When I think, “Why am I here?” it’s really unthinkable to find a reason why. It feels like being pushed by some force to keep up my presence, no matter where it is. Pushed from the past, that is one feeling. Another is always a powerful longing which comes up from inside me, with a wish to create something which I would be able to do. For this reason, my second elder brother definitely named me Dreamer. “My youngest brother is a big dreamer,” he says. Maybe so. He is sort of a realistic realist, like the second son of Karamazov brother. Incredibly intellectual and cynical and humorous. He can chop up everything he wants to. And yet, everyone calls him a holy man, or a saint. His nickname has been “Stainless,” or “Saint.” Saint Keibun is his nickname from Junior High School. He keeps up all relationships; from the time he was a very small child he has kept proper communication. When someone writes a letter, within one day he writes back, which is a miracle to me. I never write back! And every time he lectures me, “See, you are the Dreamer. I am the Saint,” he says.
I am unable to define myself, what I actually am. A lot of new things happen every day, it amazes me how many new things come in new days. On the other hand, how strange it is, old things always follow right to the new days, all of them.
My father passed away at the age of sixty three. I was about seven years old. I still have memories that he took me to ofuro (baths) and tap my hips and pull my something and say, “Grow big!” I even hear his voice.
When I was about three and a half years old, his three boys got instruction on how to sit. It was a summer evening. Many fireflies were appearing from the temple’s lotus pond. We were enjoying the wide temple corridor, cooling ourselves. Then big bother, middle brother and littlest one, myself, all faced the garden and start to sit, and father came around to correct our posture.
I remember, that same night we saw ...it went “Shuuu...: Northern lights? No, no, we say spirit of the dead. We figured later that it was an owl carrying sulfur fire around his body. The temple has a burial ground, and on warm summer nights, once in a while the sulfur of the buried starts to burn in the heat. We thought it was a holy ghost flying around.
I wasn’t taught what shikan taza is, I haven’t had formal koan training. From childhood, whatever I was interested in, I could study, so I started with biology, and all kinds of necessary things, as usual with children in Japan. Calligraphy. Japanese language, to speak, write, think, which relates with the very symbolic form of nature and things. By seeing each character, you can reproduce each thing in nature. I was very involved in learning language in elementary school. My name, given to me by my natural father, was a big problem to me. All family members had “bun” in their name. Father’s name was Bunryu. Bun means question mark. And ryu is dragon...
It’s also a question to me what kind of animal this ryu is..So, my father is, to me, a very big question. His master, who adopted my father when he was six years old, gave him this name. So, his, grandmaster’s name is Bunzan. Bun is another question. Eldest brother was given the same name as father’s adoptive father, so the grandfather’s name came to the eldest brother, but the sound is Bunzo. It’s the same character, but we get confused, the pronunciation was different. The same character: Bunzo, which sounds like: three. That is still a big question, number three.
Second brother was Keibun. Kei is “respect,” which he pronounced himself, he was very proud. “Everyone respects me!” And he said, “This little one, everyone loves him, but everyone respects me.” ...It is supposed to be that he respect everybody, that is why the name was given to him. I wish he was here. Third one, this one, is called Kobun. Forgotten! I have never worn new clothes because everyone’s clothes ended up on me. Even now my elder brother’s and my natural father’s clothes fit me. Very strange. Ko is structured from the archery bow, which coincidentally, I picked as my exercise when I was in Kyoto. That part I understand now, why my father gave this part of my name, ko. The other side is “mu.” Mu is like the koan Muji, a very big subject. It means :”nothing”. Especially for American students, mu is a very hard concept to experience, and is still, for me, a big question, because I haven’t been checked by great Zen master about the koan Muji! Some day I want to figure it out!
One day a very vigorous man asked me, among many people, making me very embarrassed, “I heard you are a Zen master. Have you ever experienced great enlightenment?” I was so embarrassed! I had to say, “No! I haven’t experienced such crunchy stuff!”
