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Saturday, May 24, 2008

On Mindfulness

Dear all members of Dogen Sangha International and Dogen Sangha Groups!

This morning I have found a very important question of "Mindfulness," from Ven. Hanrei Banzan, Ireland, and I have wrote my answer to him on the Blog already, but I think that it is very important knowledge about Buddhism, that even though many people, who do not understand Buddhism on the basis of its true meaning, think that the idea of "mindfulness" is very important in understanding Buddhist. But I think that such interpretation includes very dangerous misunderstanding in it. Therefore I have been thinking for many years that we, true Buddhists, should understand the true meaning of "mindfulness," and we should never misunderstand that having "mindfulness" is a kind of True Buddhism. Because we can think that having "mindfulness" might be a concept of idealistic philosophy, and so the isolated reverence of "mindfulness" can never be Buddhist thoughts, but it is only idealistic philosophical thought.

Therefore this morning I have sent my Dogen Sangha Blog to Ven. Hanrei Banzan as follows. And I think that the problem is so important for everyone to understand True Buddhism exactly, and so I would like to send the whole information to you again.

Blogger HezB 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 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

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Dear HezB San

Thank you very much. Gudo Wafu Nishijima

Dear Markis "Uku" Laitinen San,

Thank you very much for your opinion, and I agree with your idea. As you says, the problem is not fundamental but a selection of words. In the next chance I would like to use a word "consciousness."
Gudo Wafu Nishijima

Dear Ven. Cohen Jundo,

I have found the image of my behavior writing calligraphy in my computer, and so I express my thanks. But I do not agree with your idea of mindfulness. It is clearly a mistake in selecting vocabulary. The word "mindfulness" can never indicate the balanced state, and so "mindfulness" can never be Buddhist. When we are doing something, we are always balanced, but never mindful.

Gudo Wafu Nishijima

Dear Rich San,

Thank you very much for your important question. When we are doing something we have to keep our autonomic nervous system balanced. Therefore we should concentrate our body and mind into our action, and so our daily practice of Zazen in the morning and in the evening everyday is important.
Gudo Wafu Nishijima

Dear PhilBob-SquareHead San,

I agree with your idea, and so I am thinking to correct "mindful" and "mindfulness" into "consious" and "consciousness" as soon as possible.

Gudo Wafu Nishijima

Dear jundo cohen San,

Sewing Rakusu, writing calligraphy, and so forth, are all actions, and so those actions are always done in the balanced state of body and mind. Therefore it is difficult for me to agree with your opinion, which you described in your comments.

Gudo Wafu Nishijima


Blogger Harry said...

Dear Roshi,

Thank-you for your clear answer.



12:09 AM, May 25, 2008  
Blogger Uku said...

Dear Ven. Hanrei Banzan,

thank you for your very important post. Respect and love.

Dear Master Nishijima,

thank you very much for your answer to Ven. Banzan's post and for sharing it in your blog's front page.

I agree totally with you. We can clearly see nowadays that practioners and people are so easy to get involved into something that can ease their mental pain. Some are drinking or using drugs; some are involved in philosophies that are giving them Paradise's and Eternal Life's and so on...

We can escape our true nature as long as we want to but if we want to know what is this all about, we have to face ourselves. And zazen can help us in that matter.

We can see clearly that the question of "mindfullness" it's not important at all. It is only a word related to idealistic philosophy like Master Nishijima wrote. It has nothing to do with Buddhism in that context.

Dogen wrote in Shobogenzo: "When you now attempt to practice continuosly the great Way of the Buddhas and ancestors, it is not at all a question of large or small, or bright or stupid. Just always reject fame and fortune and do not be bound by inner or outer conditions."

8:10 AM, May 25, 2008  
Blogger jundo cohen said...

Hello Roshi,

Thank you for your comment. In this film of you writing Japanese calligraphy, you appear to be showing something like being "mindful". Would you please watch the movie here:


One definition of "mindful" is "to be aware of the present moment". But another definition of mindful is "to be aware of one's thoughts, actions or motivations". Maybe in the movie, you are showing the first kind, but not the second kind? Are you being critical of only second kind, or first kind too?

What do you think about "being aware of the present moment" as part of Zen Practice? Are you doing that in the movie? Is that a good thing?

Maybe we cannot be "mindful" every moment of life, but is it good to be mindful sometimes, for example, when writing calligraphy?

Gassho, Jundo

12:11 PM, May 26, 2008  
Blogger jundo cohen said...

I am sorry Roshi and everybody. The film of you writing calligraphy is here I think:


8:14 PM, May 26, 2008  
Blogger Rich said...

Dear Master Nishijima,
I agree with your comments on 'mindfulness'. My question is when you are not sitting zazen and you are performing action, do you have a practice or technique to focus or concentrate on the action so that any thinking does not distract you from the important action to save yourself and others?
Thank you

1:19 AM, May 27, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jundo Cohen,

Maybe you should remove "mindfulness" from your scholarly vernacular.

