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Tuesday, April 29, 2008


That's what it said on one of those little light-up signs on wheels with the flashing arrows parked in front of a low slung baby-blue brick building on the road to the Southern Dharma Retreat Center (SDRC) near Asheville, Tennessee, where I led a retreat last weekend. Actually, SDRC is "near Asheville" in much the same was as Tassajara is "near Big Sur." Which is to say it's not really all that near. It takes an hour and some to get there from Asheville up a winding mountain road and then an unpaved single lane driveway that seems to go on forever around a lot of very precarious drop offs. The driveway is shared by some other houses up in them there hills, so at times you have to back up and pull into little tiny, hard-to-see turn-off to let hairy guys in big ol' pick up trucks loaded with firearms pass by. Actually, I didn't get a good look at any of those guys or their trucks. But I did hear gunfire during one of our sittings. And when I passed by that church on the way up I was behind a big red pick-up truck with a bumper sticker that said, "I'm a coon hunter." Raccoons, right? Uh-huh. On the way into SDRC I went over several bridges that spanned a winding waterway called French Broad River. I wondered if it was OK to name a river French Broad River without specifying which French broad it was named after. (By Brad Warner)

Dear Ven. Brad Warner,

Thank you very much for your beautiful report from SDRC. I have enjoyed so much for your beautiful description of the scenery, but at the same time I have so much worried about your dangerous situations in going there.

I have received an Email letter from my disciple Ven. Ingrid Antonijevic from Chile, who asked me to introduce her to you, and so I will write my email letter soon.

With best wishes Gudo Wafu Nishijima


Blogger Ted Biringer said...

Dear Nishijima Roshi,

Thank you for all your effort in sharing the Buddha-Dharma.

I look forward to reading your new translation of MMK (with ven.Brad).

I would like to ask a question. Please do not take time away from your important work. Only answer when you ever have some time to spare. Thank you.

My question is about Master Dogen's teachings about Zen stories (that some people call koans).

In his records when he talks about these stories he often urges us to "Master these words" and "Learn in Practice" and even says things like "we should replace our liver and our heart with these words" and "painstakingly examine these words hundred and thousands of times."

In some places he even seems to suggest that we consider these stories in "Zazen" or "non-thinking" like in the following passage from your wonderful translation of Shobogenzo (with Chodo Cross):

"...if we consider [the story] by utilizing not thinking, and by utilizing non-thinking, effort on the cushion with Old [Master] Kyogen will naturally be present. Once we are already sitting, in the mountain-still state, upon the same round cushion as Old Kyogen, we will be able to understand this story in detail even before Kyogen opens his mouth."
Shobogenzo, Soshi-Sairai-No-I, Nishijima Roshi & Chodo Cross

In this passage, and other similar passages, is Master Dogen suggesting that we take up these stories in Zazen? Or do we "make effort on the cushion" and "consider the story with non-thinking" in some other way besides Zazen?

Please do not take time out to respond until you can.

Thank you again for all you do, and have done to share the Buddha-Dharma


7:10 PM, May 03, 2008  
Blogger GUDO NISHIJIMA said...

Dear ted bringer San,

Thank you very much for your important question of the rlation between practicing Zazen and Koan stories.

In my opinion I separate practicing Zazen and Koan stories perfectly.

Because the practice of Zazen is action, which intends to transcend both intellectual consideration and sense perception relying upon the action of sitting in Zazen.

But in the case of Koan it is a traditional story, which indicates the meaning of fundamental Buddhist stories,
which are suitable to explain the common stucture of Buddhist four philosophies, that is, idealism, materialism, the philosophy of action, and Reality itself, or Duhkha-satya, Samudaya-satya, Nirodha-satya, and Nirvana itself.

Therefore we can think that Zazen is a practice of action, which transcends consideration and perception, but in the case of Koan, it is a story, which indicates a concrete example of conversations, which manifest real structure of four philosophies in Buddhism.

In other words Zazen is a just action to experience Reality itself, but in the case of Koan, it is a story, which is used to think about the meaning of four philosophies to understand Buddhist philosophical structure.

So we should think that Zazen and Koan are fundamentally different in their philosophical dimensions.

Gudo Wafu Nishijima

12:44 PM, May 05, 2008  
Blogger Ted Biringer said...

