The following interview with KITAHARA Ryutaro, secretary of the FAS Society, took place in Kamakura, Japan, on August 29, 1978.  We would like to thank Kitahara-sensei for his kindness on that occasion, and also for his help in the revising of the translated text.

Steve Antinoff (S)

Urs App (U)

K: I first heard Hisamatsu-sensei Lecture for about a three month period right before I left to go to war.  There were just a few students in his class as he wasnft famous at all, while the classes of the philosopher Tanabe Hajime were packed with students as well as ordinary citizens.  Tanabe-sensei was pacing back and forth in front of the classroom, like a bear, thinking while walking.  He spoke without any notes.  He was really dynamic.  Hisamatsu-sensei on the other hand didnft move at all while he was lecturing.  He also lectured without notes.  He often depicted his metaphor of water and waves on the blackboard.[1]  I remembered this while I was in the army in China.

U: What was the content of Hisamatsu-senseifs lectures?

K: Well, he always spoke about the water and the waves.  I think there is fundamentally no difference between what he said then and what he says now.

U: You were listening to those lectures right before the war?

K: No, that was during the war but just before I left for China.

U: Did the lectures of professor Tanabe and Hisamatsu-sensei have any connection with what was happening politically at the time?

K: Hisamatsu-sensei was not so explicitly political, rather he always addressed himself to the most fundamental problem of man, the very ground (Urgrund), the problem of F.  

Tanabe-sensei did of course, as a philosopher, make many remarks.  But above all he was a very religious man.  His book gPhilosophy as a Way of Confessionh didnft appear until after the war, but his thinking at that time was close to the content of that book.

There is a story about Hisamatsu-sensei.  During a lecture an earthquake occurred and though some students escaped through the window, he remained in the classroom.  As he was rocked by the earthquake he said: gEven if it becomes like thisch  And pointing to his sketch of the waves, he calmly continued his lecture.  I was not a witness to this event, being in China for army duty at the time, but there is such a legend.

At first, I studied aesthetics at Tokyo University.  But with the outbreak of the war, I came to feel I could die at any time and that if I didnft get some kind of realization, my being born in this world would have been completely in vain.  To have a chance to be born and to die so soonc

U: So your interest in religion stemmed from that time?

K: Yes.  My father died.  My father was a poet[2].  But with his death I felt that art did not penetrate into the ultimate dimension.  Seeing my father die, I suffered terribly.  He was a very great man.  With that event, my interest in aesthetics completely disintegrated, and my interest in religion took hold.  It was at that time that I experienced a Christian conversion, in which I was saved from the depth of my despair by Jesus Christ.  This occurred when I was about twenty years old.  And then I took interest in theology and philosophy, because I wanted to get to the ground of that experience.  This brought me to the study of Nishidafs philosophy[3] at Kyoto University.  It was not Buddhism or Christianity that I wanted to study; rather I wanted to investigate the source which is common to both.  I donft understand Nishidafs philosophy well, but its difficulty charmed me.  Itfs very difficult, and these difficult and at the same time charming points are connected with Zen.

U: Was it from that time that you became interested in Zen?

K: Well, when I went to China to serve in the military I carried a bible, because my interest was in Christianity, but I also brought with me a book by Nishida.

U: How did your going to China relate to the Christian ideal of loving onefs neighbor?

K: Really, I hated the idea of going to the war, but I felt that I had to enter the very troops which I detested as an apostle of Jesus Christ.  Godfs light is shining everywhere, so itfs just to that kind of place that one must go.  It was with that feeling that I entered the army.  I promised myself that even if I went to war, I would never kill a man.  But in fact it didnft work out like that.  I didnft realize that thatfs what it would come to.  I was precisely in the army that I wanted to live the way of cross.  I wasnft baptized and am neither catholic nor protestant.

U: Was there any change in your faith at a certain point?

