Enlightenment Experience, Mr. P. K., An American Ex-Businessman, Age 46

This is one of eight contemporary enlightenment experiences of Japanese and Westerners, from the book: The Three Pillars of Zen, by Philip Kapleau

DIARY EXTRACTS

New York. April 1, 1953 / ... Belly aching all week, Doc says ulcers are getting worse. ... Allergies kicking up too. ... Can't sleep without drugs. ... So miserable wish I had the guts to end it all.

April 20, 1953 / Attended S-`s Zen lecture today. As usual, could make little sense out of it. ... Why do I go on with these lectures? Can I ever get satori1 listening to philosophic explanations of prajna and karuna2 and why A isn't A and all the rest of that? What the hell is satori anyway? Even after four of S-'s books and dozens of his lectures, still don't know. I must be awfully stupid. ... But I know this, Zen philosophy isn't ridding me of my pain or restlessness or that damn "nothing" feeling. ... Only last week a close friend complained: "You're forever spouting Zen philosophy, but you've hardly become more serene or considerate since you've begun studying it. If anything, it's made you supercilious and condescending. ...

June 1, 1953 / Talked with K- about Zen and Japan until two this morning. ... Like S- he's Japanese and has practiced Zen but they have little else in common. ... Before meeting K- I imagined that people with satori all functioned like S-, now I see satori's not so simple, it apparently has many facets and levels. ... Why am I hung up on satori? ...

Pelted K- all night with: "If I go to Japan to train in Zen, can you assure me I'll be able to find some meaning in life? Will I absolutely get rid of my ulcers and allergies and sleeplessness? My two years of attending Zen lectures in New York have neither mitigated my constant frustration nor, if I'm to believe my friends, lessened my intellectual conceit."

K- kept repeating: "Zen's not philosophy, it's a healthy way to live! ... If you really want to learn Buddhism in Japan and not just talk about it, your whole life will be transformed. It won't be easy, but you can rely on this: once you enter upon the Buddha's Way with sincerity and zeal, Bodhisattvas will spring up everywhere to help you. But you must have courage and faith, and you must make up your mind to realize the liberating power of your Buddha-nature no matter how much pain and sacrifice it entails. ..." This is the transfusion of courage I've needed.

September 3, 1953 / Quit business, sold apartment furniture and car. ... Friends´ unanimous judgement: "You´re mad throwing up ten thousand a year for pie in the sky!" ... Maybe. Or maybe they're the mad ones, piling up possessions and ulcers and heart disease. ... I suspect some of them may even envy me. ... If I didn't need to, I wouldn't be doing it, of this I'm positive, but I am frightened a little. Hope it's true about life at forty. ... Bought ticket for Japan.

Tokyo, October 6, 1953 / How the features and mood of Japan have changed in seven years! The ghastly rubble and despairing faces have virtually disappeared. ... Good to be back this time as a seeker instead of a carpetbagger with the Occupation. ... Wonder what really brought me back? Was it the dignity of the Japanese, their patient endurance in the face of their untold sufferings that I marveled at? Was it the unearthly silence of Engaku Monastery and the deep peace it engendered within me whenever I strolled through its gardens or beneath its giant cryptomerias? ...

November 1, 1953 / In Kyoto almost a month now. ... P-, the American professor whom I´d met at one of S-'s lectures in New York, is teaching the history of philosophy at a Japanese university. ... He and I have already called on five or six Zen teachers and authorities. ... Talk talk talk! Some of these Zen men are curiously verbose for a teaching that boasts of mind-to-mind transmssion and an abhorrence of concepts. Professor M-, when I reminded him of this, said: "In the beginning you have to utilize concepts to get rid of concepts." That sounds like fighting fire with oil. ... Feeling restless again. All of yesterday toured the curio shops buying art objects. Is this what I returned to Japan for?

November 2, 1953 / Letter arrived today from Nakagawa-roshi, master of Ryutaku Monastery, saying yes, P- and I could spend two days there. ... Will such a trip prove productive? Not if S- and the Zen professors in Kyoto are right: "Zen monasteries are too traditional and authoritarian for modern intellectually-minded people." ... Anyway, it'll be a novel experience to converse with a roshi in English and may turn out a pleasant holiday. ... P-'s wife piled us up with heavy blankets and lots of American groceries. Her Japanese friend says Zen monasteries are notoriously cold and austere. ... What does one do in a monastery anyway? ...

November 3, 1953 / Arrived at monastery at dusk. ... During 6 1/2-hour train trip P- and I busied ourselves framing questions to test the roshi's philosophical knowledge of Zen. "If he has an intellectual grasp of Zen," we decided, "and is not just an old-fashioned religious fanatic, we'll stay the full two days, otherwise let's leave tomorrow." ...

Nakagawa-roshi received us in his simple, unpretentious quarters. ... How young-looking he is, so unlike the bearded patriarch of our imaginings. ... And so cordial and affable, he personally made us hot whipped green tea, delicious and soothing, and even joked with us in surprisingly good English. ... "

Your long train journey must have tired you, would you like to lie down and rest?" ... "No, we're a little tired, but if you don't mind we've prepared a number of questions on Zen we'd like to ask you." ... "If you don't care to rest, the attendant will take you to the main hall where you can sit and meditate until I dispose of some urgent business; afterwards we can talk if you like." ...

