講 演  2002年10月13日

Zen Meditation is Itself the Buddha

Takeshi Kuroda

The head priest of Yokohama Zenkoji temple.
Chief director of The Yokohama Zenkoji
Scholarship Foundation for International
Buddhist Study.

    Thank you for your kind introduction. My name is Takeshi Kuroda. I am currently the abbot of a temple called Zenkoji in Yokohama City, close to the capital of Tokyo. I am grateful to be here with you today, facilitated through the offices of the WFBY (World Federation of Buddhist Youth).

    In Japan, there is a well-known saying “Ichigo ichi-e.” This is based on the Buddhist teaching that each moment is a precious one and that each meeting we have with another person is a one time encounter, unique and precious. This encounter is not something that happens by chance, but something that happens through the grace of the Buddha. Thus, as I stand here today before you, I feel a need to spend this time with you wholeheartedly.
As I see the smiles and glow from each one of you, I can feel the warmth from the depths of your hearts. I believe this is because you all were born here in Thailand, where 95% of the people are Buddhists and you have been raised embraced by the graces of the Buddha in a land full of deep faith in him.

    In my country, Japan, we have a custom to celebrate one’s transition into adulthood by holding a ceremony for young people who have just turned twenty years of age. With this transition into adulthood comes not only the right to vote, but also the rights, obligations, and responsibilities that go with becoming an adult.

    Recently, there have been news reports in Japan of such ceremonies being disrupted by some young people who got drunk before the ceremony or continued to chat and send e-mails on their cell phones during the congratulatory speeches. In Japan, there are virtually no twenty-year olds who would consider shaving their hair and taking the monastic vows. If they heard about the strict 227 Theravada Buddhist precepts, they would probably roll their eyes. And yet, I have deep faith. Deep faith in a future where Shakyamuni Buddha’s true Dharma will be transmitted to young Japanese people. A day when they will awaken to the luminous eyes all of you here in Thailand have.

    When I was your age, I was still very immature. I didn’t know how to orient my life and I spent many days struggling to figure out my life’s path. There might be many among you who are also struggling to discover your life’s purpose. Indeed, there is nothing wrong to be searching when one is young. The important thing, though, is to realize what one needs to live one’s life correctly and what transformations in one’s character are necessary.

    My youth was spent as an “unsui,” water and clouds, which is another term in Japanese for a novice Zen monk. Wandering like the water and clouds, my life as a young Zen monk was floating by until I discovered that I simply had to trust the Buddha completely. So this is my first piece of advice to you young Buddhists. Place your trust in the Buddha’s way and everything will work itself out. Everything will be alright.

    Now that I look back on my youth over forty years ago, I realize that it took my quite some time to recognize that my life was a gift from the Buddha and that I had to trust in the Buddha’s way. However, all my studies and struggles were not a waste and I look back on that time in my life with fondness.

    At that time in Japan, the practice of begging for alms was almost entirely absent from my country. Although Thai and Japanese Buddhism share the same roots in Shakyamuni Buddha’s teachings, the interpretation of practice and propagation differ. Although it’s hard to explain why these differences exist in a few words, the differences in interpretation meant that begging for alms, unlike in Thailand, was a practice almost unheard of in Japan. Sometimes it is said that there are 84,000 gates or ways into the Buddhist teachings. It is as if these various teachings of the Buddha were like seeds that were carried by the wind to spread throughout the universe. Dropping onto the fertile soil of each land, the Buddha’s teachings transformed according to the culture and customs of each country in which the seed landed producing wonderful Buddha flowers. Japanese Buddhism can be said to be one such flower.

    Getting back to the question of begging for alms, although it is an uncommon practice in Japan today, when I was a young monk, I walked the entire length of the Japanese archipelago or nearly 10,000 kilometers begging for alms along the way. Although there is a slogan issued by Japan’s traffic safety board, “Japan’s small, what’s the rush?” when you actually walk its length, it doesn’t quite seem so small. It was precisely because I engaged in such begging for alms, that I have so much respect for the Thai Buddhist practice of begging wherein the donor gives and is thankful to the monk, who is a field of merit, so that better karma results. Instead of the person receiving the donation being grateful, in Thailand, it is the donor who is full of thanks. Whenever I think of this, it reminds and moves me of why the Thai people are always so full of gratitude and purity.