K: You know, war is a truly miserable thing.  We were ordered to violently bayonet a group of Chinese captives – I was thus forced to confront this kind of situation in which my faith was severely tried.  As a Christian, in such a situation one should have been willing to be crucified rather than harm another man.  But it was a real gGrenzsituationh (extreme crisis or glimit situationh, ed.).  I wasnft able to tell them to stop that cruel deed.  In a situation where one is in jeopardy of losing onefs life, one betrays onefs faith.  Peter betrayed Jesus three times before the cock crowed – thatfs how I felt.

I was persecuted by an officer when I was found to be in possession of a bible.  He said to me: gYou believe in the God of America and England!  You donft believe in the Japanese gods!h

I said: gGod doesnft belong to any country on this earth.  The love of God pervades the whole universe.h  The officer got terribly angry, tore the bible away from me and stomped on it vehemently.  A sergeant later came up to me and said: gBelief is freeh and returned the bible to me.  I had a small English bible which I read on the toilet.  And sometimes when we had a break, everyone would be resting with their heads propped against their rucksacks and Ifd look up into the starcovered universe and wonder what after all human history is.  Even China with its long history of over 3000 years was full of wars and all kinds of events; and standing in the midst of this history I asked myself: what is the universe as a whole, which is transcendent to history?  Once, when we passed by a church which had been destroyed in an attack and saw the letters gGod is love and sacrificed His own sonh painted on the ruins in Chinese characters, I fell into deep thought.  There were German catholic missionaries in some Chinese regions who didnft flee in spite of the war and they may have been persecuted and killed later on in Red China.  Men such as these are really great.  Christians have this missionary spirit wherever they go.  Thatfs something which one rarely finds in Buddhism, at least up to now.

In Chinese towns the Chinese intelligentsia regarded us with icy contempt, with hatred.  I could understand how they felt.  On one occasion there was scrawled across a fortress wall in large letters: gResist Japan and save our countryh.  I could really understand that the people on the other side felt this way.

Thirty years later a Chinese called Dr. Chang who is the translator of the gTransmission of the lamph sat next to me at a betsuji gakudo (sesshin).  Tears were rolling down my face because I was sitting next to a Chinese.  The true dharma – the essence of Buddhism – transcends the boundaries of states and nations.  Itfs been about 800 years since Zen Buddhism was introduced to Japan in the Kamakura era when Chinese priests fled from the persecution of Kublai Khan and it is likely that it will spread throughout Europe and America, transcending all national boundaries.

U: How was it that you began to become deeply interested in Buddhism?

K: It was due to my meeting Hisamatsu-sensei.  Before the war I had listened to a few of his lectures and I used to reflect upon his metaphor of the waves and the water while I was in the battlefield.  It was after my return from the war, however, that my interest really began to deepen.  Yet even then I viewed the world with Christian eyes and so thought of Hisamatsu-senseifs standpoint as one of hubris.  I couldnft understand it at first.  I couldnft understand when Buddhism speaks of the absolute Self as opposed to emphasizing the absolute Other as they do in Christianity.  The statement that the true Buddha is ourselves was a complete enigma to me; I felt resistance to words like this and harbored an ill feeling.  But gradually as I began to know Hisamatsu-sensei I came to realize directly that he is really an enlightened man, a man who has died completely, has really died and been reborn.  In Christianity as well we truly die on the cross, die as the old Adam and are reborn in Christ.  It is not I but Christ who lives.  From such a place I gradually found some entrance way into Hisamatsu-senseifs standpoint.  In the beginning I was utterly incapable of comprehending the utterance gKill the Buddha, kill the patriarchs, kill Godh.  From Hisamatsu-senseifs standpoint God or something like that which is conceived in the head is negated.  But I think the standpoint of Christ himself is fundamentally not in contradiction with the awakening of Hisamatsu-sensei.  For after all, Jesus Christ was, is and will be also a Formless Self, an awakened one.

U: Do you really thin so?

K: Yes, I do.

U: Then you entered into Zen practice without abandoning your Christian faith?

