By the quilt-covered kotatsu in his home in Gifu, Dr. Hisamatsu sat waiting, dressed in a white woolen winter-kimono, when Prof. Ishii and I were led into an exquisitely arranged and decorated large room built in Japanese style; a space of simple beauty and peacefulness. Dr. Hisamatsu's warm welcome and radiant smile immediately made us feel at ease. Learning that I grew up in Switzerland, he shared some memories of European countries and towns he had visited a few decades ago. After Prof. Ishii, the editor of the FAS publication renamed "Buddhist" )(formerly Tohokai), had given him some information concerning this journal and related maters, Dr. Hisamatsu started to speak about the "post-modern" age.
He said that in our time, in general, there is no conception of the coming age -- the post-modern age --, but that he, on the contrary, is dealing with the present age from the standpoint of the post-modern era. This accounts for his using "Post-modernist" as a pen name. Dr. Hisamatsu then proceeded to talk about three historical periods: the middle ages when there was the One or unity (ichi) but not the Many or diversity (ta), the modern age where there is the Many but not the One, and the postmodern age where the One and the Many are not-two. Pointing the Buddhist rosary which he wore around his wrist he likened the middle ages to the string (unity), the modern age to the beads (diversity), and the whole rosary to the postmodern age (non-duality of the One and the Many).
Tea and cakes were served: a feast for the eye, the hands, the nose and the tongue -- for the heart. Dr. Hisamatsu was delighted by our appreciation of the beauty of his tea bowls. Prof. Ishii then encouraged me to ask Dr. Hisamatsu any question I might have. The following account of my questions and Dr. Hisamatsu's answers is based on Prof. Ishii's careful notes and my own recollection of this memorable day.
You speak and write about the "extreme place" (girigiri no tokoro), about the "doshitemo ikenai" (nothing goes, nothing of any avail, there is no way), in short, about your fundamental koan: "Doshitemo ikenakereba do suru ka" (Nothing goes. What do you do?) How can I work (kufu suru) with this koan, and what does zazen have to do with this?
The totality of bodily modes of being (nikutai no arikata) -- sitting, standing, lying -- and the totality of mental modes of being -- feeling, will, thinking, in short: the totality of the actions of man will not do (ikenai). Nothing other than this is spelled out in my fundamental koan: "Nothing goes. What do you do?" Herein lie death and resurrection. True sitting (za) is neither siting of the body nor sitting of the mind, but shinjindatsuraku (body and mind fallen away): body and mind together die and are reborn:
Dr. Hisamatsu mentions his fundamental koan, but he doesn't do so just in a referring manner -- he doesn't just talk about it. No, he addresses it directly to me: just YOU, just HERE, just NOW, NOTHING GOES: WHAT DO YOU DO? And he wants my response, fixes me with his eyes, and waits and waits and waits... Never before or since have I encountered such a directness; in fact, it just is not direct in the sense of some question being directed at me, not even like a knife pointed at me, but rather: it is an immediate ad total exposure of my question as myself. I, right here, right now: nothing goes. What do I do? Deadlocked. Utter impossibility and ultimate necessity, I am in a terrible fix. No way: an agonizing long silence, a dumb silence. No answer. Won't do. This is repeated several times throughout our encounter, and I am left in a turmoil of tortured, trembling, furious helplessness. Nothing goes. What an unparalleled display of compassion wasted on this useless fellow!
What do you mean by "gakugyo ichinyo" (learning and practice are one)?
The "gaku" (learning or study) of "gakugyo ichinyo" is nothing other than the fundamentally subjective, total understanding of "Nothing goes. What do I do?" This learning is the learning of "body and mind fallen away." No difference between learning and practice: this is the real thing. Oneness of learning and practice is nothing other than the true understanding of "Nothing goes. What do I do?"
I plan to go to America after a brief stay in Europe, and I may not be able to practice with a Zen teacher. What is your advice?
The teacher is YOU. The teacher is "Nothing goes. What do I do?" For this, there is no need for any guidance. You yourself, you can do it alone. Incidentally, the majority of Zen masters don't understand this extreme point (girigiri no tokoro) either. My fundamental koan is different from the usual koan. But it is important that you firmly hold on to faith (shinnen): faith in the overcoming of life-and-death, faith in the Self which is undying (fushi), unborn (fusho), and unperishable (fumetsu).
What is genuine health or well-being?
"Nothing goes. What do I do?": to understand this is true health. What about just here and now?................ You too, Mr. Ishii!!
You can work with this koan anywhere. It is both a general and a particular koan; the one and the many form one body, they are not-two (ittai funi).
What does one person's awakening have to do with other people's suffering?
If you understand this koan, you grasp the root-source of people's suffering, and you become able to recommend this to other people. You can become a guide and show the Way to other people. You will have the power to guide (shidoryoku). There is a great strength growing out of this realization. This is what happened in my own life: it will happen in yours. We will meet. When? Just when you understand "Nothing goes. What do I do?" You may understand in a plane or in a train or anywhere: I am there, and right then and there we meet. Then you will laugh, remember what I said, and understand.
After I thanked him with tears in my eyes, Hisamatsu-sensei accompanies us to the entrance. In the corridor facing the garden, he put his hand on my shoulder and leaned on me while picking up a big book from a table. He opened it and showed it to us: "Look, I'm in here!" He laughed and pointed at his name which was followed by a brief article giving some information about his person and life. Closing the book, he held it up right in front of our faces and, watching us in a demanding yet bemused manner, let us see the title which said in big golden letters: WHO IS WHO.
We went together to the stepping-stone next to his spectacularly beautiful Japanese garden in order to put our shoes on. While we were doing this, he asked me how old I was, and when I told him that this was the year of my thirtieth birthday, he said: "You are young, and I'm already eighty." Mr. Ishii quickly corrected him, and Hisamatsu-sensei laughed: "Aah yes, that's right, I'm ninety, three times your age. Yet I won't die. Unborn, unperishing (fusho, fumetsu): this is my answer to the question 'Nothing goes. What do I do.?'"
There he stood, a fragile old man with long white hair and a white beard in a white kimono and a warm vest, next to his garden bathed in the warm light of late afternoon, waving serenely and once more smiling his quiet, pure smile. I could not say good-bye. I must first meet him.