"But we've never meditated in our lives, we wouldn't know how to sit cross-legged." ... "You may sit any way you like, but you must not talk. The monk attendant will provide you with sitting cushions and show you where to sit; he will call you when I can see you again." ...

Sat - no, wriggled - wordlessly for two miserable hours in dark hall next to P-. ... Concentration impossible, thoughts chasing each other like a pack of monkeys. ... Excruciating pain in legs, back, and neck. ... Desperately want to quit, but if I do before P- does, he'll never stop ragging me, nor will the roshi have a good opinion of American fortitude. ... At last monk came and mercifully whispered: "You may see Roshi now." ... Looked at watch, 9:30. ...

Hobbled into the roshi's room to be greeted with his inscrutable smile and a large bowl of rice with pickles. ... He watched us intently while we gobbled down the food, then benignly asked: "Now what would you like to know about Zen?" ... We're so exhausted that we can only answer weakly: "Not a thing!" ... "Then you'd better go to sleep now because we get up at 3:30 in the morning. ... Pleasant dreams." ...

November 4, 1953 / "Wake up, wake up, it's already 3:45! Didn't you hear the bells and gongs, don't you hear the drums, the chanting? Please hurry." ...

What a weird scene of refined sorcery and idolatry: shaven-headed black-robed monks sitting motionlessly chanting mystic gibberish to the accompaniment of a huge wooden tom-tom emitting otherworldly sounds, while the roshi, like some elegantly gowned witch doctor, is making magic passes and prostrating himself again and again before an altar bristling with idols and images. ... Is this the Zen of Tanka, who tossed a Buddha statue into the fire? Is this the Zen of Rinzai, who shouted "You must kill the Buddha"?3 ... The Kyoto teachers and S- were right after all. ...

After breakfast the roshi led us on an inspection tour of the monastery, set within ai horseshoe ol rolling hills in the quivering silence of a cultivated forest of pine, cedar, and bamboo and graced by an exquisite lotus pond - a veritable Japanese Shangri-la. ... And what a view of Mount Fuji, the majestic sentinel in the sky! ... If only he doesn't mar it all by insisting we bow down before those images in the halls. ...

O my prophetic soul! ... he's brought us into the founder's room and is lighting incense and fervently prostrating himself before a weird statue of Hakuin. ... You too may light incense and pay your respects to Hakuin." ... P- looks at me and I at him, then he explodes: "The old Chinese Zen masters burned or spit on Buddha statues, why do you bow down before them?" ... The roshi looks grave but not angry. "If you want to spit you spit, I prefer to bow." ... We don't spit, but neither do we bow.

November 6, I953 / P- left for Kyoto today, and the roshi invited me to stay on. ... For all his religious fanaticism and unphilosophical mind he's a warm, regular guy and I like him. ... No use fooling myself though, it's going to be rough getting up at 3:30 in the cold, living on a diet of mainly rice, and trying to meditate cross-legged. ... Can I do it? Do I want to? ... Still there's something about all this that's deeply satisfying. ... Anyway, I'm glad he invited me to stay and I´ve accepted. ...

November 8, 1953 / Roshi says I can meditate by myself in founder`s room instead of in the cold zendo. I can sit, kneel Japanese style or use a chair and wear as much clothing as I please if I'm cold. ... Have no idea how to meditate, though. ... When I told Roshi this he cryptically advised: "Put your mind in the bottom of your belly. there's a blind Buddha there, make him see!" ... Is that all there is to meditation? Or is the roshi deliberately letting me stew in my own juice? ... Carefully inspected Hakuin's features today; they're less grotesque, even faintly interesting.

November 10, 1953 / Each morning been climbing the hill back of the main hall for a wide-screen view of Mount Fuji. ... Yesterday skipped my meditation because of a headache and Fuji looked somber and lifeless. ... Today after a couple of hours of good meditation in a chair it's grand and soaring again. A remarkable discovery: I have the power of life and death over Fuji! ...

November 23, 1953 / During tea with Roshi in his room today he suddenly asked me: "How would you like to attend the rohatsu sesshin at Harada-roshi´s monastery? The discipline is especially severe during this sesshin. But he is a famous roshi, a much better teacher for you than I," ... "If you think so, sure, why not?" ... "But my old teacher5, whom you met the other day, is against it: he does not approve of Harada-roshi's harsh methods for inducing satori. A Zen student he thinks should ripen slowly, then like fruit which falls from the tree when ripe, come naturaliy to enlightenment. ... Let me meditate further on it." ...

November 25, 1953 / Two interesting visitors at the monastery this morning, one a master called Yasutani, the other a layman named Yamada, his disciple, who said he'd been practicing Zen for some eight years. Wanted to ask him whether he had satori yet, but decided it might prove embarrassing.

... Asked Yasutani-roshi if he thought I could get satori in one week of sesshin. ... "You can get it in one day of sesshin if you're genuinely determined to and you surrender all your conceptual thinking."

