Peaceful Awareness by D. T. Suzuki

Anjin, Peaceful Awareness in Zen and Shin by D. T. Suzuki

translated by W. S. Yokoyama and edited by Kemmyo Taira Sato


Monk beating a moktak © Marcelle Hanselaar

It was at the beginning of the Tang Dynasty that Zen first flourished in China. Subsequently, during the Five Dynasties, a number of eminent Zen masters appeared one after another. During the Sung period, although Confucianism became prominent, there were practically no Confucianists who did not also learn Zen. In the early period we find Nansen Fugan (748-834). Needless to say, Nansen, who was active during the eighth and ninth centuries, was a giant figure in the Zen world. He had a disciple named Chōsha Keishin (Changsha Jingcen, d868). Chōsha, too, was an excellent Zen monk, in no way inferior to his master. One day Chōsha came back from a stroll in the hills.

Head monk: Where have you been all this time, Reverend Sir?

Chōsha: I have just got back from a walk in the hills.

Head monk: Where did you go?

Chōsha: I first strolled out into the field filled with the scent of grasses and then walked home watching the flowers fall.

Head monk: It sounds as though you had a lovely spring walk.

Chōsha: Yes, it was much nicer than in dreary autumn.

[Blue Cliff Record 36; based in part on D.T. Suzuki’s translation in Zen and Japanese Culture, p.359]

This brief exchange of question and answer is quite interesting. The head monk asks where he has been and, paying no heed to the actual question, Chōsha answers that he went to see the verdant spring fields and watched the cherry blossom fall. He had not set himself any particular goal but had simply gone out and then returned home from a stroll in the hills, in much the same frame of mind as a cat playing with a ball of string. It is Setchō who gives poetic expression to this particular mood. In Case 36 of the Blue Cliff Record (Hekigan Roku), we find the following Zen verse.

大地絶繊埃 The great earth clear of any speck of dust:

何人眼不開 Who is there whose eye would not awaken to it?

始隨芳草去 First I drift off with the fragrance of grasses,

又逐落花囘 Then turn to follow the falling blossom.

羸鶴翹寒木 A lean crane perching on a winter tree,

狂猿嘯古臺 A demented monkey wailing on an ancient rock.

長沙無限意 Chōsha’s mind knows no limits!

咄 Cough, cough!

Simply to present these lines of verse without any word of explanation would leave the modern reader completely baffled. The general drift of the poem, then, is as follows. The great earth clear of any speck of dust is a reference to the realm of Emptiness. If we would just open our eyes to the fact it is the realm of Emptiness, there would be no one at all who would be unable to grasp it. In other words, the realm of Emptiness, just as it is, is the world of fulness. Emptiness, just as it is, is Form; Form, just as it is, is Emptiness. When the Zen man expresses this in the language of prajñā-wisdom, he tends to emphasise the negative aspect. Ultimately, however, it is [what Shinran calls] jinen hōni, or naturalness, the meaning that expresses itself naturally when we stop trying to extract meaning from it. Only if you keep your eyes wide open, can you clearly see the real world in which ‘all individual entities are interfused without any hindrances (jiji muge),’ ‘all phenomena reflect one another endlessly, layer after layer’ and ‘everything is working as freely as a wheel turning smoothly on the road.’

View over countryside

Chōsha’s words, ‘First I drift off with the fragrance of grasses, then turn to follow the falling blossom,’ can be said to be drawn from ‘Emptiness, just as it is, is Form’. It is characteristic of Zen to make use of actual objects and events from the real world and to eschew the use of abstract terms such as ‘Emptiness’ and ‘Form’ , ‘real’ and ‘absolute’, ‘one’ and ‘many’. Reference to jinen hōni (naturalness, or things just as they are) allows us to sense the infinite, wondrous working of truth far beyond our capacity to express in words. Setchō then goes on to speak of the ‘lean crane’ and so on. This couplet is particularly refined and stands in stark contrast to Chōsha’s preceding image of fragrant grasses and falling blossom. The lean crane is starving, perched on the branch of a shrivelled tree in a winter setting. Complementing this is a monkey gone mad sitting shrieking on a block of stone. Both of these desolate images, in contrast to the calm spring air, make us feel sad to the depths of our being.

Whereas Chōsha’s words depict the world of Form, Setchō tries to describe the realm of Emptiness that negates and silences all things. Expressed here in these verses is the wondrous working of the truth, in which non-being is being and being is non-being, where Emptiness, just as it is, is Form and Form, just as it is, is Emptiness. All this Setchō tries to express in the words, ‘Chōsha’s mind knows no limits!’ But Setchō knows full well that even such a statement as this cannot sufficiently convey everything that there is to be said about ‘Chōsha’s mind knows no limits!’ All he can do here is to say ‘Cough, cough!’ Hence, Setchō’s words, ‘Chōsha’s mind is without bounds! Cough, cough!’ Herein lies the essence of Zen. All words of explanation are superfluous.