For some reason this name of my whole family has been a very big question. Until recently, I didn’t pay much attention to where it came from and who gave this kind of name generation after generation. I found out that it is a name picked up from Manjusri. And Bunzan is also in a koan. Manjusri’s koan, which you probably know , about the three places Manjusri stayed in outside of Shakyamuni Buddha’s training period. Mahakashyapa was very upset because he was the head practicer and as soon as the training period started, Manjusri Bodhisattva disappeared from the congregation and no one knew where he went. On the last day of the practice period, Manjusri came
back and Mahakashyapa was very mad at him. “It’s against the rule of the monastery!” He asked Shakyamuni Buddha for a discussion and was ready to hit the gong to gather everybody in a special court. But as he lifted his knocker, he had strange visions of very very sincere practicers as Manjusri’s activity for the three months, like a movie. In
Mahakashyapa’s vision, Manjusri was, during one month, staying with many children, like a nursery school. Another month he was staying in a place like San Francisco downtown, like a topless bar, or massage parlor, or something like that. Another month, he was drifting around doing whatever he wanted to do. Mahakashyapa was so astounded by this scene that he quit his proposed discussion.
I was thirteen years old. I said, “I will keep, sustain, ‘No Killing Life.’ Fu sessho kai. I didn’t know what I was saying, but my ordination master was sitting way up, like a seat about same height as Buddha’s seat. I was sitting there surrounded by shaved monks and nuns, trying not to run away! They were sitting there in zazen, so I grabbed their energy, and in my high-pitched voice said, “I will.” Thirteen. Forty years later, I appreciate that that happened. I didn’t appreciate it at that time. Feeling was alright, although the next day the village boys came as usual. “Shall we go?” “Yes, let’s go.” And we were off on bicycles, with fishing tackle and lunch box. At two or three o’clock we started for the irrigation ditch in a rice field. Some ditches were very big, like a little river. You get in the reeds and fish and come back with tons of fish. The day before I had been saying “I will not kill life!”
Among various studies I have experienced in my life, I feel very appreciative to have received the Precepts. The older I become, the more I appreciate them. I was very lucky, being born as a child of a Zen priest . And growing up in the atmosphere of temple life...again, deep appreciation. At the same time, I feel that if I were born in a different family, where would I be?
When I went back to Japan, I saw a neighbor who has also about the same amount of white hair, and we looked at our heads and said, “My goodness, you have become very old!” We talked about how bad we were in elementary school, with the sort of rhythm and texture of mind that is the very same as before...This man is always famous as the bad boy in the town, and I loved to be with this bad man. No one understood me. “How can he go with this violent man?” The only thing he couldn’t stand was electric shock. I grasped that weak point in him and always mentioned it. “Don’t talk about it!”Everyone was frightened of this man. One day we went to swim in a mountain stream, and he was drowning, and I saved his life, and we promised not to talk about it. It was that kind of relationship. He asked me, “Are there beautiful people in America?” I said, “Yes.” He was so curious about you...
I was born as a child of a priest. Without giving birth to a monk’s mind, I was already caught, and shaved my head! And, like children studying the Suzuki method of violin, in an unconscious state I already memorized so many sutras! Without knowing the meaning of any of it...My whole life has been protesting the monkhood! I still cannot get out of the pickle jar!
I lost my natural father when I was eight, but to me he has never died. I remember his smooth, silk-like cold feet. That’s all, the last image of father. Long, very long toe nails, toes, and round tips, I remember. Huge. My hand was about that big. Eight years old, very small hand. His feet were huge!
After someone has died you have this feeling that there is no body any more, but there is still the force of that person being there and catching up to our life, letting us notice that their life is still going on. An example is my father. Today I again thought of my father . The recent occasion which particularly happened this year was originated--appeared in phenomena-- by my father. I was so surprised! He passed away the year the Second World War was over, but it still reminds me that his influence is on people. It’s very surprising, all those people who were with my father still remember what he wished to see now. It’s very interesting. It’s the same for people who passed away in this country since I came here.
My experience about love, expression of love, was this year’s biggest present to me, my elder brother’s visit. He is so tricky! I cannot believe it! The purpose of his visit to this country...no one knows! To me, it’s simply that he wants to be a very demanding elder brother, showing what elder brother means to me. It’s a fantastic visit to me. We didn’t meet for very long, only probably three hours. He spent five minutes praising my effort, and two hours and fifty five minutes lecturing. Lecturing continuously, and always saying, “This is my last advice!” and then went on and on! And he said, “It’s not me speaking, it’s your father speaking through me!” I was very happy that he could meet many of you. But he said, “I am going to come to visit you every year!” Immediately, I got a headache! He can come, but I’ll go to sesshin!
I don’t remember the exact day and time, but my professor in Kyoto University, Keiji Nishitani, through his lectures and seminars I studied about your past. Western philosophies, religions. A very excellent teacher, he’s almost eighty years now...About seventeen years ago I was his student. One of the papers I wrote was “God concept of Modern Man.” I get all sweaty when I remember my discussion about it. He said, “Your report was excellent!”
