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前角 (大山) 博雄 Maezumi (Taizan) Hakuyū (1931-1995)
Maezumi Roshi, a seminal influence on the growth of Zen Buddhism in the United States, was ordained as a Soto Zen monk at the age of eleven. He received degrees in Oriental Literature and Philosophy from Komazawa University and studied at Sojiji, one of the two main Soto monasteries in Japan. He received Dharma transmission from Hakujun Kuroda Roshi, in 1955. He also received approval as a teacher (Inka) from both Kōryū Ōsaka Roshi, and Hakuun Yasutani Roshi, thus becoming a Dharma successor in three lines of Zen.
Maezumi Roshi was a holder of both of the Yōgi Rinzai lineages: the Takujū and the Inzan lines. The Yōgi lineage comes to us through Hakuin, who revitalized it in the eighteenth century. Later it split into the Inzan and Takujū lines. Both of those lines have arrived in the West and are practiced here today. Miura Isshū of the First Zen Institute, Rukyō Sasaki, Harada Shōdō, Jōshū Sasaki, and Osaka Kōryū are all teachers of Western students in the Inzan line. Sōgaku Harada and Hakuun Yasutani transmitted the Takujū line, and their teachings have influenced Western Zen as well.
Maezumi Roshi received the Inzan line from Osaka Kōryū and the Takujū line from Hakuun Yasutani. The curriculum of kōans that he used in training his students includes 200 miscellaneous kōans, 48 kōans of the Gateless Gate, 100 kōans of the Blue Cliff Record, 100 kōans of the Book of Serenity, 53 kōans of the Transmission of the Lamp, the kōans on the Five Ranks of Master Dongshan, and 120 precept kōans. Toward the end of training, there are also the kirigami documents and oral teachings with kōans embedded in them. This represents roughly 700 cases.
(John Daido Loori)
In 1956, Maezumi Roshi came to Los Angeles as a priest at Zenshuji Temple, the Soto Headquarters of the United States. He devoted his life to laying a firm foundation for the growth of Zen Buddhism in the West. In1967, he established the Zen Center of Los Angeles. Its honorary founder is Baian Hakujun Daiosho, who headed the Soto Sect Supreme Court and was one of the leading figures of Japanese Soto Zen. Maezumi Roshi established six temples in the United States and Europe that are formally registered with Soto Headquarters in Japan. In addition to ZCLA, these include Zen Mountain Center in California; Zen Community of New York (Tetsugen Glassman, Abbot); Kanzeon Zen Centers of Salt Lake City, Utah and Europe (Genpo Merzel, Abbot); and Zen Mountain Monastery in New York (Daido Loori, Abbot). Affiliated centers also include the Great Mountain Zen Center in Colorado (Shishin Wick, teacher), Zen Community of Oregon (Chozen Bays, teacher); Three Treasures Zen Community in San Diego (Jikyo Miller, teacher); Centro Zen de Mexico, Coyoacan (Tesshin Sanderson, teacher), and Centro Zen de la Cuidad deMexico. In addition, there are over fifty groups in the Americas and Europe that are affiliated with ZCLA.
In 1976, Maezumi Roshi established the Kuroda Institute for the Study of Buddhism and Human Values, a non-profit educational organization formed to promote scholarship on Buddhism in its historical, philosophical, and cultural ramifications. The Institute serves the scholarly community by providing a forum in which scholars can gather at conferences and colloquia. The Institute also publishes a book series with the University of Hawaii Press devoted to the translation of East Asian Buddhist classics and presentations of scholarly works from its conferences. Maezumi Roshi also founded the Dharma Institute in Mexico City. Maezumi Roshi founded the White Plum Asanga, named after his father Baian Hakujun Daiosho.