November 27, 1953 / "How is your meditation coming along?" Roshi suddenly asked me today. ... "That Buddha in my belly is hopelessly blind." ... "He is not really blind, he only seems so because he´s sound asleep. ... How would you like to try the koan Mu?" ... "All right, if you think I should, but what do I do with it?" ... "You know its background I suppose. ... " "Yes." ... "Then just keep concentrating on Joshu's answer until you intuitively realize its meaning." ... "Will I then be enlightened?" ... "Yes, if your understanding is not just theoretical." ... "But how do I concentrate?" ... "Put your mind in your hara and focus on nothing but Mu."

November 28, 1953 / Roshi called me into his room this morning, and beckoned me to follow bim to the Iittle altar-shrine in back. ... "Do you see the letter I put into the hands of Kannon? You have become karmically linked with the man who wrote it; let us gassho before Kannon out of gratitude." ... I did a gassho unthinkingly, quickly asked: "What´s the letter say, who wrote it? And what do you mean 'karmically linked'?" ... The roshi, outwardly solemn but inwardly animated, just said; "Come to my room and I will explain." ...

With his usual grace he knelt Japanese style, put the kettle on the charcoal fire for tea, then decisively announced: "I´ve decided to take you to the rohatsu sesshin at Hosshin-ji. This letter has decided me." ... "Tell me what it's all about." ... "Do you remember Yamada-san, the man who came here with Yasutani-roshi the day before yesterday? It's from him. He had a deep satori experience the very day after he left and he tells about it in this letter." ...

"Did you say he got satori? Please translate it for me right now." ... "There isn't any time. Hosshin-ji is far from here on the Japan Sea and we must be ready to leave tomorrow. I will translate it for you on the train." ...

November 29, 1953 / As our third-class train bounced along in the night Roshi slowly, carefully translated Yamadi's tetter. ... What a vivid, stirring experience, and he no monk but a layman! ... "Do you really believe it's possible for me to get satori during this sesshin?" ... "Of course, provided you forget yourself completely." ... "But what is satori anyway? I mean -"

"Stop!" ... Roshi threw up his hand, flashing his inscrutable smile. "When you get it you will know, now no more questions please. Let us do zazen and then try to get some sleep before we come to Hosshin-ji." ...

November 30, 1953 / Arrived hungry and exhausted at Hosshin-ji in late afternoon. ... Skies leaden, air cold and damp. ... But Harada-roshi was cordial and warm, greeting me with outstretched hands. ... Later he introduced me to the assistant roshi and four head monks. ... Though somewhat reticent, they glow with a strong inner flame. ...

Roshi and I retired to the small room we're to share. ... "You'd better get some rest before the battle begins." ... "Battle?" ... "Yes, a battle to the death with the forces of your own ignorance. ... I will call you when everyone assembles in the main hall for final instruction from Harada-roshi, in about an hour." ...

Like lobsters in conclave, Harada-roshi, the assistant roshi, and four head monks in robes of scarlet brocade and arching ceremonial headdress sat on large silk pillows at one end of the hall, while four young monks each with a black-lacquer tray of gold-colored cups stood poised at the other end ready to serve them. Sandwiched between in rows facing each other across the room knelt some fifty grim lay people attired in somber traditional robes. ... Their eyes were glued to the floor in front of them, and none stirred to look at Harada-roshi when he spoke except me. ...

Why's everybody so tense and grim? Why do they all look as though they're steeling themselves for some terrible ordeal? True, Roshi said this would be a battle, but surely that was only a figure of speech - how does one fight his own mind? Isn't Zen wu wei, non-striving? Isn't the all-embracing Buddha-nature our common possession, so why strive to acquire what is already ours? ... Must ask Harada-roshi about this first chance I get. ...

Back in our room Roshi summarized Harada-roshi's instructions: 1) You must not talk or bathe or shave or leave the premises during the week. 2) You must concentrate only on your own practice without diverting your eyes for any reason. 3) You as a beginner have as good a chance as old hands to attain enlightenment at this sesshin. And Roshi added sententiously: "But you must work hard, terribly hard."

DECEMBER 1, 1953 / Raining incessantly, zendo uncomfortably cold and damp. ... Wore long johns and wool shirt and two sweaters and wool robe and two pairs of wool socks but couldn't stop shivering. ... Godo's bellowing and roaring more of a distraction than his wallops with kyosaku. ... Tortured by pain in legs and back ... thoughts racing wildly. ... Flopped from agura to seiza to hanka, manipulating my three cushions in every conceivable way, but couldn't escape pain. ...

At my first dokusan Harada-roshi drew a circle with a dot in the center. "This dot is you and the circle is the cosmos. Actually you embrace the whole cosmos, but because you see yourself as this dot, an isolated fragment, you don't experience the universe as inseparable from yourself. ... You must break out of your self-imprisonment, you must forget philosophy and everything else, you must put your mind in your hara and breathe only Mu in and out. ... The center of the universe is the pit of your belly! ...

Mu is a sword which enables you to cut through your thoughts into the realm that is the source of all thoughts and feelings. ... But Mu is not only a means to enlightenment, it is enlightenment itself. ... Self-realization is not a matter of step-by-step progress but the result of a leap. Until your mind is pure you cannot make this leap." ...

"What do you mean by 'pure'?" ... "Empty of all thoughts." ... "But why is it necessary to struggle for enlightenment if we already have the enlightened Buddha-nature?" ... "Can you show me this enlightened nature of yours?" ... "Well, no, I can't but the sutras say we have it, don't they?" ... "The sutras are not your experience, they are Shakyamuni Buddha's. If you realise your Buddha-mind, you'll be a Buddha yourself."

