Trevor Leggett’s Introduction

TSUJI SOMEI IS A PRESENT-DAY ROSHI WHO TRAINED UNDER Furukawa Gyodo, one of the great figures in Zen of the first half of the twentieth century, who taught at Engakuji, in Kamakura, thirty miles from Tokyo. These extracts are translated from his autobiography, and have been selected (with Tsuji Roshi’s permission) to focus on the Zen training. Mr. Tsuji married early and got a job as an accountant with a big oil company. He became interested in possible political solutions to social problems. His wife contracted tuberculosis and died early, leaving him with the children to look after. He later married again.

Treading the Way of Zen

The Autobiography of Tsuji Somei MY FIRST VISIT TO A MONASTERY TO PRACTICE ZEN WAS IN the summer of 1925, when I was twenty-two and in my first year at the Tokyo University of Commerce [now the prestigious Hitotsubashi University—Tr.] I was one of a student group at the university who practiced Zen meditation, and every year our group joined similar ones from other universities to go to Engakuji in Kamakura for a week’s intensive instruction and training. Furukawa Gyodo Roshi was then the abbot of the monastery, and at my first interview with him, he asked: “Why have you come here?” I replied: “Because I can’t sleep well.” He commented: “That’s because you bother yourself over idle thoughts even when you’re in bed,” and laughed. I still recall this little scene vividly. Sitting in the meditation posture for hours and hours, day and night, proved a hard task indeed: …

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Meditation with the utmost intensity

From this time I kept up the meditation with the utmost intensity. Almost every day I went to Kamakura, passing the nights alternately at home and at Engakuji. One day after our interview, my teacher Gyodo Roshi said to me: “You come here so often to see me. But are your children well cared for? Even the best medicine should be taken in moderation.” I replied, “But Master, shouldn’t iron be struck while it’s hot?” At this, the Roshi looked as though he had swallowed something down, but did not say a word. Now the newspapers were piling up on my big desk sometimes for weeks together, unread. Though I was in the business world, I begrudged the time for reading them and devoted it to meditation instead. My income did not allow for much margin, and on the trips to Engakuji I used to take some packets of food …

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Seeing the nature

In December 1936, the year when I had “seen the nature” (kensho), I moved from my home in Ogikubo in the suburbs of Tokyo to a place in the street in front of Engakuji. This was so that I could have more opportunities for evening interviews with Master Furukawa, even though living in Tokyo, I had been able to get to the temple for the regular interviews in the morning. They began at four a.m. in June and July, but when it came to December and January they would be held a little after six o’clock. So it was not impossible for me to get down to Kamakura, have an interview, and then be back for work in Tokyo. I used to get up quietly and steal out so as not to disturb the family, and could arrive in Kamakura, climb the dark road up the hill, and be on …

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In the interview room with Master Gyodo

In the interview room with Master Gyodo it was quiet, but there was a feeling of severity and something terrifying. One winter I caught cold, and a rheumatic knee condition which I had from childhood flared up, so that I could not bend my left knee at all. If I had to squat down, I stuck out my left leg straight in front, and went down on the bent right knee. I had to use a stick when going from home to the interviews at the temple. But when I came before the teacher to make my prostration, the knee could suddenly bend. It was quite extraordinary. When I left to make my way back home, on the other hand, the knee again could not bend. Another thing that happened to me was a persistent fit of hiccups, which lasted about a week. There was a popular idea that to …

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Sayings of Master Gyodo

Here are a few things from those days with Master Gyodo which still often come to my mind: Zen is something about which someone who doesn’t really know can still manage to write without giving himself away. But if you hear him speak just a couple of words, you know his inner state exactly. For Seeing the Nature, it has to be fierce as a lion, but after that realization, the practice has to go slow like an elephant. If you get through the first barrier (the first koan) without much trouble, you get stuck afterward and can’t get on. It’s as if you’d thrust your hand into a glue pot. However much you go to Zen interviews, and however many koans you notch up, if you don’t get to the great peace …. Going simply by the number of koans you pass— well, however many they may be, it’s …

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Master Gyodo retired

Around then I also came to study enthusiastically the lives of the historic National Teachers Daito and Muso, and I went all the way to Shogenji at Ibuka in Mino province where Muso used to live, and to the Kazan temple in Kyoto, to pay reverence to the tomb of Gudo, who had been a teacher of Shido Bunan. In 1940 Master Gyodo retired from being head of the Engakuji sect, and went back to the Tenchian hermitage at Kuboyama in the district of Yokohama. At that time his room was at the back of the temple, and on his desk was a goldfish bowl, which someone had brought him. It was set on a light stand made of bamboo cross-pieces. One day, after the Zen interview, I was talking to the teacher when a bee flew into the room, seemed to dance around happily, and then went into the …

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A prisoner of the Soviet Army

I heard the Emperor’s broadcast on Horomushiro island announcing the cessation of hostilities, and toward the end of August 1945 we were taken prisoner by the Soviet Army. We were put together with other units in large warehouses near the airstrip, and in this very anxious and restrictive situation we each had to get on with our lives as best we could. I used to go into the trees every day and chant the Kannon Sutra and the Essence of the Lotus Sutra which I had compiled in a loud voice. Then one day I was asked by the regimental commander to give a talk on zazen (contemplation) to an audience of nearly all the officers, after which, gradually, they began to sit together most evenings for a short time before going to sleep. However, this did not last long, as in November we were put onto a Russian ship. …

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Feeling of thankfulness rising in me.