He transmitted the Dharma to twelve successors: Bernard Tetsugen Glassman (NY), Dennis Genpo Merzel (UT & Europe), Charlotte Joko Beck (CA), Jan Chozen Bays (OR), John Daido Loori (NY), Gerry Shishin Wick (CO), John Tesshin Sanderson (Mexico), Alfred Jitsudo Ancheta (CA), Charles Tenshin Fletcher (CA), Susan Myoyu Andersen (IL), Nicolee Jikyo Miller (CA), and William Nyogen Yeo (CA). These twelve successors have further transmitted the Dharma to nine"second-generation" successors. In America, Maezumi Roshi ordained 68 Zen priests and gave the lay Buddhist precepts to over 500 people. As a major contribution to the transmission of Buddhist teachings to the West, Maezumi Roshi was instrumental in bringing to realization the formation of the Soto Zen Buddhist Association (SZBA) of American Soto Zen teachers. Maezumi Roshi also promoted exchange programs among priests and lay practitioners between the United States and Japan. He had published commentaries on major Buddhist works, and his collected works will be published posthumously.
At the age of 64 Maezumi Roshi died suddenly in Tokyo, Japan in the early morning hours of Monday, May 15 (Japanese time), 1995. Maezumi Roshi is survived by his wife Martha Ekyo Maezumi and their three children, Kirsten Mitsuyo, Yuri Jundo and Shira Yoshimi. Intimate funeral services and cremation were held in Tokyo, Japan on May 19 to 20, 1995. The main funeral was held on Sunday, August 27, 1995 in Los Angeles, CA.
Kuroda Institute for the Study of Buddhism
The Kuroda Institute for the Study of Buddhism is an independent, nonprofit organization that seeks to promote scholarship on Buddhism and its various historical, philosophical, and cultural ramifications. The Institute is run by scholars of Buddhism for scholars and serious students of the religion. It was established in 1976 by Taizan Hakuyū Maezumi, Roshi (1931–1995), founder of the Zen Center of Los Angeles, who endowed it in the name of his father, Rev. Baian Hakujun Kuroda Roshi.
The Institute oversees two book series: Studies in East Asian Buddhism and Classics in East Asian Buddhism. Studies in East Asian Buddhism publishes books and monographs that engage with the Buddhist tradition on all levels. It also considers multi-author and conference volumes that demonstrate a strong cohesion among chapters and include an extended, synthetic introduction by the editor. The series is open to border-crossing and cross-cultural studies that will place the different traditions of Buddhism in their wider geographical, religious, and cultural contexts. Classics in East Asian Buddhism offers philologically grounded and extensively annotated English translations of important works in the East Asian Buddhist tradition. The translations are accompanied by a substantial introduction that places the work in its historical and cultural contexts.
PDF: Humanizing the Image of a Zen Master: Taizan Maezumi Roshi
by Dale S. Wright
In: Zen Masters / edited by Steven Heine and Dale S. Wright. New York, 2010. Chapter 9.
Taizan Maezumi Archives - Sweeping Zen
Taizan Maezumi Lineage Chart
Busso shōden bosatsu-kai kechimyaku
Blood-vein of Bodhisattva Precepts Authentically Transmitted by Buddhas and Ancestors
永平道元 Eihei Dōgen (1200-1253)
孤雲懐奘 Koun Ejō (1198-1280)
徹通義介 Tettsū Gikai (1219-1309 )
螢山紹瑾 Keizan Jōkin (1268-1325)
峨山韶碩 Gasan Jōseki (1275-1366)
太源宗真 Taigen Sōshin (?-1371)
梅山聞本 Baizan Monpon (?-1417)
恕仲天誾 Jochū Tengin (1365-1437)
喜山性讃 Kisan Shōsan (1377-1442)
茂林芝繁 Morin Shihan (1393-1487)
崇芝性岱 Sūshi Shōtai (1414-1496)
賢仲繁喆 Kenchū Hantetsu (1438-1512)
大樹宗光 Daiju Sōkō
琴峰壽泉 Kimpō Jusen
鐵叟棲鈍 Tetsusō Seidon
舟谷長春 Shūkoku Chōshun
傑山鐵英 Ketsuzan Tetsuei
報資宗恩 Hōshi Sōon
五峰海音 Gohō Kai'on
天桂傳尊 Tenkei Denson (1648-1735)
像山問厚 Shōzan Monkō (?-1776)
二見石了 Niken Sekiryō
靈淡魯龍 Reitan Roryū
覺城東際 Kakujō Tōsai
覺庵了愚 Kakuan Ryōgu
了杲大梅 Ryōka Daibai
雪岩愚白 Ungan Guhaku (?-1928)
梅庵白純 Baian Hakujun (黒田 老師 Kuroda rōshi, Maezumi's father, 1898-1978)
博雄大山 Hakuyū Taizan (前角 老師 Maezumi rōshi, 1931-1995)
梅庵白纯 Baian Hakujun (黒田 老師 Kuroda rōshi, Maezumi's father, 1898-1978)
Baian Hakujun Kuroda (March 15, 1898 — 1978) was a prominent Sōtō Zen priest and the father of the late Taizan Maezumi Roshi. Kuroda was a dharma successor of Rev. Guhaku Daiosho, who died in 1928. In 1922 he was installed by the Sōtō-shu as Abbot of Koshin-ji in Otawara City, Tochigi Prefecture, which had been in a terrible fire years earlier in 1908. In 1923 he helped rebuild the temple and also graduated from Nihon University with a B.A. from the Science of Religion department.