Dear Nishijima Roshi,

Thank you very much for taking the time to respond to my long question.

I think I understand your opinion on the differnece between Zazen and koan stories.

Please forgive my rudeness in asking for a little more of your time. But I am still unclear about what Master Dogen means in the passage where he says we should "consider [the story] by utilizing not thinking, and by utilizing non-thinking..."

Since Master Dogen said "non-thinking" is the "essential art of Zazen" How does he want us to "consider the story by utilizing non-thinking" if not in Zazen?

Is there some other way to "utilize non-thinking" besides Zazen?

I am sorry to take up your time. Please do not bother to answer if you are too busy. I will understand.

Thank you for everything.
Please take good care of yourself.
Ted Biringer

4:16 PM, May 05, 2008  
Blogger Barry said...

Dear Roshi,

i have a question stemming forth from zazen.
when just sitting without any focusing or goal, merely paying attention to present moment as i understand dogens instruction, i notice many mental formations rise and fall. sometimes these can be quite dramatic, other times fairly boring.
to come back to "think not thinking" requires a turning away from the mental formations and tension is produced from the force of turning away. i wonder if this force of turning away from the mental formations is right effort as it produces a tension. other practices i have experimented with such as counting the breath, naming the thoughts or watching the mental formations without effort to change them seem to relax, rather than produce the tension.
is it right effort to turn away from thought?
is it a waste of zazen to watch effortlessly the mental formations?
in appreciation,

6:20 AM, May 06, 2008  
Blogger Brad Warner said...

Nishijima Sensei,

Thank you for your concern. Actually the drive to the retreat center was less dangerous than I made it sound. I wanted my writing to be more interesting so I made it a little dramatic. The only real danger was that my car might have become stuck in the road.


9:02 AM, May 06, 2008  
Blogger GUDO NISHIJIMA said...

Dear Ted Biringer San,

I would like to answer to your second question.

The meaning of Master Dogen's words "consider the story by utilizing non-thinking" suggests that "we should grasp the realistic facts in the story, not intellectually, but realistically by

Gudo Wafu Nishijima

12:36 PM, May 06, 2008  
Blogger GUDO NISHIJIMA said...

Dear Barry San,

Thank you very much for your question.

When you are practicing Zazen, it is not necessary for you to think about anything, or perceive anything at all, but keep the spine straight virtically.

If you are not sincere for you to keep your spine straight virtically, it is impossible for you to concentrate your body and mind into your action, that is, sitting.

When we practice Zazen, we should think the three kinds of areas, that is, consideration, perception, and action.

Zazen should avoid both consideration and perception, but the efforts should be concentrated into action, that is, to keep the spine virtically.

Gudo Wafu Nishijima

Dear Brad San,

Thank you very much for your kindness, and I understand your beautiful literal expression well.

Gudo Wafu Nishijima

1:38 PM, May 06, 2008  
Blogger Barry said...

Dear Roshi,

Thank you for kindly answering my question.
I understand it to be to come back to concentration in the action in the moment of sitting, of standing, of eating, of writting, etc, and not to bother with philosophical concerns about the moment itself.
Thanks once again for pointing us back to the reality of this moment.

2:30 PM, May 06, 2008  
Blogger Ted Biringer said...

Dear Nishijima Roshi,

Thank you for sharing your opinion.

Please take good care of yourself.

Ted Biringer

6:05 PM, May 07, 2008  
Blogger Harry said...

Dear Roshi,

A question about action and effortlessness:

Zazen can clearly be described as an action due to the fact that we must expend effort to defy the pull of gravity and keep our bodies erect away from the earth. Yet Master Dogen refers to 'effortlessness' in the action of Zazen. Is this effortlessness in Zazen which Master Dogen refers to a state beyond the physical effort involved in Zazen?

Can we compare such an effortless state to functions of the body such as the beating of the heart? We do not will our hearts to beat with our conscious intellect or body and yet this important, life-sustaining action is performed.

From another point of view: may we come to see effort and effortless as not separate?

Many thanks and regards,


9:41 PM, May 07, 2008  
Blogger Lauren said...

Dear Nishijima-Roshi

I have just begun to practice zazen. I have been bothered by how my vision reacts when sitting. After a few minutes of non-movement and very little blinking, what I see becomes dark, or odd patterns appear.

