When I was young, I went to war as a kamikaze pilot. I had firmly made up my mind to give my life because I wanted to protect my parents, my brothers and sisters and my friends. Other pilots went before me, giving their lives in that final flight. I waited my turn. My turn did not come. The war ended just when I was about to fly. I was devastated, because I could not carry out my commitment to help. I wasn’t able to serve. I felt useless. All my comrades had given their lives and here I was, still alive, to what purpose? After that, again and again, just on the brink of death, my life was miraculously spared.
You too are perfectly protected. It just isn’t obvious to you. You are receiving all the care, protection and guidance and love of all the universe. You just haven’t been able to see it yet, but you will.
Before I started my zen practice, my life was spared over and over again, and yet I couldn’t rejoice in life. I couldn’t appreciate it, not then; I felt only anguish and despair. Those who had died… Was their death in vain? Did they die, and that was it? These questions stayed with me; they took over my mind.
It was during that time that I was fortunate enough to be given an audience with the great master who was to become my teacher, Daiun (Harada Sogaku) Roshi. He told me, the first time I met him, that he understood my suffering. He told me that I could come to be in peace. I had sought to help those of our own country. I still wasn’t able to see beyond the narrow category of my own countrymen. My view was still so very, very limited, but he told me, that first day, that life does not end with the death of this body, that true life does not disperse like a mist, and that by knowing true life you can be at peace.
My teacher told me: ‘You yourself, you are still alive, so that you can forever and ever follow the path of giving. You can steadily for evermore give your life to save others.’ Even with the death of this body, the genuine life continues. There is something that does not die. My teacher told me that if I really wanted to understand the meaning of life, eternal life, that it would take all the determination and effort that I could possibly muster. Without thoroughgoing single-minded determination and effort, you will not be able to know truth; you will not be able to find the solution to your question, your problem; you will not realise truth if your aim is unclear and if your practice is weak. If you continue to think along the lines that you have given all you could possibly give, you won’t make it. You must continue, continue this one doing. He told me, as I tell you today, that your resolve must be absolute, you must be prepared to persevere with single-minded conviction and effort. I knew then that I would carry it through. Will you carry it through?
That is not to say that it was always easy for me. I struggled mightily, as you struggle. But I stuck with the practice — the one single way of practice — and made no excuses for myself. I did not allow my practice to fade out in feelings of discouragement. There were hard times. Even times when I thought I was not going to live through it. But I stayed with the practice, no matter what. And this is what each one of you must do. There were times when I could not breathe, times when all went dark before my eyes, times when I thought I was going to pass out. But even then I refused to give in to my old self-centred patterns of behaviour. I did not try to adjust the practice to do it my way. I stuck with the simple practice that was given to me.
I cannot stress enough to you the absolute importance of sticking to your practice no matter what. No adjustment is required; no calculation is needed. I went through the same thing that you are going through now, so I can tell you from personal experience what you must do. You must give your life to this, and refuse to let anything — any thoughts, ideas, attitudes — get in your way. Your ‘yes’ must be open. Your resolve must be like steel. Even though some people seem to be blessed and joyous, that doesn’t mean that they have true peace of mind, or that you would have true peace of mind in those circumstances, not deeply, not really. So ask yourself: Are you really going to be all right, no matter what?
There is a stone here in the graveyard upon which these words are carved: ‘We were once just as you are now. You will become as we are now.’ How is that? The fact is, everyone passes on. Impermanence is swift. No matter how blessed you may feel in your present circumstances, how easy-going, how secure and pleased you are, you cannot hang on to that world. It will be jerked out from under you. Impermanence is swift. The lining of your present life is death. The problem of life and death is no one else’s problem; it is yours to deal with. And then there are the many desires. You can’t get what you want; it never seems quite right, never enough. Dissatisfaction and frustration seem to surface. There are so very many people who worry about what would seem to be no problem at all. Liberation from suffering. The more you know of this world, the more you see it to be a giant exhibition of suffering. Everywhere you look, you see plenty of examples of misery.
What about you? Have you no pain, no suffering, no worries, no fears? If you honestly think: ‘Hey, not me. I can meet it as it comes, go with the flow. I am not afraid; I can always be at peace,’ then you are fooling yourself, giving yourself license, seeing yourself for what you are not. You are caught up in a ‘self’ notion, clinging to an ego idea. And lost in that ‘self’, you cannot hear the cry or see the tears of others. If you can overlook those tears, you are not a person of great peace of mind.