Kuroda had eight sons, his first dying in childhood in 1926, with Maezumi Roshi (born Hirotaka Maezumi in 1931) taking on the last name of his mother, to carry on her family name. In 1947 he was installed as a member of the Assembly of the Sōtō-shu and, in 1949, he established the Koshin-ji Foundation (Gojikai), designed to support Koshin-ji financially. He built the temple Nasu-dera that same year and, in 1955, constructed Kirigaya-ji in Tokyo.
He served as Vice-director, Adviser, and Chief Adviser of Soji-jiin his lifetime, one of the two main Sōtō-shu training monasteries in Japan. In 1965 he served as Secretariat-President of the Japan Buddhist Federation and, in 1966, as President of the Japanese Association of Religious Organizations. In 1969 he was installed as Head of the Judiciary of the Soto School and also built another temple, Zenkoji-j, in Yokohama. He was also installed as Director of the International Buddhist Brotherhood Association that year and received the rank of Daikyoshi, the highest priestly rank in the Sōtō-shu.
In 1970 he established Busshin-ji (Zen Center of Los Angeles) in Los Angeles, California. The founding Abbot was his son, Taizan Maezumi Roshi. He was installed as chairman of the Komazawa Society that same year. In 1978 he was installed as as Todo (Honorable Abbot) of Koshin-ji before passing away at the age of 81. In 1979 he received the posthumous title Seido from Soji-ji monastery.
Taizan Maezumi Lineage Chart
At baseline, the Maezumi roshi lineage is a Sōtō Zen tradition that comes down through his father, Baian Hakujun Kuroda Roshi. Later in life, and with the encouragement of his father, he continued his studies with Haku'un Yasutani, of the Sanbo Kyodan school, and the lay Rinzai Zen teacher, Kōryū Ōsaka (1901-1985). In 1970, Yasutani Roshi conferred inka upon Maezumi. In 1972, Koryu Roshi conferred inka on him, as well. In the Japanese Rinzai schools, inka is the equivalent of Sōtō Zen dharma transmission (shiho ceremony), and is the final level of empowerment as a teacher. In the Harada-Yasutani lineage, inka is one level of empowerment beyond dharma transmission.
One can see the presence of these two other traditions manifest in many centers in the Maezumi Roshi lineage today, with some going through a full koan curriculum.
In his interview here at Sweeping Zen, Glassman stated:
He talked a lot with me about the fact that Harada created inka as another step, and that the inka term in Japan was pretty much a Rinzai term, and it was equivalent to dharma transmission in Japanese, or shiho. Those were equivalent terms. So in the Sōtō tradition, shiho was your last step. In the Rinzai tradition, inka was your last step and they were equivalent.
Harada made inka another step past shiho, and Maezumi thought a lot about that and decided that he would do that also — that he would have those two steps. So, in the end, a dharma transmission (I use Zen Teacher in English for that) and then another step called inka (in which you become a Zen Master, in terms of English).
James Ford writes in his book, Zen Master Who? :
Shortly before [Maezumi's] death he decided to create an Inka Shomei ceremony for Bernard Tetsugen Glassman, his senior student (about whom, more below). Through this ceremony he wanted to acknowledge the additional gifts of his lineage, including the Rinzai and Harada-Yasutani lines as a full part of the White Plum transmission.
