Shohaku Okumura

‘Some people think that when we eliminate all thought and experience enlightenment we are liberated; we don’t have to do anything else and can be happy for the rest of our lives. I think this is a misunderstanding or even a superstition. Dogen tried to caution his students that the point is to let go of thoughts and just be as you are. No-thinking is not enlightenment; that is not our goal.
I have been practicing for more than forty years so I have experienced many conditions during zazen. Sometimes I have had the experience of no thought, of simply being there. It was very pleasant. But from the beginning of my practice I was taught that any condition is merely the scenery of zazen, so I don’t consider it a special or “good” part of zazen. Sometimes my mind is very busy and distracted, but still that is part of my zazen. When my mind is busy I try to sit upright and breathe deeply and smoothly and keep my eyes open. When I find that I am interacting with thoughts, I try to let go.’ (The Mountains and Waters Sutra)

Today I was supposed to be flying off to London for a couple of weeks. The timing of the trip was entirely due to Shohaku’s visit to the Wimbledon Zen group, which I first heard about as a possibility a couple of years ago, and which has become one of many events to be canceled due to concerns around the Coronavirus.

I hope to be able to sit with Shohaku later this year, and in the meantime, we can all receive the benefit of Shohaku’s decades of practice, as well as hearing his teacher’s voice (‘the scenery of zazen’).

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