Questions And Answers With Master Deshimaru August 29, 2007 4:18 PM
Question Your expression, "Zen is beyond religion, "could be taken to mean that Zen is supposed to take the place of all religions, to supplant them. What do you really mean? Answer Religions remain what they are. Zen is meditation. Meditation is the foundation of every religion. People today feel an intense need to go back to the source of religious life, to the pure essence in the depths of themselves which they can discover only through actually experiencing it. They also need to be able to concentrate their minds in order to find the highest wisdom and freedom, which is spiritual in nature, in their efforts to deal with the influences of every description imposed upon them by their environment. Human wisdom alone is not enough, it is not complete. Only universal truth can provide the highest wisdom. Take away the word Zen and put Truth or Order of the Universe in its place.
Question At what point in the history of Buddhism did Zen begin? Answer When Buddha woke up under the Bodhi tree. Afterward it was influenced very strongly by traditional Indian philosophies and religions, and it hardened into scholasticism and asceticism, as in the case of the Theravada system. After that, Bodhidharma left India to transplant the true Zen into new soil, in China. And then Buddhism grew old in China, just as it is declining today in Japan. The essence of Buddhism is the posture of zazen. But in China and Japan zazen is no longer being practiced and that is why I have brought it again to fresh ground here in Europe.
Question Why are you always talking about going back to the origin instead of waking up to what lies ahead? Answer What is waking up? Up to what? Westerners always have these notions of illumination. Yes: Satori means "awakening." People like the idea of waking up; but to what? It's easier to go back. The newborn baby is pure. It has true freedom, it's not at all complicated, doesn't need to make love, gets its food from its mother, cries when it feels like it . . . It doesn't think. We have to understand what freedom is. If you think with your fore-brain all the time, you become complicated; that is how European philosophy got so complicated. We must go back to the origin of the human being. It's difficult. A koan.
Question Does the concept of sin exist for someone who practices Zen? Answer The problem of sin is not the same in Christianity as it is in Buddhism. In Christianity there is Original Sin. Adam, Eve, the apple and the serpent. In Buddhism every existence possesses the nature of God or Buddha; this is a very different concept and one that is extremely difficult to explain. All existence, even a stone, everything material, animal, vegetable, everything in its origins possesses the nature of Buddha. In Oriental philosophy there are two schools of thought. One believes that wickedness is in man's original nature. But the one larger in number believes that what exists at the origin of consciousness, for everything and everyone, is good. That is particularly true of Buddhism. Everybody has Buddha nature, but it is altered by environment and karma. One might say that karma is something like sin; it is transmitted to us by our parents and ancestors and changes our originally pure mind. That is what makes evil exist. When there is no more karma you can return to your normal, original state. If you practice zazen, your karma comes to an end and sin disappears. It would be very complicated to explain more. The infant in its mother's womb, for example, is sinless, but it already bears the karma of all its ancestors in its blood. The night before last there was a boy here who was practicing zazen for the first time; he said, "I have just understood what real silence is. Until tonight I have never spent one whole hour in silence in my life. The only time I'm quiet is when I'm in bed and sometimes I even talk in my sleep! `` But zazen, that is real silence.'' I said to him, ``You were quiet in your mother's womb; that was silence, too.'' But he said, ``My mother talks all the time, I have a bad karma. I always want to be talking and it's hard for me to keep quiet even in zazen.'' But everybody's true origin is silence; you must understand that. Only silence is your true origin. Silence first, then incessant talking. For twenty, thirty, fifty or sixty years you have been talking nonstop. So then you get completely exhausted and return to complete silence again in your coffin. So silence is what goes on eternally. What you have that is eternal is your consciousness of silence, the normal condition of your mind. That is ku, nirvana. The true origin. In Zen we say that we must go back to the original silence, as in Christianity they say we must go back to the state before sin. If you practice zazen you return to the state before sin.