    As mentioned above, since this type of begging practice had almost disappeared from Japan, my experience as I walked through the islands was full of obstacles and difficulties. Hunger, the cold, and humiliation. Along the way, such experiences made me think of what it was that I was trying to accomplish. At times, I nearly went mad. It was a hard discipline of eating little, drinking only water, while using my elbows as a pillow. Japan, unlike Thailand, is not a warm country year round. It gets really hot as well as really cold with wind and snow. The hardships didn’t just come from walking. It was terribly difficult when the people in the homes one when to beg at, didn’t accept me. They often thought of me as a nuiscance, throwing me out onto the street. With this happening regularly, the feeling of gratitude kept getting less and less. But in the midst of all this, as I was engaging wholeheartedly in this begging practice, I had a realization about just how selfish my self was. As I saw this unstable and unsatisfied self, it occurred to me that my attitude was completely wrong. I was a monk and my concern should not have with myself, but with helping alleviate the suffering of others. This was a moment like when the fog lifts and reveals the clear sky. I saw my true self, the self that was alive through the grace of the Buddha and a sense of gratitude overwhelmed me.

    This was remarkable experience when I felt saved by the Buddha himself. This kind was experience of feeling alive through the grace of the Buddha is a crucial one and one that I hope all of you experience. Indeed, given that you are growing up in a country with a much deeper base of Buddhist faith than mine, I hope that you experience this while you are still young. As you experience this, it is important to realize that Buddhist practice is not something you do for other people or because someone tells you to, but it is something that has to come from within yourself, whether one is a Buddhist in Thailand or Japan.

    When I was young, although I had strayed from the path frequently, this begging practice really put a focus onto my Buddhist discipline. Although I had undergone monastic training prior to the long walk around Japan, it was so full of delusions that such practice didn’t really sink in. It was only after the begging experience that true practice began for me when I entered the headquarters of my school of Japanese Buddhism, the Soto Zen temple, Sojiji. To further my training, I also decided to experience the deep teachings of Theravada Buddhism by coming here to Thailand to enter Wat Paknam as a novice monk. Entering this temple allowed me to further understand the meaning of begging practice, as well as engage in the monastic routine of meditation and the study of Buddhist scriptures, and the Pali language. Living in the context of the discipline of the 227 precepts, the many things I learned from Theravada Buddhism are to me, to this day, a great spiritual treasure.

    Although many of you have probably already undergone such training, it is wonderful that here in Thailand you have the opportunity to enter such practice whenever you want. In vast contrast with Japanese Buddhism, I understand that here in Thailand, it is customary for young men to become a novice monk at a temple as a form of initiation into adulthood. We have no such tradition or custom in Japan which reflects a major difference between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism. Although Shakyamuni Buddha’s teaching is ultimately one, depending on the place, time, and context it appears differently. This difference, of course, is not a something that needs to be compared with the notion of determining which is higher or lower, better or worse.

    This practice of young men entering the monastic community for a short period is something we in Japan are amazed at. For example, we have heard that students from the prestigious Chulalongkorn University, centered around students from the medical school, participate in a program for short-term monkhood at an affiliated temple. That such bright young people from an elite group would willingly enter such a disciplined monastic life is praiseworthy indeed. In contrast, most young people in Japan would probably shy away from such a discipline. Instead of being weak in character, Thai youth through the monastic experience are able to develop their own unique strengths and personalities through this practice. It is in the monastery that such young people become accustomed to Buddhist life, deepen their meditative experiences, and find times during the day to question the Achaan about Buddhism, thus ever coming more fully into contact with the Buddha’s teachings. In respect to the medical students, when I heard about their monastic training program, I knew right there and then that these young doctors to be would turn out to be medical practitioners of the highest order, helping their patients with kindness and truth. If we had such a program as a required part of medical studies here in Japan, we would never have doctors who would hide medical errors or put money before medical care as has been known to happen in Japan.

    This is one great aspect of the Buddhist tradition here in Thailand. Indeed, it is no wonder that people automatically place their palms together in respect for the monks here, who try their best to listen to the Buddhist teachings and correctly live them out day by day. Without regard to whether the person is rich or poor, the Thai monk offers a helping hand to those in needs. Some are even known for especially lend a hand to desperate people. These monks embodied the very meaning of what the “Buddha’s disciple” originally meant.
To truly become a “Buddha’s disciple,” one must never lose the spirit of compassion towards others. Although there are some who think that religion is only for those in dire straits and is meaningless if one is not in such a condition, in fact, religion is something that is essential for every one of us at all times. True religion is that which connects us to the power of eternity and to the faith in the salvation of our true selves. So, whether one thinks of oneself as religious or not, it is extremely important not to lose sight of the spirit of compassionate for all and to create a space to develop this spirit of salvation.

    It is in this spirit that I, as one Japanese Buddhist monk, feel a great sense of gratitude to simply be included in the great Sangha of Buddhist disciples. Although through the long and varied history of Buddhism, different schools have appeared as branches of the Buddha’s community, we share the same main trunk in which we can agree that as Buddhists we must correctly transmit Shakyamuni Buddha’s Dharma, make real world peace, come into harmony with the earth, and shine a light of hope onto the future.