Karen Maezen Miller helps explain things further:
As for Maezumi's lineage, I've always heard us called “Soto priests practicing Rinzai style.” But Maezumi didn't impose or require koan study – he gave koans to those for whom it was appropriate; shikantaza to others. He often used single lines of the Heart Sutra or single precepts as koans for those who did not do formal study, and he considered shikantaza to be “the ultimate koan.” The bottom line is that his approach defied labels.
In conclusion, while the Maezumi lineage is based in the Sōtō Zen tradition, many of its teachers and sanghas have incorporated what Maezumi roshi transmitted down to them via his koan studies with his Rinzai and Harada-Yasutani teachers.
Further Authorizations For Maezumi
Inka Empowerments from Maezumi down
In the Maezumi Roshi lineage, inka is bestowed post-denbo (final ceremony of the shiho ceremony) to some teachers based on a variety of factors (dependent on who the teacher is bestowing it). It does not have any explicit correlation to completion of formal koan study and typically has been given to those who have matured and evolved in the practice.
Bernie Glassman line
Dennis Genpo Merzel line
John Daido Loori line
Charlotte Joko Beck line
Charles Tenshin Fletcher line
John Tesshin Sanderson line
Gerry Shishin Wick line
Jan Chozen Bays line
Alfred Jitsudo Ancheta line
William Nyogen Yeo line
Nicolee Jikyo McMahon line
Susan Myoyu Andersen line
PDF: On Zen Practice
Body, Breath, and Mind
Taizan Maezumi Roshi & Bernard Tetsugen Glassman
Foreword by Robert Aitken
Zen Center of Los Angeles, 1976
"Notes on Gassho and Bowing"
Taizan Maezumi Roshi with John Daishin Buksbazen
Visitors to the Zen Center often ask about the gassho and about
bowing. What, they inquire, is the meaning of these gestures? Why
are they done? And why is it necessary to do them so precisely and
uniformly? These questions deserve careful consideration.
Although we are Zen Buddhists, it should be noted that the gassho
and the bow are common to all sects of Buddhism, both Mahayana and
Theravada. These two gestures date from the earliest days of
Buddhism, or even earlier than that, and they have moved from
India throughout the Orient, finally arriving recently in the
When Shakyamuni Buddha's enlightenment occurred, he went to see
five of his former comrades with whom he had practiced various
austerities and spiritual disciplines prior to his enlightenment.
These five men, who were very devout monks, felt that their
companion had gone astray when he abandoned their customary
practices. "Come," they said to each other, "Let's not pay any
attention to poor Gautama, he no longer is one of us." They were
dismayed to find that he had seemingly stopped his spiritual
practices, going so far as to even drink milk and take a bath (two
forbidden acts according to their tradition). They could not
understand why he seemed only to sit quietly, doing nothing of any
But when the Buddha approached them, it is reported that these
five monks were so struck by the transformation of their former
friend, by his serenity and the radiance of his personality, that
they spontaneously placed their palms together and greeted him
with deep bows. Perhaps it is a little misleading to say that they
greeted HIM. More accurately, it should be said that they were
bowing not to their old friend Gautama, but rather to the Buddha
-- the Enlightened One.
What the Buddha had experienced was the Supreme Great
Enlightenment (in Sanskrit, anuttara samyak sambodhi): the direct
and conscious realization of the oneness of the whole universe,
and of his own unity with all things. This is what enlightenment
means. This very realization is actually in itself the act of
being the Buddha. And it was to this enlightened state that the
five monks bowed.
When the Buddha was enlightened, the first thing he said was:
"Wonder of wonders! All sentient beings have the same
(enlightened) nature!" What this implies is that in bowing to the
Buddha, the monks were actually bowing to themselves, and to all
beings. These monks were recognizing the great unity which their
former companion had directly and profoundly experienced.
Let us examine the gassho and the bow more closely.
The word GASSHO literally means "To place the two palms together".
