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Kyozan Joshu Sasaki Roshi Article

Kyozan Joshu Sasaki Roshi Article

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Published by Efraín Suárez

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Published by: Efraín Suárez on Sep 05, 2012
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"For those of us involved in practice while we are living in the world of words, it is veryimportant to have a clear insight into that world that is prior to words.But people who remain fixated in the world of words, believing the world of words isbasically the only world, typically are those who have great fears relative to death. Wecommonly find many people who are fixated in the world of words, believing that theworld of words and all that is associated with it is the only world. On that basis they wantto achieve the most luxurious and comfortable lifestyle and are not concerned very muchwith other people. Such people inevitably are doomed to suffer.If we take the trouble to become sensitive to our situation, we come to see that althoughthe world of words appears fairly substantial, it is actually a very conditional worldsubject to dissolution at any time. When we clarify the whole matter of dissolution andwhat is prior to the world of words, we can live here in tranquility."
From the book, The Zen of Myoshin-ji Comes to the West, 1987
Kyozan Joshu Sasaki Roshi has taken his strong – some would say severe – style of Rinzai Zen to thousands of Western students, a sizeable network of training centers andZen organizations has grown up to facilitate practice and preserve the Rinzai tradition herepresents. Ironically, when he came to these shores Roshi did not expect to build alarge organization. "I had thought of having five or six students who really lived the life of Zen and that would be it," he said in an interview last year. "I would die in America. I hadno plan to create temples or centers."Many consider him to be the dean of Zen teachers in America, due to his seniority andthe vitality of his dharma, but he is easily among the oldest Zen priests in the world.He is the foremost representative in America of a teaching method called Nyorai (or Tathagata) Zen, which combines a rigorous analysis of dharma activity with realization.Joshu Roshi teaches that in every moment we must manifest our true nature, emptinessor zero, and realize dharma activity. Tathagata Zen teaching declares that theDharmakaya, perfect complete unity, is never fixed. It is always spontaneously dividingitself and reuniting to realize a new Dharmakaya. The Dharmakaya divides itself into twoprimal activities, Tathagata and Tathaagata, or expansion and contraction, and givesrise to the three worlds of past, present, and future. Self, world, space, and time –everything – arise from the Dharmakaya dividing itself and everything returns to theDharmakaya as expansion and contraction reunite. The aim of Tathagata Zen practice isto manifest our true nature and realize dharma activity as our true self.Joshu Roshi has kept a relatively low profile throughout his time in the US, preferring towork with his monks and lay students while maintaining a rigorous monastic trainingenvironment atMount Baldy Zen Center in California. But he has mythic status in Zencircles. He is the teacher with whom many other well-regarded Buddhist teachers cometo study. Shinzen Young, Genki Takabyashi Roshi, and George Bowman have all calledhim their teacher.Joshu Roshi has stated that most Americans don't grasp Japanese Rinzai Zen. Americans have been taught that they cannot exist without God, he said.''From the Buddhist point of view, God is not a living thing you can look upon,'' saidRoshi, who speaks in Japanese and uses an interpreter. ''God is not something you can
take as an object. Buddhism says there is no God, there is no absolute personified beingother than the manifestation of the complete self.''The person who takes God as an object is the mistaken self, he said. Zen practicebrings people to their true selves. That is a dangerous concept in a country where mostpeople believe in God, he said. The goal of Zen is zero, or the state of emptiness. At thatpoint, Roshi said, there is no God and no need to take God as an object because aperson is experiencing God. ''That is God. That is the perfect self. There is no need toask God for help,'' he said. ''There is no need to want to see God.''But he likes Americans, even if they have a hard time understanding Zen. They like to trynew things, and they have a strong will to make a new culture, he once said. ''I'm over 93 years old, so I don't really care if Zen is really born in America or not. I'm just here,practicing with you,'' he said.Over time, Joshu Roshi evolved his own koan system to teach American students. Herealized that most American Zen students lacked the background in Buddhism that isassumed when a monk enters a monastery in Japan. Rather than starting his studentswith a koan from the