    My own guideline for Buddhist practice has been “return to Shakyamuni via the sect founders.” The sect founders for me, given that my temple Yokohama Zenkoji is a Soto Zen sect temple, is Dogen and Keizan. This sect of Japanese Buddhism was founded by the Zen Master Dogen over 760 years ago and this year (2002), we are celebrating the 750th anniversary of his death. Here in Japan, there are numerous celebrations at the over 15,000 sect temple throughout Japan to commemorate this occasion with numerous monks from outside of Japan also coming to mark this occasion. This sect was then spread throughout Japan through the work of Zen Master Keizan, the fourth generation disciple of Dogen, as a popularizer. He is thus also considered a sect founder and therefore we have two monks who are considered the “dual sect founders” who transmitted Shakyamuni’s teachings correctly.

    The Zen Master Dogen’s teachings are deep. One of the things he noticed was that in countries where the Buddha Ancestors correctly transmitted the Dharma, the people respect the Three Treasures of the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. Thailand, of course, is one such country where the people have engraved deep in their hearts that they are really one with the Buddha. Taking refuge in the Three Treasures, Thailand is a country that certainly fits Dogen’s notion of a place where the Dharma has been transmitted correctly.
In terms of the Dharma, one of Dogen’s most representative writings is his magnus opus, the Shobogenzo. Although this text is said to be very difficult to understand, it simply expresses how humans actually and ideally ought to live in various ways. In one section of the text is the words, “To study the Buddha Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be confirmed by the ten thousand things. To be confirmed by the ten thousand things is to drop off the body and mind of oneself and others.” What this means is that the study of Buddhism begins first and foremost with the study of oneself, that is the investigation of who one really is. As one studies this self, one “forgets” or lets go of the knowledge, experiences, the mind of discrimination one has accumulated thus far to regain one’s original and pure nature. As we become free from the prison of the self, we become one with the natural world, the earth, and the entire universe (ten thousand things), in the present moment, moment by moment. To live in the midst of this truth is to become free in a way where one experiences freedom in a life of purity (dropping off the body and mind) together with the freedom of others.

    The notion of “forgetting the self” may be something quite foreign to young people today. For many in the modern world, life is full of desires such that self-centered gain is the only thing that drives people. However such self-centered lifestyles is inextricably linked to hatred, competitiveness, conflicts, poverty, starvation, the destruction of nature, and perhaps ultimately the downfall of the human race.
Although we all seem to be fixated on “me, myself, and I,” actually we are driven by what others think or standards external to us. Dogen’s admonition to “study the self” is to come to a deep understanding that our life depend on the grace of the Buddha and to feel gratitude for it. Instead of putting one’s self forward among the “ten thousand things” or the universe, to let the universe emerge naturally with one’s self as just one part of it is what is important.

    This is Buddhism. And for Dogen, the discovery of the self comes through simply practicing Zen meditation. This meditation or in Dogen’s words “Shikantaza” (Just Sitting) is not seated meditation with a purpose or goal. Rather, it is a purpose-less meditation, a meditation without conditions or unconditional meditation. Being without purpose or without any self-benefit, the unconditionality extends to the notion that meditation is not even for enlightenment. This absolute position is what is called in the Zen tradition, the “mind of ultimate tranquility.”

    For example, this “mind of ultimate tranquility” appears in the simplest of acts. Washing one’s face in the morning, whether it is really dirty or not, or placing one’s hands together as a sign of respect when greeting others, as is done here in Thailand, are all expressions of such a mind. The practice of placing one’s palms together in a sign of respect is something that one can find in Japan only when people make special visits to temples and shrines when they want to pray for something. The only remnant of this practice is the placing of palms together before a meal, which is a wonderful custom, though, one that is increasingly disappearing these days among young people.

    This “mind of ultimate tranquility” and the “practice of Zen meditation” are two important pillars in Dogen’s teachings. When meditation is practiced the way he intended, in its unconditional form, which forms itself, is the form of the Buddha. Furthermore, the spirit of that meditation is something that can permeate everyday life in such a way that it can be continually practiced. It is this very everyday nature of practice that is important. When one eats, one should just eat. Instead of considering its nutritional or health value and its taste, when one eats, one should simply eat. When one drinks something, one should be completely in the present moment and drink the tea or whatever fully, without adding anything extra such as whether the tea is tasty or the act of drinking tea is healing or is good for something or another.

