Friday, April 3, 2009

Zen Master Kosho Uchiyama

Just Bow
Putting my right and left hands together as one, I just bow.
Just bow to become one with Buddha and God.
Just bow to become one with everything I encounter.
Just bow to become one with all the myriad things.
Just bow as life becomes life.
     Kosho Uchiyama's final poem, completed on the day that he died.

     Kosho Uchiyama has long been my favorite of the modern day Zen masters.  Trained in the Soto lineage of Zen (Soto is one of the two main branches of Zen in Japan; the other is the Rinzai tradition), he seemed to "get it" better than any of the other Zen masters of the late 20th century.  Often crude, earthy, and witty, his style was simply more down to earth than others I have read.
     My favorite of his books is "Opening the Hand of Thought."  It contains in it one of the most profound explanations of what good religion should look like.  I call this way of approaching religion—and approaching life, for that matter—the 4th way.  By this, I mean that Uchiyama's approach to spirituality (his approach to a nondual way of living a meaningful life that I like to term True Spirituality) stands outside of the 3 ways that most people in the world look for meaning.
     Here are the words from Uchiyama himself:
     "Probably the vast majority of the 4 billion people in the world today live only in terms of pursuing material happiness.  In thinking about their lives, almost all of the people devote their energies to the pursuit of material happiness, or health, or prosperity.  In contrast to that is the second way of life in which we look to some Absolute to be the the authority in our life, depending on a god or some idea to validate our way of life.  A third approach is to search for some sort of philosophical truth—but so often what we find is something that has little or no connection to ourselves as individuals."
     Uchiyama then goes on to explain in the rest of the chapter how good religion—True Spirituality—stands outside of any of these three ways.  Think about that for a moment?  What does a life lived look like when it stands centered in this fourth way of being?  (And of Being, for that matter.)
     If you think that now I am going to supply you with some sort of answer—as if such a thing was even possible—you're mistaken.  No matter how lucid, how well this would try to be explained, words would fall short.  As words always fall short when discussing the True Nature of things, the True Nature of my life, and your life, and the life of all who live and breathe and walk—and, yes, die—on this planet.
     Besides there are a lot better writers than I who have tried to explain it.  And, of course, they fell short, as well.
     Despite the fact that words can never reach that summit, they can at least point to that undeniable, ineffable truth.  For instance, this often-quoted passage from Dogen Zenji, founder of the Soto school, points very well to Uchiyama's fourth way of living:
     To study Zen is to study the self.
     To study the self is to forget the self.
     To forget the self is to become one with the myriad things of the universe.

     And for me to add any other words would just be pointless.

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