I was interested in carving out the historical Buddha’s life. I wanted to know what kind of life he lived, so my study was focussed toward historical material, so I ended up in Kyoto University where the best library is. In its many stories, and in the basement, I was like a bookworm crawling there. I’m still not clear what kind of person Gautama Buddha was. To think about him makes me feel I immediately go back home where I started. I was very proud of what I studied, too proud, I think.
My young mind drove me to find out what was Buddha’s enlightenment. Most of my early years were spent only on this point, which drove me to various places. Years and years of practice with doubt, with thirst for knowledge. Forgetting reality, my face turned around, and I went way into the past. So you can imagine how far I lost myself. Head was first, so that my head went into the books and traveled in books. All kinds of Buddhist literature. I feel now it was a nightmare! At that time I was so excited...my body was like this (hunched, headfirst), and I didn’t understand anything! I became a very big, smart ass-hole. And I reached the point of the theory of the very close process of the enlightened state of practice--how that knowledge turns to shiny wisdom. It was very very hard. Oh, certainly I was completely head-oriented.
My two teachers, Soko Eto [?}, the professor, and Kodo Sawaki Roshi, were enshrined in Kosho Uchiyama Roshi’s temple, Antaiji. I brought incense and flowers every month for four years, and whenever Kosho Uchiyama Roshi saw my face in his temple, he would say, “Oh, hi, Kobun-san. O-cha, dozo!” “How about a cup of tea?” And he would say, “Quit school and come here and sit with us.” Every time. And for some reason, I didn’t quite feel comfortable about joining. I was Kodo Sawaki Roshi’s very young student, from high school time, so it was very very hard, and I stayed as a bookie type, and every month went back.
And then Gajin Nagao, my professor, at the end of my Master’s thesis, said, “Don’t you want to stay here and continue to study?” I was very much suffering at that time, in various ways. Completely confused! And I had reached the point of understanding that after endless practice, the vows are accomplished in concrete form as a Bodhisattva for many lifetimes, still, endlessly Bodhisattva’s practice continues. In my sight at that time, everybody’s face looked like Bodhisattva except my own. So I begged Professor Nagao, “Please, let me go to the monastery. I need to sit again!”
I recall my first impression of Eiheiji. I wasn’t entering Eiheiji as a monk then. Before that, I went to visit the temple. The monks’ practice quarters were hidden from the pilgrims, from tourists and sightseers, and yet, in the evening, in the gold light of sunset, about seventy monks carrying oryoki, were traveling from the monks’ hall to the kitchen through the long corridor passing through the Buddha Hall. All carried oryoki with both hands, like this, and their heads were shaved, and they wore the same kind of robes. Every one of them was kind of transparent, their skin whiteish and their eyes not moving, looking at the floor as they went. Like looking at ganko, wild geese, flying together. “Oh, my goodness! I have never seen such a thing in my life. I’ve got to come here!” And I went back to Kyoto to continue to study. This ganko, monks’ work, was very impressive to me. “What’s in their mind?” I knew what it was. But, “What’s in their mind?” I thought there must be some big thing going on with them.
Then I went to my Dharma master, who had watched me from birth to adulthood, and told him, I am going to stop school and go to a monastery. Please let me go to head monastery where the spirit of Dogen Zenji must still be alive. I want to experience actual practice day and night. If I continue to study in academic field of Buddhist literature, my brain might burst into pieces. Too much already, please let me go to the monastery.
I was not just getting fed up with study, there was my youth demanding that I must do something more urgent than just intellectual study. At that time as a student under Professor Gajin Nagao and several other professors, five to seven students would gather in one room and, like a seminar, you present your opinion and other people criticize and argue. Most of the time it ends up in argument on mostly late Mahayana Buddhist thought, like the Vijnana Vardin commentary on Nagarjuna, and Chandrakirti’s on Madhyamaka, on those kinds of intellectually stimulating subjects. “Yes,” my master said, “that’s ok, you can go to the monastery. But come back in three days,” he said. He meant I could escape from the monastery. He knew how hard it is. It was my birthday so, the next day, February second, I went. I was the second student, the deep snow blowing, in straw shoes and all new, top to bottom, dressed in new monks costume. Razor blades in my little bag, new oryoki. Certainly a cold head, newly shaved. Before,I had been growing hair so long it covered almost all
my face. Fukui has the deepest snow in Japan. It’s coldest in the middle of the winter, big snowflakes. I went in the big, very big Mountain Gate. Above this Mountain Gate are statues of five hundred arhats, famous, immediate disciples of Shakyamuni Buddha. They were carved maybe three time as tall as this ceiling, and above that is the big hall where arhats are sitting, and you make many bows to this, under the shrine of the Mountain Gate, and then you enter into so-called tangario.
