Thinking of Zen Teacher Kodo Sawaki, who started the lesson in Zazen at Komazawa University(1)

 It is the modern distinguished Buddhist monk, Zen Teacher Kodo Sawaki (1880–1965) that started the lesson in Zazen at Komazawa University. Commonly called“Homeless Kodo,” instead of acting a Chief Buddhist monk of a Buddhist temple , he wandered from place to place throughout Japan and gave all his life to propagate the Buddha-Dharma(Buppo) of Zazen, executing Shikan-taza *1, preached by Zen Master Dogen.

 Zen Teacher Kodo Sawaki (hereinafter abbreviated as Sawaki) was born in Meiji 13 (1880) in Tsu, Mie Prefecture. His parents’ home dealt in manufacturing metal parts for rickshaws (jinrikisha). At the age of five he lost his mother, and at the age of eight he also lost his father. Due to circumstances (En),Sawaki turned Mr. Bunkichi Sawaki’s adopted child, who was a lantern maker in Kawage County, Mie Prefecture.

 The neighborhood where Sawaki spent his boyhood was a place deeply immersed and eddied in all kinds of human greed. The circumstances were like ones that gambling always had been held in his house. In these ways, Sawaki spent all his boyhood in the ultimate worst circumstances, namely a den of almost every kinds of vices. However, just like the lotus flower that blossoms in muddy water, Sawaki had established the Bodhi-mind(Hotsu-shin)to pursue the noble way of the Buddha.

 When he was at the age of nine, there was a happening of the sudden death of a man on the second floor of a nearby lodging. The man was around fifty years old, and experienced something like a sudden stroke while spending the night with a young woman there. It threw the neighborhood into great confusion, and furthermore the man’s wife appeared to make the situation more chaotic, namely a shambles. Although Sawaki was a boy, he happened to look at this sight, and observed indisputable impermanence (Mujo) as follows,“No one can keep any kind of matter secret from anybody.”, “Nobody knows when they will die.” and “There is absolutely nothing trustworthy in this world.”

 Anyhow Sawaki spent his boyhood under the worst kinds of living circumstances that were far from being conducive to building character or receiving an education. Nevertheless, strange to say, these became rather the ideal educational circumstances and led Sawaki to the Buddha’s way (Butsu-do)

 It was the son of the next-door paper-hanger shop who led juvenile Sawaki to the purity of the world. While living in circumstances describable as the back alley of life, that family marvelously kept a pure lifestyle. Whenever Sawaki went to see him , he acquired every kinds of knowledge and liberal arts, namely Japanese history and the Chinese classics and so on. It is said that he came to his knowledge that, “There is an absolutely genuine world to pursue so long as I live, outside of titles, money, food and enjoyment.” and that “There is something important in the world more than money and honor.”

 In those days, Sawaki came to think as follows, “No matter how long I may live, doing as his pleases whatever I want, it should be meaningless at all. That would mean just only my living selfishly, and would not turn out my living the life gifted to me. Rather, it should be proper to spend up all over my body for the sake of other, abandoning all my requirements . We do not know when we will die. In short, just only that I had been of great benefit to others should be the very significance of my life.” In the end, he had established the Bodhi-mind (Bodai-shin)(the Bodhi-mind of realization(Satori))described as “Jimitokudo-sendota” (Do ones best for others, dismissing oneself), preached by Zen Master Dogen himself.

In the end, Sawaki ran away from home in the direction of Eihei-ji temple in June of Meiji 29 (1896). At that time he was seventeen years old. The reason why he chose Eihei-ji temple was partially because of the recommendation of a preceptor of Shin Sect. As a matter of fact, it seemed to be the other reason that he also thought that there would be little fear for being taken back to his home easily, because it was far from home and inconveniently located. No matter how he was not prepared for his journey at all. Carrying just only two sho of rice and 27 sen in cash, which he got from the preceptor as a farewell present, he rushed out of home.

*1 Shikan-taza
just sit in Zazen. the importance of sitting in Zazen based on assent to the significance of it, is pointed out in this column,


Origins Team, TSUNODA Tairyū