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#1612 - Monday, November 10, 2003 - Editor: Jerry

This edition of the highlights consists of excerpts typed from Zen Poems, Prayers, Sermons, Anecdotes, Interviews. Selected and translated by Lucien Stryk and Takashi Ikemoto. It was originally published in 1963 and has remained in print. Click here to find out more about this book or to order it:


For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Wallace Stevens, "The Snow Man"



My first encounter with an enlightened Zennist took place twenty-five
years ago at his temple in the mountains south of Niigata in Japan. I
knew little of Zen, but found myself responding with increasing warmth
to its arts. I had gone to an exhibit of the priest's ceramics in
Niigata, where I lectured on literature at the university, and was
greatly taken by their purity and vigor. Asking about him, I was
informed that his temple was in the mountains some fifteen miles from
the city. Soon I was able to arrange a visit.

On a bright Saturday morning in autumn, accompanied by two of my
students -- Yoshki, whom I often think of, wondering where life has
taken him, and Hiroshi, now a teacher and lifelong friend -- I took a
bus to the nearest stop, some miles from the temple. We went on foot up
a path two hours deep into forests flaming with pine and maple,
occasionally passing a farmer or woodsman, startled at the sight of a
foreigner (I was told later that I was probably the first ever to walk
that path.) Finally we reached the temple, before which was a garden
thick with vegetables piled up in the sun. The priest, bent over a
spade, shouted a greeting, bowed, said he would join us before long.

To the right of the old tile-roofed temple was a small kiln, a dozen
recently fired pots, and to its side some farmers, crouching besides
the baskets who, we later learned, had come to mull over plans for a
coming festival with the priest and his wife, bringing gifts of rice
and mushrooms. We joined them, amused a their good-natured laughter at
the sight of such a stranger, exclaiming over the brightly packaged
sweet beancakes we had brought. Finally the priest approached and,
brushing earth from his hands, called to his wife to bring out tea for
all. He chatted with his visitors -- clearly a joyous occasion.

Soon he turned his attention to us, warmly insisting that we stay at
the temple overnight. We gladly accepted, then followed to the kiln
where he replaced new-fired pots. Every work and gesture flowed
unhurried, as if he had known us always, genuinely pleased that we had
come. We spent the day walking in all directions, gathering fallen
nuts, and in the evening, after the chanted service and the sounding
bell, we feasted on sweet pickles, rice, and vegetables served by his
wife, so clearly proud strangers had come from far Niigata to meet her
husband. Then came our chance to really talk with him.

For one seeming so cut off from worldly matters, he was exceptionally
informed in the arts, speaking easily, with much enthusiasm of
ceramics, painting and, when he became aware of my interest, poetry. He
spoke of great Zen poets, of whom I knew next to nothing, and -- to my
surprise -- of certain foreign writers in whom he had a strong
interest, among them Whitman and Thoreau. He asked what was felt about
them these days, whether I was teaching their works at the university.
Impressed with the acuteness and boldness of his judgment, I began
asking about Zen, his life as priest and artist. What he told me, his
very manner, convinced me I would have to set about learning as much as
possible about a philosophy which could inspire such a life, make a man
content with his place, however obscure, and his work among people for
whom he obviously cared deeply.

The visit left an extraordinary impression. Home again, sipping tea
from the superb bowl he made for me (I still count it among my prized
possessions), I began making plans. Soon I was inquiring seriously into
Zen, reading everything available, and for my own pleasure and
enlightenment making very tentative translations of some of its
literature, particularly poetry. I visited temples and monasteries,
meeting masters and priests, throughout the country, and, most
important of all, began to meditate. I sensed most strongly that I had
found something which could make a difference to my future. The
intuition proved right for that encounter in the mountains was among
the most important of my life.


from POEMS

When you're both alive and dead,
Thoroughly dead to yourself
How superb
The smallest pleasure!


~ ~ ~

I moved across the Dharma-nature,
The earth was buoyant, marvelous.
That very night, whipping its iron horse,
The void galloped into Cloud street.

-- Getsudo

~ ~ ~

Refreshing, the wind against the waterfall
As the moon hangs, a lantern, on the peak
And the bamboo window glows. In old age mountains
Are more beautiful than ever. My resolve:
That these bones be purified by rocks.

-- Jakushitsu

~ ~ ~

How to heal the phantom body of its phantom ill,
Which started in the womb?
Unless you pluck a medicine from the Bodhi-tree,
The sense of karma will destroy you.

-- Tesshu



The only thing I tell my people is to stay in the Buddha-mind. There
are not regulations, no formal discipline. Nevertheless they have
agreed among themselves to sit in Zen for a period of two incense
sticks daily. All right, let them. But they should understand that the
birthless Buddha-mind has absolutely nothing to do with sitting with an
incense stick burning in front of you. If one keeps in the Buddha-mind
without straying, there's no further satori to seek. Whether asleep or
awake, one is a living Buddha. Zazen means only one thing -- sitting
tranquilly in the Buddha-mind. But really, you know, one's everyday
life, in its entirety, should be thought of as a kind of sitting in

Even during one's formal sitting, one may leave one's seat to attend to
something. In my temple, at least, such things are allowed. Indeed it's
sometimes advisable to walk in Zen for one incense stick's burning, and
sit in Zen for the other. A natural thing, after all. One can't sleep
all day, so one rises. One can't talk all day, so one engages in Zazen.
There are no binding rules here.

