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Hanging out

Copyright©2021 Misaki C. Kido

Dōgen’s Chinese Poems (38)

Given to Examination Graduate Ru


Natural wondrous wisdom itself is true suchness.
Why should we employ Confucian discourse or Buddhist texts?
Rely on sitting at ease at your place, and hang your mouth on the wall.
Friends arrive here and are released from emptiness.[1]

天然妙智自眞如 (天然の妙智自ずから眞如) 
何借儒論及佛書 (何ぞ儒論及び佛書を借らん)
靠坐閑牀掛口壁 (閑牀に靠坐して口を壁に掛く) 
知音到此脱空虚 (知音此に到って空虚を脱す)

This is verse 37 in Kuchūgen and verse 18 of volume ten of Eihei Kōroku (Dōgen’s Extensive Record). This verse in Manzan’s version has some differences in the second, third, and fourth lines:

何仮儒書及佛書 (何ぞ儒書及び佛書を仮らん)
Why should we rely on Confucian texts or Buddhist scriptures?
獨坐繩牀口掛壁 (繩牀に獨坐して口壁に掛く)
Sitting alone on the rope-chair, and hang your mouth on the wall.
等閑一實勝千虚 (等閑の一實千虚に勝れり)
One thoughtless reality is superior to thousands of hollow [discussion].

Given to Examination Graduate Ru

Verses 35, 36, 37, 38, and 39 in Kuchūgen were composed while Dōgen Zenji was in China. In volume 10 of Eihei Kōroku, there are fifty verses composed while he was practicing in China. These are the oldest written words by Dōgen while he was a training monk. In front of these verses, the compiler Sen’ne wrote:

Master Dōgen, in the second year of the Baoqing [Hōkyō] era of Song China [1226, wrote the following while] residing at Tiantong Jingde Zen temple on renowned Taibai Mountain in Qingyuan Province.[2]

Dōgen went to China with his master Myōzen in 1223 and stayed at Tiantong monastery where they had a connection through Myōzen’s master, Eisai. Since Myōzen remained there, the monastery became the base for Dōgen. The abbot of the monastery was the Rinzai master Wuji Liaopai, who died in 1224. Although the chronological order is not clear, Dōgen sometimes traveled extensively visiting various Zen masters. When he returned to Tiantong monastery in early 1225, he met Tiantong Rujing who had become the new abbot after Wuji’s passing away. In Shōbōgenzō Menju (Face-to-face Transmission), he wrote:

On the first day of the fifth month in the first year of the Baoqing (Jp. Hōkyō) Era of Great Song China (1225), I, Dōgen, for the first time offered incense-burning and did prostrations in [the abbot’s room] Myōkōdai (Mt. Sumeru Terrace). For the first time my late master, the ancient buddha, saw me, Dōgen.[3]

On the twenty-seventh day of the same month, Myōzen passed away. Dōgen became Rujing’s disciple and practiced intimately with him until he received dharma transmission and went back to Japan in 1227. Dōgen recorded his conversations with Rujing in Hōkyōki (the Record of Hōkyō Era) beginning from the seventh month in 1225. Rujing recognized Dōgen’s sincere practice and understanding of the Dharma. Dōgen wrote this about his practice under Rujing’s guidance:

When I was staying at Tiantong Zen Monastery in great Song China, while the old master Rujing was the abbot there, we did zazen until the third part of the second watch[4] and got up at about the second or third part of the fourth watch[5] to do zazen. The old master sat with the assembly in the monks’ hall. He never took even a single night off. While sitting, many monks fell asleep. The old master walked around hitting them with his fist or his clog, scolding them and compelling them to wake up.[6]

By 1226, I suppose that among the many people associated with Rujing, Dōgen was well known as the eminent disciple of the abbot of Tiantong monastery. Except for verses 35 and 36 about his pilgrimage to the Mt. Potolaka, most of the other verses Dōgen created in China were composed for lay practitioners who were Chinese government officers and their families.

