Zen Masters 101: Taisen Deshimaru

Charlie Ambler
Oct 18, 2016 · 2 min read

Taisen Deshimaru was a student of the previous master in our series, Kodo Sawaki. He was a rare breed, both brutally honest and also accessible to Westerners. His book, Sit, is one of my favorite Zen texts. It is extremely helpful and straight-forward but also challenges most of our assumptions. I hope you enjoy these excerpts I’ve chosen from the book:

“The exhalation is deep and long, the inhalation short and steady. Breathing is the connecting link between the conscious and the subconscious, between body and mind. In fact, the ability to control our body and mind, and to change our lives, our karma, depends upon this breathing. One must concentrate on the breathing, or more specifically upon the out-breath. All schools of Buddhism agree that anapanasati (mindfulness of our breathing) was the Buddha Shakyamuni’s first teaching.”

“To understand oneself,” explained the master, “is to understand the universe. The microcosm and the macrocosm are one. Evolution always begins with the individual. If a man takes one step forward, he carries the world consciousness one step forward.”

“In modern times education is too soft. You here all receive soft educations. You have all received educations which make your minds become like encyclopedias.”

“Most people do not like criticism. But they should. They should say thank you.”

“The error of democracy is that people imitate others and do not create anything.”

“ To have a strong ego and to have an egoistic ego are not the same. You must have confidence in yourself. You must find your true ego-and at the same time abandon it. Yet, you must not forget yourself. Continue zazen and your true ego will become strong, and you will find your original self. You are not interchangeable with someone else. You are only you. A man is not just hair and organs. You have a speciality, an originality of your own. But if you wish to find it, you must abandon ego. Abandon all, and only true ego remains.”

“Everywhere you can practice, everywhere you can learn to become a true monk. The practice exists everywhere. It is not hidden.”

“During the practice of all the martial arts you must be mushotoku. If you think “I must win,” then you cannot win. When we abandon everything, when we become completely mushotoku, then we can win. It is the same when you paint; if you think “I must paint a beautiful calligraphy,” then you will not succeed.”

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