These do no worry me (when eyes are still such things occur), but I wonder if these odd 'pictures' distract from my zazen or lessen its quality.

If I move my eyes even a little, the 'picture' is normal.

If I understand your advice to Barry-san (above), perception is not an important focus in zazen, so the strange 'pictures' my eyes see are no problem.

Is this correct?

Also, I find if I visually focus on some small part of the wall in front of me, it helps to keep me non-thining (except, of course, of the spot on the wall). Is such focuc good for zazen, or should I relax all visual focus?

Okage-sama de,
Lauren (Rōren) Crane.

8:01 AM, May 12, 2008  
Blogger GUDO NISHIJIMA said...

Dear Harry San,

Thank you very much for your imporant question.

When we think about our human action, is there any kind of action, which does not need any kind of efforts?

In the case of Zazen, it is the easiest posture for us to keep our spine straight vertically.

Therefore I think that the use of the word "effortless" might be the cause of misunderstanding.

People usually think that many kinds of religions should be ascetic. But in the case of Buddhism, such a kind of prejudice is wrong.

I think that the word "effortless" should be understood as "natural, or regularly."

Gudo Wafu Nishijima

Dear Lauren Crane San,

Thank you very much for your sincere question, and I think that it is not necessary for you to worry about what you look at in practicing Zazen.

If you continue the practice of Zazen for several days two times a day, I think that you will forget such a kind of problems vanish soon.

Gudo Wafu Nishijima

2:54 PM, May 18, 2008  
Blogger Harry said...

Dear Roshi,

I think that 'effort' in Zazen is an interesting area as when we sit we may be making a physical effort (especially if our bodies are not accustomed to sitting on the ground) and yet after some time we may not entirely consider it an 'effort' in the way we normally do consider some physical actions.

Yes, maybe we come to experience Zazen as "natural" and 'regular'.



8:56 AM, May 19, 2008  
Blogger Barry said...

Dear Nishijima Roshi and Sangha,
This discussion regarding effort and zazen and koans and Brad's trip have been illuminating. Thank you all for such clarity. We are stripping away the veil and looking past the finger. And it matters not who redeems who for the "curse of the law" is nothing more or less than the conditions of this moment.
In participation,

2:29 PM, May 19, 2008  
Blogger Harry said...

Dear Roshi,

In the West, from various Buddhist sources, we hear a lot about "mindfulness". It is widely considered a Buddhist practice to strive to attend to our daily tasks with an unbroken attention, which may be similar to the 'one-pointedness' developed in certain types of meditation.

What is your view on this type of practice?

Thank-you & Regards,


10:32 PM, May 23, 2008  
Blogger GUDO NISHIJIMA said...

Dear Barry San,

Actually speaking, I wonder whether it is valuable for us only to participate something, or not.

Gudo Wafu Nishijima

Dear Ven. Hanrei San,

Thank you very much for you indicating the dangerous situation of concept "mindfulness."

I think that the word "mindfulness" means the state of our mind, which is very careful to mental function.

Therefore the word "mindfulness" might be a word, which is much related with idealistic philosophy.

However recently many so-called Buddhist teachers insist the importance of "mindfulness." But such a kind of attitudes might be insistence that buddhism might be a kind of idealistic philosophy.

Therefore actually speaking I am much afraid that Buddhism is misunderstood as if it was a kind of idealistic philosophy.

However we should never forget that Buddhism is not an idealistic philosophy, and so if someone in Buddhism reveres mindfulness, we should clearly recognize that he or she can never a Buddhist at all.

Gudo Wafu Nishijima

1:49 PM, May 24, 2008  
Blogger Ted Biringer said...

Dear Nishijima Roshi,

I hope all is well with you.

I saw your recent post concerning "mindfulness" and I wonder if you think that Master Dogen might have been teaching a dangerous teaching in the Shobogenzo when he teaches about mindfulness. For example, in the Shobogenzo chapter "On the 37 Methods of Practice and Realization" in Master Dogen's teaching on "The Noble Eightfold Path" he says:

"Remember, “You have gotten what my Skin and Flesh, Bones and Marrow are” is Right Mindfulness."

In the same chapter Master Dogen also says:

"The root of life of all humans on this great earth is the root of mindfulness, and the root of life of all the Buddhas in the ten quarters is the root of mindfulness."

