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山端 (大道) 法玄 Yamahata (Daidō) Hōgen (1935-)


Zen Master Hôgen began his spriritual journey as a teenager, roaming the Japanese countryside from monastery to hermitage in search of the ultimate truth. Carrying few possessions, he visited a wide range of noted teachers, in both the Rinzai and Soto traditions. After many years of inquiry, he met an enigmatic monk, who, in response to a sincere question about the meaning of life, shouted "this is it!". That monk eventually became Harada Tangen Roshi (1924-), the widely respected Abbot of Bukkokuji Monastery, and Hôgen-san's lifelong teacher. Hôgen-san has also written about his life koan.

More than twenty years ago, after a term of solitary retreat, Hôgen-san assumed responsibility for a vacant Soto temple. It is located in a traditional farming community near the foot of Mount Fuji. There he continues to lead a simple lifestyle with his wife, children and few close disciples. The daily schedule consists of meditation, yoga, running and organic gardening. When not administering the religious needs of his village, Hôgen-san corresponds with many friends and students worldwide, among them leading artists, humanitarians and philosophers.


Life Koan
by Hogen Yamahata

Shall I briefly introduce my own native koan, and my life, including the encounter with my master? I was born in 1935 in a small mountain town three hours north-east from Tokyo. When I was a young boy, I remember the very rhythmic sound of silk weaving, because my parents had a silk weaving factory. I always played alone in the backyard of the factory. So I played alone with earthworms, crickets and even the soil, and sometimes fishing, because there was a small stream in the backyard of the factory. Of course, I played with my neighbour's friends.

One day, I had a question. When I visited my friend's house, they had both father and mother, but in my house, there was no father. I asked my mother "Why don't we have a father?" She replied - "He died". I was five months old when he died. So, I asked my mother "What is dying?" - I didn't know about death at all at that time. So my mother explained about death. She replied, "Sooner, or later, I will also die. Everybody, including you, will die". I couldn't understand, but gradually while I listened to my mother's explanation about death, I understood. So everybody is dying. I was deeply shocked. Since that time, whatever I ate, or tasted, whatever I enjoyed; when I remembered about death, all my pleasure and enjoyment suddenly disappeared. No taste when eating food, because the shock was so deep. I was about seven years old. So, that was the first sprouting of my native koan.

During my primary and secondary school, I asked many friends and teachers about life. What is life? What is the meaning of my life and existence? And, what should I do? Nobody replied in an absolute way. They said many things, but my thirst became deeper and deeper. No quenching of the thirst at all. No help. My thirst and strange enigma and mystery was, and still is - everybody is leading their lives, but they don't know its absolute meaning, of course, including myself. They were living in darkness, and blind, but still living and leading their regular lives. That was my biggest enigma, and mystery. Even now, this is the basis of my native koan. So I had to find the real answer to this koan, otherwise I couldn't take even one step, but I ate, slept, wakened, and still went to my high school and so on, but no answer. This was my koan.

One day, I found in the corridor of my high school "zazen" - written in two big characters. So I visited the mountain temple, and I participated in a week long sesshin, and was fully tortured! Physical torture! For a whole week! And my intellectual question disappeared - just pain! I was sixteen years old. This was a new experience for me - another koan. Even after the sesshin, I continued because I felt something during the sesshin - I didn't know what it was. So I continued. The mountain temple was usually empty, so I went every morning by bicycle to sit alone, as I was taught. And then, after graduating from high school, I went to Tokyo and stayed in a zen temple and learnt German, English and Russian, because I wanted to read some original books on philosophy- which means I stayed at an intellectual level. One day, at this zen temple, two monks, an old and young one, visited. I was staying in the dormitory, and heard the sign for lunch, and went to the dining room. When I opened the door, the two monks were in front of me. Suddenly, I felt a soft light surrounding the younger monk. During the meal, I was watching him the whole time, in my depths. After lunch, I washed their dishes, and the younger monk was waiting for me, and he said, "Now I am going outside for shopping. If you like, we can go together."

I was extremely happy! On the way, there was a small Shinto shrine, and he said "Shall we rest here and talk?", and we talked. I asked my native koan- "What is life? What is my life? What is the real meaning of life?". Suddenly, he grabbed my shoulders and shook them "THIS IS IT!" In his answer, he gave me all of himself, his life itself. His answer was not intellectual at all, he replied with just life itself. His eyes were very straight and very serene, and very strong. I was deeply shocked, but I still stuck to my intellectual level. My intellect was not satisfied but I felt something directly in my innermost depths.