K: Actually, rather than being forced into a confrontation between the two I suddenly found myself absorbed in the problem: gWhat is the awareness of Hisamatsu-sensei?h

U: And it was at this time that you began to practice zazen?

K: I began my practice of meditation at the Gakudo-dojo[4] and started doing sesshin.  That was in 1947, 31 years ago.  During the war I was forced into a spiritual struggle of an intensity much like the one which one encounters in struggling with the Mu-koan in Zen.

U: Did you practice under Hisamatsu-sensei for many years?

K: Yes, butcyou knowcI still cannot grasp Hisamatsu-senseifs ultimate point.

U: Did you also undergo traditional koan practice?

K: Yes, I trained also in the traditional way at Hannya-dojo[5], starting from 24 years ago.

U: Why was it that you undertook traditional koan practice?

K: Yaaaugh!!!  Because I couldnft penetrate Hisamatsu-senseifs fundamental koan[6] gRight now, when nothing whatsoever is of any avail, what will you do?h  So I went to the roshi of Hannya-dojo and asked him: gRight now, when nothing whatsoever is of any avail, what will you do?h  The roshi blurted out: O yoi yoi!h  I quickly retorted: gIf that is of no avail, what will you do?h  He said: gI can see that youfre really at an impasse.  How about training in the traditional Zen way?h  So I came to feel that I wanted to know the traditional method as well and under went koan practice starting with gMuh.  But even as I proceeded koan by koan, I always bound each particular koan to Hisamatsu-senseifs fundamental koan gUnable to do anything whatsoever, what will you do?h


U: What kind of connection did you see between the esolvingf of particular koan, koan by koan in the traditional way, and the solution to the fundamental koan as put forth by Hisamatsu-sensei?  For example, I assume that you already passed several koanc


K: Actually, I passed in the usual way all the koan used in traditional Zen, about 300 in all.


U: Isnft this like climbing a ladder rung by rung?


K: Well, it has that element, but itfs a mistake to see it solely in those terms.  It must also be seen that each koan is fundamentally related to the ground.  In this way one must set about koan practice.


U: There is that point of view which maintains that as we proceed from koan to koan we approach enlightenmentc


K: Thatfs right.  Even if onefs passing of a particular koan does not bring with it the great Enlightenment, the great Awareness in Hisamatsu-senseifs sense, there is still some small einsightf, something unexpected, each time one passes a koan.


U: Do you think that is of value?


K: Yes, every time you pass a koan it has value.  From Hisamatsu-senseifs standpoint, however, this approach is merely an endless adding sides to a polygon; however may you add it never culminates in a perfect circle.[7]


U: If thatfs the case, what is the value of the step by step approach?


K: Hisamatsu-senseifs standpoint holds true for his awakening, but this is something which we do not yet understand.  What Hisamatsu-sensei is criticizing is the mistaking of a particular Samadhi, such as may result from the intensive struggle with the Mu-koan, for genuine awakening.  For Hisamatsu-sensei, particular Samadhi is quite inadequate.  With particular Samadhi, however far one goes, one never extricates oneself from the endless process of adding sides to a polygon; it never becomes an authentic circle.


U: Is this to say that Hisamatsu-sensei regards traditional Zen as having no value?...


K: Yes, in the case of traditional Zen as it is now practiced.


U: cso that the constant repetition – Mucmucmu- is without value?


K: Yes, for Hisamatsu-sensei thatfs so.  But even the repetition of Mu, if taken to the final point in a thoroughgoing way, is quite sufficient.  There are numerous cases in the past of men who have attained Awareness by proceeding in this fashion, - I definitely feel it incorrect to speak of a polygon in such an instance.  In any event in my case, I wanted to know Zen in terms of both the traditional way and Hisamatsu-senseifs way.


U: And you have been practicing along both lines for many years?


K: Itfs been thirty years, but still I am not yet able to stand on equal footing with Hisamatsu-sensei as was Rinzai when he said to Taigu: gThere is nothing much to Obakufs Zen!h – itfs a height which I can not yet attain.  I cannot help but think that there is an even deeper satori which still remains outside my grasp.  In the final analysis, when seen from Hisamatsu-senseifs standpoint, one ought to say that the roshis of todayfs traditional Zen have not yet penetrated deep enough.


