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The Recommendation of Zazen


~ Zazen: Why is it Beneficial? My Experience with Zazen ~

Currently, Kosho-ji Temple is placing particular emphasis on Meditation Sessions or Zazen in Japanese. The reason for this lies in the invaluable gifts it offers to human beings.

In the Zazen version by Zen master Hakuin, it is written at the beginning, “All sentient beings are originally Buddhas.” I have pondered over this for decades. My current interpretation is that it signifies that living beings, including ourselves, exist within the infinite.

Living within the infinite is a truly pleasant experience. The idea that there is no end or completion brings a sense of tranquility. During Zazen, there are moments when I feel immersed in the infinite. I believe the grasp of wholeness and inspiration (intuition) arises from that state. In contemporary times, people seem to focus excessively on analyzing and scrutinizing details, often looking at things from a very narrow perspective. For instance, even with something as simple as food, there is a tendency to break down and analyze the nutrients, prescribing specific quantities as necessary or excessive.

I sometimes think that people excel at approaching each element, such as nutrient intake from food, for maintaining human health, in a fragmented manner. In reality, not just food but also sleep, rest, air, water, the spiritual energy of mountains, the power of the sun, and the energy of plants complement each other, influencing humans more holistically. Despite this interconnectedness, people seem to approach each element separately. Engaging in the accumulation of details, no matter how much one does, does not lead to a comprehensive understanding. This tendency may stem from an excessive emphasis on how humans have prioritized the use of language and consciousness in their approach.

In recent years, or rather, a decade ago, I heard that Westerners have become increasingly interested in Eastern philosophies and Buddhism. As a cause for this, one might consider the limitations and impasses felt in the thought process of approaching things in a fragmented manner.

Of course, by “fragmented,” various meanings are implied. It refers to things that we can collectively perceive, recognize, and conceptualize―things that we can articulate or schematize.

I believe that ideologies, common sense, religious doctrines with systematic principles, and even philosophies are all fragments. I think we’ve focused too much on the parts and captured too much. That’s why we reached an impasse. I feel that the world is currently at an impasse.

I sometimes feel tired when interacting with people, and this might be due to finding the cause in such aspects. Of course, there could be reasons related to being considerate of others, but beyond that, when interacting with people, one unavoidably confronts things like common sense and preconceptions unconsciously. Fatigue might be the defense mechanism to protect oneself from it. Being alone brings a great sense of calmness. I wonder if there are many people who share similar feelings to mine right now. The phenomenon of social withdrawal might have various patterns, and this could be one of the causes. Taking such actions might be considered a healthy functioning of the mind.

Certainly, common sense, natural sciences, and the construction of a world that we, ordinary individuals, can perceive and recognize are essential for our daily lives. However, I don’t think we humans are creatures meant to survive only in that world. In that sense, I believe humans are well-made beings. Because we are well-made beings, I feel that we should live fully and honor the life we’ve been given.

Even with the concept of returning to the whole, it’s not about doing something entirely new. I believe it aligns with the spiritual cultivation that our ancestors have practiced since ancient times―whether in mountain religions, Zen, or esoteric Buddhism.

Of course, not everyone has followed this way. Because, when you seriously consider engaging in such spiritual cultivation, it becomes a very challenging endeavor. However, there are times when I think that people in the past might have placed more importance on such practices. As scientific knowledge has increased and life has become more convenient, these practices may have been neglected or even disappeared. If that is the case, I find it quite strange. On the contrary, people may have started to long for things done in the past due to excessive specialization. Moreover, I wonder if I’m the only one who notices that it’s Westerners in foreign lands, not the Japanese, who are feeling this. While there are significant questions about where the Japanese people are heading in the future, in this borderless era, the fact that people, not just the Japanese, are becoming aware of these matters is something wonderful.

Let’s return to the words of Zen master Hakuin, “All sentient beings are originally Buddhas.”