After that, for seven years, I wondered around from monastery to monastery, from master to master, mainly staying at monasteries of the Rinzai sect - Kamakura, Kyoto, Kyushu with no answer at all. After seven years, at Kyoto station, I remembered the experience with the younger monk. He lived in Fukui prefecture, so I changed my train to visit him. I arrived at about eleven o'clock in the evening. That was in the midst of the november sesshin. When I saw him, he welcomed me, and again I asked him exactly the same question. He did not reply with the same answer, but just with "I understand your question - I would like to recommend that you join our sesshin", so I joined the sesshin. However, he gave me the koan "Mu", but, I didn't understand - what is Mu? My native koan, my homework, was different. I wanted to clarify the real absolute meaning of life, and the absolute answer for what I should do now, otherwise I can't move, can't sleep, can't eat - I can't even take one step, but he replied "Ok, I understand your question - if you really do this koan Mu, your native question will get the real answer because this is it - Mu". So, I believed him. "If I really do this Mu, can I get the real answer to my native question". He replied, "Yes". So during that sesshin I only did Mu, day and night, for the whole week, just Mu. Even at midnight, I sat in the graveyard outside - and just Mu. Mu. On the fifth night, when I did Mu, the whole universe, just Mu.

When I did Mu, the whole universe was Mu. When I went to the toilet, the whole universe followed me to the toilet. Whatever I do, the whole universe does the same, no gap at all - when I shout "aaaah", the whole universe is just "aaaah" - no gap, no separation, just oneness. The whole universe is just Mu. So, his promise was not wrong. That was the real answer for my question, not at an intellectual level, not an intellectual answer. So, my native question and answer both dissolved, disappeard. Just Mu.

At that time I was 25 years old, so I shaved my head, and I stayed in my master's monastery under his instruction and teaching for about ten years. Of course, during these ten years, I went to many places - Rinzai monasteries, and still I wandered around, with begging bowl, robe and straw sandal, all over Japan. Sometimes, with my master, to Hokkaido, and so on. But this experience is the basis for all my practice, and also after my experience, I met with my special friend, who was and is, an aikido master, and while I stayed in his dojo in Nagoya, he taught me aikido, and I taught him zazen. We lived together in his dojo- his teaching was too harsh. I was also tortured! He is now an aikido master in San Diego. Anyway, we practiced together for a while. My whole body was bruised.

When I stayed in Nara prefecture, in the deep mountains, in an empty temple, I stayed for one year alone. When I became hungry, I went begging. There was only a village of eleven houses. Usually I sat in zazen alone in self-retreat. Sometimes village children joined me in zazen. One day, during mid-winter, my aikido friend suddenly visited me. He had established an aikido federation in England. He promised to take me there in ten years time. After that, I also went to many places, and visited many masters and stayed in monasteries. I also found Chogenji temple, where I now live. I entered the temple as the local priest and got married.

As promised, after ten years, my aikido friend suddenly visited me at Chogenji temple. He said, "let's go to England". I was shocked because I had completely forgotten about the promise made. Anyway, the two of us went to Europe. We went through Russian territory from Yokohama to Nahodka by boat and then via the trans-Siberian railway to Khabarovsk - it was a very beautiful, beautiful long journey. We flew from Khabarovsk to Moscow, and then onto Europe. At that time, I couldn't speak even messy English, so the first year someone helped me as an interpreter. So, this was my first experience- it was a wonderful, wonderful experience. Since that time, year by year, the aikido summer school invited me, so I needed to practice English. Since that time almost twenty years have passed. At first there were about two hundred students each time for one week. It was an aikido summer school with zen practice. I explained zen practice - how to sit, how to meditate in zazen. At first, there were only aikdo practitioners, but gradually yoga teachers, Tibetan Buddhists and others came, and some of them invited me to Holland, Ireland, even Norway, Israel, so about 13 years ago, I came to Australia - Melbourne and Tasmania. Inevitably my messy English is gradually messier and messier! Please know and please understand, the more I practice with you, the more clearer is just one point - my original koan - life, the real meaning of our life - what should I do just now?

On the Open Way : Zen Here-Now
by Hogen Yamahata
Jiko Oasis Books, Liskeard, P. O. Box 10, Cornwall PL14 8YW England
Byron Bay, NSW : Open Way Zen Inc., c1998. 3rd edition, paperback 236 pages

On the Open Way : Zen Here-Now is a privately published collection of Zen Master Hogen's teachings reflecting a lifetime of zen practice. These teachings take the form of dharma talks given around the world, biographical notes, monographs, poetry and calligraphy.

Falling Leaves, A Shooting Sprout
by Hogen Yamahata
Lisbon, Portugal : Assirio & Alvim, November 2002, paperback, 344 pages

Through written teisho, poetry, calligraphy, questions and answers, Hogen san invites us into the koan of NOW (THIS), both in sitting meditation and in our daily lives. This limited printing is in English and Portugese, with translated Japanese calligraphy and beautiful black and white photography.



Hogen Yamahata's first book - The Other Shore (PDF 1.9MB)



Words from Zen Master Hôgen

- Innermost Thirst and Ultimate Vocation
... (In reply to a friend's question)

There are differing qualities and subtle levels of attachment within us.
Sometimes we manage to be free from them, but mostly, due to our habits, we
are not.These habits can include our occupation, home, family, study,
desires, relationships, religious beliefs, personal principles, love,
compassion, reality of our world, ...