In tangaryo you sit all day from early morning, 3:30, to 9:15 in the evening. You cannot go into the main sitting part, but stay in the entrance room and pay attention to what you are getting into. You listen. You cannot walk around freely, but just sit there
and listen. Where it is. Temple is big, very big, with many buildings...Instead of three days, I ended up staying two and a half years there, until right before I came to the United States. Tangaryo is like an entrance examination which tests whether you are able to stay and live in the monastery or not. Most students take about ten days to two weeks in this examination period. Ego is so big, so you have a very big problem. Not that ego is big, but people are forced to be independent and individual, not relying on other people or the support of a system. You get up on your own feet and are responsible for whatever you do. I was trained in Japanese society, just as all of you here, as very self-responsible, so I didn’t realize until later how big my ego was and how deeply rooted in body and mind.
Elder monks visit in this room where you are sitting. They come, walking swiftly, soundlessly with a big stick hiding in their sleeve. Their heads were all blue. Our heads were white, “tofu head,” we called it, new-shaved, so you can tell which is new and which is old. They came swiftly, soundlessly, and stood behind you and you start to shake. I was trained to argue properly at school, so I could argue with those trained monks logically, but monastery is certainly illogical place. When you respond, the answer is the huge kyosakustick, whack! whack! and each time your eyes pop out and stars go like that, sweat and cold, all at once.
Those kyosaku, today, I appreciate what it did to me. It’s like hammering the ego, crushing the ego. I was too proud... Their question was, why are you here? Zen talk, we called it. “Where did you come from? Why are you here? You could be anywhere else, why are you here? There are many other good teachers in Japan, why did you choose this?” Finally a little monk screams, “This is Dogen Zenji’s temple. I want to stay here!” You beg for training. Hearing that, they finally say, “You can stay.” By that time my ego has melted and is splashed everywhere on the walls. That was my first experience of brainwashing.
Schooling in Japan is extremely competitive and intellectual, but the monastery is opposite, quite physical. It’s like joining the Army. If you’re a fool or wise, it doesn’t matter. You have to be strong and ready on time. You cannot mess up the order with your own ideas. So, be on time, exact time, not too fast and not too slow, and ready to do anything. Serving elders. Kind to newcomers. Kind means very strict...
False pride was with me when I went to first dokusan, sitting like this, and my whole body was trembling. I didn’t know what to, how to talk, so I prostrated several times and sat in front of him. It is rare to sit face to face with somebody, so I directly faced him and looked into his eyes, and all of a sudden, something broke within me and tears came like a waterfall, and I couldn’t stop. Immediately Godo Roshi started to chant in a very low voice from the six hundred volumes of Maha Prajna Paramita Sutra,. He started from the very beginnning, chanting in front of me, and kept going and going and going. I knew the beginning of it, but I didn’t remember so much of it. He was chanting while I was crying, and finally he said, “It’s ok, go back to sesshin, go back and sit.” He didn’t ask why I cried.
I don’t know if they are crazy or what. Once in a while is fine, but sometimes an aged abbot would ask the head instructor to bring his stick, carved, inlayed, beautiful. The instructor appeared in zendo and start to hit everybody. “This is from abbot. This is from Zenji sama! Everybody has to get Pan! Pan! Pan!” (sound of hitting) That’s an
encouragement from the abbot to you, even as a very beginner, so you say,, “Thank you very much! Thank you very much!” Very strong touch from your abbot. Monastery has its own very good nature from which I suffered so much at first. Why did I have to put hundreds of silk beddings on the floor in the big tatami room and make complete beds for about five hundred, sometimes one thousand laymen who came to stay in the monastery? Eiheiji is a monumental pilgrimage temple and Japanese lay families look forward to visiting it at least once or twice in a lifetime, to feel where their original temple is. So young monks are quite busy, getting food and beds ready on time. Besides sitting practice, there is a lot of chanting, a lot of cleaning, even there’s straightening the young cedar trees bent by the snow. All kinds of jobs we had. So physically, you have to be very strong, or become strong. The monastery is a wonderful place to think about before and after. When you are in the monastery, no thinking is best, just do it.