We live in an infinite world. Perhaps we are the infinite world itself or the infinite life itself. It might be a bit complicated to express. Let’s simplify it. “Is your life okay? Your life is just your life. It’s okay as it is. But maybe do a little spiritual cultivation, okay? (laughs)”

Let’s simplify it even more. “What is life? Life itself cannot be seen. So, there’s no need to worry even if you don’t understand. But life is something you can touch through the reality of your living now. What does it mean to live now? It means experiencing moments like feeling sad due to a broken heart, eating, going to the bathroom, lying down to sleep. Just as it is. Be honest with it. But occasionally, why not try Zazen? (laughs)”

Modern people originally live in an unknown world, but due to knowing too much, they might be misinterpreting the world by overestimating how much they actually know. This is what the Heart Sutra refers to as “delusive thinking” (seeing things upside down). It seems like we are stuck in this delusive thinking.

The sensation of having a self in the unknown world, in other words, the infinite world (a world without end or completion), gives me a sense of reassurance. Perhaps because I feel there is room for development, potential for growth, and the possibility to move in a positive direction through effort.

Therefore, when I say that all sentient beings are originally Buddhas, I don’t mean that a perfect personality is inherently present within oneself. Rather, it is the belief that I am a being capable of continual development and growth. I don’t like abstract discussions or interpretations. The essential thing is to read books, read scriptures, and in that process, understand how I felt and what I thought. That’s what I believe.

Now, let’s finally get to the main topic: Zazen. What’s good about Zazen? What makes it wonderful? Is it because Zazen makes you feel comfortable? No, that’s not the case for me. “All sentient beings are originally Buddhas.”

I have the conviction that I live within the infinite, that I am a being capable of development and growth. The belief and the world of consciousness that occasionally flickers during Zazen are distinct from the everyday conscious world. The entry, discovery, and encounters in that world are linked to my development and growth. That’s why the contents of that world are closely connected to my development and growth. If you ask why, I wouldn’t know how to answer, but intuition works in that way. Describing that world is challenging, but it could be likened to a spiritual luminous phenomenon. It’s not a physical light passing through the retina, like the illumination of a lamp or a candle flame. It’s not an image created by imagination, either. It’s a light created by the workings of consciousness not prominently active in everyday life. I sometimes perceive such things. This is often reported as an experience or vision by individuals who have come close to death and then recovered. Whether the workings of consciousness and the workings of consciousness during Zazen are the same or different, I do not know. Nonetheless, I can sense that it involves workings different from those of everyday consciousness.

Furthermore, I recognize that the workings of this consciousness can be drawn out in various ways. Personally, one method I teach involves the repetition of homophonous pronunciations and the concentration that accompanies it. When I practice Zazen alone, I often chant the Mantra Komyo (Mantra of Light). However, for someone new to Zazen, I don’t think light will easily manifest unless they possess exceptional innate qualities.

Here lies the true thrill of effort and practice. The light, too, takes on various shapes and colors depending on the moment. The state of consciousness at that time is very stable and serene. Zazen, entering the deep world of the mind through this serenity, has a beginning even if one attempts it for the first time, but I believe there is no end to it. If life is infinite, then I think consciousness as its function is also infinite. Whether a spiritual luminous phenomenon occurs or a flash of insight happens in the mind, I don’t consider these as indications of the end. The enlightenment of Buddha is vast and profound. That’s what I believe. Therefore, I want to continually pursue the enlightenment of Buddha. Exploring and pioneering this deep, as yet unknown world of the mind is not only for one’s own sake but also for the benefit of those around us. I believe it is a very positive thing.

In everyday terms, consider cleaning around your house, tidying up your town, and saying “Good morning” or “Take care” to your neighbors. This simple act brings joy and a sense of well-being to yourself and those around you. I think it’s similar to the idea that the workings of the unseen world of the mind, not just whether the voice is heard or visible, have a tremendous impact on the surroundings. Thus, while it may seem distant, beyond that lies the realization of a truly peaceful world without war, a world even more wonderful than the present. I believe that such ways of seeking and the state of being are not just about looking at things in parts but rather about seeing the whole, grasping the entirety, and returning to wholeness.