Bodhisattvas too have endless attachment. Sentient beings are endlessly
suffering and therefore their attachment to help us is endless. Of course
the quality of this attachment is very different. Due to an innermost
compassionate sensitivity, their thirst is very deep, and yet, so stable,
modest, humble, and serene. This then, is a bodhisattvas natural vocation,
their inevitable life-direction. Therefore, this deep thirst is quenched in
the deepest way, a deep well reaching the stratum of pure, clean water,
quenching all our thirst once and eternally. In contrast, a shallow thirst
can easily (habitually) be quenched but will return just as easily. Like
weeds in the garden; easily uprooted but quick to lay shallow roots again.

From the deepest core ("Emptiness", "God") of the Earth, the original light,
(life-love) that quenches and fosters all beings is springing up, the
compassion and love-life of friends such as Mother Theresa, Jesus, Buddha,
Thich Nhat Hanh, Victor Frankel, Kenji Miyazawa, St. Francis, and the many
unknown friends upon this earth... (and you, I pray)

This deep and inevitable attachment and thirst actualizes as the
incomparable freedom of non-attachment.Sweet and habitual attachment,
however, can only end in bitter loneliness.

What is your (our) innermost, inevitable, natural vocation ?... Ultimate

The monkey -mind of attachment needs many branches and fruit. Jumping
ceaselessly by means of our constant mental associations. When these
branches of mental associations and fixed concepts wither away (through
'thought fasting', 'delusion fasting' - Zazen) what is left of this monkey
activity...?! Now, this is the very opportunity to let go of all of our
branches; the course and fruit of the karmic constructions of mind, the
desire for 'our' associations of ideas, all our past and future, even the
ultimate desire of enlightenment.So this is This Now. Attachment may still
remain, only now it can be observed in deep awareness with a more immediate
and direct understanding.

Each one of us lives with this deep innermost vocation, the innermost
inevitability in our depths, springing up and quenching us all. Our
attachments, emotions, desires, instinct and intellect all have their own
role and meaning in relation to this innermost vocation and the realization
thereof. The course of our dark karmic winters, so full of these
mind-states, can be the fertile compost necessary for such a realization. Of
course, it depends on the quality (and quantity!) of such desires etc. and
the intention behind them. We should all ask ourselves, sincerely in our
depths, as to the true life behind our desires - to merely fulfill and
achieve them for pleasure... or... for the ultimate vocation of true Dharma?

So what is this innermost priority? Someone who feels this deep authentic
human thirst in the midst of this desert world is a profoundly precious seed
for us all, sprouting due to the invisible, inevitable vocation at the core
of our existence. Many of us feel this thirst, but until we emerge from the
cruel desert of our fabricated world-reality, we will always feel
unsatisfied. All levels of our thirst are quenched by this ultimate and
genuine Here-Now-Encounter, step by step, now by now.

One light breaks up thousands of years of
Darkness in a cave, one dewdrop (of the
Heaven-earth-mother's milk) quenches hundreds
Of years of thirst.
(Zen expressions are returning to me now!)

Are you (am I) walking around in the desert of supermarkets where you can
choose and buy many different kinds of dinky toys, weapons, cars, houses,
accessories, zazen, yoga, tai chi, shiatsu, reiki, T.M., transpersonal
psychologies, chi-kung, aikido, books, religions, etc., etc ? Our thirst is
out of control, never quenched, no matter what we get, no matter what we
eat, our thirst is deepened and deepened in such a desert. As Coca-Cola is
so nice, the more we drink, the more we get this thirst-addiction. Are we
really satisfied by the form of these things or are we thirsty only for the
true substance and ultimate life-vocation (which is formless and 'nothing to
get'.) As long as we continuously choose for the sake of our own self-
contentment, our deepest thirst will never be quenched. We then become dull
and greedy.
The drive, and the way we choose these things in this supermarket-jungle (a
desert, in reality) is the result of the shallow thirst behind the
(self-satisfying) intellectual level in which we spend most of our lives.
When we really walk in the desert, with the desert, with the deepest thirst
of our soul, it is choiceless and inevitable to find the oasis in our own
depths. Now there is no room to choose any toys, books, theories or social
illusions and fantasies to satisfy our greedy intellect.
Only THIS NOW - ENCOUNTER, in this desert, this oasis, this real world. This
is enough. This is everything and all.
So, is our thirst deep or shallow, genuine or superficial, radical or
intellectual? Choiceless and inevitable? We should clearly know this
essential quality.
You asked me;
"But how can we know, how can we see through these traps?"
I replied;
"No! Only This Now-Life- Encounter is the ultimate realization for
We cannot really quench our deepest thirst as long as we always live in this
kind of intellectual 'how to...' level. This blinding, anxious addiction
prevents us to tenderly sense our own deepest thirst for the ultimate
vocation in all. Our intellect is so confident and sure it is genuine, but
even to be as 'convinced' as the highest master or saint, sometimes, is
nothing but the mere reflection or our judgements. One more spiritual
supermarket article to put into the caddie-cart of our mind-box. Depending
on the quality of our own most profound thirst and vocation- awareness, is
what makes whatever we do genuine or not. Whether it is zazen, yoga, tai
chi, etc. The exterior form, shape, could be of the 'right' appearance, but
not the inner content- quality. We are often too busy filling our lifetimes
with all our stuff, so many chosen articles, even the most 'spiritual'
things, to sense our own deepest thirst of the calling voice of life.
We are, in fact, always so easily quenched within our mind realm (in our
super- desert), therefore we have never experienced the deepest thirst and
never been quenched in the deepest soul realm; always half quenched in the
half desert of our own habitual full-stomach with so many kinds of
nutritious foods (for our intellect!)
NOW this encounter is beyond them all, already.


