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Buddhadharma : Summer 2013
34 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY SUMMER 2 0 1 3 one afternoon, a tiny particle of my psyche prom- ised the rest of me that it would always remember the date: January 8, 1973. The brain-penetrating aroma of a kerosene space heater along with incense from the altar urn gave a sweet scent to the winter air, making mere breathing a pleasure; but since I was deeper in samadhi than I had ever been before, I only needed about two or three breaths per minute. Diminishing slants of winter sunlight tinted the zendo a muted red, and the windless day lay absolutely still, just like my con- sciousness, with the only sound being the faint barking of a dog in the far distance. The same tiny and almost completely hushed part of my psyche that noted all this then percolated a bub- ble of thought that whispered, “I need nothing.” Yamada Roshi had recently used similar words during one of his teisho—“Kore de taku- san” (“This is all I need”)—while slapping his thighs in emphasis to indicate total spiritual self- sufficiency. For the first time in my life I felt an utterly untroubled contentment, without even the usual houseflies of random thoughts buzzing in my mind’s ear. What I wouldn’t realize until much later, however, was that Yamada Roshi’s statement and the bubble of thought that crossed my mind were about quite different things. Mine was about the narcotic-like effect that deep samadhi had on my spirit, an effect that lasted only a little while after zazen before fading away. Yamada Roshi’s statement was about realizing one’s true nature, which I still didn’t understand to any real depth. True insight is a realization of the essential oneness of the universe, an experience that goes beyond logic and explanation. It is “the peace that passeth understanding” because there is no ego there to understand it. It just is, and it fills the universe. For me, though, on that day, the self- sufficiency I felt was dependent on the spiritual condition of me feeling tranquil. Years later, I would realize that in order to say, “This is all I need” with full appreciation, I would have to be tranquillity itself, with no me getting in the way. Although my mind in that moment had the qual- ity of still water, I was still holding something back. It was still my samadhi. As I emerged an hour later from zazen, my now more active mind tried to analyze this feel- ing of complete tranquillity, and I recalled the koan I was working on called “Snow in a Silver Bowl.” I was positive the koan had to be about the ineffably peaceful purity I had just experi- enced in my samadhi, which was fast becoming my private treasure, my literal inner sanctum. It Gregory Shepherd looks back on his Zen training in Japan with the late Yamada Roshi and the difficult lessons he learned. GREGORY SHEPHERD is an associate professor of music at Kauai Community College in Hawaii. He has been a student of Zen in Hawaii and Japan since the early 1970s. This article is adapted from his new book, A Straight Road with 99 Curves, published by Stone Bridge Press. AS I SAT IN FULL LOTUS ALONE and arhat-like at San Un Zendo late A Straight Road with Many Curves ILLUSTRATIONS BY SYDNEY SMITH ©COLLECTIONOFTHEAUTHOR