Balancing Zen training with life

 Zen training and life

In December 1936, the year when I had “seen the nature” (kensho), I moved from my home in Ogikubo in the suburbs of Tokyo to a place in the street in front of Engakuji. This was so that I could have more opportunities for evening interviews with Master Furukawa, even though living in Tokyo, I had been able to get to the temple for the regular interviews in the morning. They began at four a.m. in June and July, but when it came to December and January they would be held a little after six o’clock. So it was not impossible for me to get down to Kamakura, have an interview, and then be back for work in Tokyo. I used to get up quietly and steal out so as not to disturb the family, and could arrive in Kamakura, climb the dark road up the hill, and be on time.

The evening interviews were a little past seven p.m. in June and July, but in the winter months they began just after five o’clock, and as my office duties came to an end at that time I could not possibly manage the interviews during this part of the year. This was a matter of great regret to me.

At Engakuji there were also week-long special intensive meditation periods (sesshin) held four times during the winter months, and four times during the summer. I tried to attend these as often as I could, but my office duties interfered. Also, there was always the possibility that I could be transferred by the company to a branch office in Osaka or Shimonoseki at any time.

I was now devoted to Zen as a noble ideal and resolved to follow it right through. I also wanted to change my present profession for some other which would afford more time and opportunities for Zen. It happened that at the end of 1937, Professor Masao Hisataka (then at Yokohama College and later at Hitotsubashi University), who was a friend of mine, visited our office to inquire about the prospects of employment there next year for some of the promising students of his college. I took the opportunity of talking to him about my own enthusiasm for Zen and my desire for a change of profession which would give me more scope to pursue it.

Early in March the next year, he sent me a card saying that the principal of his college would like to see me, if I would kindly visit him. When I met him he offered me a professorship—I was to teach accounting and bookkeeping.

Apart from my professional qualification, this was what I had been doing at the Kokura Oil Company for the past nine years, during which time I had been promoted from a clerk to a deputy secretary, now receiving a sizeable income plus the regular half-yearly bonuses. But as the new position would provide only perhaps a third of what I had been getting, I put the matter to my wife and explained the circumstances to her. We agreed that we should have to change our style of living completely. As far as spiritual life was concerned, however, I could enjoy a much more congenial and enriched life. Apart from the joy of being able to participate in the morning and evening interviews every day now as well as in the special meditation periods much more regularly, I found teaching more congenial. It was a pleasure to do the preparatory work for the lecture and to teach and talk to students. We often had friendly talks in small restaurants near the college, and some of them used to come to see me at home.

On the surface, teaching is much easier than office work, but in fact I began to feel that I was carrying a heavy burden on my back all the time. It turned out that actually I had less time free from duties than when I had been working in an office. Only during the vacations did I have plenty of free time to spend just as I liked. It is indeed the holidays that are the great advantage of the teaching profession.

One summer vacation I passed about forty days almost entirely away from home. I lodged in the Lay- Disciples’ Hall in Engakuji, and often sat in meditation in the Founder’s Shrine at the Obai-in sub-temple, which is in the Engakuji complex. I gave up shaving, and grew a long beard. One night I decided to sit up all night in meditation in the Lay-Disciples’ Hall. As time went on, I became overwhelmed by drowsiness, and finally I lay down where I was, resting my head on one arm. I was suddenly awakened by something dropping on my forehead. To my drowsy perceptions, it seemed to be something quite big. Once fully awake, I realized that it was a large centipede creeping over my neck. I swept it away with my hand. There are many such things in the temple precincts.

At this time of my life, I often slept only three or four hours a night. I suppose that even a few hours will suffice if the sleep becomes deep as the result of the coming-to- one of the mind through the practice of Zen meditation.

In the Hakuin tradition, the occasion when the master grants interviews to a disciple, which take place in his living quarters, is called shitsu-nai (inside the room). At the interview, the disciple confronts his master man-toman, presenting his answer to the koan riddle for the master’s judgment and engaging in question-and-an- swer with him. The interview is also termed hossen, or spiritual warfare. It is the most important and solemn occasion in Zen training. Masters’ particular ways of training and their spiritual attainments are manifested through their words and actions “inside the room.”

There was a calmness, as of the depths of the ocean, about Master Gyodo “inside the room,” and also something of what in Zen is called the sheemess of a silver cliff or an iron wall. He hardly ever resorted to slapping or yelling. But sometimes when he rejected my answer to a koan with the words, “That won’t do,” I felt as if I had indeed been slapped in the face, or thundered at with the usual Katzu! shout.

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