And in the Shobogenzo chapter "On the Eight Realizations of a Great One" Master Dogen teaches

"The fifth is ‘not neglecting mindfulness’. He also called it ‘keeping to Right
Mindfulness’. What He called ‘keeping to the Dharma without losing sight of It’
means keeping to Right Mindfulness. It is also called ‘not forgetting to be
mindful’. As the Buddha said:
O you monks, seek fine understanding, search out good
assistance, and do not neglect mindfulness. If you are one who does not neglect mindfulness, the thieves of passional defilement will not be able to enter. Therefore, you monks, always keep your minds alert, for the one who loses his mindfulness loses his merits and virtues. When the strength of your mindfulness is constant and vigorous, though the five desires would break in to rob you, they will do you no harm. You will be as one who puts on armor before entering a battle and will have nothing to fear. This is what I call ‘not neglecting mindfulness’."

Thank you for your hard work and time.

Please treasure yourself,

6:59 PM, May 24, 2008  
Blogger Barry said...

dear Roshi,

Sorry, i did not mean to waste words. I will be more prudent.
Regarding mindfulness, do you meant that it is idealistic philosophy to be very attentive to mental process?


4:54 AM, May 25, 2008  
Blogger Alphonzen said...

Dear Nishijima Roshi,

Thankyou for transmitting the teachings of Dogen via your internet blog. I am very happy that the truth of the universe is being taught.

I would like to ask; Do you think that zazen could be used as a therapetic tool for those with psychological illness?

To me it seems that much of psychological illnesses have emphasis on idealistic thinking so do you think balance of autonomic system, could help people become more normalised?

I've experienced that my personality has changed from being shy/nervous/introverted to more open/extroverted and balanced.
I am more in touch with the world and so feel more balanced and happy.
So I am thinking that maybe zazen could help people with more serious problems?


9:29 PM, July 25, 2008  
Blogger Al said...

Master Nishijima,

I have a question, but I'm posting it here even though it is unrelated to the above question.

Is Zazen essentially just concentrating on maintaining the correct posture with the spine while sitting in the lotus position?

12:03 AM, July 28, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

for someone who had many abuse experiences in the past.. from childhood & till few years ago.. struggling with feelings like revenge, hate & sometimes low self-worth

i know that Zen is not a therapy but a way of life .. how can Zen help getting over this, understanding it generally & through "emptiness & nothingness"

thanx Mr. Gudo Nishijima & from me all the respect

1:00 AM, September 13, 2008  
Blogger GUDO NISHIJIMA said...

Dear ZenDervish San,

Thank you very much for your important question.

Zazen is a physical and mental training of body and mind. By keeping our posture regular we can keep our autonomic nervous system balanced. Then both idealistic thoughts and materialistic physical condition will vanish inmmediately, and then we can act directly in our action of daily life.

Gudo Wafu Nishijima

2:00 PM, September 15, 2008  
Blogger Adrien said...

Hello master Gudo Nishijima,

i have found this on the wikipedia website :

Muho Noelke, the abbot of Antaiji, explains the pitfalls of consciously seeking mindfulness.

We should always try to be active coming out of samadhi. For this, we have to forget things like "I should be mindful of this or that". If you are mindful, you are already creating a separation ("I - am - mindful - of - ...."). Don't be mindful, please! When you walk, just walk. Let the walk walk. Let the talk talk (Dogen Zenji says: "When we open our mouths, it is filled with Dharma"). Let the eating eat, the sitting sit, the work work. Let sleep sleep.[15]


I don't know if it is only in the West but here in the West there are all sort of things like that and you are right that it is a big danger because from my personal experience i fell deep into the trap of always checking myself. And i thought it was mindfulness. Like a paranoia. You suggest to use the word consciousness instead, but i'm afraid any word can be misunderstood (even though consciousness fells lighter than mindfulness). One could go around and think all the time "I am conscious of this, I am conscious of that etc." or even "I have to be conscious" etc.

I know the same danger can happen with any little phrases, for example: "be present". Again, if it is associated with "I have to be present" or with any kind of "checking if i am present" it can be more trouble than nothing at all.

Thank you very much for your post, it helps me very much and it removes a lot of confusion and separation from my mind.


10:35 AM, March 12, 2010  
Blogger Adrien said...

