Kosho Uchiyama

‘In my late twenties, when I read [Dogen’s] Jishozanmai, I decided to leave home and become a monk. I understood that if I lived based only on my thinking, my life would continue to be childish and unenlightened. Since ancient times there have been people who sought the self in its true sense. Unless I wholeheartedly practiced with such a person, one who had truly and completely pursued and clarified the self, I would never be able to understand my true self. When I reached this conclusion, I finally made up my mind to become a monk and practice zen.
In response to my decision, my father said, “You are a critical and argumentative person. It’s no good to follow a mediocre teacher,” and he tried to find a good master for me. Finally he recommended Sawaki Roshi, who was then the officer in charge of instructing monks at Sojiji. He told me to go there, and, if I thought Sawaki Roshi was a good teacher, to ask about being his disciple.
This was the first time I encountered a person who spoke clearly about the self for which I had been searching. Although I had listened to many lectures on Buddhism and Christianity, those talks had nothing to do with the self. Sawaki Roshi talked about the self, starting only from the self. I eagerly took notes. When I went home, I summarized his teachings according to my notes:

1. The Buddhadharma teaches that this life is our true and final refuge.
2. To practice zazen is to become the transparent self.
3. To practice zazen is the self selfing the self by the self.
4. To pratice zazen is to become the self that is connected with the universe.
5. Zazen is good for nothing.

Even though I wrote these before becoming a monk, when I knew nothing about zazen but had only heard Sawaki Roshi’s lectures for the first time, I think they’re a pretty good summary; I surprised myself. Although I had tentatively made up my mind to become a monnk, part of me didn’t really want to. I didn’t know what kind of physical or mental experiences I would have to go through as a monk, so deep in my mind I wanted to avoid it. Yet, after hearing Sawaki Roshi’s teaching, I couldn’t avoid it anymore. I’d reached the point where I felt that if I wanted to live based on the truth of the self, I couldn’t escape. So I was ordained.’ (The Zen Teaching of Homeless Kodo)

As I was leafing through this book to find some suitable passages, my eyes alighted on the five-point list. I was tempted to copy just those five points; it certainly would have been faster to type out. But I thought that the context for the list was fascinating as well, as a great story of how people come to practice: a pull that is somehow greater than ourselves and allows a trust that those who have come before and done the work – the work that a part of us wants to avoid and yet cannot without suffering a loss of integrity.

I read point two as a paraphrase of Dogen’s ‘dropping off body and mind’; certainly in my moments of lucidity, it seems that the self becomes thinner, more transparent, less of a hindrance. The third point also seems to echo Dogen, in this case jijuyu zanmai, and if that feels too much to get your head around, it’s okay just to stay with the fourth and fifth points.

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