“Examination graduate” refers to the people who have passed the imperial examination called keju (科挙, Jp. kakyo) and qualified to be government officials. Such intellectuals were also called shidafu (士大夫, Jp. shitaifu); scholar-official or literati) and many of them practiced Zen. It seems Verse 14 of volume 10 of Eihei Kōroku was given to this person’s mother and verse 47 was given to his younger brother.

Natural wondrous wisdom itself is true suchness.

“Natural” is a translation of tianran (天然, Jp. tennen, heaven-thusness). Tianran refers to phenomenal things created by “heaven” without any influence from human beings, or to reality beyond human thinking or desires. This word is similar to ziran (自然, Jp. shizen), meaning (1) being without any human artificial influence and (2) “inherent” or “innate.” Wuweiziran[7] is one of the essential expressions in Daoism.

In Buddhism, tianran or ziran is used as a name for the non-Buddhist philosophy that negates causality which was taught by Makkhali Gosala, one of the six non-Buddhist teachers in Shakamuni’s time. Later, writing in Shōbōgenzō, Dōgen used this word “tianran” with a negative connotation referring to this non-Buddhist teaching.

“Wondrous wisdom” is a translation of miaozhi (妙智, Jp. myōchi). Innate wondrous wisdom (天然妙智) is not the usual wisdom developed and attained through study and practice, but is naturally endowed to all people from the beginning. This is synonymous with buddha-nature, mind-nature, or original enlightenment in the tathagata garbha theory, mentioned for example in The Awakening of Faith in Mahāyāna (大乗起信論, Daijō Kishin ron). This innate wisdom is same as One-Mind that is true-suchness (zhenru, 真如, Jp. shinnyo) in that theory. This first line seems to be a description of the essential principle of that theory.

In that theory in The Awakening of Faith in Mahāyāna, originally One-Mind is pure and without defilement, like peaceful water. Somehow, suddenly the wind of ignorance blows, and waves are caused, that is, our discriminative thinking, which differentiates good/bad, right/wrong, like/dislike etc. We take actions based on such discriminations, we make good or bad karma, and as the result, our life becomes transmigration within samsara. By stopping discriminative thinking, we return to the original One-Mind. Even when we are in delusion and transmigrating in samsara, the original One-Mind is not eliminated; it is hidden but still there, only we cannot see it. Sometimes, it is compared to a diamond hidden in a rock. The One-Mind hidden by delusive discriminating thoughts is called original enlightenment (本覚, Jp. hongaku). When we arouse bodhicitta and practice in order to gradually return to the original One-Mind, that process is called actualization of enlightenment (始覚, Jp. shikaku).[8] Dahui’s kanhua (watching story) Zen put emphasis on the actualization of enlightenment through a kind of break-through experience called kenshō (見性) and Tsaodong (Sōtō) silent-illumination Zen put emphasis on silent sitting as the manifestation of original enlightenment.[9] This idea is also the basis of the famous Zen expression, “separate transmission outside the teachings (教外別伝, kyōge-betsuden).” Later Dōgen criticized this idea in Shōbōgenzō Bukkyō (仏教, Buddha’s Teaching) and Bukkyō (仏経, Buddha Sutras).

 Why should we employ Confucian discourse or Buddhist texts?

Because innate wondrous wisdom is already endowed within all people, and because it is beyond human conceptual, discriminative thinking, any language written in Confucian, Daoist, or Buddhist texts cannot be the direct expression of the true reality. This is the fundamental logic behind the idea of the three teachings: that Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism are identical (三教一, sankyō-icchi). In this view, the three teachings are an explanation from various perspectives of the ultimate reality which is beyond language and thinking, so that when we return to the ultimate reality, there is no difference among these three teachings. Later, Dōgen strongly criticized this idea in Shōbōgenzō Shohōjissō (諸法実相, The True Reality of All Beings) and Bukkyō (仏経, Buddha Sutras).

Rely on sitting at ease at your place, and hang your mouth on the wall.

The method of returning to the original source, the ultimate reality, is to stop thinking using words, concepts and logic, shut the mouth, and sit. “Hung your mouth on the wall” came from a kōan, Case 46 of Book of Serenity.