    When Dogen was still a young monk during his training in China, he went to visit a certain temple to visit a fellow monk who was in poor health. Here, in the garden of the temple compound was an elderly monk putting shiitake mushrooms out to dry. Although it was a terribly hot day, the old monk despite the sweat and the back-breaking work, was carefully placing the mushrooms out to dry one by one on a hot stone base. The elderly monk was the temple’s head cook (Tenzo). Without really thinking, Dogen blurted out to the monk, “Honorable monk, instead of such a venerable monk as yourself, why don’t you get a young monk to do this kind of hard work?” The senior monk replied with a smile, “Other people’s work is not my work.” When Dogen pressed further by saying, “But considering your health, why don’t you take a break?” When the old monk replied, “This moment is only here now,” Dogen was shocked and amazed.
    In other words, the past never can be recovered. And the uncertain future is as unknown as how a broken cup will break. The only real, sure thing is the here and now. Dogen realized that the old monk wasn’t concerned about his health or how hot it was, but was fully focused on the present moment as it appeared. Dogen came to understand that the practice of this elderly cook was, in fact, no different than the practice of Zen meditation. This practice of living fully in the here and now is something all of us can live out in our daily lives. Those who are able to always live with the “mind of ultimate tranquility,” can live naturally without any obstacles. Living naturally and freely, they are always able to maintain the spirit of “giving” neither succumbing to the myriad desires, nor depreciating oneself. One thus becomes full of the sense of service, that one is being allow to serve others without discrimination and with compassion, speaking to any and all with tender words.

    Being grateful that one has this life to serve others, one develops the ability to benefit others with a deep vow to make others happy. And just like the ocean allows any and all rivers to ultimate flow into it, one is able to live a life of inclusion, a life without discrimination between self and other, where saving oneself is one and the same as saving others. Dogen also advocates “Hotsugan Risho,” that is vowing to devote oneself to the world of suffering and to work for the benefit of others. In order to accomplish this, he recommends four kinds of true wisdom (prajna):
   1) Fuse (Giving) ? To not be greedy and to give to other sincerely.
   2) Aigo (Affectionate Words) ? To speak to all with tender, heartfelt words as parents do to their children.
   3) Rigyo (Altruism) ? To live with others for the benefit of others.
   4) Doji (Identity) ? To live in harmony with everything.
    These values remain constant as the expression of a life lived beautifully however much the world may change around us. Those who live in “the now” are able to, in any age, live the life of the Buddha, which in turn, leads to the disappearance of conflict and hatred. Zen meditation is living in “the now.” And when I sit in such a tranquil state and ideas and wisdom come to me, I can only consider them as gifts from the Buddha.

    And as one of these ideas, it occurred to me that to promote Buddhism for the future, I should establish a foundation to support young Buddhist monks from Japan and abroad to further their studies. I began this foundation eighteen years ago and as the years have gone by, over 106 monks have benefited from this scholarship. All in all, we have had monks from over 20 countries (including from Europe and Asia) come to Japan and have sent Japanese monks to over 14 countries. This foundation was established at a time when my temple was only fifteen years old. The hope to support these monks, however noble, was seen by many to be a project too grand for a temple of such recent founding. But I persevered with this project as this was something that the Buddha had given to me as a task during meditation. Thus instead of thinking about this project as something I conceived and put together, it should rather be thought of as a project the Buddha put together for me to carry out. If this was really the Buddha’s project, it wouldn’t depend on how hard I worked on it. Instead, if something is correct, the seed will eventually bloom into a flower. Over the years, I have had so many people support me on this project that I cannot but call them manifestations of the Buddha.

    As these young monks from around the world study and put Buddhism into practice, the day of achieving world peace grows closer. As these Buddha’s disciples shine their light onto the world, Shakyamuni’s true teaching is enveloping the world. Although they may be small seeds right now, however small a seed, it eventually grows into a large tree and ultimately becomes a part of a massive forest.

    In the world of Zen meditation lies the “truth of the universe.” This is a truth that transcends nationality, race, religion, culture, customs, language, gender, and age. This truth resounds with the one life that all humanity participates in. By living out this truth, harmony appears and a bright future is assured.

    Those of you here in this room today represent the building of a new 21st century. With infinite potential and energy available to you, you must live the life and wisdom of the Buddha as descendants of Shakyamuni. I very much hope that each and every one of you will receive this gift of the spirit of meditation and the life of the Buddha as we more senior Buddhists hand over this baton to you. Please guard this well and make sure to pass this baton over to the next generation.

    As time is running out, I will close my remarks by inviting you to some day visit my temple, Yokohama Zenkoji, which with its international character of monks from around the world visiting it, represents a microcosm of the future. I sincerely hope that this precious time that we’ve had together provides a karmic link between you and I. I really would like to thank all of you who took the time out to attend this talk today. I would also like to finally thank the three groups, the Thai Buddhist Federation (TBF), the World Federation of Buddhists (WFB), and the World Federation of Buddhist Youth (WFBY) which sponsored this gathering. Your efforts, too, is something that I cannot but say is a gift from the Buddha.


Copyright © 2002 Yokohama Zenkouji Temple. All rights reserved.