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Arthur Braverman (1942-)


Arthur Braverman was born on December 8, 1942 in Bronx New York City in the neighborhood of Pelham Parkway. He attended New York City College where he got his bachelor's degree in Physics. After living in Nigeria for two years through Peace Corps he went to Japan to study Zen Buddhism. He studied under Kosho Uchiyama Roshi at Antaiji– a small zen temple for seven years. He married his wife Hiroko and they returned to America together in 1978 where he studied classical Japanese at Columbia University. His first translation was Mud and Water: The Teaching of Zen Master Bassui, the next was Warrior of Zen: The Teachings of Suzuki Shosan, and finally A Quiet Room: The Poetry of Zen Master Jakushitsu. His most recent publication was Living and Dying in Zazen, which is a memoir. He now lives in Ojai, CA and has completed a novel based on the lives of two zen masters titled Dharma Brothers.


PDF: Mud and Water
鹽山和泥合水集 [Enzan wadei gassuishū] by 拔隊得勝 Bassui Tokushō, 1327–1387
The Collected Teachings of Zen Master Bassui / Translated by Arthur Braverman
San Francisco: Nort Point Press, 1989.


Warrior of Zen:
The Diamond-Hard Wisdom Mind of Suzuki Shosan,
New York : Kodansha International, 1994. 133 p.


Dharma Brothers Kodo and Tokujoo:
A Historical Novel Based on The Lives of Two Japanese Zen Masters
by Arthur Braverman
Ojai, CA: Taormina Books, 2011. 581 p.

A historical novel based on the lives of two Japanese Zen Masters, 沢木興道 Sawaki Kōdō (1880-1965) and 加藤耕山 Katō Kōzan (1876-1971).

Kodo and Tokujoo is based on the lives of two Japanese Zen Masters, how they grew from two ordinary boys, walking very different paths to become extraordinary men, and the deep spiritual bond between them. It is also the story of Japan from 1880 to 1965, of two personal accounts of Zen journeys to enlightenment, and of love and friendship. The story follows the lives of these two Dharma brothers, set against a backdrop of the Japanese-Russian War of 1905, and the rise of fascism in Japan in the 1930s. Kodo was an orphan, brought up in a harsh environment, while Tokujoo was the son of a well-to-do businessman. They both spent years studying in the most stringent Zen monasteries and became life-long friends. Each struggled to find his way clear of the circumstances in which he had been reared. Each sought a way of life offering more meaning and truth, ultimately becoming a different exemplar of Zen practice and living Buddhism.



A Review of Dharma Brothers, the historical Zen novel by Arthur Braverman
April 5, 2013
A review by Richard Collins

Dharma Brothers: Kodo and Tokujoo. A Historical Novel Based on the Lives of Two Japanese Zen Masters. By Arthur Braverman. Ojai, CA: Taormina Books, 2011. 581 pp.

When I began reading Arthur Braverman's novel Dharma Brothers: Kodo and Tokujoo, “a historical novel based on the lives of two Japanese masters,” I was interested primarily in the story of Kodo Sawaki. I was a little disappointed that I would have to be patient with the intrusion of the story of another monk, Kozan Kato (Tokujoo). A glance at the five-book structure of the novel suggested that it would begin by alternating their parallel stories, bringing them together in later parts of the almost 600 pages of the book.

I dove headlong into Book I, which tells of Kodo Sawaki's childhood through his time as a soldier, first in the Russo-Japanese and then in the First World War. This is what I had come for, to hear more about the charismatic Homeless Kodo, my dharma great-grandfather (my teacher's teacher's teacher). I had more than once read and recommended Braverman's earlier Living and Dying in Zazen (Weatherhill, 2003), a group portrait told in the form of a memoir about the author's search travels in search of material on five Zen masters of Modern Japan, including the two friends depicted in his current novel. Living and Dying in Zazen remains one of my favorite books on Zen practice because of its clear focus on the centrality of zazen and its ability, in the words of Braverman's teacher Kosho Uchiyama, “to eradicate the exotic and the mystic from Zen practice and show us that Zen was life in the world—but with a greater degree of sanity.” This same no-nonsense clarity applies whether the portraits focus on a leaf-blowing monk in a public park (Sodo Yokoyama), an irascible itinerant scholarly maverick (Kodo Sawaki), a homeleaving family man (Kozan Kato, aka Tokujoo), a woman who was sought out as a Zen teacher at a time when that was not the norm (Motoko Ikebe), or Kodo Sawaki's disciple, Antaiji's abbot, and Braverman's teacher (Kosho Uchiyama).

