Open Way Zen Brisbane
Open Way Zen Brisbane

Life Koan

Shall I briefly introduce my own native koan, and my life, including the encounter with my master? I was born in 1935 in a small mountain town three hours north-east from Tokyo. When I was a young boy, I remember the very rhythmic sound of silk weaving, because my parents had a silk weaving factory. I always played alone in the backyard of the factory. So I played alone with earthworms, crickets and even the soil, and sometimes fishing, because there was a small stream in the backyard of the factory. Of course, I played with my neighbour's friends.

One day, I had a question. When I visited my friend's house, they had both father and mother, but in my house, there was no father. I asked my mother "Why don't we have a father?" She replied - "He died". I was five months old when he died. So, I asked my mother "What is dying?" - I didn't know about death at all at that time. So my mother explained about death. She replied, "Sooner, or later, I will also die. Everybody, including you, will die". I couldn't understand, but gradually while I listened to my mother's explanation about death, I understood. So everybody is dying. I was deeply shocked. Since that time, whatever I ate, or tasted, whatever I enjoyed; when I remembered about death, all my pleasure and enjoyment suddenly disappeared. No taste when eating food, because the shock was so deep. I was about seven years old. So, that was the first sprouting of my native koan.

During my primary and secondary school, I asked many friends and teachers about life. What is life? What is the meaning of my life and existence? And, what should I do? Nobody replied in an absolute way. They said many things, but my thirst became deeper and deeper. No quenching of the thirst at all. No help. My thirst and strange enigma and mystery was, and still is - everybody is leading their lives, but they don't know its absolute meaning, of course, including myself. They were living in darkness, and blind, but still living and leading their regular lives. That was my biggest enigma, and mystery. Even now, this is the basis of my native koan. So I had to find the real answer to this koan, otherwise I couldn't take even one step, but I ate, slept, wakened, and still went to my high school and so on, but no answer. This was my koan.

One day, I found in the corridor of my high school "zazen" - written in two big characters. So I visited the mountain temple, and I participated in a week long sesshin, and was fully tortured! Physical torture! For a whole week! And my intellectual question disappeared - just pain! I was sixteen years old. This was a new experience for me - another koan. Even after the sesshin, I continued because I felt something during the sesshin - I didn't know what it was. So I continued. The mountain temple was usually empty, so I went every morning by bicycle to sit alone, as I was taught. And then, after graduating from high school, I went to Tokyo and stayed in a zen temple and learnt German, English and Russian, because I wanted to read some original books on philosophy - which means I stayed at an intellectual level. One day, at this zen temple, two monks, an old and young one, visited. I was staying in the dormitory, and heard the sign for lunch, and went to the dining room. When I opened the door, the two monks were in front of me. Suddenly, I felt a soft light surrounding the younger monk. During the meal, I was watching him the whole time, in my depths. After lunch, I washed their dishes, and the younger monk was waiting for me, and he said, "Now I am going outside for shopping. If you like, we can go together."

I was extremely happy! On the way, there was a small Shinto shrine, and he said "Shall we rest here and talk?", and we talked. I asked my native koan- "What is life? What is my my life? What is the real meaning of life?". Suddenly, he grabbed my shoulders and shook them "THIS IS IT!" In his answer, he gave me all of himself, his life itself. His answer was not intellectual at all, he replied with just life itself. His eyes were very straight and very serene, and very strong. I was deeply shocked, but I still stuck to my intellectual level. My intellect was not satisfied but I felt something directly in my innermost depths.

After that, for seven years, I wondered around from monastery to monastery, from master to master, mainly staying at monasteries of the Rinzai sect - Kamakura, Kyoto, Kyushu ?. with no answer at all. After seven years, at Kyoto station, I remembered the experience with the younger monk. He lived in Fukui prefecture, so I changed my train to visit him. I arrived at about eleven o'clock in the evening. That was in the midst of the november sesshin. When I saw him, he welcomed me, and again I asked him exactly the same question. He did not reply with the same answer, but just with "I understand your question - I would like to recommend that you join our sesshin", so I joined the sesshin. However, he gave me the koan "Mu", but, I didn't understand - what is Mu? My native koan, my homework, was different. I wanted to clarify the real absolute meaning of life, and the absolute answer for what I should do now, otherwise I can't move, can't sleep, can't eat - I can't even take one step, but he replied "Ok, I understand your question - if you really do this koan Mu, your native question will get the real answer because this is it - Mu". So, I believed him. "If I really do this Mu, can I get the real answer to my native question". He replied, "Yes". So during that sesshin I only did Mu, day and night, for the whole week, just Mu. Even at midnight, I sat in the graveyard outside - and just Mu. Mu. On the fifth night, when I did Mu, the whole universe, just Mu.

When I did Mu, the whole universe was Mu. When I went to the toilet, the whole universe followed me to the toilet. Whatever I do, the whole universe does the same, no gap at all - when I shout "aaaah", the whole universe is just "aaaah" - no gap, no separation, just oneness. The whole universe is just Mu. So, his promise was not wrong. That was the real answer for my question, not at an intellectual level, not an intellectual answer. So, my native question and answer both dissolved, disappeard. Just Mu.

At that time I was 25 years old, so I shaved my head, and I stayed in my master's monastery under his instruction and teaching for about ten years. Of course, during these ten years, I went to many places - Rinzai monasteries, and still I wandered around, with begging bowl, robe and straw sandal, all over Japan. Sometimes, with my master, to Hokkaido, and so on. But this experience is the basis for all my practice, and also after my experience, I met with my special friend, who was and is, an aikido master, and while I stayed in his dojo in Nagoya, he taught me aikido, and I taught him zazen. We lived together in his dojo - his teaching was too harsh. I was also tortured! He is now an aikido master in San Diego. Anyway, we practiced together for a while. My whole body was bruised.

When I stayed in Nara prefecture, in the deep mountains, in an empty temple, I stayed for one year alone. When I became hungry, I went begging. There was only a village of eleven houses. Usually I sat in zazen alone in self-retreat. Sometimes village children joined me in zazen. One day, during mid-winter, my aikido friend suddenly visited me. He had established an aikido federation in England. He promised to take me there in ten years time. After that, I also went to many places, and visited many masters and stayed in monasteries. I also found Chogenji temple, where I now live. I entered the temple as the local priest and got married.

As promised, after ten years, my aikido friend suddenly visited me at Chogenji temple. He said, "let's go to England". I was shocked because I had completely forgotten about the promise made. Anyway, the two of us went to Europe. We went through Russian territory from Yokohama to Nahotoka by boat and then via the trans-Siberian railway to Habarosk - it was a very beautiful, beautiful long journey. We flew from Haborosk to Moscow, and then onto Europe. At that time, I couldn't speak even messy English, so the first year someone helped me as an interpreter. So, this was my first experience- it was a wonderful, wonderful experience. Since that time, year by year, the aikido summer school invited me, so I needed to practice English. Since that time almost twenty years have passed. At first there were about two hundred students each time for one week. It was an aikido summer school with zen practice. I explained zen practice - how to sit, how to meditate in zazen. At first, there were only aikdo practitioners, but gradually yoga teachers, Tibetan Buddhists and others came, and some of them invited me to Holland, Ireland, even Norway, Israel, so about 13 years ago, I came to Australia - Melbourne and Tasmania. Inevitably my messy English is gradually messier and messier! Please know and please understand, the more I practice with you, the more clearer is just one point - my original koan - life, the real meaning of our life - what should I do just now?.