The contrast between anjin, or ‘peaceful awareness’ in the Zen Buddhist sense above and anjin in the Shin Buddhist sense would provide an intriguing topic for research. Zen is traditionally built upon a foundation of Chinese literature, culture, and philosophy. To the Japanese mind, however, the passage cited above would seem somewhat too imaginative and poetic in expression. Things are different in Shin Buddhism. Shin Buddhism has its origins in Japan and is in tune with the psychology of the Japanese people. It could be said that the Japanese people feel more at home with Shin Buddhism.

It cannot be denied that when Shin Buddhism first began in the Kamakura period, it was strongly influenced by Chinese Buddhism. Some two hundred years later, however, during the time of Rennyo Shōnin, it became thoroughly Japanised and began to flourish on its own terms on home soil. Although Rennyo Shōnin’s version of Shin Buddhism owes a great deal to Shinran’s Kyōgyōshinshō, there is no disputing the fact that his new form of Buddhism was more suited to the needs of the masses. Since we know for a fact that Rennyo Shōnin carried out his own research into the Tannishō, he was doubtless able to grasp the true meaning of what the founder, Shinran Shōnin, had wished to convey. Subsequently Shin Buddhism underwent a further progress of evolution during the Meiji period. Today once again it would appear to be undergoing yet another phase of development. Whether or not you see today’s Shin Buddhism in this light, however, will depend on your own personal standpoint.

Country lane

The myōkōnin, Asahara Saichi, spent his entire life in Yunotsu, a small village in Iwami province, but the Shin Buddhist type of anjin that he arrived at is truly remarkable. Where exactly true Shin Buddhist anjin lies is something that this writer is not completely sure about, but as far as traditional Shin Buddhist anjin goes it is possible that on certain counts he might be considered to be i-anjin, or off the mark. As for me, however, I am not inclined to draw up any hard and fast definition of anjin, whereby one form might be judged genuine and another false. I would prefer a much more elastic, free form of peaceful awareness in which the living, breathing anjin can be clearly seen. In either case, I am highly sympathetic to Saichi’s form of anjin. One day, while fashioning a wooden clog or geta, Saichi wrote down his feelings, just as they came to him, on a piece of wood originally intended perhaps as a support for the geta:

Worried over this, worried over that—

That heavy burden has been taken away from me.

Ever since the burden was taken away,

How perfectly at peace I am.

Reading this poem reminds me of Bodhidharma’s declaration to Eka: ‘On your behalf I have already bestowed on you peaceful awareness.’ Without this special element in religion, shinjin (Shin Buddhist faith) or satori (Zen enlightenment) would not be possible. Saichi also has a poem that goes:

The morning sun, a sunny spot, a tobacco rest;

Having a rest on the way to the mountain, a very good tobacco rest,

How peaceful it is to have a tobacco rest sitting down [on a stone].

Well, well, time to go back, time to go back.

Returning home, with lightness of step,

Thinking it is to Amida’s country that I am returning.

Namu-Amida-butsu, Namu-Amida-butsu.

This poem is an interesting one. If we place it alongside Chōsha’s poem, ‘going out into the fragrant grasses, and returning with the falling blossom’ and compare the two, we see them to be more or less in step with one another. I do not know what kind of garb a Zen man of that period would have worn, though of course it would have been the standard robe of a Buddhist monk, accompanied perhaps by a long walking stick. A thousand years later, in western Japan, we come across our hero, a geta-maker living in a small house facing the Japan Sea, walking home joyfully and merrily in a patched and well-worn coat, maybe, with a kiseru (Japanese tobacco pipe) clamped in his mouth. This is the image that rises to my mind.

There is yet another poem that describes Saichi in his element, in his ‘as-he-is-ness’, that goes:

‘O Saichi, are you happy, are you counting your blessings?’

When it is a day to count my blessings, I count my blessings,

When there is nothing special, there is nothing special.

‘O Saichi, when there is nothing special, what do you do with yourself?’

Then, there is nothing I can do:

All the same it is ‘Namu-Amida-butsu’ up and down and all around.

Today, tomorrow, every day that dawns, hello! and hello again!