The depth of truth is bottomless. Your interconnection is bottomless. A single grass in the field is perfect Buddha. How utterly ONE are all things: the grasses, the trees, the great earth, the great sky. All being is born in relation to all things. This is the true self, the perfect self. No matter what, all is goodness. However, because of deluded perception, beings fail to realise their inherent Buddha-nature. Truth is universal and complete. Can you receive and embrace thoroughly this one truth?
There is something urging you to look deeper, something which seeks to be known. Don’t you see it yet? Isn’t it clear yet? You are sitting here because you cannot help but seek truth. The genuine seeks to know itself. Truth is seeking truth. That is why you are here, putting your heart and soul into meditation. Your time of awakening will come. No one is hopeless. Life is not mean. No one is left out. There is no one who is more or less Buddha than any other. True nature is never lost, never hidden from you. It only seems that you have to go looking for it. But you have had long lifetimes of fooling yourself, protecting self-cherishing. When you come to life again, to awakening, it will be so clear that there is no ‘self’ and no ‘other’. There is no opposition; there is just this one reality. What appears as opposition is simply the result of a self-centred view, which is of course an incorrect view. This bad habit and wrong view causes untold suffering for yourself and others. And you will continue to create suffering as you go on living in falsehood. You will continue to experience suffering, fear, a sense of lack, and you will not be helping anybody.
What you think you are, who you think yourself to be is so entirely mistaken. By grasping ‘self’ you obviously fail to see who you really are. You try to hold what cannot possibly be held, for where is there anything fixed? Change is swift. Because you try to hold on, you feel much anxiety; it’s inevitable. In those circumstances, how could you know true satisfaction? Dissatisfied, you look restlessly over here, over there. Your base camp is ‘I, me, mine.’ You grasp it, you seek to rely on it, but you are relying on a phantom. You grasp this phantom-self and ceaselessly try to satisfy it. What lengths we go to, in order to gratify the self! We get what we want for a time and then we lose it, up, down, up and down. We try to rely on our clever thinking. How could there be any true peace of mind? How could you even begin to give to the great universe as you receive? Your compassion could only remain half-baked, locked as you are in ‘I, me, mine’. If you are doing your practice because you have determined to receive life as it is, to come home to life, then you will meet true self.
We human beings rely on our discriminating intellect. How arrogant we are! ‘This is mine; this is what I deserve; credit should come here; this is the way it should be.’ We compare and contrast, and in so doing shrink our world to something very small. We get so down on ourselves, feel so very sorry for ourselves. Or, in turn, we are proud of ourselves. We wonder why the world doesn’t turn as we think it should. We become so dark and down, and then we joke in order to cover our insecurities. Lost in ‘self’ we can’t help wondering: ‘Where is the value of this, what am I doing this for?’ We wonder if there is any meaning in what we are doing.
What about you? Are you clear, crystal clear about what you are doing? What are you living for? Birth, ageing, illness and death come quick. Your world as you know it, is pulled out from under you in a flash.
It seems like no time at all since I first met my teacher, Daiun Roshi. I could only judge the world then by my own deeply held beliefs. To see the beauty, we have to break through such beliefs. Some fifty-five years have flashed by since then. And now, here, the universe is embraced in the One. I can assure you that all is well. All eternity is now, here. Bold, clear, dignified. Now, here, it is so vivid, so alive, so filled with joy, and waiting for you to see it. ‘I will do whatever I can to benefit others.’ This is just life as it is, naturally. Please, please see it: everything is alive. Great, greatly alive. This is the happiness of all happiness. And this ‘now here’ can never be destroyed. The light of your eternal life is shining brightly, now. What joy there is in this radiance!
Please, take care of yourself, your shining Buddha-self. Become for evermore able to appreciate your Buddha-self. That is not to say you become arrogant. There is no one to feel small, no one to be made small, no one to feel superior, no one toward whom you could feel superior. Who are you to feel vain and proud when your very source is all being? You are supported, you are nurtured, you are guarded by all being. Thanks to all being, together, one, is the universe. This breath is breathed, so close, always one, always together. Please never forsake the limitless treasure which is you yourself. Be in touch, simply do not look away. Grasp nothing, hold nothing. There is just now, here, fresh, new, alive. Just do your practice with good grace.
Teisho given by Harada Tangen Roshi in the year 2000
Calligraphy by Harada Tangen Roshi.