Tag Archives: Shohaku

Interconnected: the study of our times

A message from Okumura Roshi

The problem which all people are facing now is really about Shoji (Life-and-Death) and Zenki (Total Function).

These are the two fascicles of Shobogenzo I was asked to talk about in London recently. I had to cancel my talks and return home because of the pandemic.

Zenki says that we are interconnected with all beings, therefore both life and death are the manifestation of total function.

When we are born, we don’t attain anything, when we pass away, we don’t lose anything.

Copyright©2020 Jisho Takahashi

Interconnected: the expression “zenki”

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Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.
This is the last of a series of three posts on Zenki and Shoji.
You can find the first post in this series here.
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For further study:

Our life: the study of our times

A message from Okumura Roshi

The problem which all people are facing now is really about Shoji (Life-and-Death) and Zenki (Total Function).

These are the two fascicles of Shobogenzo I was asked to talk about in London recently. I had to cancel my talks and return home because of the pandemic.

I think the important point of studying Shoji (Life and Death) is that our life is extremely fragile and therefore it is precious.

We need to take care of our life without clinging to it.

Copyright©2020 Jisho Takahashi

Our usual understanding of “my life”

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Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.
This is the second of a series of three posts on Zenki and Shoji.
You can find the first post in this series here.
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For further study:

Alive or Dead: the study of our times

A message from Okumura Roshi

From February 25 to March 16 of this year, I was in Europe. I visited four Zen centers in Italy, Greece, and France. Fortunately, even though the influence of coronavirus was increasing, the practice events at these centers went well. The final place I was to visit was London, but the event had to be cancelled.

On March 16th, I returned to Bloomington, about the time the US government banned entrance to all from Europe except US citizens and permanent residents. After returning to Sanshinji, I have been staying in the temple trying avoid contact with other people except for my family. Because Sanshinji has been closed since the day I returned, it is not difficult to live without coming into contact with people. Fortunately, I have had no health problems. During this quiet time, I am focusing on preparation for future Genzo-e and writing books.

Since April 1, I have been sitting one period of zazen in the morning from Monday to Friday, and I do morning service by myself. In addition to the usual morning service, I chant the Enmeijukku Kannonkyo and dedicate it to the people whose lives were taken, to those who are sick, to the care givers, and to all people, who are all facing this problem together.

For the two-day event in London, I was going to talk about Shobogenzo Shoji (Life-and-death) and Shobogenzo Zenki (Total Function). During this period of the pandemic, Dogen Zenji’s teachings on life-and-death and total function of interdependent origination are very relevant for all of us. I would like to visit London and share the teachings in these fascicles of Shobogenzo when the pandemic is gone.

Uchiyama Roshi once said that, when people in the society do not know what to do because of confusion, the best thing we can offer is sitting immovably, silently, and peacefully with upright posture.

When I sit by myself, I feel a connection with all people.

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Below we are republishing content regarding Shoji, modified from an earlier Dōgen Institute post. Two more extracts from lectures on Shoji and Zenki will follow in subsequent weeks.
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Alive or dead?

Life and death

 

Dōgen Zenji held the collected Ch’an (Zen) kōans of the Blue Cliff Record in high esteem. Its contents were compiled by Ch’an Master Yuanwu Keqin — Engo in Japanese — who also provided commentary. So it’s no surprise that he might appear in Dōgen Zenji’s own writings.

We find Engo mentioned in Fascicle 42 of Shōbōgenzō titled Zenki. Okumura Roshi translates the title as Total Function.

Engo is also referenced in Fascicle 93, Shōji, or Life and Death.

Okumura Roshi lectured on those two texts in November, 2009 during the five-day Genzo-e Retreat at Sanshinji. In the following audio clip from that gathering, he introduces us to those chapters with a famous kōan from the Blue Cliff Record. It’s Case 55, Alive or Dead. It involves Master Dogo and his student Zengen.