U: Given these two apparently in some sense different approaches, that is, the traditional approach as employed by traditional Zen masters and that advocated by Hisamatsu-sensei, how should young students of Zen proceed?


K: In any case, itfs a mistake to criticize traditional Zen from the outside without knowing it at all.  If one doesnft go through the traditional practice one will never be able to grasp its limitations.  In the case of Hisamatsu-sensei, he made his criticism only after having gone through all the koan at Myoshinji.  What I really want to realize is the awakening in Hisamatsu-senseifs sense.  The thing is, unlike in FAS, in traditional Zen the aspects of gAll Mankindh and gSuprahistorical Historyh do not appear.  In this sense there is a narrowness to the satori of those who spend their whole lives in the monastery.  So that finally traditional Zen, insofar as it is devoid of the aspects of A and S, is quite insufficient.  Nevertheless, I have to reiterate that a criticism of traditional Zen coming from the mouth of someone who doesnft know anything about it is likely to be an erroneous one.  Basically my view on traditional koan practice can be summed up by the Zen saying: gWhen a cow drinks water it turns into milk; when a snake drinks water it turns into poison.h  Many excellent things and many exceptional monks have come out of traditional Zen setting and we should learn from them.  Still, we members of FAS must try to open up a way which transcends that which has existed in traditional Zen up until now.

In order to do so, thinking it necessary to know Zen as it has been traditionally practiced, I underwent traditional training.  But I donft think that it is necessary for everyone to go the traditional route with its many koan.  Ahcbut you know, traditional Zen also is really interesting.


U: In my case, when I hear that the traditional approach is somehow limited, I cannot avoid harboring doubts about the whole thing from the outset.


K: Proceed even while doubting.  Ifm doubting too.  Itfs a method, and it has its value.  The Shikantaza of the Soto sect has its merit, and yet it tends to be static, dead, without activity.  In Rinzai-Zen as well there are aspects in which it is not thoroughgoing.  In terms of Hisamatsu-senseifs metaphor of the waves and the water it can be said that in Rinzai-Zen there is this tendency: however vividly the waves are grasped, one fails to grasp them as water, as source.  Soto-Zen, while it may come to know the water, runs the danger of coming to know that water as dead, stagnant.  So in Soto-Zen there is the risk of becoming a dumb fool, whereas in Rinzai-Zen one may become crazy.  Of course, what I said before doesnft apply to Dogen.  His gbody and mind fallen away, fallen away mind and bodyh certainly emphasizes activity.  And if one really sits, wisdom appears.  In fact, zazen itself is great wisdom.


U: How does what you have said about koan apply to the statement that when there is a small doubt there is a small awakening, and when there is a great Doubt there is a great Awakening?


K: Sure, thatfs certainly the case.  There are many such small satori in Zen.  There are times in sitting when one comes to a deadlock and then suddenly understands.


S: But through these gsmall satorih the fundamental problem of man, as it expresses itself for example through the problem of death, remains unresolved, isnft that true?


K: By gproblem of deathh, do you mean what is traditionally characterized in Zen by the phrase ggreat matter of life-and-deathh?  I think that a certain resolution of the problem of life and death is achieved even if the resolution is not as thoroughgoing as that of Hisamatsu-sensei.  With a small satori, however, the resolution is also small.  I should point out that Christianity as well one can go beyond life and death.  There is, for example, the phrase of St. Paul:gIt is not I who live but Christ lives in me.h  This is different from the Awakening of Hisamatsu-sensei, but itfs still a kind of satori.


S: You said earlier that every passing of a koan has value.  But the problem still remains in contemporary koan practice that one can pass a koan merely on the basis of an intellectual response.  There are cases of monks passing koan without any understanding whatsoever, even to the extent of having gotten the answer from another monk.  In these cases one certainly cannot even speak of a small satori.


