Yamahata Hôgen Daido (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.
Hôgen (Daido) Yamahata
ON THE OPEN WAY (Nyílt úton)
Jiko Oasis Books
Liskeard, P. O. Box 10,
Cornwall PL14 8YW England
Words from Zen Master Hôgen
- Innermost Thirst and
... (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
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
You asked me;
"But how can we know, how can we see through these traps?"
"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.