Great Master Yuanming of Deshan said to the assembly, “When you get to the ultimate end, you just find the buddhas of all times have their mouths ‘hung on the wall.’ There is still someone who laughs, ha! ha! If you know this one, your task of study is finished.”[10]

The famous Sōtō Zen master Hongzhi, who coined the expression “silent illumination” also used this expression several times. To me, this verse by Dōgen seems like a clear description of silent illumination Zen.

Friends arrive here and are released from emptiness.

Emptiness in this line is 空虚; 空 is empty, 虚 is void. “Being released from emptiness” sounds like the person was released from the wrongly taken poison of emptiness, that is, released from clinging to the view of emptiness. But here it means that, in silent sitting, we are released from discriminative thinking, which is nothing other than empty discussion using words, concepts and logic. Probably that is why Manzan’s version says that, “one thoughtless reality (等閑一実)” is superior to “thousands of hollow [discussion] (千虚).”

In 1226, when he wrote this verse, Dōgen was a twenty-six-year-old training monk in Rujing’s assembly. The intellectual lay practitioners for whom he wrote these poems were high class government officials who were Rujing’s students and also patrons of the monastery. I assume those lay practitioners liked Dōgen, who was a young foreign monk from Japan and yet a brilliant person who could write Chinese poems freely using the correct technique of rhyming corresponding to their poems offered to him. In Hōkyōki, Dōgen recorded his conversation with Rujing regarding Rujing’s poem on the windbell; in this conversation, Rujing recognized Dōgen’s understanding of Chinese poetry.

“What you say is profound and has the mark of greatness. I composed this poem while I was at Chingliang monastery. Although people praised it, no one has ever penetrated it as you do. I acknowledge that you have the Eye. You must compose poems in this way.”[11]

However, Dōgen was not in a position where he could argue about Zen Buddhist teachings with those government officials. I guess what he wrote in this poem might be the common understanding of Chinese Tsaodong (Sōtō) school’s silent illumination Zen, with the ideas of “special transmission outside teachings,” and “three teachings are identical.” I am not sure if this poem is the straightforward expression of his understanding at that time in 1226 or if he already had some questions about the theory. In Hōkyōki, we find that he questioned Rujing about these points. I feel that even though Dōgen’s shikantaza (just sitting) is similar to silent-illumination Zen, the theoretical basis is different. In any event, it took Dōgen some more time until he could clearly express his insight regarding these ideas.

— • —

[1] (Dōgen’s Extensive Record 10–18, p.614) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., www.wisdompubs.org.
[2] Dōgen’s Extensive Record p.610
[3] This is Okumura’s unpublished translation.
[4] About eleven p.m.
[5] About two-thirty or three a.m.
[6] Okumura’s unpublished translation of Chōenji-bon Zuimonki 3–19.
[7] Wuwei (無為Jp. mui, without-action, effortless action) plus ziran (自然, Jp. shizen).
[8] See The Awakening of Faith (translated by Yoshito S. Hakeda. Columbia University Press, 1967) p.36–37.
[9] See How Zen Became Zen: The Dispute over Enlightenment and the Formation of Chan Buddhism in Song-Dynasty China (Morten Schlutter, Kuroda Institute, 2008) p.119–21.
[10] Book of Serenity: One Hundred Zen Dialogue (Thomas Cleary, The Lindisfarne Press, 1990), p.194.
[11] See Deepest Practice, Deepest Wisdom: Three Fascicles from Shōbōgenzō with Commentaries (Kōshō Uchiyama, Wisdom Publications, 2018) p.7.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

— • —

For further study:

> More of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese Poems

Copyright©2021 Sanshin Zen Community

Is there a universal consciousness?

Is there a universal consciousness from which we are separated by delusion? Or when we let go of delusion, do we simply manifest something? Is there a thing separated from us only by delusion which we can join, or are we each unique examples of perfection?

In Dogen’s writings, this is not really clear; I think he takes both sides. My understanding from my own practice, and from studying Dogen, and from my teacher’s teaching, is that there’s not a certain fixed, universal reality, from which we are separate only because of our thinking. If we are living within the realm of thinking, how can we know such a reality? How do we know that it exists even though we don’t see it? It’s not really clear to me. I don’t believe there is that kind of a foundation, which is sometimes called buddha-nature, or the true reality of all beings.