Roshi describes what transpires between master and disciple when they visit a home where there’s been a death. It provokes a burning question for Zengen. Tapping the coffin, he asks his master, “Alive or dead?”

In telling the story, Hojo-san allows us to experience the perspective of both disciple and master. Even more, we can share the insights he brings to these works through his own translation of the texts.

What is alive? What is dead? What is total function?

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Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.
This is the first of a series of three posts on Zenki and Shoji.
You can find the original version of the content on Shoji here.

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For further study:

    • Life & Death: 9 lectures on Shōbōgenzō Zenki and Shōji — You’ll find the entire digital album here.

> More recordings by Shōhaku Okumura


Copyright 2020 Sanshin Zen Community

Leaving home

Abanindranath Tagore [Public domain]

Those who are clear inevitably leave family life. Those who are dull end their lives at home, which are the causes and conditions of bad karma. – Dōgen[1]

Student:
Dōgen’s tone is quite harsh. What’s the positive intention he’s trying to convey here about leaving home to become a monk?

Okumura Roshi:
This is from Shukke-kudoku, the last chapter of the 75-chapter version of Shobogenzo. Shukke is home-leaving and kudoku is virtue or merit. It’s said that after finishing this, Dōgen wanted to make Shobogenzo into 100 chapters. He started to write, but only completed 12 of the additional 25 fascicles before he died. The very first chapter of the 12-chapter version of Shobogenzo was again Shukke-kudoku, Around this time, late in his life, home-leaving, or what becoming a Buddhist monk means seems very important to Dōgen. In Shukke-kudoku he praised the virtue or merit of home-leaving.

Dōgen’s statement here is very strong. He shows discrimination between lay practitioners and monks. Yet when he was young in Kyoto, around the time he wrote Bendowa and Genjokoan, he said in one of the Hogo[2] that there are two ways of practice in Buddhism: one is staying on a mountain or in a forest, and another is to live in the city. Within this hogo, he expressed that he didn’t want to leave the city. When he was young he made a choice to stay in the city and practice with a larger range of people in society. But when he left Kyoto, and especially later, after he came back to Echizen and Eiheiji from a visit to Kamakura, I think he developed a different idea. Kamakura was the seat of the Shogunate or the Samurai government, and Dōgen stayed in Kamakura for about eight months during 1247 and 1248. When he came back he told his monks that he really loved the mountains. Shukke-kudoku was probably written after that. The date is not clear. There was some change of opinion that had happened within him over those years.

To understand what this means is a koan. If I want to be Dōgen’s student, I have to think about this in order to make a decision about how I practice. This is a very important point. The first thing is to clearly see Dōgen’s change of attitude, this transformation. The next thing is to see the reason he made this change. This has been a koan for me for many years; even today I cannot make a clear decision which is better. When I was young, I think I had the same idea as Dōgen when he was young. This dharma should be recommended to all living beings, without any distinction between lay people and monks. That’s what he wrote in Bendowa. At that time, I think he really tried to share the dharma he studied and practiced in China. But I think he had some disappointment when he practiced and tried to recommend this genuine practice to people, especially to the high-class people in Kyoto, and the high-class government officials in Kamakura.

I think he may have found that in the Chinese stories which he described in Bendowa, stories about emperors and ministers and high government officials who practiced Zen, that what they called Zen practice or Buddhist practice was kind of insincere. For example, from my own experience, one time a Japanese prime minister had a photo of himself in the newspaper sitting zazen— and I really know that was insincere, without any question. I’m not sure if Dōgen really thought these Chinese examples were insincere, maybe he did, maybe not. He might have thought that those were really good examples and it was an ideal situation, but that it just didn’t work in Japan.