Of all the mudras (symbolic hand-gestures or positions) we use, it
is perhaps the most fundamental, for it arises directly from the
depths of enlightenment. Its uses are many, but most commonly it
is employed to express respect, to prevent scattering of the mind,
to unify all polarities (such as left and right, passive and
dominant, etc.) and to express the One Mind -- the total unity of
Although there are many types of gassho, in the Soto sect we are
primarily concerned with these four:
1. THE FIRM GASSHO. The most formal of the gasshos, this is
the one most commonly used in our daily practice. It is the gassho
we use upon entering the zendo, and upon taking our seats. We also
use it at least sixteen times in the course of a formal meal, and
during all services. It is made by placing the hands together,
palm to palm in front of the face. The fingers are placed
together, and are straight rather than bent, while the palms are
slightly pressed together so that they meet. The elbows are held
somewhat out from the body, although the forearms are not quite
parallel with the floor. There is about one fist's distance
between the tip of the nose and the hands. Fingertips are at about
the same height from the floor as the top of the nose. This gassho
has the effect of helping to establish an alert and reverential
state of mind.
2. THE GASSHO OF NO-MIND. This is the next most commonly used
gassho. It is basically used in greeting one another or our
teachers. In this position, the hands are held a little more
loosely together, with a slight space between the palms, although
the fingers still touch. The elevation of the elbows from the
floor is not so great as in the Firm Gassho; forearms should be at
approximately a 45-degree angle to the floor. This gassho has the
effect of deepening one's state of samadhi.
3. THE LOTUS GASSHO. This gassho is used primarily by
officiating priests on special ceremonial occasions. It is made
like the GASSHO OF NO-MIND, except that the tips of the middle
fingers are held one inch apart. Its name derives from the
resemblance of this hand position to the shape of a just-opening
4. THE DIAMOND GASSHO. This gassho is also known as the
GASSHO OF BEING ONE WITH LIFE. Like the LOTUS GASSHO, it is used
by officiants in services. Although the hands and arms are in
basically the same position as in the GASSHO OF NO-MIND, the
DIAMOND GASSHO is made with the fingers of each hand extended and
interlocking, and with the right thumb on top of the left.
In each of these gasshos, we keep the eyes focused upon the tips
of our middle fingers. But regardless of the style or variety of
the gassho, and in whatever setting it is being used, the
fundamental point of the gassho is to be one with the Three
Treasures: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.
Of course, we can look at the Three Treasures from many
perspectives, and with varying degrees of depth and clarity. At
perhaps the most superficial level, the Three Treasures are seen
as external objects of supreme reverence for all Buddhists.
Unfortunately, in this view, the Three Treasures tend to be
perceived as something other than oneself. But as our vision opens
up, we experience that each of us is, in fact, the Buddha. We see
clearly that everything we encounter in the world is none other
than the Dharma -- the functioning of underlying enlightenment.
And, realizing the oneness of all beings, we come to realize that
the Sangha -- the all-embracing brotherhood of practice -- is
simply all composite things, including each of us. Having this
awareness we become -- or rather, we ARE -- one with the Three
So, joining our hands palm to palm, we simultaneously create and
express the absolute, the oneness which goes beyond all
dichotomies. It is from this perspective that we make the gassho,
and that we bow.
It is no ordinary person who bows; it is the Three Treasures
recognizing itself in all things. If anyone thinks of himself as
"just ordinary", he is, in effect, defaming the Three Treasures.
And as we place our palms together we unite wisdom and samadhi,
knowledge and truth, enlightenment and delusion.
Dogen Zenji once said: "As long as there is true bowing, the
Buddha Way will not deteriorate." In bowing, we totally pay
respect to the all-pervading virtue of wisdom, which is the
In making the bow, we should move neither hastily nor sluggishly
but simply maintain a reverent mind and humble attitude. When we
bow too fast, the bow is then too casual a thing; perhaps we are
even hurrying to get it over and done with. This is frequently the
result of a lack of reverence.
On the other hand, if our bow is too slow, then it becomes a
rather pompous display; we may have gotten too attached to the
feeling of bowing, or our own (real or imagined) gracefulness of
movement. This is to have lost the humble attitude which a true
When we bow, it is always accompanied by gassho, although the
gassho itself may not always be accompanied by bowing. As with the
gassho, there are numerous varieties and styles of bowing, but
here we will deal only with the two main kinds of bow which we use
in our daily practice.
