essential teaching has been lost.

Sawaki Roshi: Most people do things without any clear view of life. They just do things in a makeshift way, like plastering their shoulder when it feels stiff.
To be born as a human being is a rare thing, something to be grateful for. But being born as a human being is worthless if you spend your whole life in a mental hospital. It is worthless if you worry about not having money. It is worthless if you become neurotic because you cannot get a prestigious job. It is wothless if you weep because you lose your girlfriend.

Friday, March 13, 2009

No Need To Be In Chains

Sawaki Roshi: People call me "Homeless Kodo", but I don't take it as an insult. They call me that because I have never had a temple or a house. Everyone is homeless. It is a mistake if you think that you have a fixed home.

Uchiyama Roshi: As his disciple, I did not always feel good when I heard Sawaki Roshi called "Homeless" Kodo. The word "homeless" reminded me of stray dogs and cats. But now I understand that his nickname is really a title for the true person. Everyone is a stray in reality.

Because my teacher was a homeless person, I also had to be homeless. The only way I could support myself was by begging, being barked at by dogs all day. One time a spitz viciously barked at me, growling and leaping as if it wanted to tear me to pieces. Suddenly, the collar chain broke and it immediately began to cower and whine. A dog threatens with barks and growls when it is chained, but quickly loses its nerve when freed. The spitz' behavior amused me because it reminded me of some human beings. They behave threateningly when they are chained by financial power, titles or organizations. As soon, as the chains are removed, they retreat, feeling small and powerless. How absurd they are. Each of us is just a person living alone, majestically. For human beings, there is no need to be in chains.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Life of Kodo Sawaki Roshi

1880: Kodo Sawaki Roshi is born on the 16th of June in Tsu-shi, Mie Prefecture, to Sotaro and Shige Tada. One of seven children, three of whom die in infancy, he is given the name "Saikichi." His father, Sotaro, works as a maker of rickshaw parts.

1884: His Mother dies.

1887: His father dies and he is adopted by an uncle who dies several months later. he is then adopted by Bunkichi Sawaki, a professional gambler.

1892: Graduates elementary school.

1896: Goes to Eiheiji because of his aspiration to become a monk.

1897: He is ordained by Koho Sawada, abbot of Soshinji, Amakusa, Kyushu and practices with him for two years. He is give the monk's name "Kodo."

1899: Meets Ryoun Fueoka and practices with him in Kyoto for one year.

1900: Drafted into the army.

1904: Sent to China as an infantryman to fight in the Russo-Japanese War. He receives a near fatal wound and returns to Japan for treatment and convalescence.

1905: Again sent to China as an infantryman. Russo-Japanese War ends.

1906: Returns to Japan.

1908: begins study of Yogacara philosophy with Join Saeki at Horyuji, Nara Prefecture.

1912: Leaves Horyuji to become tanto (instructor of monks) at Yosenji, Matsusaka, Mie Prefecture.

1913: Meets Sotan Oka Roshi, abbott of Daijiji.

1914: Leaves Yosenji. Moves to Jofukuji, a small temple in Nara. He stays alone, concentrating on Zazen.

1916: Leaves Jofukuji to become koshi (lecturer) at Daijiji Sodo. Many students from the Fifth High School practice with him during this period.

1922: Leaves Daijiji (Sotan Oka Roshi dies) and moves to a small house in Kumamoto loaned to him by a friend. He names the house "Daitstsu-do."

1923: Moves to "Mannichi-zan," a house loaned to him by the Shibata family. He begins travelling around Japan to lecture and lead sesshins. He refers to this as "the moving monastery."

1935: Becomes professor at Komazawa University, lectures on Zen literature and meditation practice. He is appointed godo (overseer of practice) at Sojiji.

1949: Establishes Antaiji Shichikurin Sanzen Dojo.

1963: Quits Komazawa University because of illness and retires to Antaiji.

1965: Dies at Antaiji on December 21.

Preface to The Revised Edition

In December of this year, we will commemorate the Seventeenth Anniversary of Sawaki Roshi's death. After he died I remained at Antaiji as abbot for ten years. Because of Sawaki Roshi's influence, Zazen practice has flourished and Antaiji has moved to Tajima(Hyogo Prefecture). I am very greatful for this.

Yadonashi-Hokkusan was first published a two small booklets. Later I added 15 more sections and published the work as one of the Hakuju-shinsho. But these days, numberless pocket-size books are available from major publishers and bookshops no longer accept the little editions from smaller houses. The publisher asked for additional material so that the work might be published as a larger, single volume.

