Tag Archives: Uchiyama

In Buddhism, do we need faith?

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I’ve always rejected dogma – is “awakening to the reality of interdependent origination” dogma? Do we just have to have faith in it, like in Christianity?

If we don’t practice and awaken to the reality of interdependent origination by ourselves, as our own experience, that is dogma. If you memorize everything Dogen wrote or what Uchiyama Roshi or I have said, that is dogma. But by practicing it, it becomes reality. I don’t know about Christianity, but in the case of Buddhism I think we can each have the same experience of awakening.

Usually in our tradition, our process of studying and practicing is to hear or read some teaching, think about what we heard, and if we think that it is reasonable or doable, we put the teaching into practice. Through the practice we find the teaching is really true.

From hearing or studying the teaching to putting that teaching into practice there is a jump we need. This jump means to have a kind of determination, because when we hear and think, our thinking is not reality yet. It may sound okay but we are not sure. So we start to practice and it is at this point we need faith; even in Buddhism we need faith. Faith or trust is really important in this jumping.

In my case, I didn’t know about Buddhist teaching or theory when I started to practice. I read Uchiyama Roshi’s book, I didn’t understand it at all, but it sounded okay and was attractive to me. I trusted how Uchiyama Roshi lived, and I wanted to live like him. I didn’t start practicing because I believed Buddhist theory or Dogen’s teaching. Actually, I didn’t understand Dogen at all, one hundred percent. I trusted Uchiyama Roshi’s way of life; he had the same question when he was a teenager as I had. He spent his entire life finding the answer and after he found it, he continued to practice and share the teaching with younger people. So, my belief or faith was not really in Buddhist philosophy or in Dogen’s writing but in this person’s way of life. Without that trust I could not jump into this very strange practice that is good for nothing. We say it publicly – it is good for nothing. So I think we need some faith or trust, whether it is toward Buddhist teaching or philosophy, or toward someone’s writing, or toward some kind of living example. To me, the living example was most important.

So you don’t need to believe what I’m saying. If you just memorize and believe this is true then it becomes dogma, even what Dogen wrote or what Buddha said. If it becomes dogma then it has nothing to do with our own life, I think. So don’t believe what I’m saying.

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Commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

The Dōgen Institute hopes to offer 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:

  • See Shohaku Okumura Roshi’s commentary on his teacher’s modern classic Opening The Hand of Thought, in which he discusses self-power (jiriki) and other-power (tariki). Pure Land Buddhists sometimes say there are two gates in Buddhism: the gate of sacred path, practice with self-power; and the gate of easy practice, based on other-power.

> Other Questions and responses


Copyright 2018 Sanshin Zen Community

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New books from the Dōgen Institute

We are proud to announce the availability of two new books published by the Dōgen Institute:

Boundless Vows, Endless Practice

In honor of Sanshin Zen Community’s 15th anniversary, Shohaku Okumura and ten of his dharma descendants from around the world present a series of writings on making and carrying out bodhisattva vows in the 21st century. The book includes new translations by Okumura Roshi of material never before published in English.

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Life-and-Death: Selected Dharma Poems from Kosho Uchiyama

A translation of selected Dharma poems by Okumura Roshi’s teacher Uchiyama Roshi, with notes.

Accompanied by beautiful photographs from Jisho Takahashi.

“As human beings who cannot avoid physical life and death, all of us wish to see clearly exactly what life-and-death is, and to settle on our attitude toward it. Even though there may be no way to avoid the physical pain, we would all at least like to face death without the mental torment as though having fallen into hell. What is important here is how to live having settled on our attitude towards life-and-death. These poems are on life-and-death.” — Kosho Uchiyama

“After giving his last teachings to his disciples and talking about impermanence, the Buddha said, ‘From now on all of my disciples must continuously practice. Then the Thus Come One’s dharma body will always be present and indestructible.’ This ‘indestructible dharma body’ is the Buddha’s eternal life in the Lotus Sutra. I think the interpenetration of impermanence and the eternal life of Buddha is what Uchiyama Roshi is teaching us about in this collection of his poems. ” — Shohaku Okumura

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See our publications page for a complete listing.


Copyright 2018 Sanshin Zen Community

“I” effort: self-power and other-power

The English expression “‘I’ effort” is a translation of the Japanese ji riki, “self-power.” This expression, “self-power,” is used as opposition of ta riki, “other-power.” This is a way to categorize Buddhist traditions that was done in Pure Land Buddhism. Pure Land Buddhists said there are two gates in Buddhism: the gate of sacred path, practice with self-power and the gate of easy practice based on other-power. Pure land Buddhists thought their teaching was the gate of easy practice and all other Buddhist was the gate of sacred path, where people practice with self-power……canstockphoto0105855

But here, Uchiyama Roshi is saying something different from this common understanding. He said our zazen is not a self-power practice, but what we experience during sesshin is reality before self-power. Our practice is not self-power practice to make us an enlightened person. Within this practice, enlightenment is already there……

I think it is important to understand what is “other-power” and what is “self-power” from the point of Pure Land Buddhism. Then we can understand why Uchiyama Roshi said our practice is before separation between self and other-powers. There is only one power.

If your device does not display the embedded player, or if buffering takes too long, please visit: http://sanshin.podomatic.com/entry/2014-11-21T04_00_00-08_00


This talk continues Shohaku Okumura Roshi’s commentary on the modern classic Opening The Hand of Thought written by his teacher Kosho Uchiyama Roshi. (Section 4, p.66)

It was originally given at Sanshinji in Bloomington, IN on November 14, 2010.


Copyright 2014 Sanshin Zen Community