1. THE STANDING BOW. This bow is used upon entering the
zendo, and in greeting one another and our teachers. The body is
erect, with the weight distributed evenly and the feet parallel to
each other. The appropriate gassho is made (see above). As the bow
is made, he body bends at the waist, so that the torso forms an
angle with the legs of approximately 45 degrees. The hands (in
gassho) do not move relative to the face, but remain in position
and move only with the whole body.
2. THE DEEP BOW (FULL PROSTRATION). This bow is most often
used at the beginning and end of services, and upon entering and
leaving dokusan. It is somewhat more formal than the standing bow,
and requires a continuous concentration during its execution so
that it is not sloppily done.
The bow itself begins in the same way as the STANDING BOW,
but once the body is bent slightly from the waist, the knees ben
and one assumes a kneeling position. From the kneeling position,
the movement of the torso continues, with the hands separating and
moving, palms upward, into a position parallel with the forehead.
As the bowing movement progresses, the backs of the hands come to
rest just above the floor and the forehead is lowered until it
rests upon the floor between the hands. At this point, the body is
touching the floor at knees, elbows, hands, and forehead. The
hands are then slowly raised, palms upward, to a point just above
the ears. Then the hands slowly return to the floor. This action
is a symbolic placing of the Buddha's feet above one's head as an
act of reverence and humility. There should be no sharp, abrupt
movements of the hands or arms, no bending of the wrists or
curling of the fingers when executing this gesture. When the hands
have been raised and lowered, the body then straightens as the
person bowing gets to his feet once again and ends in gassho, just
as he began. In kneeling, actually the knees do not touch the
ground simultaneously, but in sequence; first, the right and then
the left knee touches the ground. The same is true for the right
and left hands and right and left elbows, in that sequence. In
practice, however, the interval between right and left sides
touching the ground may be so minute as to be unnoticeable. In
bowing, movement should not be jerky or disjointed, but should
flow smoothly and continuously without either disruption or
Master Obaku, the teacher of Master Rinzai, was famous for his
frequent admonition to his students. "Don't expect anything from
the Three Treasures." Time after time he was heard to say this.
One day, however, Master Obaku was observed in the act of bowing,
and was challenged about his practice.
"You always tell your students not to expect anything from the
Three Treasures," said the questioner, "and yet you have been
making deep bows." In fact, he had been bowing so frequently and
for so long that a large callus had formed on his forehead at the
point where it touched the hard floor. When asked how he explained
this, Master Obaku replied, "I don't expect. I just bow."
This is the state of being one with the Three Treasures. Let us
just make gassho. Let us just bow.
[from ON ZEN PRACTICE, Hakuyu Taizan Maezumi and Bernard Tetsugen
Glassman, ed., pp 54-61. 1976. ISBN: 0-916820-04-1.]