The Lotus Sutra says:

“Only a buddha together with a buddha can fathom the Reality of All Existence, that is to say, all existence [has] such a form, such a nature, such an embodiment, such a potency, such a function, such a primary cause, such as secondary cause, such an effect, such a recompense, and such a complete fundamental whole.”[1]

That reality is the reality we are living in— and yet we cannot see it. That’s what I’m referring to when I talk about the network of interdependent origination. Whether this reality is the same or not is a really important, really subtle point. There is a solid foundation as a reality, and we are a part of it, and yet we are separate from it because we are full of deluded thinking. To return to that reality by letting go of thought is one way to understand our practice. But I don’t think this is the case. When we let go, we are not sure whether there is such a foundation or not. This is a kind of belief. In the Lotus Sutra, it says that only a buddha together with a buddha can see this. I cannot speak on behalf of Dogen or Uchiyama Roshi, but within my practice, my own personal practice, I am not sure if there’s such a solid foundation from which we deviate. Whether such a thing exists or not, our practice is we just let go.

When I discuss the network of interdependent origination as a circle with crisscrossed lines as a net within that circle, I often say that the circle is extra. That means, I’m sure we’re connected with all beings, and yet there’s no such boundary as that circle. When we let go, we are released from self-clinging, released from our artificial man-made picture of the world. That’s all. We are not sure whether we return to this foundation or not. There’s no way to figure it out. “Now I have returned” or “Now I’m there”— there’s no way to make sure or verify that I’m there. But what we can do is just to let go and be released from our clinging. To open our hand is it. But if we say that when we open our hand, we return to this, then it is the same as the teaching of original enlightenment— that we are separate from original enlightenment because of our delusion, and our practice is to return to that reality. That is one of the ideas of Buddhist philosophy based on the theory of tathagata-garbha, or buddha-nature.

This question also has something to do with Dogen’s style of teaching or writing. I have been reading his writings for many years, but from studying his writings I don’t find such a solid “foundation” within his teaching, or something built up from that foundation. I see the same thing when I read Nagarjuna. What they are doing is almost deconstructing or destroying that foundation. That means that even this foundation is our idea. Letting go means we also have to let go of that type of idea. In the answer to question four in Bendowa, Dōgen said,

 “…when we truly do zazen thoroughly, relying on the Buddha mudra and letting go of all affairs, we transcend the limits of sentimental judgments about delusion and enlightenment…”[2]

“Sentimental judgment” is what we think. What we do is just let go of our clinging, and grasping, and deconstruct the building we have been building using the bricks of concepts, and knowledge, and thinking, like a system of thinking or thought. When we finish building this system of thought, it becomes a prison. We can’t get out. Our practice is to make a hole into these walls by letting go of whatever we have been thinking, whatever we have been achieving, whatever we have been grasping. In my understanding, Dogen did not build a building on the basis of a solid foundation— he tried to deconstruct this idea. Still, he is trying to show us a way of life, what we should do, how we should live. He describes what we should do, how we should practice in the zendo or for the rest of the day within the monastery. He teaches us how to live. But I think his teaching is how to live based not upon a certain kind of truth or reality, but by the way we become free from our clinging to any theory, even this kind of theory. That is my personal understanding. On this point I sometimes feel different from my teacher’s teaching. I think Uchiyama Roshi’s teaching is based on the idea or theory of buddha-nature, and to return to that reality, although he also negated that there is any such fixed thing. I think it’s really difficult to judge, in Dogen’s teaching, or Uchiyama Roshi’s teaching, or even in what I’m saying, whether that teacher is thinking of that kind of solid, fixed reality or truth to which we return. We are always in the process of letting go. There’s no end.

— • —

[1] Bunnō Katō and William Edward Soothill, The Threefold Lotus Sutra (Tokyo; New York: Kosei Pub. Co.; Weatherhill, 1987). p. 52

[2] Kōshō Uchiyama et al., The Wholehearted Way: A Translation of Eihei Dōgen’s Bendōwa with Commentary (Boston, Mass: Tuttle Publishing, 1997). p. 28

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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 2019 Sanshin Zen Community

Waterfall life

waterfallPhoto copyright © 2019 by David S Thompson

Can we change our habitual actions?