Even in Japan after Dōgen, there were many shogun, samurai, and famous people in high-class society who practiced Zen. But I think that possibly from Dōgen’s point of view their practice is not really the true practice of dharma. I don’t think those aristocrats in Kyoto and samurais in Kamakura at the time of Dōgen were so different from that prime minister. Dōgen had some disappointment after working hard with those aristocrats. I think he had some disillusionment about the people in the upper class of society, like emperors. He knew emperors because his family belonged to that society. His father was a secretary of the emperor. His grandfather was a prime minister— so he knew that society. When he was young, he was kind of idealistic, he thought that if he presented genuine dharma, people would accept it and support him and create a good dharma-world. But after ten years of his practice in Kyoto he found that was a dream. That is my understanding for now.

In any event, I think that he gave up the idea he described in Bendowa. What he next wanted to try to do was to create a small place where people with a very sincere aspiration can get together, and he felt it must be remote from the capital. He wanted to create a place where sincere people can get together and practice with him. To encourage those people who came to practice with him at this remote place, he wrote this kind of admonition or warning to his disciples, not to be involved in that kind of world. I’m not sure that he wanted to return to a separation between lay and monastic practice, but he wanted to make a small place where a small number of people could practice. I don’t think he rejected lay people, but his idea was for a small number of monks to practice at the monastery in a quiet place, and for lay people to support and join the practice whenever they can. That is similar to the original form of the Buddhist sangha. Again, that is my understanding for now.

After Dōgen, Soto Zen and the Soto School had eight hundred years of history. Neither of his two plans became actualized. That is a challenge for the Soto School today. Sotoshu is among the biggest Buddhist orders in Japan now. It has fifteen thousand temples, and more than twenty thousand priests. But the reason why the Soto School became big was not because people accepted Dōgen’s teaching of just sitting. There are other reasons, many different reasons, but it’s not because clergy and practitioners understood what Dōgen taught, and their practice was not necessarily what Dōgen taught.

Our koan for now is “so what?” What should we do in this country? Which is a better picture? The one in Bendowa or the one Dōgen presented after he moved to Eiheiji? Might there be something in the middle? What is that? This is a very important koan for Buddhist practitioners in this country right now. What we are doing creates the next generation, the history of Buddhism in this country. What I’m doing, or what we’re doing here is one attempt to find a middle way, at least to me. When I was in Massachusetts at Valley Zendo, I was very clear I didn’t want to practice in a city with a big group. I just wanted to keep this small quiet place, and that’s it. But after five years of that experience I had a question— why was I there? We had only five-day sesshin, without anything but zazen, every month, twelve times a year. I found that not many American people could sit that much. So in a sense, offering that amount of zazen is a kind of rejection of people. Of course, some people could do it but could not continue, because they had a job and a family. They didn’t have enough time or energy to practice in this way. So to offer practice in that way was a kind of a rejection. If we just wait for the very firmly determined people who are ready to practice in this way, I don’t think I need to be in this country. If such people exist, they could come to Japan. I couldn’t find any good reason to practice in that way in this country.

When I came to this country again in 1993 and started my own place, I wanted to find a middle way between what we did at Valley Zendo and spreading dharma. Now we have a five-day sesshin, not every month, but five times a year. Another thing I found is that it’s kind of dangerous to sit that amount of zazen without a clear understanding of the meaning of that practice. That’s why I started Genzo-e. I try to keep the gate a little broader. To me this is like a middle path. But still, it can be too difficult for many American people, especially American lay people. For some people, what I’m doing is still a kind of extreme. It’s kind of difficult to find where is the middle. We can’t say before we start. So while we are trying to continue to practice, we have to make some adjustments. But as a person who studied dharma and trained in Japan, and as a dharma-heir of my teacher, I myself cannot and don’t want to make such a big change. I’d like to continue to practice with a relatively small number of people. American people who practice and study with me can make a change to make this practice more accessible for a larger range of people in this country for the future. That is my wish.

 

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[1] Okumura’s translation.
[2] Hogo can be translated as “Dharma words.” These are often letters of practice instruction to students. For this particular hogo, see p. 498-500 in Taigen Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record: A translation of the Eihei Koroku (Wisdom Publications,2004), p. 632-733.