December 2, 1953 / At 5 a.m. dokusan told Harada-roshi the pain in my legs was agonizing. "I can't go on." ... "Do you want a chair?" He looked at me tauntingly. ... "No, I won't use a chair even if my legs drop off!" ... "Good! With that spirit you're bound to become enlightened." ...

Terrific whack by the kyosaku just when my concentration was beginning to jell and I fell apart ... damn that godo! "Straighten your back, sit firmly, center your energy in your hara!" he yells. But how the devil do I put my energy into my hara? When I try, my back is stabbed with pain. ... Must ask Harada-roshi about this. ...

Throughout the burning of one stick of incense my thoughts've been entwined in the Mokkei6 pictures I saw at the Daitoku-ji exhibition last month. That crane's so haunting, the secret of all existence lies in its eyes. It's self-creating, emerging from formlessness to form. I must reverse the process merging again into formlessness, into non-time. I must die to be reborn. ... Yes, that's the inner meaning of Mu! ...

Clang, clang! the dokusan bell. ... Harada-roshi listened impatiently, then roared: "Don´t think of Mokkei's crane, don't think of form or formlessness or anything else. Think only Mu, that's what you 're here for!"

December 3, 1953 / Pain in legs unbearable. ... Why don't I quit? lt`s imbecilic trying to sit with this gruesome pain and taking these senseless wallops of the kyosaku plus Godo's insane shouting, it's masochism pure and simple. ... Why did I leave Ryutaku-ji, why did I ever leave the United States? ... But I can't quit now, what will I do? I must get satori, I must. ...

What the devil is Mu, what can it be? ... Of course! It's absolute prayer, the Self praying to itself. ... How often as a student had I wanted to pray, but somehow it'd always seemed pointless and even silly to petition God for strength to cope with predicaments which He in his omniscience and omnipotence had allowed to arise in the first place. ...

Tears welling up, how blissful is prayer for its own sake! ... What do these tears mean? They're a sign of my helplessness, a tacit admission that my intellect, my ego, has reached the limit of its power. ... Yes, tears are nature's benediction, her attempt to wash away the grime of ego and soften the harsh outlines of our personalities become arid and tense through an egotistic reliance on the invincibility of reason. ...

... What marvelous insights, I feel so good about them! I know I've progressed! I won't be surprised if satori hits me this very night! Crack! Crack! "Stop dreaming! Only Mu!" roared the godo, walloping me. ...

Dokusan! ... "No, no, no! Didn't I tell you to concentrate simply on Mu? ... Banish these thoughts! ... Satori's not a matter of progress or regress, haven't I told you it's a leap? ... You are to do this and only this: put your mind in the bottom of your belly and inhale and exhale Mu. Is that clear?" ... Why´s he so harsh all of a sudden? ... Even the hawks in the screen behind him have begun to glower at me.

December 4, 1953 / My God, my Buddha, a chair's standing at my place! I am so grateful! ... Roshi came and whispered: ''Harada-roshi ordered the head monk to give you a chair because he felt you would never get satori sitting with a bent back and constantly shifting your position. ... Now you have no obstacles, so concentrate on Mu with all your heart and soul" ... Concentration quickly tightened, thoughts suddenly disappeared. What a marvelous feeling this buoyant emptiness. ...

Suddenly the sun's streaming into the window in front of me! The rain's stopped! It's become warmer! At last the gods are with me! Now I can't miss satori! ... Mu, Mu, Mu! ... Again Roshi leaned over but only to whisper: "You are panting and disturbing the others, try to breathe quietly." ... But I can´t stop. My heart's pumping wildly, I'm trembling from head to toe, tears are streaming down uncontrollably. ... Godo cracks me but I hardly feel it. He whacks my neighbor and I suddenly think: "Why's he so mean, he's hurting him." ... More tears. ... Godo returns and clouts me again and again, shouting: "Empty your mind of every single thought, become like a baby again. Just Mu, Mu! right from your guts!" - crack, crack, crack! ...

Abruptly I lose control of my body and, still conscious, crumple into a heap. ... Roshi and Godo pick me up, carry me to my room and put me to bed. ... I'm still panting and trembling. ... Roshi anxiously peers into my face, asks: "You all right, you want a doctor? ... "No, I am all right I guess." ... "This ever happen to you before?" ... "No, never." ... "I congratulate you!" ... "Why, have I got satori?" ... "No, but I congratulate you just the same." ... Roshi brings me a jug of tea, I drink five cups. ...

No sooner does he leave than all at once I feel my arms and legs and trunk seized by an invisable force and locked in a huge vice which slowly begins closing. ... Spasms of torment like bolts of electricity shoot through me and I writhe in agony. ... I feel as though I´m being made to atone for my own and all mankind's sins. ... Am I dying or becoming enlightened? ... Sweat's streaming from every pore and I have to change my underclothing twice. ... At last I fall into a deep sleep. ...

