Zen Road
Zen Road
  • english
  • deutsch
  • français

The unembellished truth

by Taisen Deshimaru


The mind of awakening goes by many names, but it is one, unique mind. The patriarch Nagarjuna said, “Now, the mind that meditates on appearance followed by disappearance and on the impermanence of the world is also called the mind of awakening.” If this is so, could not resting on this mind for a while be considered the mind of awakening? The truth is, when we meditate on impermanence, the idea of Me and Mine does not appear, and thoughts of fame and profit do not arise.
- Eihei Dogen, the Gakudoyojinshu (“Applying the Mind to the Study of the Way”)


Dogen’s actual phrasing is “The mind that observes sho, appearance, and metsu, disappearance, life and death, the impermanence of society, of the world: that mind is bodaishin.”

[Picture of Taisen Deshimarus at a mill somewhere in France]

It is said in the Shodoka that “all existences, all actions are impermanent, mujo; everything is ku.” This is the satori of Buddha: understanding and observing impermanence, what appears and disappears in our world. It is not just a matter of the world, but of what is transformed, what changes.


In the Shobogenzo, Dogen speaks about a precious pearl. He understands the dangers of the social world in perpetual change and the nobility of the Buddha-Way. Impermanence cannot be grasped through reason. Everything is continuously transformed.


We must understand for ourselves. When we look at someone’s death, we don’t really feel it, we just receive a shock. But if we realize that we have cancer and we’re going to die, we are completely overcome. This is not an act of reason, but of practical experience. Dogen’s mother died when he was eight. When he saw the smoke from the incense burning beside her deathbed, he felt impermanence. It was the same for Shinran when he was eight. These two great masters understood mujo.


Master Kodo Sawaki always said, “My mother died when I was five years old and my father when I was eight. I had no family. My brothers and sisters were separated. I was adopted by my uncle, who also died. I did not feel mujo at all. When my father and mother died, many people came and there was a lot of sushi to eat. It was interesting, I was happy. Why did I want to become a monk?


“When I was nine, one morning, in the house next door, a geisha house, an old man died in the arms of a geisha; his heart must have given out. A crowd gathered, his family came. The police were there too. His wife was crying. ‘Why did you die in this place? I am ashamed.’”


At that moment, Kodo Sawaki had a vision of his own death. “When I die, it will be a fine death, in a fine posture, in a good place, which will mark others.” He made this decision and repeated it constantly.


If we feel mujo, if we feel that everything is changing, then nothing has any reality: the ego, other people – everything is in transformation, without noumenon, impermanent. If we feel this, we cannot lie anymore. True faith means not lying. If we understand mujo as “that’s life,” we can become completely profound, and the mind deepens as well. We understand ourselves. Zazen is very important.


If we observe mujo, there’s no point in embellishing. Every day, every thing: nothing is that important. This is not nihilism. We must not be sad about it. We can be truly courageous and unembellished in our life. It’s not necessary to be charming or to discuss things. This is not so important. Obviously, we must be diplomatic and flexible; we should harmonize. That’s very important. But down deep in our minds, if we understand mujo, there’s no point in embellishing or lying.


I always say that we are not alone. We are led by the fundamental cosmic power. We cannot stop our hearts through sheer will. And so even science and medicine have not been able to discover our noumenon, our substance, the ego, even today. Even if we do zazen looking for the ego, we cannot grasp it; but we can observe our karma. “I’m not so good. I’m completely bad.”


If we become profound, if we continue zazen, we can compare ourselves to God or Buddha. We see that our karma is strong, deep, bad. Then we are completely pure. There are two egos: the subjective ego and the objective ego. The objective ego becomes God or Buddha and looks at the subjective ego. It mirrors it. This way, we can become deeper. Then we don’t tell ourselves, “I have to have honor and profit!” Egoism decreases, decreases…


Time is important. Every day, it passes quickly. We must concentrate here and now. What is important? We have to understand. Only zazen time is truly real. After that, nothing is really so important anymore. That’s the mind of awakening.



Excerpts from L’enseignement oral, édition intégrale, vol. 4, le Gakudoyojinshu d’Eihei Dogen (“The Complete Oral Teaching, vol. 4: Eihei Dogen’s Gakudoyojinshu”), commentaries by Taisen Deshimaru, (Paris: AZI, 1986).


< previous articletopnext article >