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Thread: Zazen by Sodo Yokoyama, the Grass Flute Zen Master

  1. #1

    Zazen by Sodo Yokoyama, the Grass Flute Zen Master


    Sodo Yokoyama, an heir of Homeless Kodo Sawaki Roshi and Dharma Brother of Uchiyama Roshi, left both home life and monastery, and spent his days in a park in the Japanese countryside, playing songs on a leaf, making tea, gifting visitors with simple calligraphy and sitting Zazen, offering a song, tea, inked poem and Zazen to anyone who came to call. He did so daily for over 20 years, through all seasons of the year. Two books by the great Arthur Braverman talk about him: "Living and Dying in Zazen" (highly recommended, about all of Sawaki Roshi's students) and "The Grass Flute Zen Master."

    https://www.shambhala.com/living-and...-in-zazen.html

    Nonetheless, those books have surprisingly little information about Yokoyama's childhood and personal story as he rarely said much, and really very little is known, beyond his music, his tea, his calligraphy and Zazen in the park.

    However, the latter book does contain some wonderful quotes by Rev. Yokoyama on Zazen, many of which are Yokoyama's short notes on teachings by Kodo Sawaki Roshi. Here is a selection:

    ~~~~~

    [Sawaki Roshi said, "Practice zazen tenaciously and you are Buddha. Sawaki is always a deluded person. However, zazen seeps into Sawaki’s blood drop by drop, making him a Buddha, how joyful!] Roshi refers to himself (his individual self) as Sawaki. According to Sawaki Roshi, zazen is not one iota useful to the individual. We do zazen for the sake of zazen. What we refer to as “for the sake of zazen” is [just] its use of this body [to sit] and nothing else. That is to say we offer this body up to zazen. As described in Dogen’s “Rules for Zazen” we stretch our torso, pull in our jaw, place our vision in front of us, and resolve to practice without the least thought of being taken care of by [getting some benefit from] zazen. That kind of resolution is ‘no gain, no satori.’ It is what Dogen refers to as “Practicing the Buddha Way for the Buddha Way.”

    [Sawaki Roshi said, "Zazen is equivalent to eternal enlightenment of the Buddha. You need nothing to do zazen—no pen, no notebook. No satori and no delusion is necessary. You need bring nothing with you. It’s so vast, so limitless that human beings can’t understand it.] Here, Sawaki Roshi is talking about the non-thinking form of seated meditation (no-concept, no-opinion). Nothing is as vast and limitless as nonthinking seated meditation. All the sutras [point to] satori. The Shobogenzo [Dogen’s “Record of Things Heard”] too [points to] satori. But the non-thinking form of seated meditation goes beyond satori. Just as we can’t calculate the highest common multiple in mathematics, the non-thinking form of seated meditation is beyond [comprehension of] the sutras and the Shobogenzo. That’s why Roshi said, “Zazen advances even beyond the highest satori.”

    [Sawaki Roshi said, "People want to have a satori like they want a garden in a box. That is not Buddhism." ... He said, "Don’t ever lose sight of impermanence. If you [truly] see impermanence, you are a Buddha with each exhale and a Buddha with each inhale. [You have] everything then and there. No reason to think about persevering in the future." He said, "Zazen is not a competitive Way. You become yourself totally. Zazen is nothing more than becoming yourself."] Though the words “nothing more than becoming yourself” somehow carry with them a selfish sound, all phenomenon, each and every thing, is really nothing more than yourself. A dandelion ... is all things, [but is also] itself completely a dandelion, and doesn’t become anything else. It is devoted to itself and nothing else. That is the way of all things.

    [Sawaki Roshi said, "You never feel that you can catch hold of zazen. You never chase after it and you never run from it. And it is nothing to fear.] This means that you approach everything as non-conceptual, nonopinioned.

    [Sawaki Roshi said, "No-gain (or mushoutoku) is the most beautiful aspect of human beings. The aspiration of the Buddhas and patriarchs is to throw away the aspirations of ordinary people. Try practicing zazen believing you are Buddha and [you are practicing] Buddha’s activity. Zazen will naturally become Shikantaza. Shikantaza equals Dharma. Zazen is ‘playing Buddha’—The Buddha practices Buddha activity. That’s what shikantaza is.]