Most masters these days use devices (koans, etc.) to teach, and they
seem to value these devices above all else -- they can't get to the
truth directly. They're little more than blind fools! Another bit of
their stupidity is to hold that, according to Zen, unless one has a
doubt he proceeds to smash, he's good for nothing. Of course, all this
forces people to have doubts. No, they never teach the importance of
staying in the birthless Buddha-mind. They would make of it a lump of
doubt. A very serious mistake.

--Bankei-Eitaku (1622-1693)

On Life and Death

"Since there is Buddhahood in both life and death," says Kassan,
"neither exists." Jozan says, "Since there is no Buddhahood in life or
death, one is not led astray by either." So go the sayings of the
enlightened masters, and he who wishes to free himself of the
life-and-death bondage must grasp their seemingly contradictory sense.

To seek Buddhahood outside of life and death is to ride north to reach
Southern Etsu or face south to glimpse the North Star. Not only are you
traveling the wrong way on the road to emancipation, you are increasing
the links in your karma-chain. To find release you must begin to regard
life and death as identical to nirvana, neither loathing the former nor
coveting the latter.

It is fallacious to think that you simply move from birth to death.
Birth, from the Buddhist point of view, is a temporary point between
the preceding and the succeeding; hence it can be called birthlessness.
The same holds for death and deathlessness. In life there is nothing
more than life, in death nothing more than death: we are being born and
are dying at every moment.

Now, to conduct: in life identify yourself with life, at death with
death. Abstain from yielding and craving. Life and death constitute the
very being of Buddha. Thus, should you renounce life and death, you
will lose; and you can expect no more if you cling to either. You must
neither loathe, then, nor covet, neither think nor speak of these
things. Forgetting body and mind, by placing them together in Buddha's
hands and letting him lead you on, you will without design or effort
gain freedom, attain Buddhahood.

There is an easy road to Buddhahood: avoid evil, do nothing about
life-and-death, be merciful to all sentient things, respect superiors
and sympathize with inferiors, have neither likes nor dislikes, and
dismiss idle thoughts and worries. Only then will you become a Buddha.

--Dogen (1200-1253)



Tanzan (1819-1892), a rare master, once officiated as indoshi at a
funeral. Facing the coffin, he formally made a great circle in the air
with a firebrand. And now all the attendants awaited the customary
splendid phrases. But the master's mouth was clamped shut.

Then while the attendants stared in amazement the rays of the setting
sun fell directly on the master's bald head, seeming to scorch it.
"Hot!" Tanzan said. "Hot! Oh hot!" He then made a slight bow to the
coffin and returned to his place.

Needless to say, the attendants remained puzzled long after the coffin
had been settled in the earth.

~ ~ ~

One day Tesshu, the famous swordsman and Zen devotee, went to Dokuon
and told him triumphantly he believed all that exists is empty, there
is no you or me, etc. The master who had listened in silence suddenly
snatched up his long tobacco pipe and struck Tesshu's head.

The infuriated swordsman would have killed the master there and then,
but Dokuon said calmly, "Emptiness is quick to show anger, isn't it?"

Forcing a smile, Tesshu left the room.

~ ~ ~

A heretic approached the Buddha and said, "Please tell me, O Masterful
One, what is above both speech and silence?"

The Buddha made no reply.

Filled with admiration, the heretic said, "I understand,
World-most-Honored. Stripped of illusion, I see at last!"

When the heretic had gone, the disciple Ananda said to the Buddha, "Hmm
-- I wonder what it was he saw."

"He's like a good horse," said the Buddha with a smile. "Just the
shadow of the whip, and off he gallops."



(The introduction to the chapter, which seems more Zen-like than the
actual interviews --editor)

Yamaguchi, the "Kyoto of the West," is one of the best preserved of the
castle towns of Japan, and is well known for its superb Zen temples,
among them Toshun, one of the most beautiful in spite of its age (or
because of it), which the billowy green of the young bamboo trees
planted on the slope of the mountain against which it was built tends
to belie. As has so often been the case in this crowded land, the
mountain has served to protect the temple from the encroachment of
those seeking breathing space on the outskirts of town. In this respect
it most clearly resembles Kyoto: to its ring of mountains might be
attributed the fine state of its shrines and temples, if not their very

If the reader has seen Kurosawa's Rashomon, he will remember the
opening scene: the rain, the old gate, the wasted grandeur of the
temple. well, it was raining when Takashi Ikemoto and I bicycled up
from the national university where we teach, and I was strongly
reminded of that scene. We parked our bicycles and entered the temple.
A few minutes later we were met by Taigan Takayama, master of the
Toshun, and led to his reception hall, which overlooks a lovely garden.
Takayama is young (thirty-four), intellectual (a graduate in Chinese
Philosophy of Kyoto University) and, Ikemoto has informed me, he
journeys to Kyoto a few times a year to undergo more discipline.

Though we have had about a week to mentally prepare for the exchange,
we did not think it in the spirit of Zen to prepare a list of
questions. Perhaps this will turn out to be a mistake. It was agreed
that we take turns asking questions and that Ikemoto would record what
was said and translate the difficult parts.

Before we begin, a few words from Takayama: "I know very well that Zen
is above explanation, and that the Westerner may find expository
remarks in a Zen interview inadequate. Nonetheless, an exchange between
a Westerner and a Japanese master might very well serve as a stimulant
toward the reader's further efforts for a better appreciation of Zen.
Indeed the remark that Zen is above explanation applies only to those
destined to remain ignorant of it. As for those, on the other hand,
possessed of insight keen enough, they will be able to intuit a Zen
meaning in a master's words, spoken or written. It is my hope that the
reader will read the following exchange in the proper way and, thus,
see into the spirit of Zen."

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Nonduality: The Varieties of Expression Home

Jerry Katz
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