It’s as if contemporary people have fallen into a state of “seeing the trees but not the forest.” I wonder if many global issues arise from this perspective. If one could live a life that encompasses both the individual trees and the entire forest, how much relief from the burdens of the mind and resolution of issues might follow? That’s the sentiment I hold (I feel that way). And when I talk about “seeing the forest,” I don’t mean doing anything groundbreaking but rather following the path laid out by our ancestors, adopting their ways and practices, much like how Zazen should be positioned. This is the most important thing to me.

Next, I would like to talk about why I am putting so much effort into preserving the “entire Buddhist Canon” of Koshoji Temple (Tripitaka scriptures at Koshoji Temple).

But before that, I sense that the mental anxieties of contemporary people are growing. I believe the primary cause is the absence of someone who will stand by them. It’s a state of complete loneliness. This is the worst situation. If there is even one person who will stand by them, the situation would be entirely different. The bright light of hope would shine. If someone is in the dark world all the time, they will start to contemplate death. I think people are such transient beings.

Now, returning to the topic of the “Buddhist Canon” of Koshoji Temple at Kosho-ji Temple. The term “entire Buddhist canon” refers to the collective term for all sutras. At Koshoji Temple, we possess nearly 5,300 volumes of scriptures, with almost no missing volumes. Moreover, these scriptures are handwritten copies dating back to the Heian period (794-1185 ), written about 850 years ago. Although there are occasionally printed editions mixed in, these scriptures are mostly transcribed by hand. At that time, in the Nara period, great effort was put into transcribing all sutras, which were brought from the continent, especially from Tang, during the early stages of the Heian period. The belief was that there was great merit in transcribing sutras. However, during the Heian period, the practice of transcribing sutras waned, and in its place, esoteric Buddhism, with strong elements of magic, became popular. Later, during the Insei period (late Heian to the beginning of Kamakura times 1086–1185), the transcription of the entire Buddhist canon became popular again. Around that time, there were monks who played the role of Kanjinso, or those who promoted and transcribed sutras.

The term Kanjinso refers to monks who worked to encourage people to establish a connection with Buddhism and to promote virtuous deeds. They particularly focused on encouraging people to participate in the transcription of the entire Buddhist Canon, considered the highest form of virtue. I believe that these monks played a role in accompanying people to prevent them from feeling lonely; at least, that’s my interpretation when translated into a contemporary context.

Of course, the circumstances were entirely different between now and the Heian period, so the role of Kanjinso would have been specific to that time. However, when we try to transpose that role into the present day, it seems that they might have played a role in preventing loneliness. That’s my perspective on the matter.

Accompanying someone has profound implications. If we simplify it, just having a living person beside you makes a significant difference. Saying something like, “Grandma, don’t worry; I’m here for you,” can make a world of difference to someone who would otherwise feel alone.

So, what is the more advanced aspect? I think it’s faith. Faith is not merely about believing; it’s about nurturing one’s own heart. I want to nurture my own heart. At the end of this nurturing, I’ve come to a realization: “I am not merely a point in the present; I am an existence that has come from the future.” This sensation may be challenging for the general public to understand, especially those who have only superficially grasped the concept of “me.” There might be a substantial gap in how people perceive the concept of “me.” Let me delve further into what this means.

Suppose I am looking at the names of the people who transcribed the sutras written on the back of the scripture. I might think, “Was this person a monk from Yakushi-ji (one of the most famous imperial and ancient Buddhist temples in Nara)? Did this person write in this beautiful script?” Nameless individuals, women, children – they are now known and respected by me. This is the present moment. However, for these individuals, I, as an entity, appear 850 years after their deaths. Is there really no direct connection between them and me? Was there truly no direct relationship between us?