Awoke to find a bowl of rice and soup and beans next to my sleeping mat. ... Ate ravenously, dressed, entered the zendo. ... Never in my life have I felt so light, opened, and transparent, so thoroughly cleansed and scoured. ... During kinhin didn't walk but bobbed like a cork on water. ... Couldn't resist looking out at the trees and flowers, vivid, dazzling, palpitating with life! ... The wind soughing through the trees was the loveliest of music! ... How deliciously fragrant the fumes of incense! ...

Later at dokusan Harada-roshi said: "Your trembling came because you are beginning to throw off your delusions, it is a good sign. But don't pause for self-congratulation, concentrate harder yet on Mu." ...

December 5, 1953 / ... Am still aglow. ... Satori will hit me any moment now, I know it, I feel it in my marrow. ... Won´t my Zen friends in the United States be envious when I write I have satori! ... Don`t think of satori, you fool, think only of Mu! ... Yes, Mu, Mu, Mu! ... Damn it! I've lost it! ... My excitement about satori has triggered off hundreds of thoughts - which leave me dispirited. ... It´s no use, satori's beyond me. ...

December 6, 1953 / Body tired this morning but mind's sharp and clear. ... Mu'd in monastery garden all night sans sleep. ... miserably cold. ... Stayed up only because at dokusan Harada-roshi had chided: "You'll never get satori unless you develop the strength and determination to do zazen all night. Some of the sitters have been up every single night in zazen." ...

Around midnight prostrated myself before statue of Buddha in main hall and desperately prayed: "O God, O Buddha, please grant me satori and I'll be humble, even bowing willingly before you. ..." But nothing happened, no satori. ... Now I see the Old Fox was hoaxing me, probably trying to pry me loose from my attachment to sleep. ...

Shouting and clouting by Godo and his assistants getting fiercer and fiercer, the din and tumult of the last three nights beyond belief. All but a handful of the fifty-odd sitters have been bellowing "Mu!" continuously during the last half hour while the head monks lambasted them, yelling: "Voice Mu from the bottom of your belly not from the top of your lungs!" ... and later the shrill "Mu-ing" throughout the night in the cemetery and hills, like that of cattle being readied for slaughter. ... I´ll bet it kept the whole countryside awake. ...

This walloping doesn't enliven me one bit. Godo must have clouted me fifteen minutes straight last night, but it produced only a sore back and bitter thoughts. ... Why hadn't I grabbed his stick and given him a dose of his own medicine? Wonder what would have happened if I had. ...

At dokusan told Harada-roshi: "The trouble is I can't forget myself, I'm always aware of myself as subject confronting Mu as object. ... I focus my mind on Mu, and when I can hang onto it I think: 'Good, now you've got it, don't let go.' Then I tell myself: 'No, you mustn't think "Good," you must think only Mu.' So I clench my hands, bear down with every nerve and muscle and eventually something clicks, I know I`ve reached a deeper level of consciousness because no longer am I aware of inside or out, front or back. Exhilarated, I think: 'Now I'm getting close to satori, every thought's vanished, satori'll hit me any moment.` But then I realize I can't be close to satori so long as I'm still thinking of satori. ... So, discouraged, my hold on Mu loosens and Mu's gone again. ...

"Then I have this problem. You've told me to make my mind as barren of preconceptions as an infant's, with no self-will or ego. But how can I be free of ego when the godo beats me furiously and urges me to strive harder and harder and to bear down on Mu? Isn't such purposeful striving on my part an expression of ego? Instead of banishing ego it seems to me I`m bolstering it." ...

'The mind of ego and the mind of Purity are two sides of the same reality. ... Don't think `This is ego,' `This is not ego.' Just concentrate on Mu, that's the way to realize the mind of Purity. ... It's like a man who is starving; he doesn't think I`m hungry, I must get food.' So completely absorbed in his hunger is he that he finds something to eat without pondenng. ... If you self-consciously think, 'I want satori, I must get satori,' you'll never get it. Biut when from the bottom of your heart you have a deep yearning for Self-realization, satori will come if, absorbing yourself wholly in Mu, you concentrate your mind and strength in your hara. ... Mu must occupy your entire mind, resounding in your hara. ... Don't try to anticipate satori, it comes unexpectedly. When your mind is emptied of every thought and image, anything can enlighten it: the human voice, the call of a bird. ... But you must have stronger faith. You must believe you have the capacity to realize your True-nature, and you must believe that what I am telling you is true and will lead to what you seek." ...

Dokusan with the Old Lion's always a shot in the arm. ... So once again charged into Mu, quickly exhausted my energies, and got struck not by satori but by a barrage of thoughts. ... I'm stymied. ... If I push hard I soon tire and my body and mind wilt. But if I don`t dig in, Godo whacks me or else yanks me off my seat and shoves me into dokusan. When I appear before Harada-roshi he asks, "Why do you come when you can't show me Mu?" or else he bawls me out for my half-heartedness. ... Are they trying to drive my thoughts out of my mind or to drive me out of my mind? They're deliberately trying to create an artificial neurosis. ... Why don't I quit?

... Crash, bang! ... the whole zendo is shaking, what's happened? ... Shouldn't have, but turned my head to see. ... The Old Lion has just broken the longest kyosaku in the zendo across the back of Monju's shrine. ... "You're all lazy!" he yells. "You have within your grasp the most precious experience in the world, yet you sit dreaming. Wake up and throw your lives into the struggle, otherwise satori will elude you forever!" ... What strength of spirit, what power in that frail five-foot-three, 84-year-old body!