Great Master Gudo Nishijima,

maybe would it be beneficial to share this quote from Chogyam Trungpa, which is related to your post about the danger of mindfulness.

May it be beneficial, posted or not, and by posting it to you it already makes good to me. Thank you.



"Openness and awareness is a state of not manufacturing anything else; it is just being. And there is a misunderstanding,...which regards awareness as an enormous effort -- as if you were trying to become a certain unusual and special species of animal. You think now you're known as a meditator, so now you should proceed in a certain special way, and that way you will become a full-fledged meditator. That is the wrong attitude. One doesn't try to hold oneself in the state of meditation, the state of awareness. One doesn't try painfully to stick to it."

Page 118, in "From Raw Eggs to Stepping-Stones" in THE PATH IS THE GOAL: A BASIC HANDBOOK OF BUDDHIST MEDITATION. by Chogyam Trungpa.

5:43 AM, March 14, 2010  
Blogger Ted Biringer said...

I would like to thank you Adrien for the recent contributions. This may help to clarify:
In note 25 of Sanjushichi-bon-bodai-bunpo, Nishijima Roshi’s view of “mindfulness” is partly explained:
In Nishijima Roshi’s interpretation, “mindfulness” in zazen means consciousness of reality, which is centered on keeping the spine straight.
Sanjushichi-bon-bodai-bunpo, Gudo Nishijima & Chodo Cross
Here are a few samples of Nishijima Roshi’s use of “mindfulness” as used by Master Dogen:
“The bhikṣu’s “secretly working concrete mind”25 at this moment is, in the state of bowing in veneration of real dharmas, prajna itself—whether or not (real dharmas) are without appearance and disappearance—and this is a “venerative bow” itself.
(Note 25) Setsu-sa-ze-nen. In the sutra, these characters literally mean “secretly made this thought.” But sa,“make,” also means “to act,” or “to function”; ze, “this,” also means “concrete”; and nen, “thought,” or “image in the mind,” also means “mindfulness,” or “state of mind.”
Maka-hannya-haramitsu,Gudo Nishijima & Chodo Cross

The Four Abodes of Mindfulness

The first is the reflection that the body is not pure. The second is the reflection that feeling is suffering. The third is the reflection that mind is without constancy. The fourth is the reflection that dharmas are without self…
So all buddhas and bodhisattvas have regarded these four abodes of mindfulness as a sacred womb. Remember, they are the sacred womb of (bodhisattvas of) balanced awareness and the sacred womb of (bodhisattvas of) fine awareness. (The Buddha) has spoken of “all buddhas and bodhisattvas,” and so (the four abodes) may not stop at fine awareness. Even buddhas regard them as a sacred womb. And bodhisattvas who have sprung free from states prior to balanced awareness or beyond subtle awareness also regard these four abodes of mindfulness as a sacred womb. Truly, the skin, flesh, bones, and marrow of the buddhas and the patriarchs are nothing other than the four abodes of mindfulness.
Sanjushichi-bon-bodai-bunpo, Gudo Nishijima & Chodo Cross

Here is one of Master Dogen’s explanations of “right mindfulness”:
Not to lose mindfulness. (It is also called “to keep right mindfulness.” To keep the Dharma and not to lose it is called “right mindfulness” and is also called “not to lose mindfulness.”
Hachi-dainingaku, Gudo Nishijima & Chodo Cross
In Master Dogen’s list of "Gates of Dharma" (Ippyakuhachi-homyomon) translated by Gudo Nishijima and Mike Cross, the importance of “mindfulness” is asserted in 13 of the 108 “Gates of Dharma,” 8,9,10,11,12,13,52,53,54,60,65,68,81
See Ippyakuhachi-homyomon, Gudo Nishijima & Chodo (Mike) Cross
I hope this is helpful.

6:14 PM, March 15, 2010  
Blogger Barry said...

Mindfulness without Reality is like a fish without water
if one asks "what is reality" one is looking beyond the horizon and will lose the source of the breath.
Do not be mislead by "other doctrines". Stay with the ocean and let breath be mindful of itself.

11:10 PM, March 16, 2010  
Blogger Adrien said...

Hello, my posts on mindfulness were not supposed to be posted in this post but in this one:


as they are related to mindfulness, danger of mindfulness etc.


6:40 AM, March 23, 2010  

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