Of course this is just my opinion in all respect to you Ven. Cohen.

- Philip P.

2:25 PM, May 27, 2008  
Blogger jundo cohen said...

Yes. This subject came up for me again today, because we are beginning to prepare for our "Online Jukai" over at our "Treeleaf" Sangha, and I recalled the Rakusu sewing classes I attended with Nishijima Roshi and Rev. Taijun at his old Dojo ... The emphasis there, much like with Roshi's calligraphy, can only be called "mindful" (meaning "careful, paying attention, in the moment") sewing.

I teach that it is a fallacy and misunderstanding of Zen teachings to think that we should (or can be) "mindful" all the time. I teach that "when mindful of one thing, just be mindful of one thing ... when distracted, overwrought and multi-tasking, just be distracted, overwrought and multi-task." There is a time for everything.

So, I am thinking that Roshi's meaning is not to hold up "mindfulness" as an ideal or slogan. I think Brad said it very nicely when he wrote "Mindfulness is occurring always. We need to get out of its way."

Just sit Zazen, live life ... sometimes paying attention, sometimes not. Anyway, I take it this way. Roshi?

Gassho, Jundo

1:10 PM, May 28, 2008  
Blogger Rich said...

Dear Master Nishijima,
Thank you so much for responding to my question and others.

I appreciate your teaching of sitting zazen in the morning and evening and keeping the autonomic nervous system in balance.

It is a comfort to know that this is enough.

12:52 AM, June 02, 2008  
Blogger Harry said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8:06 AM, June 04, 2008  
Blogger Lauren said...

Dear Nishijima-sensei,

I am studying Shobogenzo with the help of Hanrei-san's blog. But now I am becoming confused about translations. We are looking at Soku-shin-ze-butsu.

In your translation I find "Mind exists as fences and walls; it never gets muddy or wet, and it is never artificially constructed."

In another translation I find "The term shin (‘mind’) implies the walls and fences of discernment before they have been mudded fast with mortar, and before one has fabricated anything or added fixtures."

These translations are so very different in English. The second appears to be saying more, and your translation I find very difficult to "get"(understand) in English, but perhaps the second translation is not as correct as yours. Perhaps the Shobogenzo is difficult to understand.

I do not mean to be rude with this question. Could you tell me something of you decided your style for English translation? Perhaps the other author is adding meaning, feelings, or nuance that are not appropriate?

Okage-sama de,

6:09 AM, June 08, 2008  
Blogger Harry said...

Dear Roshi,

You made an interesting statement on this blog before where you said words to the effect that by sitting Zen the subconscious may 'fly away like a bird'.

Speaking in psychological terms, do you think that 'non-thinking' is an aspect of human consciousness which is common to what is termed both the conscious mind and the subconscious mind?

It seems that thoughts which may previously have occurred on a 'subconscious' level can be directly perceived in Zazen and so the 'subconscious' becomes 'conscious' as we begin to perceive some of the forces which motivate our actions. Or rather the perception which upholds distinct 'conscious'/'subconscious thoughts is seen through. Do you agree with this conclusion?

Psychology has established that there is conscious thinking and that there is subconscious thought, but has it identified Master Dogen's 'non-thinking' thought?

Best Regards,


4:17 AM, August 19, 2008  
Blogger Devon said...

I have spent days being as mindful as I could. Eventually I felt a sense of loneliness - kind of disconnected. I also felt everything I looked at seemed alive and felt like me - though not particularly unnerving - it seemed to add to my sense of loneliness. On top of all this everything felt the same, regardless of activity. My question: is there such a thing as too much mindfulness? Is there a method to prevent one from slipping into mindfulness? ( In the past it had an unwanted snowball effect.)
Thank you much for your time. Devon

5:29 PM, September 04, 2008  
Blogger Adrien said...

Hello Great Master Gudo Nishijima,

we are talking here about the possible misunderstandings and dangers concerning "mindfulness", so i found here some texts that may help:

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.


Here are some quotes from Chogyam Trungpa :


"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.

Another quote:

"When you tell somebody to keep a high level of concentration, to concentrate 100 percent and not make any mistakes, that person becomes stupid and is liable to make more mistakes because he's concentrated on what he's doing. There's no gap. There's no room to open oneself, no room to relate with the back-and-forth play between the reference point of the object and the reference point of the subject. So the Buddha quite wisely advised that you put only tentative attention on your technique, not to make a big deal out of concentrating on the technique (this method is mentioned in the Samadhiraja Sutra.)"

From "Continuing Your Confusion," in THE PATH IS THE GOAL: A Basic Handbook of Buddhist Meditation, page 19, by Chogyam Trungpa.


Here i continue writing:

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 still i am. 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 to me). 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.


7:16 AM, March 23, 2010  

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