Dharma Brothers reminded me of another book I read early and often, Hesse's Siddhartha. I wrote to Arthur Braverman to tell him this and to say that it reminded me, too, of Narcissus and Goldmund, Hesse novel about two medieval Christian monks and their lifelong friendship. He wrote back to say: “I too was moved greatly by Siddhartha and it was one of the reasons I wanted to tell the story as a novel….when I started the novel I took Narcissus and Goldmund out of the library to see once more how Hesse dealt with friends–or two parts of one person's psyche.” Braverman's novel is less romanticized and less lyrical than Hesse's—for good reason: after all, this is an historical novel not a parable. Dharma Brothers is a Siddhartha for grownups.

Much of what happens to Kodo Sawaki as a child echoes the adventures of picaresque antiheroes like Lazarillo de Tormes. Orphaned and bounced from foster homes to monasteries, temples and the army, Kodo has to deal with abusive guardians, gamblers and whores, tricksters and cynical monks. In Braverman's hands, the depiction is less harsh than in picaresque works, less naturalistic and more realistic. Caricature gives way to the portrayal of complex human beings.

Leaving Kodo's story in Book II, I was pleasantly surprised. Not only did I like Tokujoo (a name given to Kozan Kato by an early teacher) but in the end I came to feel what Kodo himself felt for Kato—affection and friendship. Try as he might to run from his destiny—and he does try by running away from teachers and monasteries of several sects repeatedly—Tokujoo finally runs straight into his destiny through directed koan practice with his master Kumoshitsu. Time after time Tokujoo abandons his responsibilities with the excuse that he is not ready for this or that position of responsibility in a temple because he has limited insight—only to be saddled with another set of responsibilities in his next situation. Each time he runs away he acknowledges that he might have been selfish last time he abandoned his duty, but this time he is following a higher path. These are, perhaps, examples of bonno soku bodai, finding wisdom through delusion.

The final koan he is assigned has to do with the story (ascribed variously to Hunan and Hakuin) about a girl who lies that a monk has impregnated her. The monk raises the child without revealing the lie. How Tokujoo wrestles with this koan provides his breakthrough in Book IV. Given the koan of the old woman who burns down a monk's hut because he turns down the advances of a young woman, Tokujoo discovers that his own path is the paradoxical one of householder-monk. Unlike Kodo, whose purist path leads him to reestablish the ancient practice of shikantaza (just sitting), Tukujoo is a modern monk whose path meanders through both koan practice and shikantaza , ending in a combination of the two that reflects his dual vocations of Zen priest and family man. His breakthrough is described as vividly as Siddhartha's climactic realization at the river.

In the end, while I respect and appreciate the Kodo Sawaki newly humanized in Braverman's portrayal, I have a newfound friend to admire in the character of Tokujoo, who is, I suppose, given that he is Kodo's dharma “brother,” my dharma great-granduncle. If Kodo is the intellectual monastic who fancies himself iconoclastic, Tokujoo is the monk who appears to be a failure by some definitions and yet has the broader experience not only of Zen practice but also of life as it is lived by most of us, a true bodhisattva living in the world. That the two monks come to a mutual respect shows the capaciousness of Zen in the real world, even as some in our midst in the current American Zen scene try to put blinders on and narrow the path and the role of monastic training and Zen teaching.

Being introduced to these modest figures, for the most part footnotes in the official history of Japanese Zen, we are reminded that this is where true Zen occurs—not necessarily in the big practice centers that proselytize in the glossy ads of Tricycle and Shambhala Sun; not in the expensive seminars and pricey online dokusan chatrooms; not in the presence of big-name roshis and their disciples jostling for dharma transmission; and not in the debates about whether to establish some sort of Zen teacher accreditation system, which one of my students dubbed “No Monk Left Behind.” By introducing us to these largely unknown Zen teachers, Braverman reminds us that true Zen practice is not big business; it is the biggest business, the business of living and dying in zazen.