Reproduced in GASSO vol 1 no 1 (ISSN: 1072-2971) with permission of the
Zen Center of Los Angeles, 927 South Normandie Avenue, Los Angeles, CA
90006. All rights reserved.
PDF: On Zen Practice II
Body, Breath, and Mind
Taizan Maezumi Roshi & Bernard Tetsugen Glassman
Zen Center of Los Angeles, 1977
The Hazy Moon of Enlightenment
Part of the On Zen Practice collection
Taizan Maezumi Roshi & Bernard Tetsugen Glassman
Foreword to the First Edition (Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche)
Preface to the First Edition (Bernie Tetsugen Glassman)
Editors' Preface to the Revised Edition (Wendy Egyoku Nakao and John Daishin Buksbazen)
1: The Sound of Enlightenment (Taizan Maezumi)
2: Sudden and Gradual Enlightenment (Taizan Maezumi)
3: “Yunmen's Two Sicknesses” – Case 11 of the Book of Equanimity (Translated by Taizan Maezumi and Dana Fraser)
4: Sitting Down in the World of Enlightenment – Commentary on “Yunmen's Two Sicknesses” (Hakuun Yasutani)
5: “Ghosts in the Daylight” – Commentary on the Capping Phrases (Taizan Maezumi)
III: Enlightenment in Action
6: “The Eight Awarenesses of the Enlightened Person” – Dogen Zenji's Hachidainingaku (Translated by Taizan Maezumi and Francis Dojun Cook)
7: Introduction to the Eight Awarenesses (Taizan Maezumi)
8: “Having Few Desires”
9: “Knowing How to Be Satisfied”
10: “Enjoying Serenity and Tranquility”
11: “Exerting Meticulous Effort”
12: “Not Forgetting Right Thought”
13: “Practicing Samadhi”
14: “Cultivating Wisdom”
15: “Avoiding Idle Talk”
IV: An Experience of Enlightenment
Editors' Preface to Part IV
16: An Experience of Enlightenment ( Flora Courtois)
17: Meeting Flora Courtois ( Hakuun Yasutani)
Effort and Intuition: The Sudden and the Gradual Reconsidered (Neal Donner)
Chinese-Japanese Name Glossary
Sudden and Gradual Enlightenment
LIFE ALWAYS PRESENTS US With pairs. There are always two aspects that complement each other: sun and moon, day and night, mother and father, life and death. How easily our mind becomes occupied in a one-sided way! When we see one aspect and ignore the other, somehow we feel incomplete and the circumstances of our lives seem insufficient.
We can talk about aspects of our Zen practice as appearing in pairs, like enlightenment and delusion, or the relative and absolute points of view, or sudden and gradual teachings. We tend to set one side against the other and compare them. When we look closely, we can see that each pair is always just two aspects of one thing. Seeing this one thing, we can appreciate each aspect in a better way.
Dogen Zenji said of the five schools of Zen in China, "Although the five schools are different, they all transmit one Buddha Mind." He said that we shouldn't even look upon Zen as a sect. The point is that we should genuinely understand and realize this One Buddha Mind. Dogen Zenji says all kinds of beautiful things about it, but we should really penetrate this One Buddha Mind ourselves.
When Dogen Zenji returned from China, he said, "I have returned empty-handed, without the smallest bit of Buddhadharnia." "Emptyhanded"-when you've got nothing in your hands, they are free to be used in the best way And "without the smallest bit of Buddhadharma" -in other words, everything is the Buddhadharma. It's not a matter of having it or not: this very life, as it is, is nothing but the Buddhadharma itself.
In Buddhism, there has been much discussion of the issue of sudden and gradual approaches to practice. In fact, after the Sixth Ancestor, this became a very controversial topic of debate among people practicing Zen. But the issue of sudden and gradual is not a matter of one or the other; in some way or another, our practice includes both sudden and gradual aspects. If we don't get attached to just one side, we can appreciate the sudden and gradual aspects from a number of different perspectives. Usually the sudden aspect of practice is understood to be the moment of the enlightenment experience, kensho or satori, which always happens suddenly. This sudden enlightenment experience is of crucial importance, but we should also appreciate the gradual practice that leads up to that moment, and the gradual practice of deepening, refining, and clarifying our vision after the enlightenment experience. Kensho means "to see the nature," the buddha nature. To experience kensho is to see that this life, as it is, is the very life of the Buddha. Even though our life is the enlightened way itself, because our understanding is not quite right, we somehow don't see that this is so. The Rinzai school especially emphasized the importance of having this sudden opening.
In his commentary on the koan Mu, Master Wumen (J. Mumon) says:
Concentrate yourself into Mu, making your whole body, with its 360 bones and 84,000 pores, one great question. Day and night, without ceasing, keep digging into it. Do not interpret it as "nothingness" or as "being" or "nonbeing." It must be like a red-hot iron ball which you have gulped down and which you try to vomit up, but cannot. Cast away all delusive thoughts and feelings which you have cherished up to the present. After a while, your efforts will come to fruition naturally, and inside and out will become one. You will then be like a dumb person who has had a wonderful dream: he knows it within himself but he cannot speak of it. Suddenly Mu breaks open and astonishes the heavens and shakes the earth...Though you may stand on the brink of life and death, you will enjoy the great freedom. In the six realms and the four modes of birth, you will live in the samadhi of innocent play.