I don’t think that way. In other words, I, who exist 850 years later than these people, actually existed with them, or perhaps there was something like me with them during their time. Similarly, what I have done, what I have perceived – if I record these things, people in the future might see them. However, is the relationship where people in the future get to know about me nothing more than a relationship in the future where they know about me? I don’t think so.

I believe that people from the future, who appear 850 years later, are actually here with me now. This isn’t based on logic or reason; it’s a sensation. With this feeling, I call it faith.

Now, is the me who currently exists and the people from the future the same entity, or who am I? My answer to this is, “I don’t know,” because I am a human, or rather, I am still human. However, this feeling exists. I feel like I have come from the future. I consider this sense, born out of faith, to be an advanced form of accompanying.

Recently, when I was meditating, I was sitting closest to Bodhisattva Miroku (the Bodhisattva enshrined in the main hall of Kosho-ji Temple), and I was thinking about something in front of Miroku-san. What I was thinking was, “Kukai (774-835, The Grand Master who Propagated the Dharma) and Saicho (767–822, a Japanese Buddhist monk credited with founding the Tendai school) were amazing. They were religious geniuses, and besides that, both of them directly built strong connections with the emperor, the highest authority of the time. They aimed to change the Buddhist world significantly by establishing a strong relationship with the highest political power of their time, demonstrating foresight, initiative, and planning skills that ordinary people couldn’t imitate. In contrast, I have no such ability, and there’s no way I can do what the two of them did.” I was lamenting my own powerlessness. Then, Miroku-san immediately and casually said, “Isn’t it okay? You don’t have to do anything special.” When Miroku-san said that, I felt relieved and said to Miroku-san, “Thank you” (laughs).

The important thing is the ability to feel the connection between me and something greater with an invisible thread. I think this kind of feeling is not something acquired spontaneously; it is nurtured gradually.

I believe that the preciousness of training lies in that. Importantly, the visible tangible things “Buddhist Canon” (known as all the sutras) serve as a medium that connects me with invisible greatness through an invisible thread.

The single thread is very, very thick, representing countless people who have believed in Buddhism in the past, and wise and great believers in Buddhism who will appear in the future. Those people are with me. This feeling provides a very strong sense of reassurance. Furthermore, the sense that my existence is connected to the future and that something called “me” has come from that world, becomes the ultimate form of accompanying and brings happiness to me.

In other words, I am an infinite existence. The infinite is manifested in the visible form of the scriptures, and engaging with these scriptures propels me towards a more infinite state. That’s how I feel.

Therefore, engaging with the scriptures, particularly the pinnacle of the scriptures, the transcription of the “Buddhist Canon,” and preserving and cherishing it is a very important and happy thing for human beings. That’s why I place special importance on the activities of protecting the “Buddhist Canon” at Kosho-ji Temple and passing it on to future generations.

In today’s era, it seems that first, the companionship of living beings and then the companionship of something greater beyond that become especially important, doesn’t it?

Perhaps it’s thanks to the accumulated thoughts like these that I’ve been able to engage in these activities, and, once again, I believe it’s because of Zazen. No matter how far the training goes, it continues. The sense of being infinite is also something very exciting. Isn’t it true that doing something with joy means doing it while enjoying it?


I find the exploration of one’s own mind (innermost world) through training to be a highly fascinating endeavor. 

My admiration for Buddha’s profound wisdom has been a driving force behind my earnest pursuit of understanding Zazen. I harbor a strong desire to encounter individuals who earnestly seek such pure pursuits.

Recently, I’ve initiated a program called “Zen Temple Training” aimed at the general public. Having served as the head priest of this temple for eight years now, I feel that a genuine Zazen practice is finally taking root. I sincerely hope to encounter individuals with a high level of commitment. I have just turned fifty, and I believe this is an opportune moment, with good health and vigor, to actively engage in these pursuits. I aim to continue my daily efforts, however modest, in the further exploration of Zazen and the transcription of the Tripitaka with missing volumes.

Date: November 12, 2023

Keisho-ji Temple Abbot
Mochizuki Kousai