Question Does one have to give up one's own religion to follow Zen? Answer As you like. You must choose for yourself. You must look for the essence here and now, decide what is important for yourself. What is the solution to your problems? Too often religions are no more than decoration. You're supposed to learn all the texts, the order of all the ceremonies; but all that is unimportant. Religions and philosophies have relied too much on the imagination, and that is why they are growing weak. You must cut away the decoration and look for what is important. Find the true essence of all religions
Question What is the ego? Answer The ego is the ego. It's zazen ... as in "Know thyself." I am always saying, You must understand the ego . . . and in the end, there is no ego, the ego has no substance. Where are you going to locate this substance? In the nose? The brain? The navel? The head? Hard to say. In the mind? But what is the mind? It has become a problem, the biggest problem of psychology, philosophy, and religion. I have explained that we have no noumenon, no permanent substance. The ego changes with every second that goes by; yesterday's ego, today's ego ... they're not the same. Our body changes, our cells change too. When you take a bath, for example, all the dead cells of your skin are washed away. Our brain, our mind changes; that of the adult is not the same as it was in the child. So where does the ego exist? It is one with the cosmos. It is not only the body, the mind, but it is God, Buddha, the fundamental cosmic force. To find eternity is not egotism; it is truth, true noumenon. That is the true religion we must create. Our life is connected to the cosmic power and stands in a relation of interdependence with all other existences. We cannot live by ourselves, we are dependent upon nature, air, water. So we must not become selfish... That is the great satori. It is useless to be egotistical because every ego is in a relationship of interdependence with the world and with all things. So there is no need to keep things for oneself. That is very important. In his Essays, Montaigne wrote that everybody else was always looking outward, but he wanted to look within. It is necessary to turn your eyes inward, even though most people only look outside. Today more than ever before we must look into ourselves. To look at an object is easy, to look at the subject is not so easy.
Question You have said that we had to have an ego and also be beyond the ego. What does that mean? Answer It looks like a contradiction. But having a strong ego is not the same thing as having an egotistical ego. You must have confidence in yourself. You must find your real ego and at the same time let go of your ego. If you continue zazen your true ego will become strong and you will find your own self. You are not interchangeable with another body. You are not composed solely of organs and hair. You have your own originality. But to find it you must abandon your ego, abandon everything so that only the true ego remains. Each person has a karma, transports mud and dust. But when all that is cleared away you can find your true originality.
Question Being different from others means being alone too. Is it possible, through zazen, to learn how to be alone, to accept loneliness? Answer If you continue zazen, your characteristics change. Your sad face is completely transformed, unconsciously, naturally and automatically. It's the Way that changes you, brings you back to a normal condition. You should not try to escape from loneliness by becoming too "diplomatic" or depending on other people. Solitude is good. Zen is solitude. Becoming intimate with yourself during zazen means being completely alone and also with the others, with the cosmos.
Question What is individuality? Answer Individuality and a strong ego are different. Coming back to one's own originality is very important; you and I are not the same. You are only you. You must find your own you. Through zazen you can end your bad karma. Nowadays education standardizes everybody; it has become mass education. Even parents are unable to see the underlying individualities of their own children. Through zazen you can realize that individuality and make it strong. The duty of a religious person is to teach that to other people. Nowadays only the intellect is educated, not the whole individual.
Question You say that when we practice zazen we are Buddha or God, and you also say that we must abandon the ego. How can the two be reconciled? Answer If you abandon your ego, you become God or Buddha! When you let go of everything, when you have shed everything, when you have finished with your own personal consciousness, then you are God or Buddha ... When everything else is finished. There's nothing contradictory in that. But if you tell yourself, "Now I have abandoned everything and I am God," if you think you are God, then you aren't God at all. That's what counts, and everybody gets it wrong. We cannot certify that we are God. If I say, "I have satori," then I'm just crazy. A crazy person always says, "I'm not crazy at all, I'm in my own normal condition." If the crazy person said, "Maybe I'm not quite right. Maybe I'm making a mistake," then that person would not be so crazy after all and could surely be cured. But if he says he is God or Buddha then his madness is incurable, When everything is done with, thrown away, one becomes God or Buddha. For someone looking at a zazen posture, the posture itself is Buddha or God. The authentic thing is unconscious. That is a good question and everybody gets it wrong. That's why I am forever saying that when you practice zazen you don't need to say to yourself, "I must become like this or like that." Unconsciously, naturally, automatically you can become it. That is the essence of Soto Zen. Mushotoku ... without any goal, without any object, just concentrating on the posture of zazen.