Hôgen-san in Sri Lanka

Impressions from the Byron Sesshin

I find Hôgen-san to be deep but light, simple but rich, gentle but strong,
humble but very powerful -I am deeply thankful he shared himself with us
over the seven-day sesshin held in Byron Bay. Not bound by dogma or
tradition, Hôgen-san speaks from himself, his life, his essence, inspiring
us to do the same - to listen to and be moved by our own native koans.

'You don't need to keep yourself,' he said one morning before the run
through the forest. 'You can take off the serious face. You can look up.' I
had been growing accustomed to sitting with my eyes closed and walking
around retreat settings with my head lowered to the ground - it was very
healing to be encouraged by Hôgen-san to open up and out. To look. To see
blue flowers hover against grey slate sky and marvel at the lightness of
butterfly wings; to follow Hôgen-san through green falling leaves, arms
swimming wide circle strokes through the air.

At the end of the daily yoga session he showed us a move where you sway your
body like a river reed - I liked this and how in yoga we were all sitting so
close that in some postures you reached out to accidentally touch another's
hand or foot.

I liked the balance in the Zen retreat -sitting, walking, running, working.
It was my job to clean the meditation hall and I would find myself very
happy and excited as I finished lunch and walked the pebbled pathway towards
it, (a sure thing to make my Mum smile - I was known as "Messy Jessie" when
I was small.) But I liked to sweep the wooden floor boards, the pathway we
walked slow circles around, to vacuum the carpet where Hôgen-san sat and we
sometimes lay, to squat by the communal washing tub and feel my hands enter
the warm water. I liked that open view that everything you do can be
practice, so long as you stay awake.

I liked to sit on the balcony at night and stare out into black space, a
mug cupped in my hands, the wet water warm against my lips.

Sitting still and close to Hôgen-san's purifying presence illuminated many
tendencies, many habits; old forgotten feelings rising. I think what came to
the foreground was how much I have 'tried.' (My tight neck and worrying,
clenching stomach.) How much I have used my will to ride me fast out of
fear. My underlying fear. My will like a surfboard flying me above the
darker depths, believing without it I may surely drown.

'Take me Buddha's,' I have shouted, body clenched, palms sweating. 'Take

'Take yourself,' I hear them now. 'Take yourself, child.'

'Be a lamp,' it is known the Buddha said. 'Be a lamp unto your self.'

I am learning about the relinquishing of will.

Hôgen-san spoke of coming home.

To sit with eyes open, straight backed, and witness whatever is there. This.
This. This. To see suffering but also through it. To trust. To open. To
settle. To be. That there is nothing to keep, defend, or attack.

Nothing to be drowned.

To be gentle.

To listen to a deep wish, plant it, cultivate it, and be patient.

In a story that I have been working on called, 'Black Water,' (sometimes
visiting me in the retreat,) a young girl lies on a riverbed and speaks to a
grieving woman. 'Your hair is like a wild bird's nest,' she says quietly.
'You'd only need to put yourself out in the garden, under the sun, and the
birds would come. They would lay eggs in your hair. The eggs would hatch.
The baby birds would sit on the top of your head and sing.'

After the retreat I spent time sitting in the doorway of my shack, watching
dark purple storm clouds brew over the cypress pines. I cried as the rain
came down, wetting grey stones and filling the red washing bucket. I cried
for all the times I have left home. I cried for what had stopped me from
being home in my heart - those childhood haunts. I cried for my sleepy, blue
brooding eye. I cried for mistrust, for my armour.

I cried for the fearing, fragile, 'efforting' ego.

I cried but it did not hurt -I was like the empty sky raining.

I cried because I was so happy to meet Zen, to be in Hôgen-san's presence,
to listen to his words and silence.

I was like a moving river, my cheeks riverbeds.

I wished for a time when my heart would no longer fear, when it would rise
like a bold, tender sun, shining strong through all the storms, taking all
the swollen, bruised clouds out of the sky.

- a friend.


On Progress
by Hogen Yamahata

Do you want anything other than this?

How deeply have you progressed in zazen practice? How much? How highly developed? Do you have such a special measure, or no measure?

Recently, I had a sort of shock from one of my European friends, who has practised for more then 25 years. He confessed "I haven't progressed in Zen meditation at all", he complained about and confessed such an unhappiness.

Because of such a fixed idea about progress , you lose now what you have built in all your practice, and all the effort you have made is lost. Is this good or bad? It's good if you can lose whatever you have built because then you can sit anew every time.