December 7, 1953 / Too exhausted to sit up with the others last night. Might just as well have, though, their raucous "Mu-ing" throughout the night kept me awake anyway.  ... Roshi says this last day is crucial and not to weaken. ... But my do-or-die spirit's gone, the race is over and I'm just an also-ran. ...

Watched, chagrined and envious, as the three "winners" marched around the zendo, bowed down before Harada-roshi, the assistant roshi, and the head monks to show their reverence and gratitude. ... One of the fortunate had sat next to me. He'd been struck repeatedly and had blubbered all of yesterday and today. ... Evidently he'd been crying from sheer joy when all along I imagined he was in pain.

December 8, 1953 / Together with Nakagawa-roshi had tea with Harada-roshi after sesshin. ... His forbidding sesshin manner's gone, he`s gentle and radiant as the sun. ... After a pleasant chat he invited us to stay for the formal ceremonies that afternoon commemorating the Buddha's enlightenment. ...

... Watched in utter fascination as Harada-roshi, the assistant roshi, and ten senior monks attired in their ceremonial robes again and again prostrated themselves before the Buddha, chanted sutras, tossed their sutra books in the air, beat drums, rang bells, struck gongs, and circumambulated the main hall in a series ot rituals and ceremonies to honor Shakyamuni Buddha and celebrate his immortal enlightenment experience. ... These ceremonies glow with the living Truth which these monks have obviously all experienced in some measure. ... Yes, through these rituals they are reaffiming their link with their great Buddhist tradition, enriching it and allowing it to enrich them so they may extend its chain into the future. ... If I likewise embrace this tradition, I can forge my own link with Buddhism and its tremendous resources for enlightening the human mind. ... Now I know why I tired so quickly of church and synagogue services in the United States. The priests and rabbis and ministers obviously had no intimate experience of the God they preached so glibly about, that's why their sermons and ceremonies were stale and lifeless.

January 9, 1954 / Back in Kyoto, tired, half frozen and sore but inwardly alive. ...

January 20, 1954 / Good to return to Ryutaku-ji. ... In Kyoto, P- and I merely talked Zen with each other and with the professors, here I practice it. ... Though painful, practice is rejuvenating. ... My mind's a swamp of stagnant opinions, theories, impressions, images. I've read and thought too much, experienced without feeling, I need to recover the freshness of my jaded sensibilities, to face myself honestly, nakedly. And this I can best do through zazen in the monastery.

April 8, 1954 / My second Hosshin-ji sesshin is over. ... Harada-roshi said he'd accept me as a disciple if I remain at his monastery as a lay monk. ... "If you can cope with monastery life and gain enlightenment, you'll be master of your life instead of its slave." ... After consultations withi Nakagawa-roshi, decided to stay on indefinitely. ...

October 1, 1956 / ... In just two months three years will have elapsed since I first came to Hosshin-ji. ... So much water has flowed under the stone bridge, or should I say so many stone bridges have flowed over the motionless water? ... Have toiled with the monks in the heat of summer and shivered with them on snowy takuhatsu, felled trees, planted rice, cultivated the gardens, cleaned the outhouses, and worked in the kitchen with them. I've shared their heroic, dedicated moments, joined in their petty intrigues. ...

Sitting sitting sitting one painful sesshin after another, then more zazen morning after morning, night after night and night into morning. ... Dazzling insights and alluring visions have filed through my mind, but true illumination, satori, still eludes me. ... Tangen-san, my wise monk-guide-interpreter-fnend, solemnly assures me that just doing zazen wholeheartedly each day brings greater rewards in serenity, clarity and purity than does a quickly attained satori which is unnurtured by further zazen. ... Is this a consolation prize or another of Zen's paradoxes which needs the personal experience of enlightenment to be understood? ... He insists I've gained in fortitude and purity, though I see little evidence of it. ...

Every one of my allergies has disappeared, my stomach pains me only occasionally, I sleep well. ... The dark fears which formerly haunted me, my cherished dreams and hopes, all these have withered away, leaving me lighter and with a clearer sense of the real. ... But I'm still the hungry dog next to the tank of boiling fat that is satori: I can't taste it and I can't leave it.

November 15,1956 / Is it worth struggling with the cold and sparse diet through another long winter, waiting, waiting, waiting? ... A number of my friends, the older serious monks, will soon be leaving for temples of their own. ... I must find a master whom I can communicate with easily outside the tense atmosphere of the monastery. ... Those same intuitions which once told me I needed to stay at Hosshin-ji now warn me it is time to leave.

November 23, 1956 / Left Hosshin-ji today carrying enough presents and advice to last me a long time. ... The heart-warming farewells have dissipated whatever chill remained from those icy Obama winters.

November 25, 1956 / Nakagawa-roshi took me to Yasutani-roshi. ... "He will be a good teacher for you, he is in Harada-roshi's line, his disciples are chiefly laymen, you need not stay in a monastery but can live in Kamakura and attend his sesshin in the Tokyo area."

