To You (2)

by Kōdō Sawaki Rōshi

These are a few selected quotes from an early version of Kōdō Sawaki Rōshi’s “Tou you”, a book translated from Japanese by Reihō Haasch and Muhō. The complete, revised and edited book will be available in print from Hohm press in 2021.


18. To you who are complaining all the time that you haven’t got any time

People only keep themselves busy to avoid boredom.

Everybody complains that they’re so busy they haven’t got any time. But why are they so busy? It’s only their illusions that keep them busy. A person who practices zazen has time. When you practice zazen, you have more time than anyone else in the world.

If you aren’t careful, you’ll start making a big fuss just to feed yourself. You’re constantly in a hurry, but why? Just to feed yourself. Chickens too are in a hurry when they peck at their food. But why? Only to be eaten by humans.

19. To you who are tumbling down the career ladder

When you’re dead and you look back at your life, you’ll see that none of this mattered in the least.

Suffering is nothing more than the suffering we create for ourselves. Some even take great pains to meticulously piece together their own suffering.

None of this matters at all. Stop blubbering! What a waste of tears.
Grow up a little and open your eyes: You’ll see that you’re making a great fuss over nothing.
All living beings are just like crybabies making a great fuss over nothing.

You’re worried about death? Don’t worry – you’ll die for sure.

20. To you who like to hear ghost stories

Isn’t everything a hallucination? It’s only because we don’t recognize this hallucination as a hallucination that we wander around in life and death.

Some underpants are hanging to dry on a branch. Somebody sees them and thinks they’ve seen a ghost. Maybe you’re thinking that something like that hardly ever happens in reality, but when we think, “I need money”, “I want to become minister”, “I want to get ahead” – aren’t we all taking a pair of underpants for a ghost?

Everyone is talking about “reality”, but this is only a dream. It’s nothing more than the reality inside a dream. Good! When people are talking about revolution and war, we think that something really special is going on, but what is it besides struggling inside a dream? When you die, you recognize your dream. Someone who doesn’t put an end to dreaming before then is an ordinary person.

21. To you who would like more money, love, status and fame

Heaven and earth give, air gives, water gives, plants give, animals give, humans give. All things give of themselves to each other. It’s only within this reciprocal giving that we can survive – regardless of whether we’re thankful for it or not.

Once during the war, I visited a coal mine. With the same outfit and head-lamp as the miners, I got into the lift and down we went. At one point when we were going down it seemed to me as if suddenly we were going up again. But when I looked with the lamp at the wall of the shaft, I saw that we were still going down. In the beginning when we were accelerating downwards, we could really feel that we were going downwards. Just when the velocity changed it seemed to us as if we were going up again. In exactly the same way, when we think about our lives, we always go wrong when we mistake the fluctuating amounts for the sum.

Losing is satori. Winning is illusion.

22. To you who wish you could lead a happier life

“Rest awhile and everything will be fine.”
We simply need to take a short break. Being buddha means taking a short break from being a human. Being buddha doesn’t mean working your way up as a human.

What do we have when we truly have a grip on things as they are? Beyond-thinking [hishiryō]. Beyond-thinking doesn’t allow itself to be thought. No matter if you think so or not: things are simply as they are.

“All things are empty” means there’s nothing we can run into, because nothing is really happening. We only think something’s happening because we are intoxicated by something.

23. To you who say that doctors and monks have it good

Out-dated views – what adults teach children are often nothing more than out-dated views. The view that good is good and bad is bad has already had its best days. Even a vegetable which was once good is inedible once it’s past its prime.
We’ve got to always be able to see things from a fresh perspective. You say, “That’s important.” But what’s important? There’s nothing that’s so important. When we die we’ve got to leave everything behind anyway. The cultural goods and national treasures in Nara or Kyōto will sooner or later disappear, so we could actually set them on fire right now!

A home-leaving monk means someone who completely lets go. It means letting go of group stupidity. Today’s monks only want to cling to things. That’s why they’re good for nothing.

When you feed a cat treats, it stops hunting mice. And a spoiled dog keeps no watch. Even humans aren’t any good for work when they’ve got money and can take it easy.

24. To you who say that monks run an easy business

Monks desperately try to get by through paying lip service to the Buddha’s teaching. And lay people hope to get something out of it when they have monks pay lip service. How could this have anything to do with the Buddha’s teaching, earning your living with memorized lip service?

Monks like to talk about the old women who they read their sutras for: “The granny over there is seeking refuge in me.” Don’t say it so lightly – idiots should keep their mouths shut!

Today’s monks say zazen isn’t in demand anymore. They say, Sawaki is out of touch with the times.

There is a bad deed, called “doing good”. For some, doing good is just a decoration.

25. To you who want to study a little Buddhism to improve yourself

“Empty theories” is what we call it when bystanders play around with terminology. Playing around like that is good for nothing. Dive in with body and soul!

You’ve got to die completely in order to be able to reflect on the buddha-dharma. It isn’t enough to torture yourself and only die halfway.

The buddha-dharma is nothing for spectators. It’s about you.

26. To you who like hearing something inspirational about Buddhism

They say, “When I hear Sawaki talk, my faith cools down.” Now I’m going to really put their faith on ice: This sort of faith is nothing but superstition.
They say, “Sawaki’s talks don’t awaken any faith in me.” They don’t awaken any superstition, that’s all.

There’s nothing more funny than old women looking for “inspiration”. Everything for them is “inspirational” even if it’s only worth as much as pigeon shit. Anyway, this idea of inspiration is mistaken: isn’t it just personal inspiration they’re talking about? They’re only taking refuge in Buddha because they hope to get something out of it.