I was scolded at Eiheiji after the first meal. About three or four of us.. “You, you, you, you: don’t eat like pig!” About eighty people, young monks, their heads very soft and razor cuts showing that they are very beginners, are holding oryoki high like this, and between their arms, the old monk’s face comes up and he says, “You eat too much!” After every meal this old monk walks around and notices everything, and among all those people, I get all sweaty. It’s a kind of funny situation. Before I went to the monastery, I was feeling I was first class. At the monastery I was forced to realize that I am the worst kind! So when I came out from the monastery, my only one confidence was that everything is possible. That was my understanding. Everything is possible! Just take time, work on it for a long time, that was my learning in the monastery. Still lots of things to learn, especially because students here are very honest, you know.
There is no bullshit. I cannot be some sort of Zen Master, because as soon as I feel that way, a student comes and knocks me down on the floor! There are no trips. I appreciate it. X [student] is that kind of person to knock me down often.
My first formal sesshin was at Eiheiji. I’d sat many sesshins before, but they were with Sawaki Roshi, whom I admired very very much. I remember it was extremely hard, the constant patrol behind me was really bothering me. They carried quite a long stick, and when you start to move: Whack,like a wind comes and whack! You are hurt on the cushion! And during tangaryo, the entrance examination at Eiheiji monastery, I got very many kyosaku. [Student]:Why didn’t you go home?
Kobun: I felt very much at home there, so...it was good I stayed. They all beat my brains, scraped them, chopped them up. They are well-trained to treat head-oriented people. Use kyosaku very wisely on that ego. They beat me to death! They asked a question, and I was trained to answer every question, so I would start to answer, but before I finished, they started beating me. It wasn’t brain wash, it was beating a dirty rug, or something. They beat me until I was clean! That’s why I’m pretty strange. I never want to go back!
[Student]: Isn’t it true that when you were in charge of the young monks at Eiheiji, that you did not beat them. Kobun: I didn’t beat them. Out of respect to zazen, I couldn’t hit them. They are coming to practice at Eiheiji, so strong, and longing to meet with Dogen Zenji, the founder. So how to treat them properly was my basic subject. I went to abbot and explained that I had this job and is it alright to receive them? About eighty young monks came, their heads all shaved and cut everywhere because they haven’t shaved before. [Student]: So what did the abbot say? Kobun: “Fine. Fine. Try!” Out of eighty, I hit three students. And those were impossible! With encouragement, their shoulders are like football or soccer player! You could break a lot of kyosakus on them!
Second year of monastery, my master in Kamo, Niigata prefecture, telegraphed me and I rushed back to spend one month with him at his temple. I was his only disciple at that time, and he showed me very strange things. “Draw these, copy these in your handwriting.” Three materials on seven foot long pieces of silk, two feet wide, and you copy his material on to new silk. It shows where you stand in inner practice. Confirmation of the essence of your practice in action determines whether your own name is on this chart or not. Laymen can receive this also. If a layman has the potential for teaching people, by his teacher’s confirmation, permission, he starts to teach. Even if you have permission, if you do not want to teach in ordinary way, you don’t need to do so...After one month he said, “Now you can go back to the monastery or whatever you want.” So he kicked me out from his influence and I ended up living in this country. Still, every day I think of him, and about what was his intention to do this particular ceremony with me.
The title to my master is called Buddhabuchi. Shak kakushi butsu buddhabuchi. In Sanskrit you say Buddha bhumi. Bhumi is earth, great earth. Buddha land is what this means. My name was written on this circular chart and then connected to original Shakyamuni Buddha, so it’s a whole circle of names, but the name I have is not Buddha buchi, instead it is called “new Kobun.” A strange name! “New Kobun” “Shin Kobun.” What this means is, until you have successor you don’t receive this Buddhabuchi. Until you have a child, you are not called father, so to speak. So it’s a very big responsibility whether growing child truly becomes mature and able to conduct and accomplish their practice every day. It is this question I direct toward myself, and toward whoever I take care of.
Buddhabuchi. Look into your own view of the world and check whether it is seen as Buddhabuchi, and also, vice versa, when you look at your own inner world... and see the Buddha land within you or not. Since there is no inside or outside, even while there is inside, outside. Still, this equality of sameness inside world, outside world, has to be checked. Personally speaking, I don’t feel comfortable. I mean, I don’t fuss about my life, must for some reason, when people kill each other in front of my eyes, I feel my practice isn’t accomplished. If I take the place of that person who has to fight, I’ll be doing exactly the same thing as him or her. When the situation is like that, I get very confused. Confusion keeps my practice going. So the problem seems to be becoming bigger and more serious to me, while I am getting old and have less strength. I still see lots of problems.