According to the Yogacara teachers, our life itself is really a neutral and peaceful thing, and yet it develops like the currents in a stream. Here is a quote from the Thirty Verses, a work by the famous Yogacara teacher Vasubandhu, in which he is describing the store-consciousness, also known as the alaya consciousness:

Among these, “maturation” is that called “the store-consciousness” which has all the seeds.
Its appropriations, states, and perceptions are not fully conscious, yet it is always endowed with contacts, mental attentions, feelings, cognitions, and volitions.
Its feelings are equaniminous: it is unobstructed and indeterminate.
The same for its contacts, etc. It develops like the currents in a stream.

In his Chinese translation of this verse, Xuanzang (Jp. Genjō c. 602 – 664) uses an expression meaning “violent stream.” This means the water flows quickly, even violently – without stopping, always going, like a huge waterfall. In this analogy of a waterfall, “violent stream” or “currents in a stream” means that there is no substance. There is no such thing called “waterfall” because it always changing, it’s always different water. Each time it’s new – so we cannot say this is the Niagara Falls, but it’s there, but it’s always changing, always moving. And the water carries things from different places or different times to this place, to the present. So alaya consciousness is flowing like a waterfall and it transports all things which are stored in this consciousness and these seeds perish each moment and arise each moment. In a sense, this consciousness dies each moment and is born each moment, yet it’s continuous. Each moment it’s new and yet each moment has some continuation. This analogy of a violent stream is a really clear image of what our life is like. When I was born, I was little small living being, and my mind didn’t work so well, or so much, and yet after that my body is always changing, always new, and my mind is always changing. Everything is always new. Our life is like a waterfall or a river.

In Japanese, we have proverb:

mitsugo no tamashii hyaku made

Roughly, it means that the mind or spirit of three year-old child or baby persists until they are one hundred years old. Actually, I believe that three years old is around the time children start to think using words. The seeds in this alaya consciousness are not just what is newly created after our birth, but when we are born, we already have some seeds from the past. We inherit from our parents, or as a member of human society we inherit something already. So when we are born we are not completely new, we already have some seeds. And yet we are completely neutral. I think this is really important point. Whatever kind of seeds we have we are always neutral, and that means we can change. Our life is a result of past karma or past causes. We have a connection with the past and still this is a cause towards the future, so in the future who we are depends upon what we do right now. That is the way we can transform ourselves into something new, something better.

We can transform our actions and our way of thinking. That is what Thirty Verses describes in the last part of the work. Roughly speaking there are five steps, and through this practice, our “goal” in Yogacara or Mahayana Buddhism is to become Buddha. From the moment we first arouse bodhi mind, there are five major steps toward becoming Buddha. Yogacarans described what we should do in each of those steps. It’s really detailed – there are actually fifty-two stages within those five steps, and it literally takes more than forever. They believed that when we practice till a certain stage in this lifetime, we can continue to practice from that stage onward during the next lifetime. Indian people of the time believed in reincarnation. We don’t need to believe that – at least, I don’t believe it. Of course, we cannot negate that because we don’t know, so there is no basis either to believe it or to negate it. But either way, the important point is what we do right now. Even if we don’t reincarnate, as an individual person my actions still influence the future even after I die. Since Shakyamuni Buddha practiced and taught in his way, his influence is still there after twenty-five hundred years. Since I studied with my teacher, I practice in this way. In that sense my practice or what I am doing is a kind of reincarnation of my teacher. That is the way one person’s actions or karma influences the future. There is cause and effect, or influence, or seeds. Even if we don’t believe in reincarnation or the transmigration of life after life as an individual, the principal of causation remains true.

The most important thing is what we do right now at this present moment which creates the future. In order to put this into practice, we should really learn our past, not only the past of this individual person from birth, but what human beings have been doing since the beginning of history, or even from the big bang. Everything influences this person and this moment, and each one of us has influence towards the future. We should understand that even though this is a small person, and our action is really small, our action is really universal. Our being, what I am doing, influences and is influenced or created by the whole universe, by the entirety of time. From the beginning of the universe this influence continues to the endless end of the universe.

