A History of the FAS Society: Part IV

By ABE Masao


It was on April 8, 1944 that our group was formally started with the name of Gakudo Dojo, and it was based on the standpoint of "attain awakening to the ultimate, great way through critical study and struggling practice." At that time we decided to meet once a week at Senbutsuji Temple and began to sit in zazen and have discussion. However, the tide of the war turned against us, and the situation grew worse day by day. Although our group was still small in number, some of the members were drafted. One by one Hisamatsu invited those who had received their induction notices to his Hoseki-an residence and chanted the Prajnaparamita-hrdaya-sutra and read "Our Guiding Principles for Attaining Awakening" before the Buddhist altar. He handed copies of his favorite book, The Record of Lin-chi, or small picture albums to some of them. On the first page of each copy of The Record of Lin-chi, the characters for "solitary emancipated and non-dependent" was written vividly with Indian ink, and in the small picture albums those for "No illusions!"

A small number of members who remained in Kyoto supported the Dojo, continuing with the practice and study programs. It was not long before the war ended, and as time passed those who had been sent to the front gradually returned home. Fortunately, amongst our members, no one was killed in battle, but some returned with the scars of battle in their young hearts because of the abnormal experiences they had in battles and in military life in general. They had been confronted with the problem of men killing each other under the name of war and for the sake of the nation. Those who had remained in Kyoto also had been confronted with the dehumanized social situation caused by the lost war. Together with newcomers, they brought a serious question to the Dojo: What does it mean to live as a human being? What is the true Self?

In those days, nearly fifty people came to any given gathering. Not all of them necessarily intended to practice zazen. Some took the position of Pure Land Buddhism or Christianity. They majored in philosophy, mathematics, literature, history and many other fields. At around that time we decided to open our Dojo to students of other universities and laymen as well. As a result, students of other universities school teachers, nuns, Communists, and Zen trainees of monasteries joined us. Although the people came from different backgrounds, all of them attended the zazen practice and discussions with diligence. That was due to the fact that we were all one as donin (seekers of the Way) in attain awakening to the ultimate, great way through critical study and struggling practice.

Gradually, we came to think that we should practice zazen in real earnest. Some proposed to have week-long periods of zazen practice, which would be the same as those carried on in Zen temples. One day the problem was taken up and discussed. As I said before, not all of those who gathered came to practice Zen per se. Although we were all one in seeking the truth, we did not all stand on the same standpoints. So, it was very difficult for us to be one in having a week-long sesshin or retreat in our Dojo. Hisamatsu took the lead in participation in programs of the Dojo, sitting in zazen with us and throwing himself into heated discussions. But as for the management of the group, he gave very few instructions, always leaving such a task to the other members. In the case of the issue of week-long periods of zazen, he did not even give a word of advice. Much was said for and against such retreat. Due to endless disputes, we gradually became depressed. It was just at that time when one member, sitting in the corner of the room during a gathering, stood up and said, "What am I to do with what I am helpless about?" Saying this, he struck his breast with his fist. With those words all of us present became of one mind and decided to have a week-long period of zazen as part of our formal program.

We do not have week-long retreats in our Dojo because someone else decided to hold such practice for us, or because it is one of the traditional disciplines of Zen. We do our special retreats simply because such practice is a response to our spontaneous cry out of our depth. i think it was in 1947 that we had our first week-long period of zazen in our Dojo. Since then we have had such periods three times a year under the name of betsuji gakudo, special session for attaining awakening, in addition to the heijo dojo, weekly meetings for practice and study. Needless to say, we owe much to those who have helped us by kindly offering us facilities at Tokai-an ad Reiun-in of Myoshinji Temple during retreats over the years. Here I would also like to add that these retreats could be held simply because such practice originated in our spontaneous aspiration and because it has always been maintained by our spirit of seeking the Way.

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Last updated: May 25, 1996