K: In traditional Zen where so many koan are employed and where one proceeds one by one, it must be recognized that the problem in each case is virtually the same.  At some point one must be hooked by the fundamental problem, must run up against it.  The koan gMuh is very fundamental – all other koan are applications and adaptations of that one basic problem.  But Hisamatsu-sensei criticizes even the Mu-koan and the koan of the gsound of one handh as being merely particular koan.  Well, perhaps if you stand in Hisamatsu-senseifs standpoint you can criticize these koan as particular koan.


S: From olden times it is said in Zen that there are three essential factors, great Faith, great Determination, great Doubt, and that when even one of these is lacking, Awakening is impossible.  Could you elaborate a little on this?


K: where is it that there is unclarity?


S: Well, as someone who is engaged in Zen practice, Ifm always very much aware of the possibility of failure through insufficient effort.  When I hear these terms I am frightened and feel myself to be very weak.  In terms of actual practice, not merely theoretically, what must great Faith, great Determination, great Doubt entail?


K: Great Determination is the will to penetrate to the ultimate point even should onefs legs break.  Whatever harm may result, however sleepy and distracted one becomes, however much pain one must undergo, one never allows the slackening of the will until onefs goal is reached.  This is what is meant by great Determination.  I think you already know this.  Great Faith and great Determination are present in Christianity as well.  And various doubts inevitably arise should one undertake to penetrate to the root of great Faith.  Itfs not a faith without doubt, but rather a faith which is maintained in the midst of onefs doubt and agitation.  Nevertheless, generally in the great religions, doubt is not emphasized.  This emphasis on doubt is peculiar to Zen Buddhism – is in fact its most important characteristic.  In philosophy also, for instance in Descartesf case, one tries to reach a point of utmost certainty through doubting and doubting until further doubt is impossible.  There is a similarity between this and the great Doubt of Zen.  But the great Doubt of Zen differs from such a philosophical, methodical doubting.  In Zen one doubts with onefs whole body and mind, the totality of manfs being is drawn together into one mass of doubt.  Itfs not doubt in the ordinary sense of the term where one goes: gItfs not this and itfs not thath but rather, for example in the case of the Mu-koan, a thoroughgoing concentration; such a state of concentration is called doubt, great Doubtc


U: A state of concentration?


K: Actually, the word gstateh is probably inapplicable.  But there is such an aspect in which it can be used. Total concentration of body and mind – this is great Doubt and great Faith, and the taking of this pursuit to its final consequence is great Determination.  And even though they are designated separately, they are after all one.


S: So that by concentration youfre not referring merely to a techniquec


K: Itfs not merely a technique.  Whatever technique is involved, before one reaches the goal, one cannot but encounter various doubts along the way.  The unwavering exertion in the midst of all those doubts is itself great Determination, great Doubt.  Finally, everything culminates in a lump of doubt.  At that point, some chance occasion may give rise to the opening up of a new viewpoint.  When one says doubt, the reference is not to doubting some object.  Even if one doubts various things in an objective manner, this doubting should finally culminate in the great Doubt.  The doubt of Zen tries to penetrate to the ground of the world, the universe, the self.  It calls into question everything; everything is included in this doubt.


U: What is the relationship between doubt and samadhi?


K: Doubt itself is a kind of Samadhi.  Of course what Ifm referring to as doubt may be considered by Hisamatsu-sensei as still particular Samadhi.


U: But isnft it correct that great Doubt is not a particular samadhi?


K: Hmmmcbut great Doubt is not yet great Awakening, perfect awareness, and thus differs from universal awareness in Hisamatsu-senseifs sense.


S: Hisamatsu-sensei says that great Doubt constitutes in terms of the emotions absolute anguish, in terms of the intellect absolute contradiction, in terms of the will absolute dilemma.  What is, practically speaking, necessary in order to arrive at that point?