It's not a matter of intellectually figuring out what Mu is. To see Mu you must put yourself completely into it until you are Mu itself. Concentrate on Mu until you and Mu become one thing, and then keep on working. Then, as Wumen says, "suddenly Mu breaks open" and you will realize that from the beginning you are nothing but Mu, the buddha nature itself.
We call this experience shokan, the first barrier. Passing this first barrier is to experience the same realization that all the buddhas and masters experienced themselves. But there are many degrees of realization-sometimes it is deep, sometimes shallow, sometimes the vision is clear, sometimes cloudy. In fact, usually this first opening is just a glimpse of the enlightened state. Having passed this first barrier, practice continues as you deepen, enlarge, and polish this wisdom. We study 6oo or 700 koans; but you could also just continue with one koan. The point is not the number of koans, the point is to see clearly what this life really is. The Buddha Way is boundless, and its accomplishment and actualization goes on endlessly.
In the Soto School we also appreciate gradual practice and sudden realization. But Soto Zen emphasizes that because this life is altogether one-the Buddha Way itself-you should not expect kensho. As soon as you chase after kensho, right there you create a subject-object dichotomy. Many people misunderstand, saying that the Soto school is not concerned with the enlightenment experience. This is nonsense. Awakening is the very core of the Buddha's teaching, but if we are thinking about awakening, we are separating ourselves from it.
So how do we practice without being dualistic? This is what Dogen Zenji expresses in the famous passage from the "Genjokoan":
To study Buddhism is to study the self
To study the self is to forget the self.
To forget the self is to be enlightened by the ten thousand dharmas.
'When 'you really are iust yourself, 'you forget the self. Ana when the self is forgotten, the Buddhadharma instantaneously reveals itself as the whole of life-the life of each of us. So in studying the self, in practicing zazen, put yourself completely into just being zazen. In following the breath, just be the breath; in working on a koan, be the koan; if you do shikantaza, completely be shikantaza.
Practicing in this way, the subject-object dichotomy will fall away and you will have a glimpse of your true nature. But this is not all. Dogen Zenji goes on to say:
To be enlightened by the ten thousand dharmas
Is to free one's body and mind and those of others.
No trace of enlightenment remains,
And this traceless enlightenment is continued forever
Having seen your own true nature, that awareness then expands to include everything, and the Buddhadharma functions without hindrance as oneself and others. Going still further, beyond any trace of enlightenment and non-enlightenment, being completely ordinary, traceless enlightenment continues accomplishing itself endlessly.
So we can see sudden and gradual aspects in both Soto and Rinzai practice. We can say it is a continuous process: first practice, then sudden realization, then further practice and further realization continuing endlessly. From a lifelong perspective, the gradual and sudden aspects together could be seen as a gradual process.
In Soto Zen we also emphasize the intrinsic point of view. In other words, from the beginning, practice and realization are one. Practice is this life, and realization is this life, and this life is revealed right here and now as each of us. Realization is nothing other than seeing this plain fact. Whether we realize it or not, it is the reality. Whether we practice five years or ten years or not at all, it is the plain fact. In each moment the Buddhadharma is completely revealed as this life. Every instant appears and disappears as the absolute truth. What could be more sudden than this?
Whether we know it or not, this life is an abundant treasure house. The trouble is that, instead of taking care of it in the best way, we are practically strangling ourselves with it. This is why Dogen Zenji says, "This Dharma is amply present in every person, but unless one practices it is not manifested, unless there is realization it is not attained. It is not a question of one or many; let loose of it and it fills your hands. It is not bounded vertically or horizontally; speak it and it fills your mouth."
There is a beautiful expression in Spanish, poco a poco, little by little. Our life is always poco a poco, and the way we practice poco a poco is zazen. In each moment, in each little-by-little step, the Buddhadharma is completely revealed. So little is not little, it is boundless.
Instead of just talking about this or that and getting caught in extremes, how do we take care of the two sides? I'll leave it to you. Our practice is always poco a poco. If you say it is little by little, fine. If you say gradual, fine. If you say sudden, that's fine, too.