Such a fixed idea of progress prevents you accepting, to perceive, THIS moment of real peace. When we keep such a fixed idea, we cannot mindfully accept , meet or harvest THIS one moment of peace. Do you want anything other than THIS? Do you want anything else?

"Progression"- to where? Progress implies toward a certain fixed direction, but if you don't have such a fixed direction there cannot be any progress. Whenever you miss THIS , this one encounter of peace, all the 'progress' you have done, suddenly disappears. One hundred years of progress is in vain already in this here now,in this moment. Outside of this encounter, this peace, is it possible to find any progress,or direction, or any enlightenment even?

When you really understand this, you can eliminate such complaints and unhappiness about 'no progress'. This is true even for beginners. Please be freed from any fixed ideas so that you can, at any time, be back home. We need to be mindful of this.

Do you still have the fixed idea of progress or not? Or did I succeed to erase such an idea in you? Such unhappiness or complaint about zen practice or meditation practise comes from misunderstanding or ignorance about life.

Where is it - life? In your body? In your box? Where? What is it - real life? - not merely an idea of life. Real life is actually this present encounter.

And yet some concept or fixed idea about time can still easily creep in because of our invisible, formless habits. In fact, I have many friends in Japan, Europe, in Australia, and almost 90% of them still have such an idea to get somewhere else, to become something else , to get 'better'- but can you become better? What is 'better'? The real substance of that - isnt it to be back home in this one moment life encounter?

Ignorance is whenever you ignore this encounter of HERE NOW. That is it. That is the only ignorance. Because whenever we settle for, or grab, any assumptional ideas, we already slip from this encounter of here now. This is nothing other than ignorance.

We usually make lots of assumptions, like: "if this happens I will be happy," or "if that happens I will be miserable". But what is your reality NOW? When you have such an assumptional viewpoint or concept , you are not HERE NOW. You are somewhere else, millions of miles away from THIS. When you have so many assumptional ideas , with endless questions, at that time you don't meet with THIS real life. In this way, we are ceaselessly escaping and wandering off, so that we miss this one moment of deep peace. This one moment of deep peace is the very arrival at the very end, and at the same time, the real starting point of new life. But we miss it.

You asked about making plans. That is nothing more than building pumpkins. During sesshin please stop any kind of future planning. Such ideas tempt you to escape from HERE, always. You have enough pumpkins already , you don't need any more. What you need is to cut them off. If you can do this, during sesshin, (if you can give up all your thoughts of future planning or any other ideas, for example) then you can really work or function Here Now wherever you go or wherever you are at any time. If you don't have any fixed abode to live in, wherever you are, Here Now is your real home.

Mostly we are wandering off and escaping from THIS. Whenever we escape, this sitting room is not our home but becomes our prison . When we make this home our prison, we want to escape constantly (habitually). But in fact this is not prison, but real home. So it is your choice- ARE YOU MAKING THIS YOUR PRISON OR YOUR REAL HOME? WHICH ARE YOU CHOOSING? Which would you like to do?

Q: Can you describe this here now encounter ? what it is to be in the here now encounter ? Is there any word you can use to describe it ?

Hogen: Ah yes, shall I give it to you? (Hogen strikes the bell ... ) This is it!

This one encounter, just one encounter in eternity. You cannot repeat . Each moment, each encounter is like this. To describe with our concepts even with one thousand words, cannot describe THIS. But one encounter, one real encounter, can do it. Daily. Can you find anything which is not a real miracle? Ceaselessly we neglect and ignore this because of our fixed idea of progress.

So don't have such a fixed measure or scale. Why do you need to or want to be better ? "Better" and "progress" imply a certain direction. But to where? In just one direction we get better , a certain direction to go in . To where? To HERE, NOW. Einstein told us "this starting point is the ultimate final goal". So, where do you need to go? Do you need to have somewhere to go? If you still have a direction that is nothing but escapism. Therefore you get pain. But if you are at home, and you don't need to go anywhere else, you can sit without pain. In such a moment even physical pain suddenly disappears.

So now, are you freed from your prison, your 'measure'? Do you still 'want' to go back home?

You don't need to go anywhere, you don't need to escape to anywhere, because THIS (Now) is the final realisation and final home (to arrive in and start from). Just THIS (Now). JUST THIS. Original realisation. Original realisation of cosmos itself. Life itself. No need to add any extra tail or any legs on a snake.

What we need is such an awakening. Therefore, please don't want to become 'better'. Don't 'progress'. Just be at home. Just be aware of THIS. Just this awareness, only.

So, now, on this sesshin, we are getting more focussed on here now, being at home. Yesterday and the day before, not so focussed, more scattered. And then tomorrow, no words. Our chattering is getting less and less. But I know, often you have so many pumpkins, or extra tails, if so, please have dokusan, or you can confess during this dharma talk (teisho).

What if we sat here and nobody expressed anything, and me neither, during this teisho period.... This is the most successful teisho (powerful thunder). The substance of this silence is full of life, not boring at all. If you have any fixed idea of progress you will easily become bored.