On the days when the temperature fell below minus twenty-five degrees and we were let off our work in the open air, we consequently had an extra holiday. On some such occasions, when walking about the camp courtyard, I often felt a sense of gratitude welling up in my heart. It may seem a strange thing to say, considering the very adverse situation we were in: the strict confinement, anxiety about the very uncertain future, with only the barest necessities of life, and no possibility of being able to do what one might wish. But it is a fact that on a number of different occasions I had this feeling of thankfulness rising in me. It was not gratitude for any particular thing, but a sort of diffuse happiness, like the light of dawn coming up in the midst of darkness. I suppose that at the root of these experiences …

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The experience of profound enlightenment

After the experience of profound enlightenment which I had on Horomushiro Island in the Kuriles, I had a secret notion that I should have nothing to fear from any of the classical koans. But when I resumed the interviews with Master Gyodo after my return, I discovered that it was no such simple matter. The very first one I was given, about the ox passing through the window (No. 38 in the Mumonkari) took me quite a number of days to pass through myself. At the same time, thanks to this koan, there was a marked advance in my grasp of enlightenment. Master once said that to hold people up is what a koan is for, and one should appreciate this. Anyway, it made me humble again, and I assiduously worked at the training in the Poisonous Wolfs Cave interviews. In the end, I was passed through the whole training …

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Consultation with Dr. Daisetsu Suzuki

Twenty-four years after my start on the Way of Zen, though my pace was slow and unremarkable, I reached a certain landmark. Meanwhile many great changes had taken place, and not only in my private life, due in part to the China Incident (1937-41) and World War II. Having finished my spiritual apprenticeship, I keenly felt that I was charged with a fresh responsibility: the mission to propagate Zen Buddhism. And to this end I considered whether I would not do well to enter the priesthood, shaving my hair and assuming the priest’s black robe. The reading of the Book of the Merits of a Priest in Dogen’s Shoho Genzo (a collection of his Japanese writings on Zen Buddhism) and also of the Most Reverend Daio’s Final Advice gave a big new impetus to my resolve. As I pondered the question intently, I read and reread these writings. I consulted …

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The rules of Meditation zazengi

“The bodhisattva who desires to attain the supreme wisdom ought first of all to entertain boundless compassion, vowing to save all beings and giving up the egoistic desire for his personal salvation.” It is highly significant that this text, whose object is to give a detailed account of the physical and mental methods of meditation, should first of all emphasize the importance of pity and love for all beings. It would not be going too far to say that shouldering the cross of the pains and sorrows of humanity is the true source of sincerity in Zen study and practice. Hence the old saying that the identification of one’s own good with the good of others is the essence of the way ofbodhisattvas. Renunciation of the world is not because of pessimism or escapism, as is often wrongly supposed: on the contrary, it ought to be for the sake of …

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An interview with Master Kendo

So it was, then, that having first conceived a vague idea of becoming a priest when I was only twenty-two, I now actually became one after a long time, when I was two months into my forty-sixth year. Immediately after the ordination ceremony, I had an interview with Master Kendo, in the course of which I asked him what would be the most important thing in my life as a priest in the future. He thought a bit and then said: “The most important thing is to have as few desires as possible.” He also advised me for the present to continue to live at my home and carry on with my teaching as a professor. Accordingly, I took the train back to my wife and family at Kamakura, and I remember saying to myself seriously on the journey, contemplating my changed appearance with the black robe and shaven head: …

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Ordained a priest at Unganji in Nasu

Having been ordained a priest at Unganji in Nasu, I was still with my family and teaching at Kanagawa University as before, though now in priest’s robes and shaving my head every few days. So I was a member of the class referred to in the old Buddhist saying: “There are four kinds of monks, one of them being those who remain with their families physically, but live away from the world spiritually.” Again, in the section called “Ways and Means” in the Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra, it says: “If you have the aspiration for Supreme Wisdom (anuttara- samyak-sambodhi citta) then you are monks.” In this spirit I tried to think of myself as a monk, though living a layman’s life, but somehow in the depths of my being, I felt uneasy. Often I thought to myself that I really ought to dedicate myself wholly to Buddhism without regard to my …

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Kyoto

My stay in Kyoto for the purpose of getting training in the life of a priest had been arranged at the suggestion, and with the assistance, of the American whom I have mentioned. He conducted a meditation hall in New York and wanted me to come over to be the teacher there. It was proposed that a certain Zen master, under whom my American would-be benefactor had himself trained, would supervise my training as a novice priest. However, after a little contact with this master, I realized that there was something about him that did not quite satisfy me. Considering the future, I decided to cut short my relationship with him. I sent a letter to the American to express my thanks for his kindness so far, but to say that I no longer felt I could go on with the project. I wrote to my wife and family explaining …

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The Zen Life-style of Reverend Kendo at Unganji

The Unganji (Temple of Clouds and Rocks) is about fourteen miles southeast of Nishi-Nasuno station on the North-East line, in the mountains of Tochigi prefecture. Bukkoku Kokushi founded it as a Buddhist temple in the twelfth century, when Zen had barely reached Japan. Muso Kokushi, one of his followers, was for some time abbot of Unganji. A great survey was made by Sekiguchi Tai of all the places in Japan associated with Muso’s life, and he commented that for beauty of natural surroundings, Unganji was one of the three most supremely impressive that he had seen. The temple grounds include some well-wooded hills covering some four thousand square kilometres, which was a bequest in the original grant of land for the temple. When I was there, the abbot was the Reverend Hayashi Taikei, the 59th in the line of succession. The 58th abbot had been the old Zen master Ueki …

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