— • —

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 2019 Sanshin Zen Community

Do you believe that everyone has Buddha-nature?

Photo copyright © 2019 by David S Thompson

Do you believe that everyone has Buddha-nature?

For people in the Yogacara school of Buddhism, this is a really important point. Yogacara teachers thought there are two kind of Buddha-nature. One is Buddha-nature as a principal or idea, another is Buddha-nature as practice or actual life. As a principal, everything is Buddha-nature – all people have Buddha-nature, but as an actuality, there are some people who hear about dharma or Buddha’s teaching and it’s not attractive to those people. “Buddha’s teaching” means the teaching of emptiness, beyond any kind of self-and-other dichotomy. This doesn’t mean those people are evil or bad, but those people cannot see the emptiness of beings; so they can be a very moral person, or a very nice person, but their understanding or way of viewing things is dualistic – “I want to be a good person so I try to be generous or do something for other people.” This kind of attitude is not bad. Yet this is blind to the reality of emptiness, of no beings, no one who is doing good things, and no person who can be helped.

When we really look deeply into ourselves, we find this person, and we cannot believe this person has Buddha-nature. It’s really important to know that. It’s easy to just think or believe that all human beings have Buddha-nature, it’s a really nice thought. Yet if we honestly reflect on ourselves, even though we hear Buddha’s teaching, still we attach, and cling to this person. Still we think, “Me first.” Even though we understand Buddha’s teaching, and even though we practice zazen or Buddha’s teaching, still we try to protect this person before other people. If we really deeply see this selfishness or egocentricity, it’s more honest to say, “I don’t have Buddha-nature.“ There is no possibility for me to become Buddha. For the followers of Yogacara, it is more important to see this incompleteness or egocentricity and deep selfishness than to simply believe all beings have Buddha-nature.

That is the difference between Yogacara philosophy and tathagatagharba theory. In tathagatagharba theory, our life is Buddha-nature itself, and yet somehow it has been covered with dirt, or delusion/selfishness. Essentially our life is good, and yet our selfishness or delusion is like a guest. Somehow it comes from outside and clings to this, covers this Buddha-nature. Therefore, what we should do is see the Buddha-nature and take this dirt away from it and polish it. Then original Buddha-nature starts to be revealed. That is the basic idea of tathagatagharba theory. Yogacara is different. According to those teachers, our alaya consciousness is not Buddha-nature, it’s always neutral. So it can be good or bad depending upon our action. In that sense, this practice or teaching is more actual, it’s not an abstract thing. I think from this point of view, the theory of Buddha-nature or tathagatagarba is kind of abstract. Therefore, it’s an important point when we study Yogacara, to see things from this point of view. When we study tathagatagarba theory, we should see things from that point of view. Those two points can be contradictory. And yet another viewpoint, the Madhyamnika, is also different. Seeing our life from different perspectives, the important point is what this means for this person.

Of course we can say this is true, this is my way; we can take one of these points of view as my point of view. “This is most familiar to me, I think this is the best way.” And yet my attitude, or the so called zen attitude is that we don’t stand on either point of view, but see them as perspectives on this life, this person. We don’t stand upon, or take any view or any point of view. That is the basic attitude of “zen people,” zen practitioners. They study and yet they try to forget; they try not to use those theoretical or philosophical terms. Instead, zen people try to show the reality within reality without using those logical frameworks, or theory. That’s why zen stories, zen questions and answers, or zen expressions are really concrete. They don’t discuss what is Buddha-nature – they just show it. They don’t discuss whether we have Buddha-nature or not but just try to show it by direct action. So as a zen practitioner, it is important to study the systems of philosophy or theory in any of the schools in Buddhism; they can be the ground or soil of our practice. And yet we have to put any philosophical theory into our own lives at this moment, right now right here. Then – what do you do, how do we live based on any theory or philosophy? That is a characteristic point in zen.

— • —

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 2019 Sanshin Zen Community