The deep mountain

rain-drops-336527_1280It’s a mistake to think that the mountain is an ideal place to find calm. I knew an abbot who’d made this choice. He yawned constantly: “Oh! How long the days are! If only a visitor would think to bring me some sushi!” It might be a good idea to live deep in the mountains if they weren’t infested with demons ceaselessly prowling in the vicinity. They quickly visit, and the solitude doesn’t last long. The hermitage we’re talking about here is in a place so isolated that you don’t even hear the lowing of a cow, and where there is no human trace. Dōgen Zenji said: “The dusts of the world do not reach it.” In this place, the snow falls in silence; man is motionless.

What world is this? It’s a world of man alone with himself, his deep mountain where he withdraws far from the noise and activities of life. A world where he sees no one. When they speak of an isolated place, I always think of the toilet. There also it’s the deep mountain. No one. No link with anything. Alone with yourself.   Such is the Way of authentic religion. When we’re face to face with someone, we go on stage and play a role. The majority of things we do under the eyes of others, but the place where no one sees you, where you come to grips with yourself – this is your deep mountain.

There’s no longer any reason to lie to your parents, to your children, to your wife. At the moment when one can no longer lie to others, then one is oneself. You are in the deep mountain when you can no longer lie to yourself and this “self” can no longer deceive you. Daichi Zenji said, “Wherever you may be, when it’s no-thought, that’s the mountain. No matter where this blue mountain may be, you are at home.” This is precisely the sense of the phrase, “Entering the deep mountain.” This place does not need to be isolated or out of the range of noise. Right in the middle of the Ginza, on the bus, on the train, what does it matter? One comes to grips with oneself and doesn’t let go!

Thus, at the University I don’t even know the students’ names. It matters little to me that the supposed response they give to me may be coming from their substitute. I let it happen. I don’t worry about the truth of the signature on the attendance list. They’re free to make noise. In fact, though they may fool their professor, they can’t fool their classmates. If somebody wants to attract attention, he doesn’t deceive his buddies, who will despise him. Just as on the stock exchange, his stock will never be taken up. On the other hand, someone admired by his peers will take on worth, and this will be increased that much more as the practice of zazen brings him calm and equilibrium.

We should be able to enter the deep mountain no matter where we are, even on a train. The toilet’s not the only place we can find isolation and be completely our self. The mountain is everywhere. When one is without birth and without thought, one seeks nothing. There is no longer either joy or sorrow, neither attraction nor repulsion. If things still divide into those that one loves and those that one does not love, it’s a village, not the deep mountain.

K​​ōd​ō​ S​awaki​
Commentary​ on​ The Song of Awakening by Y​​ōka Daishi
​French translation of Japanese original by Janine Coursin
English translation from the French by Tonen O’Connor
Copyright 2014 Tonen O’Connor

2 thoughts on “The deep mountain

  1. Ed

    Sawaki roshi always comes up with downto earth comment: solitude in the modern world can be found in few place, the toilet being one of those few. Gotta love that.


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