January 9, 2014

Tesshu on Zen and Budo

A passage on the relationship between Zen and Budo, from the writings of Omori Sogen Roshi:

A person once asked [Yamaoka] Tesshu [the famous 19th century Zen, sword and callligraphy master], “What is the secret of  swordsmanship?” Tesshu answered, “It is entrusted to the Asakusa Kannon.”

He at once went to Asakusa and searched everywhere in the temple and came to realize that the sign [i.e. calligraphy above the altar] with the words Se Mu I [Se—give; Mu — negation, absence; I — fear, that is, "giving fearlessness") must be it.  When he repeated this to Tesshu it is said that Tesshu answered “kekko” (very well) and laughed.

Fearlessness is the removal of fear and anxiety from the kokoro [mind, heart] of people. To say it another way, it is to give absolute peace of mind.

If the highest stage of swordsmanship is to give Fearlessness, then it is completely the same as Zen. The question is in the process to attain that state.

January 4, 2014

Zen calligraphy month at Daiyuzenji

January is Zen Calligraphy month at Daiyuzenji in Chicago! The regular Tuesday night Internal Cultivation training will stress unifying body, breath and energy with the media of brush, ink and paper. So'zan Roshi, the Daiyuzenji abbot, will lead this training.

All are welcome and no experience is required.  This is an excellent way to learn the basics of calligraphy as we practice it during sesshin.  Zazen starts at 7pm sharp, so please be present for that beforehand.

January 1, 2014

Abbots' new year messages

From So'zan Roshi, abbot of Daiyuzenji:

Omori Roshi said "Zen is to transcend life and death (all dualism), to truly realize that the entire universe is the 'True Human Body' through the discipline of 'mind and body in oneness.'"  Our training is distinguished by the many types of practice by which we approach this discipline of unifying mind and body. Based on Omori Roshi's teaching, we augment the more commonly known forms of Zen in the Rinzai tradition--zazen, koan training, sesshin, and so on--with a variety of practices to develop and refine breathing, posture, movement and energetics.

This approach gives us many tools.  We should not worry that we have too much to practice, or that we have to master everything.  Trevor Leggett, in his introduction to the English translation of Omori Roshi's Sanzen Nyumon (Introduction to Zen Training), wrote: "Yamaoka Tesshu had been a great fencing master of the nineteenth century.  When his teacher found that Tesshu was also becoming interested in Zen and in calligraphy, he warned him against splitting his aim, saying 'You will miss all the targets.'"

But he didn't miss.  This is because there is really only one target...and Tesshu grasped that all of these ways led to it.  So just keep shooting arrows.

My thanks to all of you who helped make training possible in 2013, through your donations and especially your participation in our activities. We are still finalizing the calendar for 2014. In addition to our regular weekly training, there will be a full complement of sesshin and zazenkai, and an emphasis on calligraphy and and hojo.  We will also be offering the full set of Zen Trigger Point Anatomy sessions, led by Kogen (Tom) Nagel.  Please join us!

From Meido Roshi, abbot of Korinji:

Reflecting on the events of 2013, it truly seems as if 3 years of activity were packed into one.  Along with our usual schedule of zazenkai, sesshin and seminars in Chicago, we also conducted sesshin in Norway and Germany where there are growing practice groups connected to Rinzai Zen Community. And in the midst of this has been our work at Korinji, culminating in the dedication of our zendo this past November.

Regarding Korinji in particular, during this quiet winter break I am remembering the words of Dogen Zenji.  In speaking about his own difficult effort to found Koshoji, his first temple, he wrote,

Even though we might erect huge temples adorned with polished jewels and gold, we cannot attain the Way by these works.  To learn even a single phrase of the teachings or to practice meditation if only for a single period, while living in a thatched hut or under a tree, shows the true flourishing of the Buddhadharma. 

These words are important.  They mean that even as we work and build, we should never forget that our essential path lies in our own vows of practice and awakening.  The true monastery is our own bodies.  Of course buildings and centers are important because they provide ideal conditions for practice.  But we should strive to have the same resolve Dogen expresses:  that we'll carry through to the end of this Zen way no matter what conditions arise...even if we have nothing but a tree for shelter. With such a resolve as the foundation, our life work will naturally progress correctly.

Dogen further wrote,

I will have no regrets even though what I have wished for and begun might not be realized.  I do not mind if but one single pillar is erected, as long as people in later generations think that someone had the aspiration to carry out such a project. 

Indeed, we can never know when or if our various goals and plans will be achieved.  However our aspiration, vows and energy never end...we must believe this.  Korinji now is blanketed in snow, and the plans for the coming year are already being made:  the drilling of a well, plotting of house and septic location, and so on...even our first sesshin.  Yet even so, if for some reason all of that were suddenly swept away:  what a wonderful, remarkable thing we've done!  In a hundred thousand worlds and lives, I would be very pleased to work for the founding of many Korinjis with all of you.

The support we've received from our members in 2013 moves me beyond my ability to express.  I enter this new year with a renewed dedication, and hope it will be worthy of the contributions so many of you have made.

Wishing all of you much health, joy and success in 2014.  This upcoming Year of the Horse is said to be one of spirited energy, movement and potential. May you all therefore give a good kick of the spurs, and ride forth to wonderful destinations.