Middle of winter, sesshin letter was piled up on the cushion. After morning service you go back to the zendo, the monks’ hall, and on your black cushion, piles of letters from the week. One of them was one of those red and blue international airmail letters. Who wrote this airmail to me? I knew nobody from another country. It was a letter from Suzuki Roshi inviting me to the United States to help with his new project. Tassajara began half a year after I received this letter. He needed somebody who knew Eiheiji, so I was picked.
Abbot, Taizen Kumazawa Zenji, was ninety six years old, and vice abbot was my favorite master, he was my master’s teacher. So this vice abbot is actually the one who said “okay” to Suzuki Roshi. This abbot, Taishun Sato Zenji, was old and blind, but whoever came to his room, even before they opened the shoji door, he knew who was coming and called the name. “Kobun-san, desuka?” “Yes, sir! Hai!” Cold sweat everywhere when I go. He could walk without an attendant everywhere in Eiheiji, which has thousands of steps. Sometimes a close attendant would trip, and he would laugh at him. “Very inconvenient to have open eyes,” he said.
....Did I tell you my sort of,I thought it was a kensho experience at Eiheiji. Oh! It was February? I sat so many sesshins there! Which?... It was snow. New snow came to the mountain, first snow. Rohatsu. Second year at Eiheiji. The first snow came, and about eight o’clock in the morning the sun hit the mountain and the snow started to melt very fast. You can see from the monk’s hall, which has a similar feeling to this room. It is maybe half the size of this one, and two huge hibachi were sitting there, and I came down to go to the bathroom and stopped in the shuryo, the monks’ hall. Before I went back to join the sitting again, I sat there, and through the window, about the same size as these windows, I could see snow, white snow on the deep green, huge, hundreds of years old cedar trees. Many many of them. And from drips of melting there were hundreds of millions of lights reflecting, and it was an incredible view. It was finished in five minutes or so. I was sitting there, and forgot to go back to sit!
It lasted about three months. I was kind of strange person to people. And you may feel that was kensho, but it is way before kensho. Many things, small things like that, happen one after another, and each time I thought, “Maybe thisis it. Oh, no,his couldn’t be it!”
Student: Kobun, when you thought you had your kensho experience, did you ask you meditation teacher about it? Oh, yes! Oh, yes! At that time he was one of the chief instructors at Eiheiji. Now he is Vice Abbot there. Very wonderful teacher. Ekiho Miyazaki roshi [?].
Of course, he still talks about it to my master’s wife, and to my mother, how cute I was! What a cute boy I was. Of course, I was the one who first jumped off the tan and ran into this instructor’s room. “What was it?” “It wasn’t it!”he said. “That’s wonderful. Just forget it. It’s gone!” So I obeyed. I forgot it. Of course, every one of you has had such outstanding experiences. You don’t know if you are upside down, or running, or stopping. Some very big thing takes place of you and you find out what it is.
So I ended up staying in Eiheiji for two years, and I became one of those wild geese! And one day Suzuki Roshi came. I didn’t know he came. He came like a wind, and went. Later on I found out that he had visited. About three months later I had that very experience I told you about, at the end of Rohatsu sesshin when I found twenty letters on my cushion. On the last morning of Rohatsu you don’t sit on your cushion anymore, so each monk had many letters on his zafu. There it was, Suzuki Roshi’s letter: Par Avion, and the stripe of red, green, white. Framed, sitting on those letters. That was my fate.
I don’t understand what has been going on. I don’t even try to understand why. Some kind of tension of connection, mind connection....It was supposed to happen and effortlessly it happened, as if by accident. Do you have this kind of experience? You must. No one planned it, you didn’t plan it, no one seems to have planned it, but certain things happen, and you feel, “Yes, it was supposed to happen.”Student: Were you excited about coming here?