Standing Amida Buddha, Japan

Shin Buddhism is tariki (Other Power), Zen is jiriki (self-power), or so it is generally assumed, but that is rather a superficial observation. At bottom, when you really get down to it, there is no jiriki and no tariki. Or you might say that both are jiriki and both are tariki. Zen involves religious practice and kōans and so it is regarded as being more jiriki, but in the final analysis, you actually come to transcend the self. In Shinshū you have Amida Buddha, but even in the case of Amida Buddha’s tariki, it is not possible for Amida Buddha to bestow his compassion on someone for whom there is no cause or condition; even in the case of unconditional love and compassion, there has to be a person who becomes aware that they are the object of that unconditional love. In short, whether something is jiriki or tariki is a moot question.

Zen has various sayings such as, ‘What is your original face?’ or ‘In the heavens above, in this world below, I alone am the Honoured One,’ or ‘Who goes there as Lord and master?’ and it is possible to see these sayings as issuing from jiriki. Yet we must never forget that they actually issue from where there is neither jiriki nor tariki. Again Saichi wrote a poem that makes this perfectly clear:

In Other Power

There is no self-power, no Other Power.

All around is Other Power.

Namu-Amida-butsu, Namu-Amida-butsu.

[K.T. Sato trans.]

The first part, ‘In Other Power there is no self-power, no Other Power’, would seem to be a contradiction in terms; however, this ‘Other Power’ (tariki) [he refers to in the first line of the poem] is absolute tariki. The ‘jiriki (self-power)’ and ‘tariki (Other Power)’ [he negates] in the second line are concepts of an opposing nature and do not originally exist within this absolute tariki. We can say that ‘All around is Other Power’ simply refers to the absolute experience of tariki just as it is. When we reflect on the experience in this way, however, then we conceive another form of tariki. What thoroughly sweeps away this [last vestige of duality] from our minds is Saichi’s Namu-Amida-butsu. Usually, when a person pronounces Namu-Amida-butsu, the Buddha is something external to us, someone to whom we turn our thoughts and whose name we chant. However, the quintessence of Shin Buddhism lies in Namu-Amida-butsu itself. Saichi’s Namu-Amida-butsu is actually Saichi himself becoming Namu-Amida-butsu. In Zen, this would be ‘Chōsha’s boundless mind’ itself. The Name that Saichi chants is the Name chanting itself. This chanting of the Name is neither Saichi nor Namu-Amida-butsu. There is no one chanting, nor is the Name being chanted; neither exists.

Man, unlike animals, goes further from ‘what simply functions (noema, or object of thought)’ to ‘what cognizes (noesis, or intellectual cognition)’; this process is called ‘from what functions to what cognizes’ [in Nishida’s philosophy]. When ‘what functions’ becomes conscious of itself [as an object], then it becomes ‘what cognizes’. When one distinguishes between Namu-Amida-butsu and the self that is aware of Namu-Amida-butsu, then one is already falling into a secondary state of spirituality [that is to say a dualistic way of thinking]. Man, however, is prone to doing just that. This is the reason for Setchō’s ‘Cough, cough!’ ‘Chōsha’s mind is without bounds! / Cough, cough!’ Here, there is jiriki and tariki and, at the same time, no jiriki and no tariki. As Saichi informs us, ‘All around is Other Power’. As humans, it is not possible for us to avoid entertaining this contradiction. Now if you catch it, it will be like catching the Cough of Nembutsu, of which Saichi writes:

When you catch cold, you cough.

Saichi has come down with the cold of Dharma,

The cough of nembutsu keeps coming out, cough, cough.

If the cough of nembutsu does not come out, the willow is not green, nor the flower red. It occurs to us, however, that the willow is green and the flower is red. It is human nature to face this contradiction. The cough of nembutsu does come out. It is the cough of the awakened person.

Philosophers, I am sure, would have much to say on this subject. For now, however, it is not possible to go into any further detail.

Saichi also composed the following poem.

‘O Saichi, to see the Pure Land what do you do?’

‘Yes, it is through the Mirror of Amida that I see the Pure Land’.

‘To see the reality of ki (your self), what do you do?’

‘Yes, it is through the Mirror of Namu that I see the reality of ki.

When I see the Pure Land through these facing mirrors,

I see Namu-Amida-butsu in all its entirety’.

How pleased I am to have been granted this favour,

Namu-Amida-butsu, Namu-Amida-butsu.

With this I go on living in this world.

Namu-Amida-butsu, Namu-Amida-butsu,

Namu-Amida-butsu, Namu-Amida-butsu.

Zen talks of ‘a pair of mirrors facing one another in which nothing is reflected’. In the place where no image dwells there are mountains and rivers, flowers and trees, the world of individual phenomena that go on reflecting one another endlessly, layer after layer. Zen might be a little more rational in this respect, but as far as the subjective inner experience itself goes, both Zen and Shin mutually complement and shed light on one another, and in that place where there is nothing reflected, once again an image emerges.