横山祖道 Yokoyama Sodō (1907-1980)
also known as 草笛禅師 Kusabue Zenji (Zen master with the grassflute), "The Leaf Whistling Monk", "The Leaf-flute Zen Master"

Zen in the Park
by Arthur Braverman
Buddhism Now, November 2004

The Classical Monk
by Arthur Braverman
Shambhala Sun, July 2005

Living And Dying In Zazen:
Five Zen Masters of Modern Japan by Arthur Braverman
Weatherhill; First Edition 2003

Zazen is Buddha
An interview with Jôkô Shibata by Arthur Braverman


A Quiet Room: Poetry of Zen Master Jakushitsu
by Arthur Braverman
Tuttle Publishing, 2000, 128 p.

In front of the Patriarch's room
The road is smooth

A thousand years pass in vain
Moss grows

Bright moon
Shines like snow

The Second Patriarch
His arm severed
Still hasn't arrived.


The mind is Buddha
how crude!

No mind
no Buddha
no deliberation

Straw sandals trampling snow
on barrier mountains

Everywhere the smell of winter


A Visit to Hattoji Temple

Lone mountain dominating three provinces

White clouds cover a green peak

Summit soaring to great heights

Old temple nearly a thousand years

A monk meditates alone in a moonlit hall

A monkey cries in the mist in an old tree

Saying to worldly folk:

"Come here; free yourselves of karmic dust."


Gathering Tea

To the branch's edge
and the leaf's under surface
be most attentive

Its pervasive aroma
envelopes people far away

The realms of form and function
can't contain it

Spring leaks profusely
through the basket


Living in the Mountains

Neither seeking fame
nor grieving my poverty
I hide deep in the mountain
far from worldly dust.

Year ending
cold sky
who will befriend me?

Plum blossom on a new branch
wrapped in moonlight


Rain in Autumn

Look at the moon before you point or speak

Illuminating the sky
an unstained round light

If your face doesn't possess the monk's discerning eye

You become blinded by evening rains of autumn


Sitting in the Mountains

Rock slab seat
legs folded
sitting alone

Not loathing noise
not savoring silence

The carefree clouds concur


Living and Dying in Zazen: Five Zen Masters of Modern Japan
by Arthur Braverman
Weatherhill, 2003, 176 p.

[A marvelous book combining the life stories and teachings of five masters - Kodo Sawaki, Sodo Yokoyama, Kozan Kato, Motoko Ikebe, and Kosho Uchiyama.]


In 1969, I traveled to Japan in search of a place to practice Zen Buddhism under the guidance of a Zen master. I was excited to be traveling in the Far East. Many Westerners took to the road in search of alternative ways to live, having been wakened from a state of lethargy when the affluent United States led its people blindly into the Vietnam War. We were an international family bonded by our refusal to buy into a world whose values we didn't share.

Like so many who chose to explore Zen Buddhism as part of an alternative lifestyle, my head was already full of preconceived ideas about what a Zen master should be. I had read what was available on Zen in English at the time, but knew nothing about Buddhism as it was actually practiced in Japan. Little by little my preconceptions were to dissolve as a result of the teachers I met and the community of Westerners and Japanese monks with whom I practiced. The dissolution of those preconceptions was the beginning of real learning for me.

A small community of Westerners came to Kyoto to practice Zen meditation at Antaiji, a temple in a northern suburb of the city. This is a story of those students, Uchiyama Kosho, the abbot of Antaiji, and four other Zen teachers whom I learned of through my connection with Antaiji.

Four of those teachers were priests-three from the Soto Zen sect and one from the Rinzai Zen sect-and one was a laywoman Zen teacher. Each taught their own distinctive brand of Zen, different from the Zen of others and from the teachings of the orthodox Rinzai and Soto Zen establishments of their times. Yet they shared one essential thing: a strong commitment to zazen, or Zen meditation, a true love of the practice that utterly surpassed the lip service given it by so many Zen Buddhist priests in Japan of their day.

Kosho Uchiyama, abbot of Antaiji, is the central figure in this story. Uchiyama was a Soto Zen priest who created an atmosphere at Antaiji that welcomed people from all walks of life to practice Zen meditation. Many Westerners found their way to Antaiji as a result of Uchiyama's openness. Perhaps the best-known of the Zen teachers I have focused on is Kodo Sawaki, Uchiyama's teacher and a maverick Zen master who traveled the country preaching zazen. Though Sawaki was officially the abbot of Antaiji during the latter part of his life, he never actually took charge of a temple and was nicknamed "Homeless Kodo." Sawaki is also the human link that connects each teacher to the others.

