Sawaki describes Oka Roshi’s one-on-one (dokusan) encounters with students that he overheard while sitting in the adjoining room at the time:
First the monk sitting outside the dokusan room takes out his zagu [a mat for sitting] and spreads it in front of him, bows three times, and then enters the dokusan room. Soon his lips become dry and he feels choked up and words won’t easily come. If it were someone easygoing like me [conducting the dokusan], it wouldn’t be a problem. But with Oka Roshi and that frightening face of his, and on top of that, the way he stares with those deep-set eyes, most people would be scared out of their wits. “Well, what do you want?” Just hearing that in Oka’s voice, there’s not a person who wouldn’t shrink submissively. A monk seeing Oka for dokusan would shrink that much more and his voice would be so faint one could barely hear it.
Then Sawaki gives an example: “‘Tell me what the Great Matter is.’
Roshi, without a moment’s hesitation: ‘Hmm, whose Great Matter?’ Oka’s response is blunt.
‘Well, mine . . .’
‘Yours? If it’s yours alone, does it really matter? Ha, ha, ha.’ I can still hear that laughter. Like the devil spewing his poison.
“I suffered many difficulties in my life since then,” Sawaki goes on to say. “Many times I felt sad. Those times I always hear, ‘Yours? If it is yours alone, does it really matter?’ And that eerie laughter penetrates to the bottom of my ears.”
Kodo Sawaki [1880-1965] was one of the most influential Soto Zen teachers of the 20th century. He was born in Tsu City, Japan.
Arthur Braverman grew up in New York City and became interested in Zen Buddhism in his early twenties. After serving two years in the U.S. Peace Corps in Nigeria, he went to Japan to practice meditation. There he met Kosho Uchiyama and decided to practice at Antaiji in Kyoto studying the writing of Dogen.
From Discovering the True Self, Kodo Sawaki’s Art of Zen Meditation.
Translator: Arthur Braverman
$16.95 | October 20, 2020 | Paperback | 272 pages | ISBN 9781640093775
Counterpoint Press, 2560 Ninth Street, Ste. 318 Berkeley, CA 94710