, Joshu Roshi developed a family of koans that forcedhis American students to re-examine their own everyday activity, for example, “How doyou realize your true nature when driving a car?” or “Where is god when you see aflower?”Joshu Roshi has avoided publishing his teaching, for the most part, because histeaching methods are always evolving. In the past few years he has committed himself more strongly than ever to rooting his Rinzai-ji network of Zen centers on a foundation of dharma activity.Joshu Roshi was born into a farming family in Miyagi Prefecture, Japan in April 1907. Atthe age of fourteen, Roshi traveled five hundred miles to Sapporo in Hokkaido, northernJapan, to become a zen student. There he was made a novice monk under Joten SokoMiura Roshi, who went on to head Myoshin-ji, one of the two preeminent Rinzai templesin Japan. Roshi was ordained an osho (priest) at the age of twenty-one, receiving thename Kyozan. Between the ages of 21 and 40, Joshu Roshi lived as a priest at Myoshin- ji in Kyoto, but in 1947 at the age of forty, he received his authority as a roshi andbecame abbot of his own monastery. In 1953, Roshi became abbot of Shoju-an inIiyama, Nagano Prefecture. Shoju-an, the temple founded by Hakuin's master was indisrepair, and Roshi set about restoring it. Roshi taught at Shoju-an until 15 years later,when Joshu Roshi was asked by the abbot at Myoshin-ji to relocate to America.Dr. Robert Harmon and Gladys Weisbart were both members of the Joshu Zen Templein Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, and had been independently trying to bring a Rinzai Zenmonk to Los Angeles. Once they found out about each other's efforts, they began aunited campaign. In Joshu Roshi, Dr. Harmon found an interested candidate. After working out the details by correspondence, the Kancho of Myoshin-ji, Daiko FurukawaRoshi, formally requested Joshu Roshi to begin teaching Zen in the United States. He arrived at Los Angeles International Airport on July 21, 1962, where he was met byhis sponsor, Dr. Robert Harmon. Both men remember that Roshi, who had but arudimentary commmand of English, carried with him both Japanese-English andEnglish-Japanese dictionaries. Dr. Harmon rented a small house on Mariposa St. in
Gardena, where Roshi took up residence. With few furnishings or amenities at first, thehouse was Roshi's residence by day and a zendo at night.Roshi conducted Zen meetings on weeknights and Sunday mornings, as well as weeklymeetings at the homes of some of his students. He served as jikijitsu, shoji and tenzo,while also giving sanzen and leading the chants at the beginning of each meeting.In November 1963, Roshi and his Zen students incorporated the Rinzai Zen Dojo Association. Over the next few years, as Roshi's reputation spread throughout SouthernCalifornia, he led group zazen in homes in the Hollywood Hills, Laguna Beach andBeverly Hills. When the Mariposa zendo outgrew its quarters in 1966, the group startedholding zazen in office space donated by Harmon. Around the same time Roshi ordained his first monks, among them Kodo Ron Olsen,who had studied with him since 1964. Kodo, who is married to Myosen Marcia Olsen,now is abbot of Joshu Zen Templein Redondo Beach, Calif.In July 1967, Roshi decided to commemorate his fifth anniversary in the U.S. byconducting his first seven- day Dai-sesshin in the mountain village of Idyllwild, Calif. InJanuary 1968, the organization's name was changed to Rinzai-ji, Inc., and it bought itsfirst property, Cimarron Zen Center. A complex of buildings surrounded by high walls, Cimarron Zen Center neededextensive renovation before it was formally dedicated on April 21,1968, and Roshi tookup residence there along with a group of students. Cimarron now is known asRinzai-ji.  Three years later, Rinzai-ji's main training center,Mt. Baldy Zen Center , was openedhigh in the San Gabriel Mountains east of Los Angeles. Formerly an abandoned BoyScout camp located in the middle of a national forest, Mt. Baldy operates under a 99-year lease from the government. Rinzai-ji has been refurbished to accommodateresident monks and nuns, as well as visitors attending Dai- sesshin.Mt. Baldy Zen Center has gained a reputation in American Zen circles for its rigorouspractice, which includes 19-hour-a-day sesshin schedules. Most of Rinzai-ji's monks andnuns have received some or all of their training there.With the establishment of the Rinzai-ji and Mt. Baldy Zen Centers, Joshu Roshi had laidthe groundwork for a corps of ordained monks, nuns, and priests to help him carry outhis work. When a Mt. Baldy student named Michelle Martin asked Roshi to come to NewMexico to conduct a dai-sesshin, he playfully replied, "You find hot springs, I come." After she returned to New Mexico, Martin and a friend found an old Catholic monasteryfor sale in Jemez Springs. They invited Roshi to inspect the facilities to see of they wereappropriate for a Zen community, and, in 1974, Jemez Bodhi Mandala was founded,now known asBodhi Manda Zen Center .Centro Zen de Puerto Rico, Inc. was established in 1983 by the Puerto Rican students of Rev. Joshu Sasaki Roshi. Roshi has been giving dai-sesshin in Puerto Rico since 1979under the sponsorship of Dr. Oscar Moreno who organized several sesshins withoutbenefit of having an existing Center. In 1983, with the help of many people here, the ACOPRO (Accion Comunitaria para el Progreso) center, built by Don Salvador Sendra,was offered and acquired as Centro Zen.

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