Without letting me know, actually a lot of people were preparing to bring me here. Later on I found out what was happening. I did a small kindness to American students who were utterly stuck in the monastery. Suzuki Roshi had sent them, and they were having enormous difficulty. It’s beyond imagination. Literally, aliens had landed in the monastery! One was a regular member of Stanford’s football team. Huge. Muscles. When he stands, he really stands out. Small Japanese people.... He walked like a dinosaur! Another person was an English gentleman, taller than him, like a crane flying with those wild geese. Their knees hurt so much, and they wanted to eat chocolate, and they wanted to go to the dentist, and everything! So I ended up looking after them and protecting them from hardship. In Eiheiji monastery there is no freedom allowed! The only personal time is the fourth and ninth day. So every fifth day, after having been shaved by each other, your head newly shaved, and obviously many cuts everywhere, bleeding everywhere. How awful it is! 3:30 AM you wake up. Awful place to go. I want to encourage you to go!.... No, this is better.
They could speak no Japanese. I could only speak a little bit of English, but could listen to them carefully to hear what the actual problem was. Everyone thought they were lying, that they wanted to go to the hospital in order to take a break from practice. I ended up taking them to a doctor to check on their knees, and to a good dentist to fix their teeth. I didn’t know that was all reported to Suzuki Roshi, and Suzuki Roshi came to look at me in the zendo one day, though I didn’t know it.
In the second year in America, after Tassajara was about ready. To me it was going smoothly after two years, regulation was pretty good, everybody was serious, so I said, “The promised time has come. I have to go back to meet with my master. They are waiting for my return.” Suzuki Roshi said, “You can go, but you are the kind of person who should live in this country.” He gently said that, and didn’t explain why. Trudy Dixon, who suffered with breast cancer, was about to pass away, but was still coming to Tassajara to practice. A wonderful lady she was! One night I visited her room. She was lying down. Her body had blue light, an aura, her whole body covered with it. She said, “I have to go, but I very much appreciate that you are here to help us.” Those are the words that encouraged me to return.
So I went back to be an attendant to my master, and while I was there, there was a big storm, and my town was covered by a flood. Big water rushed out from the mountains and many houses were washed away. I ended up staying half a year in Japan to help clean up. There was my father’s temple by the Kamo River bank, and my master’s temple, which has a similar feeling to this place. There is a steep slope of hill coming down behind the temple. Rain washed away all the ditches, and a chunk of bamboo forest slid down. I had to work very hard to put them both back together!
Half a year later I went to my master and we sat face to face, quietly. He made green tea, and I drank. He said, “Are you going?” and I said, “Yes, yes, I am going again.” I won’t forget his face at that time. He said, “Suitable ability should be at the suitable place.” That’s all he said to me. My master was still in good shape, but getting old. His wife is getting a little softer. She was like my master’s master! Pushy and energetic and very sharp-tongued. You will be dead if she starts to criticize you! She said, “This temple doesn’t need two masters. You go somewhere!” I said, “Thank you!”
So I came back! He made me escape from Japan. Japan didn’t need my kind of person, I think.
But my master’s wife is getting soft, and my master’s eyebrows are getting really white, everything white, like his master. When I first saw him this time, on the way back from Sikkhim, he was using a bamboo cane for the first time. When he looked at me my first impression was that his eyes had turned to blue, and I was very surprised. Twinkling blue color. He looked very happy to see me. That was enough, and I spent some time with him, then came back here. It felt very good, just one glance.
He said he doesn’t need a second disciple. That’s what he told me, with a very intense feeling. “I don’t need anybody else as my student.” Since I came to America the congregation had been very disappointed in me and encouraged my master to take another disciple. They appealed to him for many many years. Finally, he said, “Okay,” so now I have a little Dharma brother in Japan who is taking care of my master. It feels very good. He is tall! Volleyball teacher. And he skis excellently.
Some day he is going to come and ski with me, he says. Togo is his name, meaning
East. Satori is in the East. To means East. That’s his name. He’s very handsome, and village girls are in love with him, he’s not married yet! Very happy situation! The year before, he visited Lhasa and told me about his visit. Very adventurous, very interesting person. I want to know him more.
Physical presence is final expression, that’s what I believe. But how to be so is a really big subject, so I am always very puzzled and very very careful to receive people who come to my house, and there are incredible scenes. I receive them all as my master’s visit, and my wife doesn’t understand that and treats people in a very harsh way, and I start to wonder, “Who is this woman? Is this the master acting like that?” She doesn’t receive, he doesn’t receive a second thing, do you say “second thing?” My master is a very very hard person to relate to! I will tell you, I love him so much, so I’ll tell it: When you go, be just as you are, and just as you are you should be. There is nothing that is necessary. Be just as you are. My wife is exactly like my master, it’s a favorable way to relate, so it looks like I have no way to go away from my master. She says, “It’s nice to have you at home,once in a while. Now it’s time you go to sesshin.” Always she says so, and kicks me out of the house.