There is a great deal more that I would like to write about Saichi’s anjin and Zen anjin, but I am afraid that is all the time we have for today. By way of conclusion, I would like to introduce you to another of Saichi’s ‘perfectly at peace’ poems:

What joy [I have received]!

It is the two characters ‘Namu (南無)’ that lead me to entrust myself [to Amida].

Where your heart is filled with joy, there is ‘Namu.’

I, Saichi, am simply working on and on.

Now that you (Amida) have taken away my suffering,

This working body itself is Namu-Amida-butsu.

How easy this is, how joyful this is, how enlightening this is!

Very, very easily, easily and easily again, I live on in this world.

Source: Suzuki Daisetsu Zenshū (SDZ) 20: 392–400.

Photo: Rev. Kemmyo Taira Sato

Historical note: This essay, ‘Anjin: Zen to Shin’, is unusual since it was dictated by the author to Taira Sato (Reverend Kemmyo Taira Sato of the Three Wheels Temple, London), who prepared the final draft at his library, the TMB (The Matsugaoka Bunko), in Kamakura. It was then published in the June 1965 issue of Kokoro (18-6: 2–6), and later compiled in Daisetsu tsurezuregusa, published in December 1966. The Saichi poem on jiriki and tariki translated by Sato Sensei is among several cited in an article by Teramoto Edatsu in a 1922 number of Hōni magazine, called ‘The living myōkōnin Asahara Saichi’. Saichi, 1850–1932, was still alive then. According to Sato Sensei, the original notebook containing this particular poem, however, seems to have been lost when the Teramoto house burned down during the war. In 1943 Fuji Shūsui published a long selection of Saichi’s poems in Daijō sōō no chi [A Land Perfectly Suited for the Mahayana]. Nishitani Keiji brought this book to the attention of D.T. Suzuki who cites a number of Saichi’s poems in his 1944 Nihonteki reisei, later translated as Japanese spirituality, as well as Mysticism: Christian and Buddhist, 1957. The name of Teramoto Edatsu may be familiar to members of the Nishi Hongwanji temples in Hawai‘i, where he served as a kaikyōshi. D.T. Suzuki was also in Hawai‘i in the second half of 1949 and met Teramoto Edatsu and spoke to him about Saichi. It is possible that this is mentioned in Teramoto’s 1952 book on his memories of Asahara Saichi. Considerable research has been done on Saichi, but the field is still relatively new. D.T. Suzuki had an interesting perspective on Saichi because he (D.T. Suzuki) was a man who lived out of sheer religious experience, and was not merely a clever scholar from some famous university like Harvard or Todai. One of the leading authorities on Saichi now is Sato Sensei, who provided the bulk of the information in this note. He is also the actual editor of Myōkōnin Asahara Saichi-shū, published under the name of D.T. Suzuki in 1967.

Categories: Buddhism, Buddhist, Chan / Seon / Zen, Encyclopedia, History

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3 replies

  1. Reblogged this on ГОРСКО ВРЕМЕ and commented:
    Човекът, за разлика от животните, минава от „това, което просто функционира (ноема, или обектът на мисълта)” към „това, което разпознава (ноезис, или интелектуалното познание); този процес се нарича „от това, което функционира, към това, което знае” [във философията на Нишида]. Когато „това, което функционира” стане съзнателно за себе си [като обект], тогава става „това, което знае”’.
    Голямата земя, чиста от всяка прашинка.
    Чии очи не ще се пробудят за нея?
    Първо се отнасям по уханните треви.
    После се връщам да последвам падащия цвят.
    Мършав жерав, кацнал на зимно дърво.
    Дементна маймуна, ридаеща на древен камък.
    Умът на Чоша граници не знае.
    Кашляй! Кашляй!

    • Rough translation:

      Man, unlike animals, going from “what just works (Noema or object of thought)” to “what we recognize (noezis or intellectual knowledge), this process is called” of what works to what we know “[the philosophy of Nishida]. When a “what works” become conscious of itself [the object], then becomes “what knows”. ‘

      Great land, free of any speck of dust.
      Whose eyes will not wake up for it?
      First mess of fragrant herbs.
      Then go back to follow the drop-down colour.
      Skinny crane, perched on a winter tree.
      Demented monkey weeping of ancient stone.
      Chosha mind does not know borders.
      Coughed! Coughed!

  2. Thanks you so much for this post, especially the Shin section. Would love to see more Shin related postings. Thanks again!


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