Sunday, February 2, 2014

Nishijima is Dead, Are You More Alive Than He?

by Richard Collins
1 February 2014


Gudo Wafu Nishijima
I almost didn’t come to zazen today. I had considered going to Santa Monica where Brad Warner’s group is having zazen as they always do at 10 o’clock, to be followed by a memorial service for his master, Gudo Nishijima, who died earlier this week.

I never knew Nishijima, but he was a contemporary of Taisen Deshimaru and like Deshimaru a student of Kodo Sawaki. So he was a very important teacher in a lineage very closely related to ours, and very similar to ours in the reliance on the fundamentals of the practice: on zazen and a pared down ritual. All three were known as rebels in the Zen world, especially in the official world of Soto Zen, and yet they were very much recognized by the Sotoshu, the governing body of Soto Zen in Japan.

Kodo Sawaki was known for restoring zazen to Zen practice in Japan, which had largely fallen out of favor. Monks, often the sons of village priests, would go through their training for a few years at one of the larger training temples, and then when they received their “diplomas,” you might say, they would return to their family temples to make their living performing primarily funerary rites, continuing the family business. But they wouldn’t do zazen much. This is why Kodo Sawaki was known as a rebel and a reformer, going back to the basics. No toys, he would say. Just sit. He didn’t like the use of koans. Just sit. He didn’t like the overreliance on ceremony. Just sit. He didn’t even want to have his own temple, refusing for many years to accept the position of abbot anywhere, until his later years at Antaiji. Just sit.

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