December 3, 1956 / Joined my first sesshin at Yasutani-roshi's mountain temple. ... An ideal place for zazen, it nestles high, in the hills away from the noises of the city. ... A scant eight participants, probably because the sesshin's only three days and hard to get to. ... Atmosphere's real homey, the roshi eats with us family style. ... And what a charming twist: the godo's a 68-year-old grandmother, the cook and leader of the chanting a 65-year-old nun, between them they manage the entire sesshin! Each sits like a Buddha and acts like one - gentle, compassionate, and thoroughly aware. ...

What a huge relief not to he driven by a savage kyosaku or verbally belted by the roshi at dokusan. ... The manual work after breakfast is stimulating and the afternoon bath immensely soothing. ... Am completely at ease with Yasutani-roshi. His manner's gentle yet penetrating, he laughs easily and often.

At dokusan he told me: "For enlightenment you must have deep faith. You must profoundly believe what the Buddha and the Patriarchs from their own first-hand experience declared to be true, namely, that everything, ourselves included, intrinsically is Buddha-nature; that like a circle, which can't be added to or subtracted from, this Self-nature lacks nothing, it is complete, perfect. ... Now, why if we have the flawless Buddha-nature are we not aware of it? Why if everything in essence is Wisdom and Purity itself is there so much ignorance and suffering in the world? ... This is the 'doubt-mass' which must be dispersed. ... Only if you deeply believe that the Buddha was neither a fool nor a liar when he affirmed that we are all inherently Whole and Self-sufficient, can you tirelessly probe your heart and mind for the solution to this paradox." ...

"This is what perplexes me no end: Why haven't I attained satori after three years of backbreaking effort when others who have labored neither as long nor as hard have got it? Some I know have come to kensho4 at their very first sesshin with little or no previous zazen." ...

"There have been a few rare souls whose minds were so pure that they could gain genuine enlightenment without zazen. The Sixth Patriarch, Eno, was such a one; he became enlightened the first time he heard the Diamond sutra recited. And Harada-roshi has related the case of a young girl student of his who got kensho during his introductory lectures the very moment he drew a circle and declared the cosmos to be indivisibly One. ... But most have to do zazen tirelessly to win enlightenment. ...

Now, don't feel anxious about satori, for such anxiety can be a real hindrance. ... When you enter the world of enlightenment you take with you, so to speak, the results of all your efforts and this determines the quality of the satori; hence your satori will be wider and deeper by reason of the zazen you have done. ... In most cases a kensho quickly attained is shallow. ... Do zazen with zeal and satori will take care of itself." ...

Another time he instructed me: "Zen Buddhism is based on the highest teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha. ... In India, the very birthplace ot the Buddha, Zen has practically ceased to exist, and as far as we know it is virtually extinct in China, where it was brought from India by Bodhidharma. ... Only in Japan does it still live, though it's declining steadily; today there are probably no more than ten true masters in all Japan, ... This unique teaching must not be lost, it must be transmitted to the West. ... Great minds in the United States and Europe have interested themselves in Buddhism because it appeals not only to the heart but to the intellect as well, Buddhism is an eminently rational religion. ...

"Zen you know from your own experience is not easy, but its rewards are in proportion to its difficulties. ... Remember, Bodhidharma had to suffer hardship after hardship, and both Eisai and Dogen, who brought Zen to Japan from China, had to overcome countless obstacles. ... Everything valuable has a high price. ... It is your destiny to carry Zen to the West. ... Don't quail or quit in spite of the pain and hardships.

July 27, 1958 / August 1 is my D-Day, the start of a one-week summer sesshin, my twentieth with Yasutani-roshi. ... Sat two sesshin this month, one at Yasutani-roshi's temple and one at Ryutaku-ji, besides day and night zazen in my own room, all in preparation for this Big Push. ... My mind has a rare clarity arid incisiveness, I must, I will break through. ... For the first time I'm truly convinced I can.

August 1, 1958 / ... Sesshin's underway! ... Quickly my concentration became strongly pitched. ... Boring into Mu, thinking only Mu, breathing Mu. ...

August 3, 1958 / First two days passed quickly, uneventfully. ...

August 4, 1958 / Reached a white heat today. ... Monitors whacked me time and again. ... Their energetic stick wielding is no longer an annoyance but a spur. ... Raced to the line-up with each clang of the dokusan bell to be first to see the roshi. ... Hardly aware of pain in legs. ... Was so eager to confront him that once or twice charged into his dokusan room without waiting for his signal. ... When he asked me to show him Mu, I spontaneously seized his fan, fanned myself, picked up his handbell, rang it, and then left. ...

At next dokusan he again asked for Mu. Quickly raised my hand as though to smack him. Didn't intend to really hit him, but the roshi, taking no chances, ducked. ... How exhilarating these un-premeditated movements - clean and free. ...

... Animatedly the roshi warned: "You are now facing the last and toughest barrier between you and Self-realization. This is the time one feels, in the words of an ancient master, as though he were a mosquito attacking an iron bowl. But you must bore, bore, bore, tirelessly. ... Come what may, don't let go of Mu. ... Do zazen all night if you feel you may lose Mu in your sleep." ...

"Mu'd" silently in temple garden till clock struck one. ... Rose to exercise stiff, aching legs, staggered into a nearby fence. Suddenly I realized: the fence and I are one formless wood-and-flesh Mu. Of course! ... Vastly energized by this ... pushed on till the 4 a.m. gong.

