Zen Road
Zen Road
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Spiritual heroes

by Taisen Deshimaru


If body and mind are not calm and joyful, obstacles to the realization of the Way will appear. How can we, in our behavior, accomplish what is called “the harmony between firm practice and the Way”? We accomplish it when the mind does not grasp or reject, when the mind desires neither fame nor profit.
- Eihei Dogen, the Gakudoyojinshu (“The Application of the Mind to the Study of the Way”)


Master Dogen always uses the kanji shin jin, “mind” and “body.” Do soko no shin: do is the Way; shin, the mind; soko, behavior in daily life.

[Picture of Taisen Deshimaru seated outdoors]

If our everyday mind and the Way are not in harmony, our body and our mind are not at peace. The mind loses its serenity; it is always anxious. The subconscious is never in the normal condition; it is disturbed, dissatisfied, always worried. And so body and mind become agitated.


In general, thanks to the practice of zazen, the hara grows stronger. You become brave and courageous. But if you want to become brave and courageous, if you want to have a strong hara, whisky is better than zazen, because it makes you strong and courageous immediately. Nothing scares you anymore – you have no trouble breaking china! Even if you’ve borrowed money, you forget. But this is not true bravery or true courage.


In true zazen, the subconscious is calmed and satisfied, and returns to its normal condition. In the modern world, the subconscious of the younger generation is dissatisfied. They’re afraid, they wander. Their minds are not serene, not formed, not steady. And so they take drugs. They want to experience ecstasy. It’s more dangerous than whisky.


If we do zazen, truly, unconsciously, naturally and automatically, our mind and our body are serene and peaceful. And so, if daily behavior and the Way go hand in hand, if they harmonize, our mind becomes calm, is pacified, free from fear. Then we become truly brave and courageous.


The study of the Way through Zen is the greatest matter in life. You must not take it lightly. How could you neglect it?


Studying the Way is the culmination of the greatest success of our lives, the greatest happiness, the principal victory. And so those who do zazen, said Dogen, are the greatest heroes: spiritual heroes, different from Napoleon. It’s the highest point of view, the highest way of looking at life.


Becoming a government minister, succeeding in life, obtaining the highest honors, becoming rich, leading a major revolution, graduating from school, getting a degree from the Sorbonne, marrying a wealthy man – these are not the greatest things in life. Eating a steak or brown rice every day for your health is not the highest vision of life. I don’t mean to be critical of macrobiotics, but in the end, meat and brown rice both become shit.


Zazen is not a way to better health; it is not a kind of pastime. It is the ultimate success, the utmost good fortune.


The solid practitioner who studies the Way must first know if his turning towards the Way is correct or incorrect… What we call turning towards the Way means understanding the Buddha-Way in its true, infinite dimension, and clearly distinguishing what is particular to this Way.


We must personally and individually understand the game of life. We must experience things for ourselves, especially when it involves the Buddha-Way. The Buddha-Way is only acquired at the cost of totally giving oneself. We must understand, with our whole being, what the Way means, what reality it has, what it tastes like.


We must know how to discern the Way from the non-Way. Diplomacy is not the Way. The search for good health is not the Way. Seeking any kind of benefit is not the Way. We must have the same state of mind as if we were entering our coffins at the end of our lives.


One question should concern us until it is resolved: What is our reason for being in this world? Why were we born? To live? In other words, to profit from life? What does it mean to enjoy life? Does it mean being successful, being lucky in love, traveling, enjoying comfort? This is not the Way. This is not the meaning of our life in this world.


When we truly seek the Way, when we understand, when we have satori, then everything can be the Way. This is a very important point.



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).


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