K: The essential thing is that all the problems of onefs existence be thrown into onefs fundamental human dilemma, that all problems are thrown into one pot, so to speak, and faced as a totality.  By struggling on in this way, this all-encompassing problem finally crystallizes as the great Doubt.  In traditional Rinzai-Zen for example, one must throw all the problems and contradictions of onefs life into the Mu-koan.  Even in shikantaza, when one is fully determined and tries to break through, one inevitably runs up against the various contradictions of everyday life.  The attempt to solve these contradictions always involves agony.  Itfs never merely a matter of technique.  Even the practice of zazen itself brings with it, through the mere fact of pain, a kind of dilemma.  In the past, I thought that there was no other way for me than zazen and I tried to break through.  When the pain increased to its limit, I broke out into fits of convulsions.  The practice of zazen, even without koan, brings one up against an enormous wall.  In koan practice as well one brings oneself to this kind of limit-situation.  When you are deprived of all recourse, thrown into a limit-situation in which you are driven to the last extremity, what will you do?  This being deprived of all recourse can be found in the koan method as well.  This can be seen in the koan in which a man who is hanging by his teeth on a branch which extends over a precipice is asked: gWhat is the essence of Buddhism?h  Another koan demands: gWithout using your mouth, speak quick!h  Through this injunction one is driven into a dilemma and one must extricate oneself from it.  In the koan of old there were many limit-situations, like: gIf you fall into a very deep well, how can you get out?h  If you are put into a gas chamber at Auschwitz, what will you do?  Ultimately there will provably be no other means of exit than as smoke through the chimney, I donft know.  In such a situation, what will you do?  Such inquiries are numerous in Zen.  When death is absolutely certain, how can one escape?  Where do you go when you die?


U: Isnft this dilemma the source of all koan?


K: Yes, and at the same time itfs also given as a particular koan.  Whether one is awakened or unawakened, when itfs time to die, death is a reality for everybody.  From the standpoint of Zen, whether one dies in great agitation or in tranquility, this reality cannot be denied.  Even if you die suddenly in a traffic accident, you have to face it.  The Zen master Hakuin, when he was young, was thrown into a state of serious doubt when he encountered the story of the Chinese Zen master Ganto who when being murdered by robbers shrieked ggyaaah in a horrible voice that is said to have travelled many miles.  Hakuin couldnft believe that a great, enlightened Zen master could die so ignominiously, and his faith in Zen was severely shaken.  But later, when Hakuin himself awakened through the Mu-koan, he exclaimed: gJust now he lives!h  There is also the cruel story of the cat who, when severed in two by Nansen, died shrieking ggyaaah.  The point is, this ggyaaah, death itself, is the absolute reality.  This is what one has to see in a koan.  In the Pure Land sect they believe that at the moment of death they will be saved by Amida Buddha.  That may be alright, but from the Zen standpoint it will probably have to be viewed as an illusion.  For Zen one cannot be saved merely by such a belief.  In Zen, whatever the circumstances and manner of onefs death, that dying must itself be beyond life and death.  Traditional Zen has certainly reached to this extent.  In the case of the koan of gthe sound of one handh or gMuh there are various ways of inquiring, such as: gWhat is the Mu before you are bornh or gWhat is the Mu after you have died and become ash.h  Even if one just passes the Mu koan without understanding anything by uttering gMu, mu..h, this gbefore being bornh and gafter dyingh is always present in the gMuh itself.

