I have felt a strength holding me, and peace within.

An old lady in a country village brought up her little grandson, both of whose parents had died. She had little money and had a hard time doing it; the village were made aware of the extent of her sacrifices, and she did not have many friends. Living near by was a retired master of calligraphy, a man far advanced on the Way. He took an interest in the education of the village children, and told the old lady that her grandson was bright and should go on to a university. When the time came he said, ‘If you and he are willing, I will give you an introduction to the head of a university in the capital whom I know well, where they have a hostel for country students.’ The grandmother told him, ‘Of course I shall be very lonely, but for the boy’s sake I agree.’ As the calligrapher sat down to his writing table, she thought, ‘Now I shall see something’, but instead of a brush he picked up an old blunt pencil stub. With a tiny knife he made a couple of cuts to take away a little of the wood but did not sharpen it. …

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Primate of the Soto Zen Sect on controlling the Mind

Zen in China and Japan is divided into two main sects, Soto and Rinzai. Though they agree on fundamentals, the training differs a little, the Soto practising what may be called the original Zen, deriving from Buddha’s own meditation practice, whereas the Rinzai stress the importance of wrestling with certain riddles, technically called Koan. A famous one is the Sound of One Hand: ‘Two hands are clapped and there is a sound ; what is the sound of one hand ?’ When the riddle is solved—and it cannot be solved by the intellect—the disciple is enlightened, and not till then. The Soto practice is nearer to that of Vedanta ; the Buddha heart is already in man, and he has only to realise it. So also Shri Shankara teaches the doctrine of ‘ nitya-mukta’, ever enlightened ; the veiling and bondage of the Self are only apparent, not real. What was it that Buddha wished to teach ? Was it sagacity, was it brilliant academic understanding ? Was his aim to encourage the reading of the scriptures, or asceticism or austerities ? In reality it was none of these. He simply wished to show all living beings how to set …

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From a commentary on Rinzai-Roku

Translator’s Note: Omori Sogen is a well-known Zen Roshi, who was formerly a master of Kendo, Japanese fencing. He is also an expert calligrapher. This commentary is on the recorded sayings and doings of the Chinese Zen Master Rinzai, who taught in the middle of the ninth century A.D. Chinese words and names are rendered as the Japanese pronounce them. The old Zen master’s name is rendered in modem Chinese Lin-chi, but this is no nearer to how he himself would have pronounced it than the Japanese approximation Rinzai. In this translation I have omitted some Chinese places and names, and some references to Japanese works, which mean nothing to a modem Western reader. It is a peculiarity of Zen style, ancient and modern, that they deliberately juxtapose classical phrases with colloquialisms and even slang; the reader has to be prepared for this.) RINZAI TEXT The Governor and his officers invited the master to take the high seat. Going up the hall, the master said: ‘If the mountain priest goes up on to this today, it is because there is no alternative; it is out of respect for the people. The tradition of our line of patriarchs and pupils is, …

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Stillness in action

Stillness in the midst of action is the fundamental principle of Zazen (sitting in meditation). Some people think of Zazen as a sort of monopoly of the Zen sect, but the sect certainly has no monopoly of it. Zazen is the basis of the universe. Heaven and earth sit in meditation, every object sits in meditation. Knowing nothing of the Zen sect, all things are performing their meditation. What is called Zazen means to live at peace in the true basis of the universe, which is stillness. Movement is a secondary attribution: stillness is the real condition. Out of stillness comes all activity. For instance, the water of the ocean, when disturbance of wind ceases, at once goes back to the state of calm; the grass and trees, when the cause of agitation dies away, become as it were calm These things always return to rest in the stillness which is their true nature. And this is the principle of Zazen. In nature there are day and night; when the sun sets gradually there is a hush, until what is called the dead of night when all is still as if a current of water had ceased to flow. This …

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The sermon of no words

There is an ancient saying: ‘Better an inch of practice than a foot of preaching.’ It refers to the sermon preached by the body itself, through action and without speaking. The sermon of words and phrases is the finger pointing to the moon, the fist knocking at the door. The object is to see the moon not the finger, to get the door open and not the knocking itself; so far as these things do achieve their objects they are well. The object of the Buddha’s life of preaching was not to turn words and phrases. The Diamond Sutra compares his sermons to a raft, which is only an instrument for reaching the far shore. The sermon which is an instrument can be discarded after a time, but the real preaching—which is not discarded—is the preaching by the body itself. As to what that preaching may be, the truth of it is very profound, but in simple language it means that others receive right inspiration from that man. It is said that when a Bodhisattva has continued his spiritual practice for three kalpa-ages he is qualified to be a Buddha. After a hundred ages, his appearance becomes majestic. This does …

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The dance of the Sennin

In China and Japan there is a tradition that certain spiritually enlightened sages live in the mountains, enjoying unbroken freedom and delight. They do not encourage disciples or give formal instruction, but their mere existence purifies the soul of the world. There is a traditional dance sometimes performed on the Kabuki stage in Japan, which expresses something of the inner life of two famous Sennin or mountain sages. The accompanying song was written by a Buddhist priest. Kanzan and his friend Jittoku were spiritual ‘lunatics’ who lived in China in the Tang dynasty well over a thousand years ago; the former was a well-known poet, and some of his poems still survive. In many paintings he is shown with a scroll. Jittoku (the name means ‘foundling’) was found abandoned at the gate of a monastery. He lived on scraps of food, and used to carry a broom with which he swept the gardens of the monastery. The curtain goes up on the two Sennin, posed as in one of the famous pictures of them. The backcloth is copied from a landscape by Sesshu; does it mean that in the eye of the Sennin the whole of nature is an artistic …

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The lotus in the mire

In times of famine, daughters of farmers allowed themselves to be sold to brothels in order to save the family. They took it as a sacrifice and did not lose their self-respect. Prostitutes were known as ‘lotuses in the mire’. Takuan was asked to write a poem on the picture of a prostitute. He wrote: The Buddha sells the doctrine; The patriarchs sell the Buddha; The great priests sell the patriarchs; She sells her body,— That the passions of all beings may be quieted. Form is Emptiness, the passions are the Bodhi. On another picture, of Bodhidharma facing a prostitute, was written: Against your sagehood what can I put except sincerity? *           *          * Zen master Mokudo when passing through the capital Edo was hailed by a prostitute from a second-storey window. He asked how she knew his name and she replied: ‘When you were a boy on the farm we were neighbours; after you became a monk there was a bad harvest, and so I am here.’ He went up and talked to her and she asked him to stay the night. He paid her fee to the house, and gave some more to her. They talked of their …

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