Even just staying and doing nothing, just being and doing nothing, that is already arrival at home. That is full of life. You don't need to add any extra chattering, or any explanation. You don't need to do anything in such a fulfilled state of life.

So, if you, I, do nothing , only this peaceful, deep silence, full of life...

Ah...real Now-encounter!


Questions and Answers


When meditating I understand that any sensation (be it a gross, tickling, heat, cold, stabbing etc. ¾ any sensation) we are to give it no attention; we are to see it with equanimity. So when these sensations occur not to own them, not to attach to them, not to go ‘Ahh!, my aching back', or ‘mmm, I like that feeling'. However, in reality, Day to Day life, if I am to say ‘This is my husband' or ‘my daughter' or ‘my home' or ‘I am that person'. If by saying, ‘I', ‘my', ‘mine', ‘me', etc. am I not forming more attachments (by owning)?

How can I look at this? What is the Zen approach to this question? A friend once said to me; that by not saying ‘I', ‘my', ‘mine', when you are talking that you are not being direct with, or owning your true feelings. Could you help my understanding? Thank you.


Even if you do not say or use "I", "my", "mine", or any word s which express or imply our possession or owning sense, or a self-centred manner, and even though we try to be so indifferent and not to be attached to anything in our daily lives, we are usually still remaining in the same realm of strong attachment in our subconscious or unconscious or even very conscious level, aren't we?! Of course, in the midst of our specific meditation practice, we should have no focus, no object, no struggle, no playing, no attachment to anything at all, but in our daily life, or throughout our lifetime(s), can we keep such an artificial way of sense or sensitivity? Do we really need to do so? For us all, pain is pain (which may need to be acknowledged or to be treated by a good healer), because after all we are such weak children. "No attention" you say, but isn't the attitude to ignore or to pay no attention such an especially big "attention" of a different kind?! Don't you think so?

To see, to look, to observe deeply (without personal preferences and without the interference of any biased attitudes or distorted tendencies) means to act, to help, to work directly, in response to the occasion or encounter or emergency.. ¾ that is the natural function of our original nature when we are truly empty (no-ego) ¾ and that is nothing but real compassion and love. This is one of the essences of the ultimate Trinity. We should not become like a stone statue or a sitting machine, or a dead tree, which has lost the active function of emptiness.


I work in a stressful profession, constantly dealing with problems and unethical and unprofessional business behaviour of others (i.e. builders, manufacturers etc.). I seem to spend my days going from one problem to another. I sometimes wonder if I should find more spiritual work, or whether I am meant to try and influence others and maybe help change how business is done.


It all depends on your own deepest voice (deepest life-wish) whether you should change your work and your life or not. In reality you are so deeply learning something (the realities of karmic suffering and problems and experiences and, after all, the meaning of them all).

Your present situation is so special to learn to observe and understand (with new eyes) the realities of human beings and society. You can find the places where you need to continue or change the practice of your daily work if you are guided by your deepest life-direction. If you really understand and clarify, in your depth, what you are doing in your work and life, you can determine or confront the situation, whether or not you decide to continue or change it. You need to look clearly at the situation with the newly discovering, open eyes or acceptance. It is the matter of your own highest aspiration, the ultimate life-direction to go beyond all, or penetrating everything.


If life is emptiness, what is the personal or individual substance and essence of ourselves that is continuing and reincarnating and transmigrating through many lifetimes?


In the Heart Sutra, we find the emptiness of ourselves, empty of separate self. Everything cannot exist separately as an independent self by itself.

If so, what is the substance or entity that is continuing through days and nights, reincarnating through many lifetimes? This is a huge subject for us all, isn't it?

But we really need to clarify anew by ourselves. Quite recently, I have done this homework of mine, as the biggest subject of 1997 (for me), since we had the last sesshin here in 1996.

The substance (or essence) of ourselves which is penetrating through many lifetimes (or reincarnations and transmigrations) is our own, my own, one's own deepest life work ¾ which is each ones' deepest karmic inevitability, our innate or inherent, ultimate purpose. This is nothing but the real freedom to pursue our own deepest life-direction beyond all our miscellaneous (intellectual) choices.

This deepest life force (or karmic nature) is, even now, creating our bodies and mind s as the one penetration of life through our many life-times. Our deepest purpose remains, usually, dormant until we discover it or are aware if it in our depth. Until then, throughout our lifetimes we are unconsciously travelling (reincarnating) towards such an awakening. Once we discover or are aware of it in our depth we begin our new lives for that, and the more we work with such an awareness, the more the meaning and the works are emerging in the depths of ourselves as individuals.

Unless we complete such a penetrating life-work, we are as unfinished beings, coming and going, travelling and unaware that we are continuing such a unique, special work that contains the very meaning of one's own life existence itself.

We cannot create our own deepest life-work (highest aspiration), but it has been creating and even now is creating ourselves; it is the cause of ourselves, we are not the cause of it. Throughout this process, we are inter-relating, life after life, within all our relations with everything, so deeply interdependently ¾ this is nothing but emptiness. This is the real meaning of emptiness. Please do not misunderstand about emptiness which is not empty, nor vacant, nor "no-substance", but is, in fact, full of life and everything, selflessly.