August 5, 1958 / Didn't intend to tell Roshi of my insight, but as soon as I came before him he demanded: "What happened last night?" ... While I talked, his keen darting eyes X-rayed every inch of me, then slowly he began quizzing me: "Where do you see Mu? ... How do you see Mu? ... When do you see Mu? ... How old is Mu? ... What is the color of Mu? ... What is the sound of Mu? ... How much does Mu weigh?" ...

Some of my answers came quickly, some haltingly. ... Once or twice Roshi smiled, but mostly he listened in serene silence. ... Then he spoke: "There are some roshi who might sanction such a tip-of-the-tongue taste as kensho, but -"

"I wouldn't accept sanction of such a picayune experience even if you wanted to grant it. Have I labored like a mountain these five years only to bring forth this mouse? I'll go on!" ...

"Good! I respect your spirit."

Threw myself into Mu for another nine hours with such utter absorption that I completely vanished. ... I didn't eat breakfast, Mu did. I didn't sweep and wash the floors after breakfast, Mu did. I didn't eat lunch, Mu ate. ... Once or twice ideas of satori started to rear their heads, but Mu promptly chopped them off. ...

Again and again the monitors whacked me, crying: "Victory is yours if you don't relinquish your hold on Mu!" ...

Afternoon dokusan! ... Hawklike, the roshi scrutinized me as I entered his room, walked toward him, prostrated myself, and sat before him with my mind alert and exhilarated. ...

"The universe is One," he began, each word tearing into my mind like a bullet. "The moon of Truth - " All at once the roshi, the room, every single thing disappeared in a dazzling stream of illumination and I felt myself bathed in a delicious, unspeakable delight. ... For a fleeting eternity I was alone - I alone was. ... Then the roshi swam into view. Our eyes met and flowed into each other, and we burst out laughing. ...

"I have it! I know! There is nothing, absolutely nothing. I am everything and everything is nothing!" I exclaimed more to myself than to the roshi, and got up and walked out. ...

At the evening dokusan Roshi again put to me some of the previous questions and added a few new ones: "Where were you born? ... If you had to die right now, what would you do?" ... This time my answers obviously pleased him, for he smiled frequently. But I didn't care, for now I knew. ...

"Although your realization is clear," Roshi explained, "you can expand and deepen it infinitely." ...

'There are degrees of kensho. ... Take two people gazing at a cow, one standing at a distance, the other nearby. The distant one says: 'I know it's a cow, but I'm not sure of its color.' The other says unequivocally; 'I know it's a brown cow.` ...

"Henceforth your approach to koans will be different," the roshi said, and he explained my future mode of practice. ...

Returned to the main hall. ... As I slipped back into my place Grandmother Yamaguchi, our part-time godo, tiptoed over to me and with eyes aglow whispered: "Wonderful, isn't it! I'm so happy for you!" ... I resumed my zazen, laughing, sobbing, and muttering to myself: "It was before me all the time, yet it took me five years to see it." ... A line Tangen-san had once quoted me rang in my ears: "Sometimes even in the driest hole one can find water."

August 9, 1958 / Feel free as a fish swimming in an ocean of cool, clear water after being stuck in a tank of glue. ... And so grateful.

Grateful for everything that has happened to me, grateful to everyone who encouraged and sustained me in spite of my immature personality and stubborn nature.

But mostly I am grateful for my human body, for the privilege as a human being to know this Joy, like no other.














Footnotes:

1 satori: the Japanese term for the experience of enlightenment, i.e,. Self-realization, opening the Mind's eye, awakening to one's True-nature and hence of the nature of all existence, See also "kensho4."

2 Sanskrit words meaning satori-wisdom and compassion, respectively.

3 Eradicating from the mind the notion of a Buddha as opposed to an ordinary being, ridding oneself of the idea that Shakyamuni Buddha is God or a super-being, obliterating the subtle pride which arises from kensho and leads one to think, "Now I 'm a Buddha" – this is killing the Buddha.

"Wash your mouth when you utter the name Buddha!“ is another widely misunderstood Zen expression. It comes from the thirtieth case of Mumonkan in the comment of Mumon: "One who truly understands will cleanse his mouth for three days after uttering the word 'Buddha,' ..." This is not a reference to Shakyamuni Buddha the person but to Buddha-nature or Buddha-mind. Everything is complete and perfect in itself. A stick is a stick, a shovel a shovel. Use a shovel and you know its shovelness in a direct, fundamental way. But describe it as "Buddha" or "Buddha-mind" and you needlessly "sully" it, that is, add to the name "shovel" one more concept.

4 kensho (lit., "seeing into one's own nature"): Semantically, kensho and satori have virtually the same meaning, and they are often used interchangeably. In describing the enlightenment of the Buddha and the Patriarchs, however, it is customary to use the word satori rather than kensho, the term satori implying a deeper cxperience. (The exact Japanese expression for full enlightenment is daigo tettei.) When the word godo (lit., "the way of enlightenment'") is combined with the term "kensho," the latter word becomes more subjective and emphatic.

5 Gempo Yamamoro-roshi, who was retired at the time.

6 A great Chinese Zen monk painter (Mu Ch'i) who lived in the tenth century. Most of his paintings in Japan are national treasures.