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Commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

The Dōgen Institute offers an occasional series of questions from students with responses from Okumura Roshi  about practice and study. These questions and responses are from Okumura Roshi’s recorded lectures, and are lightly edited.

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For further study:

> Other Questions and responses


Copyright 2020 Sanshin Zen Community

Conference – Coastal Zen: “Zen and Place”

 

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Please note: RSVP requested if you intend to attend the Saturday and Sunday events.

Coastal Zen: “Zen and Place”
Friday February 7, 2020 – Sunday February 9, 2020

In a time of technological distractions, mass tourism, and globalization our place seems to be everywhere, yet without ever truly being in place. During this three-day conference, a variety of speakers will explore the topic of place from a Zen Buddhist perspective. Speakers will explore topics around place, mostly inspired by Zen Master Dōgen and within the setting of our place, San Francisco and the Coastal mountain range.

All events take place in the Maraschi Room, Fromm Hall at the University of San Francisco.
Fromm Hall is across from the Saint Ignatius Church along Parker Ave (campus map).

Keynote Address:
Friday February 7, 4.45-6 pm
Okumura Shōhaku (Sanshin Zen Community)
“A Person in the Mountains”
 
Workshop:
Saturday February 8 and Sunday February 9
(Please RSVP by emailing Professor Gerard Kuperus, gkuperus@usfca.edu)
 
Saturday
8.30 am – 9.15 Paper 1:
Kanpū Bret Davis (Loyola University Maryland)
“Zen on Human Being’s Place(s) in Nature”

9.15 – 10 am Paper 2:
Mark Gonnerman (Foothill College)
“Zen and the Place of Silence”

10.15 – 10.45 am
Zazen

10.45 am – 12.15 pm Opening text Seminar 1
Shinshu Roberts (Ocean Gate Zen Center)
“Being as Place in Dōgen’s Understanding of Dharma Position”

Lunch

1.30 – 3 pm Workshop:
Myōen Elizabeth Sikes (New School for Psychoanalysis)
“Zen and Place Nature Therapy”

3.15 – 4 pm paper 3
Josh Hayes (Alvernia University)
“Cultivating Emptiness: Dōgen and Chinul on Buddha-Mind”

4.15 – 4.45 pm
Zazen

5.15 – 6 pm Paper 4
Joko Patricia Huntington (Arizona State University)
“Zen and the No(n)-Place of Psychic Borderlands”

Dinner

Sunday Morning

8.30 – 9.15 am Paper 6
Shūdō Schroeder (Rochester Institute for Technology)
“Openings”

9.30 – 10 am
Zazen

10.15 am – 11.45 pm Closing Text Seminar
Tetsuzen Jason Wirth (Seattle University)
“Central Coast Zen and the Poetic Word: Jeffers and Whalen”

https://www.instagram.com/coastalzen_andplace/

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> Other Events


Copyright 2020 Sanshin Zen Community

The pure water of faith

Manishpant33 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0) ]

If people genuinely practice with right faith, they all attain the Way equally. – Dōgen[1]

Student:
Could you talk a little bit about the phrase “right faith?”

Okumura Roshi:
“Right faith” is a translation of shōshin (正信); shō is “true” or “right” and shin is “faith” or “belief.” This Chinese character basically means “trust.” One part of the character for shin means “people” and the other part means “words,” so to believe means to believe people’s words – when someone is saying something, to accept it and trust that this person’s sayings are truth. As a Buddhist term, it’s said there are two kinds of shin or faith. One is called shinge, another is called gyoshin. Ge is understanding, so shinge is a combination of faith and understanding. Gyo means to respect, literally, to look up; so gyoshin is a combination of respect and trust.