While my master is alive, I wish you can all have time to see him. That’s partly why I’m here, to be a bridge for you. I may not go with you, but you can just walk on my back and find where he is. A very excellent man. I don’t know if he is a monk or priest or teacher or just country man. I cannot believe such a man exists. A monster, is the best way to say it! A very magically monstrous person. He had nothing to do with zazen, nothing to do with Soto or Rinzai. He didn’t speak about practice. And his wife is a very excellent lady, so women should go and see my master’s wife, too. Very good.
Going to see Master Chino, my Dharma master, is a great joy, but I cannot stay too long. I have to pull myself from his world as quickly as possible, otherwise sorrow remains. I want to stay with him and look after him until his passing. That is my job as his disciple. But he doesn’t like it, he wants me to do what he wanted to do himself, so I have to pull myself back and go in sorrow, and wander around in strange places. Departure is very very hard.
When I go back to Japan for a week I feel very shocked every day, and then slowly start to become Japanese, and before I feel I have become Japanese again, I have to pull myself out. Otherwise I wold have to say goodby to you! It’s a very very strong pull!
I have spent some long period in retreat, and after some experience of being alone, becoming kind of familiar with myself, it took a long time to come back to people and start to recover old relationships. Still working on it! I had a powerful admiration for people of knowledge. When I went to school to study, some people appeared like the ocean or the sky. It wasn’t artistic devotion and wish to serve that person, but an amazing longing to know things from the person whose experience after many many years had developed almost unreachable polished knowledge. That drew me. But I don’t encourage students to devote themselves to me, I don’t want to have any students! Too busy! I am a student still. After I become ninety years old, then you can start to hold my hand when I walk!
Most of of time my sitting is utterly dark, and very warm, and it feels like a fermented junkyard, or something. But once in a while a forgotten jewel is in there, so I treasure them. When I pull it out, it shines. Often I feel that the action of zazen itself saves me from so much heaviness of life. It brings me back to where I started. After about five or six sittings, my body feels very energized. To sit with you is a very wonderful excuse, actually. If I sit alone, zazen flips me away, throws me away. “You are no good!” Breaking many Precepts, one after another, I gave up zazen, and it was very foolish to do that. I mean, I thought I’m not worthy to do zazen. For this reason, I thank you very much that you pulled me out of the dark and let me sit with you! It is wonderful to sit seven days, even though I know what will happen, and what’s going on, still, it’s nice to have some slight new discovery, always.
One purpose of my life is, no military on this earth. No fighting, no creating weapons is my aim. Such gigantic energy, economy, spending...to make something else instead of making weapons. How to make it a concrete effort is a very big subject for me. Our mind is very powerful this way. When we lose a teacher, it is very shocking, it has a very powerful effect. When a student dies or goes away, it takes a long time to approve yourself. Trust and dependence is so tightly interrelated that it is very difficult to fill the empty gap. In twenty years of life, I fear we’ve lost many fellow practicers, unreturned friends. Even just thinking of it, you re-experience your anxiety again and again, as well as the great joy you shared together.
A temple is where your ashes are brought. You end there when you pass away. Your personal, individual life ends and you ask someone to bring them somewhere. That somewhere is the temple. So it has been from long ago, that this place [Jikoji] was a burial place before the first people from Europe came. I say “this place,” meaning this long strip of land, “Long Ridge,” you call it. For the benefit of living things here we could plan many things. Student : Do you think it’s your baby? I don’t know! You think so, I never thought so! I know, the other day people asked me about Kannon Do, “What are you going to do with your baby?” And the date of when this place could legally operate as a temple is the same day as Kannon do. And somebody tricked me, it was my birthday present, it was my birthday. “Oh no! I’m trapped!”
Student: So this wasn’t your idea? It happened! And of course I cannot do it alone. People who want to visit this place, do things here, should gather regularly. Continuing this place is secondary. Who comes here is most important to me. If I am here, I must limit people or I might make some kind of trip on others.If you put me in the teacher’s position, I am responsible as a last resort to stop this place, and to ask people to leave. But so far, I have never asked people to leave...But that is a negative kind of responsibility, an emergency case. So I want to know more about what you want to do on this land. Most residents here are caucasian. I’m kind of alien, so I mustn’t be your boss, that’s my feeling. It’s a kind of cultural problem, and I want to be very smart about this.