Last fall, a member of Jinno-in Wakokai sent me the manuscript of a talk I gave the temple in order to receive my permission to print it. When I read the manuscript, I saw that it would be quite appropriate to add it to Yadonashi Kodo Hokkusan, and asked permission from the abbot of Jinno-in to use the manuscript, "On Kodo Sawaki Roshi's Zazen" as part of this book. I am glad that this book has been published in a revised, expanded form and that I will be able to offer it on the occasion of the Seventeenth Anniversary of Sawaki Roshi's death.

Early Summer, 1981

Kosho Uchiyama


In the fall of 1965, Mr. Toshio Yamada, who was then editor of the religious column in the Asahi Newspaper came to Antaiji to visit my teacher, Kodo Sawaki Roshi. As he was about to leave, he said to me, "Sawaki Roshi profoundly impresses his audiences with his directness. Could you write some articles based on how you, as his disciple, understand his teaching?" I thought that it would be a very good idea for me to do it, as part of my own practice. First, I lookrd over his sayings, which I had recorded in my notebooks as "Dharma Words." Then I began writing my comments on them. I entitled the work Yadonashi Kodo Hokkusan( The Zen Teaching of "Homeless" Kodo).

That fall, Sawaki Roshi became critically ill and I could not continue the project. After his death at the end of November of that year the articles I had completed were printed as his memorial address. They were published serially in the paper, over a year and two months. Writing these articles deepened my appreciation of Sawaki Roshi's life and practice and also, comforted and encouraged me. Lonely and upset because of my teacher's death, I was extremely grateful to Mr.Yamada, who had given me the opportunity to comment on Sawaki Roshi's teaching.

The articles were put together in two booklets in Mamizu Shinsho, and published by Hakujusha Co. Ltd. Subsequently, Mr Nakayama of Hakujusha, asked me to write more articles in order to publish them as one of the Hakuju-shinsho.

Sawaki Roshi was like an ancient Zen Master: fearless and unconvential. I, on the contrary, am such a fainthearted person that I hesitate to tell people that I was Sawaki Roshi's disciple.
Yet, I practiced with him and served him as his closest disciple longer than anyone. When he was very near the end of his life, I asked him, "Do you think I'll be able to lead people after your death?" He replied,"In our tradition, Zazen is the center. As long as you continue doing Zazen, you can lead people." He gave me the encouragement I needed and showed me the direction I should take. I received this as his final teaching. Since then, I have devoted myself to Zazen and have maintained Antaiji as a place where the practice of Zazen is the center.

It might be helpful to introduce Sawaki Roshi to others, so that they can become familiarwith his teaching. Indeed, in this world there are more timid people like me than courageous ones, like him. It is with deep gratitude that I offer this book on the Seventh Anniversary of my master's death.

Remembering his final days
On this day in early autumn,
Seven years after his passing.

Kosho Uchiyama

Purpose of this blog

Here is my contribution to the world. "The Zen Teaching of 'Homeless' Kodo" by Uchyiama Roshi went out of print a while back. Luckily I was able get a copy through the San Francisco Zen Center. I'm pretty sure it was their last copy.

Kodo Sawaki is the type of teacher whose teachings are desperately needed in today's world of "drippy" Buddhism. He taught people Buddhism by teaching them how to sit Zazen and by telling them to throw away anything they might want to attach to it.

No offence to any other sects of Buddhism out there, but Shikantaza is the only practice in the scope of Buddhism that makes any sense. Think about it for a second. We really have NO idea what the Buddha really said. None of us where there nor was anybody who has ever written anything about Buddhism. But we do know one thing; he sat in kekkafuza. You don't even need to be able to speak to transmit that. This is probably how Bodhidharma transmitted the teaching to China. I seriously doubt he spoke Chinese and was able to verbally relay any teachings at all. He taught by showing people what he did physically. This was probably the only teaching tool he had.

It is this teaching that I think Dogen was trying to relay and the one Sawaki Roshi attempted to reignite several centuries later.

The book is layed out in such a manner that one doesn't need to read it in any type of sequence. Uchiyama presents a quote from Sawaki then gives his own commentary on the quote. This really gives a wonderful view of the student-teacher relationship. I'll try to post at least one quote/commentary on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday,Friday, and Saturday. I can't make any promises, but I'll do my best.

I may post a comment myself from time to time, but I really have nothing of any value to say,so I'll spare you.