    ... Zazen is the Way beyond karma. Zazen has nothing to do with accomplished vs. unsuccessful, like or dislike, philosophy, astronomy, art, etc. All of that is human creation, a result of karma. So it’s natural that [zazen], in the light of that, has no benefit. Zazen is useful for zazen only. [Sawaki Roshi wanted] everyone to practice this kind of zazen [not as some cult of personality around Sawaki Roshi.] Roshi truly [follows] the Way beyond cause and effect. He wants people to understand the meaning: “Zazen equals Buddhahood,” “Zazen equals Buddha Dharma.”

    [Sawaki Roshi said, "In whatever you do, if you do it with your whole self you will be “that thing as it is.”] This is what is meant by ‘no reliance on karma’ written in Dogen’s “Zazen Shin” (The Needle Point of Zazen). . . . If we don’t think in terms of time and space, Buddhahood is always, eternally now. The eternal ‘now’ is the practice of the Shobogenzo. That’s why Sawaki Roshi says: “If you can believe in the now, anyone can enter in that moment.” By “entering in that moment” Roshi means “becoming a Buddha.”

    [Sawaki Roshi said, "The Buddha Way is the practice of zazen."] To practice zazen means to make an offering of zazen. It is the expression of zazen, therefore the Buddha Path—This moment directly expresses the Tathagata (literally one who has gone thus)— the Tathagata-Ground which is the Tathagata-Nature, the Tathagata-Countenance and the Tathagata-Body. [Sawaki Roshi said,] “Manifesting the aspects of Buddha-nature is the expression of the bodies of all Buddhas”—This is the meaning of praise for zazen.

    [Sawaki Roshi said, "To practice zazen is to die."] These words of Roshi’s mean that zazen is the death of the ego, so one is in harmony with the universe—one lives eternally with the universe. Zazen is the path in which we live eternally with the universe. To live eternally with the universe is the way of [the ancestors].

    [Sawaki Roshi said, "Zazen is becoming a Buddha while you are a deluded person."] In other words you can’t say someone who renounces the world (becomes a monk) is without delusions. One is ordained a monk while in possession of delusions.

    [Sawaki Roshi said, "Zazen is not the way of the world, it is the way of the Buddhas and Ancestors."] Which means zazen is renouncing the world. Just as practicing zazen is renouncing the world, just as one renounces the world while possessing delusions, zazen is practiced while possessing delusions. [Actually] zazen doesn’t distinguish between monks and laypeople. If you are practicing zazen you are a renunciate.

    [Sawaki Roshi said, "A true renunciate should give careful attention to shikantaza (just sitting)."] Hence anyone who practices zazen is a true renunciate. [Roshi says] “One should follow [the teaching] of the Fukanzazengi (The Universal Rules for Zazen) spreading this universal practice of zazen.”

    [Sawaki Roshi said, "Even though people ordain, [give up their worldly lives], delusions don’t disappear. However, when one does zazen, while delusions are there, the zazen posture is the posture of the Buddha. Hence zazen is the Buddha leaving delusions as they are.] Such is the form of zazen, i.e., the zazen posture, the Buddha. The zazen posture isn’t aware of the zazen posture, still it is zazen.
    This is an example of beyond thinking, therefore beyond thinking is Buddha. Zazen according to my teacher [Sawaki] can be done by anyone, and whoever is practicing it is practicing Buddha meditation



    Gassho, J

    STLah
    Last edited by Jundo; 10-13-2021 at 12:25 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  2. #2
    Yokoyama surrendered himself absolutely to practice to a degree that is challenging for me, because of all the reasons we talk about, pertaining to living in today's world. But in his day, Yokoyama lived in "today's world." And of course, I don't want to give up a, b, and c. These statements are great examples to consider.

    Gassho,
    Nengei

    Sat today. LAH.