Hisamatsu-sensei would say: gWhen even the Mu-samadhi is of no avail, what will you do?h  One must awaken to the ultimate ground.  In traditional Zen there are many problems accompanying the koan – secondary problems.  But for Hisamatsu-sensei a method must be established which can dispense with all this.  When I went to the Hannya-dojo and asked Osaka-roshi: gThis instant, unable to do anything whatsoever, what will you do?h, he said something and I retorted: gWhen you canft say that, what will you do?h  Finally, the roshi roared and attacked me like a dragon.  Because I was young at the time I pinned him and suddenly at that moment the words of Rinzai:hEverywhere else the dead are cremated, but here I bury them alive at onceh uttered forth from my mouth.  The roshi said:hOkay, Okayh and I let him go.  When I glanced at him I saw that his kimono had been torn during our great battle.  Before I went to the Hannya-dojo, confronted with the problem gRight now, when you canft do anything whatsoever, what will you do?h I shouted, pushed over the desk and attacked Hisamatsu-sensei.  Then he said:hTake hold of me without using your hands!h  I was at a loss as to what to do, and he said gNo good!h.  In Zen there is a well-known koan where the roshi demands: gStand me up without using your hands!h  If you can do away with the discrimination between self and other this is not a difficult problem to solve.  When working with the koan gMuh as well, if one really becomes nothingness one can readily respond to all the subsequent problems as they arise.  The method employed by traditional Zen, while said to be irrational, has its extremely rational aspect.  The problems themselves appear to be contradictory and an object of bewilderment, but this is only apparently the case.  If one opens up a new viewpoint beyond the contradiction, the contradiction itself disappears.  In some sense the traditional koan method is concerned with what a thing is, for example this soup bowl, its roundness and hardness, its essential form and its form when being used.  With each koan one tries to see it from a different angle.  But even without koan, through the diligent practice of zazen alone, all things come to be seen as if they were sitting.  Just by doing zazen it can become quite clear that for example these things on the table are sitting as formless form, having both body and action.  Ordinarily, the working with the gMuh koan or the koan of the gsound of one handh should bring with it what may perhaps be called a gglimpseh of absolute oneness.  Without such an understanding, even should one proceed through the various koan, they will remain incomprehensible.  There are so many things (pointing to the things in the room), onectwocthree..four..five..six, and yet they are all one.  When one sits, with koan or without, this comes to be seen very clearly.  Absolute oneness manifests itself as the many, and the many again return to oneness.  The Zen master Hakuin in his gSong of Zazenh says also:hYour coming-and-going takes place nowhere else but where you are.h  Whether coming or going, everything is an geventh in formless absolute oneness.  Absolute oneness itself is eternal stillness.  Pascal said: gThe eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me.h  But in Zen perpetual silence is joyous, joyous in a sense beyond sorrow and joy.  The silence of Vimalakirti expresses the great joy of the dimension in which neither joy nor sorrow arises.  We have been walking around all day, yet within all that movement that absolute silence is always present.  Always.  This absolute silence is the gUngrundh(un-ground), even in activities such as drinking.  Absolute oneness, formlessness, is not something which is present only during zazen.  It is in all activity.  When I say gish, this is not the gish which stands in opposition to gis noth.  Rather it is the gish which transcends the dimension in which such a discrimination between gish and gis noth takes place.


Translators: Tanemura Tatsuo

            Steve Antinoff

            Urs App



[1] A metaphor employed by Hisamatsu-sensei to depict reality.  The very water which gives rise to and is source of the waves is nothing other than the waves (particular phenomena) themselves.  The waves (particular phenomena) which rise out of and return to the water are nothing other than the water (source).

[2] Kitahara Hakushu (1885-1942), one of the greatest Japanese poets of his period.

[3] Nishida Kitaro (1870-1945). Zen layman and modern Japanfs greatest philosopher.  Teacher of Hisamatsu-sensei.

[4] Original name of the FAS Society.

[5] A laymenfs training place in Tokyo led by Osaka Koryu roshi.

[6] According to Hisamatsu-sensei, the essence of all koan can be expressed by the single formulation gDoshitemo ikenakereba dosuru kah.  This has been rendered in two ways: gWhen nothing whatsoever is of any avail, what will you do?h and gUnable to do anything whatsoever, what will you do?h, since the editors felt that no single rendition brought out the full meaning.  gUnableh indicates futility rather than lack of ability or capability.  Confronted by onefs fundamental religious dilemma, one may gbe ableh to stand up, raise onefs arm, write plays better than Shakespeare or do all kinds of things.  But finally all of this proves futile, of no avail, as a solution to onefs fundamental problem.