Whatever sutra you read, it’s always about devoting your body and life to the Way. Why is it that the whole world believes religion means praying to Buddha for good health and good business?

27. To you who naively starts wondering about your true self

Just forget everything you’ve picked up since you were born.

When a drop of water enters the sea, and when a speck of dust settles on the ground, then that drop is already the sea, and that speck of dust is already the earth.

All things are contained in my self. That’s why, in my actions, I also have to pay attention to what other’s expect.

It is because we are grateful towards society that whenever we use something, we think of those who will need it after us.

28. To you who thinks Buddhism is the greatest idea in human history

Be careful that you don’t handle the buddha-dharma like some canned good which has nothing to do with reality.

Your explanations and your anecdotes are foolish like everything that comes out of your mouth. The expression on your face has already said how it really is.

You can express reality completely freely with words. Yet these words are not in themselves reality. If reality were in the words themselves, we would burn our tongue whenever we said “fire”. And whenever we talked about wine, we would get drunk. In reality, it isn’t so easy.

29. To you who are pleased when someone compliments the depth of your faith

Many confuse faith with a type of intoxication. There’s a type of intoxication similar to awe that’s nothing but delusion. Faith means, however, just the opposite – complete sobriety from any form of intoxication.

When most people in the world talk about the mind of faith, they don’t think it’s anything more than kissing Buddha’s ass.
“Do what you like with the others, but at least give me a first-class ticket to paradise!” Prayers like that have got nothing to do with the mind of faith.
Faith means clarity and purity. Mind means the single mind that encompasses the three worlds. So having faith means clarifying and purifying the one mind of the three worlds. The mind of faith means truly becoming clear about your own mind.

Faith means being clear and pure. It means being at ease. But some people get confused about this as well and think faith is about getting worked up, so they try with all their might to do so. Until they realize that it’s not so easy to get truly worked-up. Then they just act as if they were.

30. To you who say that the Shōbōgenzō is difficult to understand

Because you want to understand Buddhist teaching from the standpoint of human thought, you are going 180° in the wrong direction.

Master Dōgen doesn’t expect anything from us that’s not humanly possible. It’s simply a matter of becoming natural, without empty thoughts or peculiarities. Buddhism in general doesn’t demand anything special from us, only that we become natural.
Some verses in the sutras might seem special to us, for example, “The white hair between his eyebrows illuminates the 3,000 worlds.” But that’s only a literary symbol for the samadhi that is the king of all samadhis.

Master Dōgen’s whole life was one uncompromising, penetrating inquiry into himself.

31. To you who say that Buddhism doesn’t have anything to do with you

In prison, the prisoners puff themselves up in front of the guards and say, “Take a good look at yourselves. Without us you wouldn’t have anything to eat!”
That’s exactly how it is with us ordinary people. Because we exist, the buddhas exist. Without us ordinary people, the buddhas would have been out of work long ago.
In this sense ordinary people and buddhas aren’t separate beings, but stand in interrelation to each other.

You believe that Buddhism is a little different from everything else. But it’s not like that at all: Buddhism is each and every thing. “Each and every thing is my child.” That’s how the buddha-dharma sees the world.

When adults are only adults, children don’t grow up. When children cry, you’ve got to cry with them. Adults have to be children, children have to be adults. Between buddhas and ordinary people, the buddha-dharma and the social world, satori and illusion, ascending and descending, wisdom and compassion – there’s got to be a lively exchange among all of these.

32. To you who say that your body, just as it is, is already Buddha

Ishigawa Gozaemon said, “Even once I have disappeared and all sand has washed into the sea, the seeds of thievery in the world will never be exhausted.” This is how he sings the praises of that “thief-nature” that penetrates heaven and earth. And yet, as long as we don’t act like Gozaemon we won’t become thieves.
It’s also said that all things have buddha-nature, and that it completely penetrates heaven and earth. But as long as we don’t act like a buddha, we don’t become buddhas.

When you, inseparable from Buddha, put Buddha’s activity into practice – only then are you a buddha. And when you act like a fool, then you’re a fool.

It’s only in your approach to life that Buddha appears.

33. To you who are out of your mind trying so hard to attain peace of mind

A peace of mind that is totally at peace would be nothing more than something ready made. Real peace of mind only exists within unpeaceful mind.

When dissatisfaction is finally accepted as dissatisfaction, peace of mind reigns. It’s the mind of a person who had been deaf to criticism when he finally listens to others talking about his mistakes. It’s the mind of a person who, naked and begging for his life, suddenly dies peacefully. It’s the mind of a person who has suddenly lost the beggar who had been pulling at his sleeve, relentlessly following him around everywhere,. It’s the mind after the flood in which the make-up of piety has washed away.

How could a human being ever have peace of mind? The real question is what you’re doing with this human life. What you’re doing with this stinking sack of flesh, that’s the issue.

34. To you who are aiming at the ultimate way of life

It has to be exactly as it is, yet it can be any which way. Nothing has to be done in any particular way, yet it has to be done in the highest and best way.

It’s all about finding the correct tension for your muscles and tendons. It’s about becoming a person without gaps, about developing the proper tension and placement of muscles and tendons.

What’s the buddha-dharma about? It’s about having every aspect of your daily life pulled by Buddha.

It isn’t enough to hit the bull’s eye once. Last’s years perfect marks are useless. You’ve got to hit the bull’s eye right now.