Zen Masters 101: Kodo Sawaki

Kodo Sawaki was one of the great Zen masters of the 20th century. With his conversational and unconventional style of teaching, he developed a body of thought (or lack thereof) that was both transformative and accessible to Westerners and laypeople. He paved the way for other great masters like Taisen Deshimaru and Wafu Nishijima. I encourage you to read “The Homeless Kodo”, a collection of Sawaki’s teachings. Below are some gold bits from his work:

“To be born as a human being is a rare thing, something to be grateful for. But being born as a human being is worthless if you spend your whole life in a mental hospital. It is worthless if you worry about not having money. It is worthless if you become neurotic because you cannot get a prestigious job. It is worthless if you weep because you lose your girlfriend.”

“You don’t seek the way. The way seeks you.”

“To wander from place to place in this transitory world is to pursue “name”. A person is born naked. But then he is given a name, registered, and covered with clothes, and a nipple is stuffed into his mouth, and so on. When he grows up you say, “He is great, strong, clever, rich.” You find consolation only in words. In fact, everyone is just naked.”

“You lack peace of mind because you’re running after an idea of total peace of mind. That’s backwards. Be attentive to your mind in each moment, no matter how unpeaceful it might seem to be. Great peace of mind is realized only in the practice within this unpeaceful mind. It arises out of the interplay between peaceful and unpeaceful mind.”

“The question isn’t who’s right. You’re simply seeing things from different points of view.”

“Religion means living your own life, completely fresh and new, without being taken in by anyone.”

“We stop the one who can’t cease from seeking things outside, and practice with our bodies with a posture that seeks absolutely nothing. This is zazen.”

“We practice not to get somewhere better. We practice here and now, transcending the distinction between samsara and nirvana.”

“It’s important to see that it’s not life that causes suffering but our expectation that life should be the way we want. We can’t live without expectation, but if we can handle the feelings caused by the difference between our expectations and reality, that’s liberation.”

“We cannot expect any ecstasy greater than right here, right now — our everyday lives.”

-Kodo Sawaki