March 14, 2010

Kodo Sawaki ~ Zen Master, Zazen Warrior, Buddhist Bum

Kodo Sawaki (1880-1965), known as “Homeless Kodo” due to his constant ramblings throughout Japan, was a Soto Zen priest and the teacher of the late Kosho Uchiyama Roshi and Gudo Nishijima Roshi.

Impacted by difficulties in early childhood, Sawaki Roshi was orphaned at a young age and adopted by his uncle. Following his uncle’s death, young Kodo was raised by Bunkichi Sawaki, a professional gambler.

At 16, Kodo entered Eiheiji (the Soto Zen head temple founded in 1244 by Dogen) where he received ordination as a priest by Koho Sawada the abbot of Soshinji. Afterward, he was drafted in the Army and spent close to six years in China as an infantryman during the Russo-Japanese War. He then moved from temple and hermitage to temple and hermitage until settling for a time at Antaiji Temple.

As abbot of Antaiji Temple in 1949, Kodo Sawaki Roshi brought the practice of zazen (meditation) back into the forefront of daily temple routine, rather than the intellectual study of sutras and commentaries.  While the administrative work of the temple fell upon his student Uchiyama Roshi; Kodo Sawaki Roshi roamed around the country of Japan bringing extensive zazen practice sesshins to those who wished to practice in what he termed the “Moving Monastery”.

Some of the wisdom of “Homeless Kodo”:

On urgency

It is regrettable that some people spend their time sewing garments for dead children, or making funeral masks or building tombs as second homes, when life quivers before us! By seizing the sword of wisdom with its prajna point and diamond flame, we seize life afresh, authentic life, life at face value, here and now.

On identity

The asshole doesn’t need to be ashamed of being the asshole. The feet don’t have any reason to go on strike just because they’re only feet. The head isn’t the most important of all, and the navel doesn’t need to imagine he’s the father of all things. It’s strange though that people look at the prime minister as an especially important person. The nose can’t replace the eyes, and the mouth can’t replace the ears. Everything has its own identity, which is unsurpassable in the whole universe.

On religion

Most think that a religion is belonging to a group that shares a system of beliefs. In reality each individual has their own religion.

Religion is the peace of mind felt when you are truly yourself. It structures your daily life, but it can’t be explained or shown to anyone. I think religion is this stability hidden deep in one’s self. Different for everyone, it’s what allows someone to keep to the way without anyone else’s help.

It is obvious that if religion is our own essence, the disputes between different branches of Zen seem totally insignificant. Likewise, it is useless to try to imitate Shakyamuni or any other master. At other times there were other ways. What is essential is for everyone to seize their own peace of mind, here and now.

The lives of the ancients show that they all had the power of maka hannya. For example, the great patriarch Kanadaiba didn’t give conferences, or even commentaries on the texts; he deepened his wisdom by living it each day.

For wonderful wisdom from the original “Hardcore Zen,” check out this amazing book from Wisdom Publications ~ “The Zen Teachings of “Homeless” Kodo by Kosho Uchiyama Roshi

Gudo Nishijima Roshi gives his opinion about Japanese Buddhism and its support of the war effort during World War II. He agrees with Brian Victoria, author of “Zen at War,” that many Japanese Buddhists supported Japan’s nationalism during the war. But he strongly denies Victoria’s assertion that his teacher Kodo Sawaki was among them. The exaggerations that Nishijima Roshi refers to here are given in great detail on this webpage:




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