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Buddhadharma : Summer 2015
IN 1926, WELL-KNOWN Japanese philosopher Tetsuro Watsuji published his Study of the History of Japanese Spiri- tuality, in which he took aim at the Soto Zen school, assert- ing that Soto priests were only interested in constructing lofty temple buildings, competing for leadership positions within the religious hierarchy, and collecting donations from lay followers. To enter the Soto school, wrote Watsuji, was “rather to become more estranged from Dogen.” He went so far as to say that Dogen should be liberated from Soto Zen and offered up as a teacher for all of humankind—the reason, he explained, was that Dogen was already “dead” within the religious institution he had helped create. Some early twentieth-century masters, however, devoted their lives to restoring the genuine spirit and practice of Soto Zen. Kodo Sawaki Roshi was one of them. Born in 1880, he received novice ordination from Koho Sawada when he was nineteen years old. Ryoun Fueoka, a longtime student of the great master of the time, Bokusan Nishiari, took the novice Sawaki, who was eager to study Dogen, under his wing, encouraging him to study fundamental Buddhist teachings before taking on Dogen’s Treasury of the True Dharma Eye. So Sawaki took up formal study of the Yogacara teaching of Consciousness Only, a field that informed his understanding of Buddhism for the rest of his life. Following his studies, Sawaki returned to the world of Dogen and began teaching. But he was disappointed in the level of practice at the monastery where he taught, so he left and started to sit by himself at a half-broken temple, sitting all day every day. Eventually he was invited to be the lecturer at Daijiji Monastery in Kumamoto, where he taught monks in train- ing for several years, lecturing on the Yogacara School and Dogen’s writings and offering instruction in formal monas- tic practice. Sawaki believed that zazen practice without a solid understanding of Buddhist teachings was like a mer- chant doing business without a scale. But his real focus was on Dogen’s practice of just sitting. During their monthly sesshin, he and the monks literally sat for twenty-four hours straight. After leaving Daijiji, Sawaki chose not to live in a temple. Instead, he traveled all over Japan to teach. In 1935, he accepted invitations to serve both as a professor of Kom- azawa University and as a chief officer of Sojiji Monastery, one of the two head training temples of the Soto school. Even after he’d achieved fame as a teacher, however, he never stopped traveling to teach at temples, laypeople’s homes, schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and prisons. He called his style of teaching a “moving monastery,” and he was called Yadonashi (Homeless) Kodo. Sawaki was not interested in becoming a temple priest or the abbot of a prestigious monastery, nor did he wish to establish his own organization. He simply traveled to teach both priests and—notably—laypeople for almost half a cen- tury; through his activities, thousands of laypeople began to practice outside the Soto Zen monastic system. When he was eighty-three years old and could not continue to travel, he retired to Antaiji temple, where he passed away on December 21, 1965. Sawaki shared Tetsuro Watsuji’s criticisms of the modern Soto school. But he was critical of the so-called “Dogen boom” that took place among intellectuals of the time. Many philosophers, scholars in various fields, and writers became interested in Dogen; various secular commentar- ies became available. Sawaki, however, did not think that the new interpretations by intellectuals could provide what was needed to restore Dogen’s genuine spirit and practice. For him, it was only through practice of zazen without any expectation (shikantaza) and freedom from ego-centered- ness that buddhadharma could be revealed. In the twenty-first century, we see many of the same problems of a hundred years ago in Japan: secularization, intellectualism, and corruption of religious institutions. An ocean away and fifty years after his passing, I believe Sawaki Roshi, through his life and his teachings, still has much to offer. SHOHAku OkuMuRA is the abbot of Sanshin Zen Community and the translator of many of Dogen’s writings, including Dogen’s Extensive Record. He is a dharma heir in kodo Sawaki’s lineage. the homeless monK It’s been fifty years since the death of “Homeless” Kodo Sawaki. shohaku okumura recounts Sawaki’s journey and uncompromising approach to the dharma. summer 2 0 1 5 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 51