This one penetration of our own lives and deaths through so many reincarnations, is nothing but the long process of our own self-realisation of our deepest life-meaning. This is our self-substance or self-essence which is formed, supported, influenced, nurtured interdependently with all others, not able to exist by itself. Therefore, it is emptiness, we all are emptiness, as everything is. All our reincarnations and transmigrations are possible, in reality, because of the emptiness of ourselves. We (everything) are not fixed entities .

So, finally, what we find is the fact that there is no death. Life only, NOW by NOW. This is life, this is NOW, this is emptiness. Everything as it is. Svaha!!!

So now we can say:

Form is emptiness, emptiness is form;

Every formation (substance, essence) and all our reincarnations (transmigrations) are emptiness,

Emptiness is every formation (essence, substance) and all our reincarnations (transmigrations).

Death does not exist, life only that is this white lotus opening NOW, as just once in eternity, that is life (NOW). Each one of us (everything, one by one) is the real example of this fact.

Since my second son died, I have thoroughly investigated and confirmed thoroughly about this huge subject, about the fact of our reincarnations and transmigrations.

Is there any one who remembers your previous lives? Usually not.

To forget everything is to be totally born anew,

completely this is new life each time, each life!,

forgetting everything, life by life, one by one!!

How many lifetimes have we spent so far? Each life we have completely forgotten, but surely each life, each of us had unfinished works to pursue and complete in the ultimate stage (NOW). So how many more lifetimes or lives do we need to realise the real NOW, or to complete our own real home-work (penetrating life-work), one penetration of our own meaning (which is life itself)? But all reincarnations, all processes of them are just this NOW only. Nothing else.

What we should do is to realise, to awake, in this penetrating our own deepest wish, deepest life-direction in our depth. When? Why not NOW?! This is the time to do it! Otherwise, we need 1000 more lifetimes. What are they?! That is this one moment. This is it.


Effortless energy

Do you know or understand the difference between “effortful effort” and fulfilling, comfortable effort, or “effortless energy”? We need to feel and experience these two kinds of effort (which we sometimes experience in our daily lives).

All our practices should be effortless, without any gaining idea, any ego-attachment or desire. Rather, fulfilling, activated energy should be streaming in NOW (Now-by-Now). Usually, our ego-effort, hard effort, or effortful effort is useless, and a mere waste of energy. However, when the energy sustaining the effortful effort is completely exhausted, we sometimes experience a different quality of fulfilling, fresh energy streaming in and penetrating us and which carries us beyond our habitual patterns of effort. We call it “zamai” in Japanese and “samadhi” in Sanskrit. This is the effortless effort of awakened energy, which is very apparent

when we practice without any habitual attachment (of any gaining idea). At that time, the
emptiness (full of life-energy) arises and we ourselves disappear. This is SHIKAN TAZA, which
is full of energy, not Buji zen, not zen to gain Satori, but the middle way – the Open Way. (Is
your zazen like this?)
When a spinning top is at full speed it looks as if it is standing still. A revolving propeller seems
as if it does not exist. When our zazen manifests the trinity of right posture, mindful breathing
and no-mind meditation, the essential quality of emptiness (Sunyata) and the necessary quantity
of meditation (Samadhi) is the whole(one)cosmos – THIS!
This is the mother (basis) of Wisdom (enlightened understanding) and Love (compassion) in our
daily actions.
Sometimes, at the very end of extreme effort, we accidentally enter into a peaceful, egoless,
effortless state in which all our habitual tendencies (e.g., intentions to gain, striving and
struggling towards a goal) have fallen away; it is too peaceful to gain anything. Therefore,
“nothing to get”, is the greatest emptiness which is full of life energy – “self-fullfillng Samadhi”.
With nothing to gain, do you still strive with hard effort? Of course, not. No effort, but peaceful
energy, steady penetration and natural fruit (result). It is possible to practice and experience the
genuine and essential quality of open way zen awareness without making hard effort, without
falling into low energy (Buzi zen), without catching any zen disease – as long as we practice
(experience) Now-by-Now the Trinity (Metta-Sila, Sunyata-Samadhi, and Bodhi-Prajna) of
24.01.2003, Springbrook sesshin.


“What is being spent in vain?”

Yesterday, I talked about the possibility that we spend our lives in vain if we continue to follow our ceaseless mental associations. Don't you have any questions about this point? I did. The point is – in our lives, what is in vain, and what is not in vain?