Shinge, the first kind of faith, is explained using the example of someone who is digging a well. At the beginning, they can’t see the water, but as they keep digging, they start to see the soil getting wet. When they see that the soil is getting wet, even though they don’t have water yet, they have a belief that, “If we keep digging, then we will surely get water.” We don’t have the water yet, but we trust that if we keep this practice, we will get it. This is faith based on some understanding.

The second kind of faith comes out of our respect for the person who is speaking, such as a teacher; because of respect we trust the person, therefore, we trust his teaching, even though we don’t have any understanding. A typical example of this is faith in the pure land, as Shinran taught. Shinran said that he didn’t know whether chanting nembutsu is really a cause of being born in the pure land or not. He said that because he had nothing to do beside this practice, believing what his teacher Honen was teaching, and believing in the age of last dharma, self-power practice worked. Therefore, this practice of chanting nembutsu is the only possibility. So, even if he was deceived by his teacher and went to hell instead of the pure land, he said, that’s ok. He trusted his teacher’s teaching, because that’s the only hope he had. That kind of faith is called gyoshin— because of our trust in our teacher, we trust the teaching.

The title of Shinran’s major writing is Kyogyoshinsho; kyo is “teaching,” gyo is “practice,” shin is “faith,” and sho is “verification.” Those were all important elements for him, but in his case shin is really the basis of his teaching. In the case of Dōgen, gyo (practice) is the basis, but in this quotation he’s saying that shin is also important. Without shin or faith, we cannot keep this kind of nonsense practice, just to sit without expecting anything. This is a really difficult thing if we don’t have trust or belief or faith. Dōgen’s teaching is really difficult. As I often say, many of his teachings didn’t make sense to me at all. But somehow, I couldn’t stop, or I could continue (either expression is fine) because of my trust in my teacher’s way of life. It was not because of my understanding of Dōgen’s teaching, but because I wanted to live like my teacher, and follow my teacher’s practice based on zazen following Dōgen’s teaching. Whether I understand Dōgen or not is not so essential. But after I started to understand what he was saying, I was very happy, and my practice became more meaningful, and I had more gratitude for his teaching. I feel very fortunate; even though I didn’t understand his teaching I could continue to practice, and finally I started to understand.

So, in our practice also, I think faith is really important. Faith is the energy that allows us to continue with the many questions and doubts we have during the process of practicing for many years. Sometimes I had so many good reasons or excuses to stop, but somehow I couldn’t, because of my trust in my teacher’s way of life. My teacher and my teacher’s teacher had been practicing this zazen so many years, and they never stopped. Their life is already over. I can’t doubt their practice. They completely devoted their entire lives to this practice. So even though I didn’t understand the teaching or dharma taught by Dōgen, still I could continue. So, I think faith is really important.

One of the definitions of faith in Buddhism which appeared in the Abhidharmakośa is, in Chinese, shin chojo; cho and jo both mean to “be clear,” and shin is mind/heart. That means the mind/heart being pure or clear. According to that text, shin is like a jewel. It’s said that in India when monks travelled and had to drink water from rivers or ponds— I don’t know if this is true or not— there were certain jewels which when put in the muddy water, settled the mud down and then the surface of the water became pure. This mud is our doubt or delusions. If there is shin or faith, our delusions or our doubts go down and our life becomes clear and pure, and we can drink. Shin is not a belief in some kind of a system of belief or a doctrine we have to accept, like in many religions. Faith is something which makes our minds pure and clear.

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[1] From the answer to question 18 in Bendōwa. See Kōshō Uchiyama et al., The Wholehearted Way: A Translation of Eihei Dōgen’s Bendōwa with Commentary (Boston, Mass: Tuttle Publishing, 1997). page 40.

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Commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

The Dōgen Institute offers an occasional series of questions from students with responses from Okumura Roshi  about practice and study. These questions and responses are from Okumura Roshi’s recorded lectures, and are lightly edited.

— • —

For further study:

> Other Questions and responses


Copyright 2020 Sanshin Zen Community