Sodo Yokoyama was a lone monk who spent his days sifting in zazen, playing songs by blowing on a leaf, and brushing poems that he composed in his "temple"- a public park he visited daily. He was a disciple of Sawaki for over thirty years. Kozan Kato was a close friend of Sawaki and the only Rinzai Zen master in the group. He became known in Japan in his ninety-fourth year when a Japanese Buddhist teacher and scholar published a taped account by Kozan of his life and Zen philosophy. His total disregard for fame earned Sawaki's respect.

Motoko Ikebe, a laywoman disciple of Uchiyama, is the sole woman Zen teacher in my story. This was a feat in itself in the overwhelmingly male-dominated world of Japanese Zen. She lived a simple life in a country village in Hyogo Prefecture, and her quiet demeanor and strongly charismatic presence attracted many students to seek her guidance. She had them all practice zazen and advised in many other aspects of their lives as well.

As I set these stories down, I found myself writing more and more about my relationship with Uchiyama and the community of Zen students with whom I practiced. Many of the anecdotes recount how we lived and practiced around Antaiji, and may not be directly related to formal Zen meditation practice; what they do show is how a group of people who came to Japan to study Zen llved and worked and played while trying to maintain a meditation schedule created by Uchiyama at Antaiji.

Like our teacher, we believed in the inherent wisdom of meditation practice but we also realized that following that practice did not make us "special." For Uchiyama, practicing Zen was not something people did in a vacuum, in a protected environment free of the demands of the world around them. He wanted his monks to devote ten years to monastic practice before returning to Japanese society, but he also believed that, even while they were training at Antaiji, they should not be completely isolated from life outside of the monastery. He was happy to have Western men and women practicing at Antaiji, believing that the cross-cultural contact would be good for the monks as well as the Westerners. And he never encouraged any of the Westerners to take monastic vows, though some did. Uchiyama wished to eradicate the exotic and the mystic from Zen practice and show us that Zen was life in the world- but with a greater degree of sanity.

When I lived at Antaiji during my first months in Japan, there were Sunday zazen meetings for the local Japanese lay community. One man, who spoke some English and probably wanted to practice it, struck up a conversation with me. What he told me illustrates the atmosphere Uchiyama hoped to create for his students. "When I met the Roshi in a private meeting yesterday," he said, "I told him that I sit zazen for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening. I then asked him if there was anything else I should be doing as a lay Buddhist practitioner. He said to me, 'You should be a good father and a good husband."

In an attempt to give the readers a more complete picture of my subjects, I have tried to tell their stories from as many different perspectives as possible, drawing freely on a wide variety of materials, first-person and otherwise, in English and Japanese. For example, I have told the story of Soda Yokoyama, the poet-monk who composed music that he played on a leaf, through the eyes of many different people. Some, like his brother-disciple Uchiyama, wrote articles about him, and I've included samples of them. Yokoyama also told his own story in a book of his collected writings edited by his only disciple, Joko Shibata; I've included excerpts from that collection as well. And finally, my meeting with Yokoyama and interview with his disciple, Shibata, many years later, add to the picture, providing a comprehensive and multifaceted description of this remarkable man.

Uchiyama's distinct approach to Zen set the tone for practice at Antaiji and the attitudes of his students. Those who preferred other ways of practice left; those that stayed were of a certain bent. Like the teachers in the book, we believed in the importance of Zen meditation above all other aspects of Zen Buddhism. We also valued a certain amount of independence in our lives. Life at and around Antaiji under the guidance of Uchiyama allowed us to pursue both our commitment to meditation and our personal freedom.

Zazen was the focus of all the teachers in this story. Their faith in it and their stress on it over other aspects of Buddhism (though they certainly did not disregard those other aspects) is the common link here. I have attempted to give a picture of as many aspects of the lives of the teachers, the community and the temple as possible, but the essential story is that of five Zen masters living and dying in zazen

pp. 92-111.




Final Lesson, by Arthur Braverman
The Community, by Arthur Braverman
A Monk and a Zendo, by Arthur Braverman
Motoko Ikebe, by Arthur Braverman

Sweeping Zen interview with Arthur Braverman