Question Master Dogen said, "I am not other people." Answer That is a great story and a famous koan. I am not others. It is I who must act. If I do not practice I cannot explain. The quote comes from the famous story about the mushrooms: Master Dogen had gone to China to find true wisdom, to understand Zen. He studied many things but he did not really understand. In those days the religion of Buddhism, of Zen, was very widespread in China and he went from one temple to another. Nevertheless, he was not satisfied with the teaching he received so he decided to go home to Japan. Then one day he came to another temple. It was summer, and very hot. There was a very old monk there working, drying mushrooms. Old and frail as he was, he was spreading the mushrooms out in the sun. Master Dogen saw him and asked him, "Why are you working? You are an old monk and a superior of the temple. You should get younger people to do this work. It is not necessary for you to work. Besides, it is extremely hot today. Do that another day." Master Dogen was young then. The old monk's answer was most interesting and has become famous in the history of Soto Zen. It was a satori for Master Dogen. The monk said to him, "You have come from Japan, young man, you are intelligent and you understand Buddhism, but you do not understand the essence of Zen. If I do not do this, if I do not work here and now, who could understand? I am not you, I am not others. Others are not me. So others cannot have the experience. If I don't work, if I do not have this experience here and now, I cannot understand. If a young monk helped me to do the work, if I were to stand by and watch him, then I could not have the experience of drying these mushrooms. If I said, ``Do this, do that. Put them here or there,'' I could not have the experience. I could not understand the act that is here and now. "I am not others and others are not me." Master Dogen was startled, and he suddenly understood. True, he was highly intelligent. He said to himself, "I had better spend a little more time here in China." He had studied in books, he had looked with his brain and he spent all his time thinking, but just then he understood: "If I do not have the experience I cannot understand true Zen. Zen cannot be apprehended by the brain." The old monk and Dogen communicated to each other. Master Dogen was startled and deeply affected. However, he went on: "Why are you drying those mushrooms today? Do it some other day." To which the old monk answered, "Here and now is very important. These mushrooms can't be dried another day. If this moment is lost it will not be possible to dry them: perhaps it will rain, perhaps there won't be enough sun. You need a hot day to dry mushrooms, so today is the right time to do it. Now go away, I have to work! If you want to find true Zen, go see my master in the dojo. "So Master Dogen went to see the old monk's master and learn from him. At last he understood true Zen, which he had never been able to understand before. Master Dogen spent a year in this temple, then received the kesa of transmission. Afterward, he went back to Japan. But the founding principle of his philosophy always remained, "Here and now, other people are not me, I am not other people. If I do not practice I cannot understand. If somebody else does something, I cannot be in what he does." That's the first point. The second is "shikantaza only zazen." Koans are not necessary, thinking is not necessary: only zazen. Descartes said, "I think, therefore I am." I say, "I do not think, that is why I exist." If you create your own categories, if you think too much, you limit your consciousness. But consciousness is as deep as the cosmos. It is connected to the cosmos. If you don't think, your consciousness becomes eternal, cosmic. That is extremely important. If you think during zazen you cannot reach the cosmic consciousness because you limit yourself. You cannot reach the limitless. When you don't think rationally, you can think unconsciously. If I do not think, I exist here; I do not think, therefore I am.
Question But we exist whether we think or not. Both are important. Which comes first? Answer If we are not thinking we exist eternally because then consciousness is boundless, eternal. It goes on all the way to God, Buddha, the cosmos, truth. Once the ego has disappeared there is no more duality. As soon as there is myself and others, that is duality. When there is no more me there are no more others; there is interdependence. That is nonthought. You should not restrict your thinking with words and phrases. When you create your own categories the words do not fit. Westerners are always using their vocabulary to create categories, and sometimes what they come up with are contradictions. In language, there are always two. If I say, "What's that?" the only word is, "That is that." If I say "What's that?" and you say, "It's a kyosaku, " it would be just as true to say, "It's a piece of wood." "It's oak" would also be right. Zen discussions are always like that. One monk says, "The flame is moving." The next says, "No, it's not the flame, it's the air that's moving." The third, who is cleverer than the other two, says, "No, it's neither the flame nor the wind, it's your mind that's moving." And in the end the fourth person says, "It is neither the wind nor the flame nor your mind." You must understand why others are not you. If I cannot do it I cannot explain it. I am not other people. I am what I am. I am myself. It's not necessary to follow the oth
[ send green star]