Zen Master Dogen tells us, “Even if you spent one hundred years in vain as a slave of your delusion, just entering the genuine practice for one day is enough to actualise not only one hundred years of your own life, but also at the same time to bring the lives of others to
completion in your one genuine practice”.
That means, this one moment, or one encounter of life is enough in this universe, even for all
others. To achieve and realize the real universe and cosmos, this NOW is enough, and the single
opportunity to achieve whole(one)ness. This Now is it.
One morning, when I was a young novice, I had Dokusan with my master and told him, “This
morning, my zazen was very sharp and clear”. I then told him of my regrets about my previous
sesshin of unclear practice. At that time, my determination to practice was still so unstable due to
a mixture of views on life, some of them scientific. Suddenly my master gazed at me and asked,
“Have you ever done anything till now, which has not been in vain!?”.
Suddenly, I became aware that all I had done so far was in vain, but this miraculous encounter
with my master's universe awakened me that it was exceptional (not in vain).
So, now we can try to clarify in our depths about what is being spent in vain, and what is not. Is
everything we do in vain? Only a waste, and futile? Is there anything in the universe that is
I recently participated in a special zen meditation retreat at Auschwitz and together with ninetythree
participants sat in zazen at the “selection site” where millions of people arrived and were
selected to either die in the gas chambers, or to go into forced labour. Through these experiences,
I looked around at the ruins of what the Nazis had done so steadily and systematically with a huge
organization driven by their fanatical beliefs. Anyway, what I saw on the earth of that huge
concentration camp is only gloomy ruins. I felt that it had all been done in vain- wasted, it had
achieved nothing.
Arnold Toynbee stated that human beings have created twenty-seven civilizations in the past
thirty thousand years. How many ruins do we have on the earth now? Not only the pyramids of
Egypt, the Acropolis, Machu Pichu of the Incas, …, New York, Tokyo, …all the civilizations we
have built are in ruins already, or are in the process of ruin. Even the whole earth itself is
gradually (or rapidly) being ruined! This includes millions of volumes of Buddhisms, Maoism,
Taoism, Judaism,…., sutras, scriptures, doctrines, scrolls and all our human cultural works and
histories. This is true also for Dochu-An, ZESCO, this sesshin, or not? It depends, on what? It all
depends on our awareness of this life-encounter only!
So, what is being spent in vain, and what is not being spent in vain?
(Please read mindfully from this point on, we are entering a paradox)

New York and Tokyo are already a different form of concentration camp ruin.
Whatever we do, is already ruins. What is the real meaning of our deeds, or actions, or life itself?
Yes, all is in vain. The physical cosmos is vacant and meaningless. As a consequence, it is my
(your) perfectly free choice whether you follow the common principle of spending life in vain, or
to discover and create our own new meaning and higher principle, as each of us is an
incomparable, unique universe, and originally (NOW), we are infinite, we include everything as
everything includes us. We are being created by the universe and at the same time each of us is,
moment by moment, creating a totally new unique universe. So we are free not to follow the very
common principle of cosmic vacancy and futility. We can create a new cosmos of unique nature
and principle day by day, encounter by encounter, cosmos by cosmos (in this awakened moment
of THIS!) Cosmos and ourselves are mutually creating – mutually included.
Once we really understand the ultimate point of this creative paradox of universe and life in our
depths, everything is so profoundly unique and meaningful. We discover anew, afresh, that we
have never found life before. This is the real discovery of the universe in our depths. This is what
Zen master Dogen meant. As the original nature of the cosmos and ourselves is infinite and
colourless (no fixed colour), any colour is possible- if you are red, the universe is red, if you
become black, the universe is black; there is no fixed way or constant colour – everything is
transient and ever-changing.
Last evening, I told you that if we ceaselessly repeat following our endless stream of mental
associations without being aware of this serious but very common habit, we are surely spending
our life times in vain. Now we know this reality of ourselves and whenever we mindfully breathe
one-by-one, we feel our deepest fulfillment that life is not being spent in vain. This One breath is
Now. Now is this one breathing of the whole universe, of vividly activated emptiness.
It might not be possible to prove or establish objectively the meaning or absolute values of life
and the cosmos. However, what we can experience clearly is that each one of us is a different
cosmos (a “univerself”), therefore One cosmic symphony is possible. Each one of us so infinitely
and inseparably inter-connected and mutually inclusive. This means that each one of us is
ceaselessly creating a new cosmic life, meaning and myriad universes, life by life. We do not
need objective proof, individual or publicly fixed values (norms) to establish meaning. It seems
that our life and everything is meaningless and futile, but therefore(!), because there is no fixed
meaning, no cosmic norms or values, each cosmos (each “life-meaning-creation-cosmos”) is
possible totally anew. The cosmic creator (who makes the meaningless, futile and boring cosmos
into an infinitely unique and meaningful cosmos), should be each one of us only, not anyone else.
Just the one ultimate point in our depths should be clarified, realized and then, everything we
have done so far, whether it is in vain, meaningful or not, suddenly attains a new life-meaning for
all. What is this one ultimate point? This encounter-awareness (innermost discovery) new miracle
of Here-Now only! This is it, nothing else!
In the very midst of our futile, transient lives, there is something which is neither ruined, nor
prosperous, but so vividly empty. What is it?!
Everything and any state all depend on THIS.
19.02.2003, Springbrook sesshin.


PDF: Where are we going to? – The ultimate life-direction
by Hogen Yamahata


Mental Association and Shikantaza (Springbrook 2006) (PDF)