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by Nengei View Post
    Yokoyama surrendered himself absolutely to practice to a degree that is challenging for me, because of all the reasons we talk about, pertaining to living in today's world. But in his day, Yokoyama lived in "today's world." And of course, I don't want to give up a, b, and c. These statements are great examples to consider.

    Gassho,
    Nengei

    Sat today. LAH.
    ...

    [Sawaki Roshi said, "Zazen is becoming a Buddha while you are a deluded person."] In other words you can’t say someone who renounces the world (becomes a monk) is without delusions. One is ordained a monk while in possession of delusions.

    [Sawaki Roshi said, "Zazen is not the way of the world, it is the way of the Buddhas and Ancestors."] Which means zazen is renouncing the world. Just as practicing zazen is renouncing the world, just as one renounces the world while possessing delusions, zazen is practiced while possessing delusions. [Actually] zazen doesn’t distinguish between monks and laypeople. If you are practicing zazen you are a renunciate.

    [Sawaki Roshi said, "A true renunciate should give careful attention to shikantaza (just sitting)."] Hence anyone who practices zazen is a true renunciate. [Roshi says] “One should follow [the teaching] of the Fukanzazengi (The Universal Rules for Zazen) spreading this universal practice of zazen.”


    Gassho, J

    STLah
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo View Post
    ...

    [Sawaki Roshi said, "Zazen is becoming a Buddha while you are a deluded person."] In other words you can’t say someone who renounces the world (becomes a monk) is without delusions. One is ordained a monk while in possession of delusions.

    [Sawaki Roshi said, "Zazen is not the way of the world, it is the way of the Buddhas and Ancestors."] Which means zazen is renouncing the world. Just as practicing zazen is renouncing the world, just as one renounces the world while possessing delusions, zazen is practiced while possessing delusions. [Actually] zazen doesn’t distinguish between monks and laypeople. If you are practicing zazen you are a renunciate.

    [Sawaki Roshi said, "A true renunciate should give careful attention to shikantaza (just sitting)."] Hence anyone who practices zazen is a true renunciate. [Roshi says] “One should follow [the teaching] of the Fukanzazengi (The Universal Rules for Zazen) spreading this universal practice of zazen.”


    Gassho, J

    STLah


    Gassho,
    Nengei
    Sat today. LAH.

  5. #5
    This is absolutely (no pun intended) beautiful.

    Gassho

    Risho
    -stlah

  6. #6
    Hi all

    I really enjoyed this book. Such a beautiful simplicity about Yokoyama's life.

    Gassho
    Kokuu
    -sattoday/lah-
    ------------------------------------
    Feel free to message me if you wish to talk about issues around practicing with physical limitations. This is something I have been sitting with for a fair while and am happy to help with suggestions or just offer a listening ear.

  7. #7
    Suzuki Roshi wrote that "renunciation is not giving up the things of the world, but accepting that they go away. " I always interpreted that in a different way until I read this, and your comments. Thank you, Jundo.

    Gassho,
    Juki
    Sat today and lah
    "First you have to give up." Tyler Durden

  8. #8
    Nonetheless, those books have surprisingly little information about Yokoyama's childhood and personal story as he rarely said much, and really very little is known, beyond his music, his tea, his calligraphy and Zazen in the park.
    Thank you. I must add these books to my reading.

    gassho, meian stlh
    迷安 - Mei An - Wandering At Rest
    Clearing out old energy is good for the mind.

  9. #9
    I enjoyed reading through "The Grass Flute Zen Master", so looking forward to "Living and Dying in Zazen" sometime. Of course, I've currently got copies of "The Zen Master's Dance" and "How to Cook Your Life" your life open for Ango. So I shall resist temptation and finish those first.

    I am finding that reading about Ryokan, Sodo Yokoyama and Kodo Sawaki Roshi very helpful while I sit in the van watching the nights draw in and the temperatures drop.

    Gassho,
    Sōka
    sat

  10. #10
    Thank you, Jundo, for writing clearly about what would be for me a difficult topic. Accepting impermanence is a powerful message that I am still learning. I wish for you and all your students a wonderful day.
    Gassho,
    Hedy

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