Kodo Sawaki was born in 1880 to a wealthy family near an Ise Shrine. His name was Saikichi. At the age of five, he lost his mother, and three years later also his father. Kodo´s foster father was a weak man interested only in smoking and sex. When he was thirteen, Kodo earned his money as a body-guard of gamblers. He witnessed a death of an old man in the arms of a prostitute, and decided to change his life. He found his way to Buddhism. He began to visit Shinshu monasteries and wanted to become a monk. He went to Eihei-ji, where he started to work as a servant and studied zazen. He received a “tokudo” (the ordination) in the Kyushu Temple and became a monk called Kodo. Later on, he met Master Fueoka Sunum Osho that taught him the authentic practice – not looking for satori, but sitting to zazen without seeking an aim or profit. He was seriously wounded in the Japanesse-Russian war, and after a five year break when he was 25, he entered the Horyu-ji Temple in Nara where he studied philosophy, zazen and Shobogenzo. In 1935, he started teaching zazen at a university in Kanazawa, and later on he became a godo in the Sojiji Temple. In 1936, Jasuo Deshimaru became one of his disciples. Just before the war, Kodo lead a big Tengyo Zen-en monastery in the mountains. After the war, he lead sesshins and summer camps all over Japan which made him famous. He was called “Kodo without home”, because he never wanted to settle down in any monastery.
Kodo Sawaki brought fresh air to the decaying zen, he mainly showed zazen. All this time, Taisen Deshimaru followed him, and thanks to this, Kodo could pass onto him the essence of Buddhism. At the age of 86, Kodo became ill and he spent the last three months of his life in the Antaiji Temple.
From the teachings of Kodo Sawaki: When you practice zazen, your life becomes stable and impartial. If you forget about your personal profit, Buddha´s dharma suddenly appears. Anything good you would do, but only to satisfy your own ego, is pitiful. Human beings have more and more knowledge, but I think that the ultimate goal is the ability to listen to the sounds of a valley and look at the colour of a mountain. In other words, it is good to watch people less, and look at the moon and trees more, listen to the preaching of the whole universe. Be the makers of the presence of your real ego. The presence that keeps on springing endlessly, without stopping, free without restraints. We call it “without thinking”, “hishiryo”. If the mankind on this planet served the Way, there would be no wars, hunger or useless existences finding their confirmation only in competing. This land could be a paradise, but people prefer inventing stories of their own egos. Without thinking and without yearning – hi-shiryo – does not mean at all that one would have to become numb. It only means that a person should not be joyful when Buddha comes and should not be sad when a demon comes. In the kingdom of the Way, the ego disappears. It disappears from the whole Universe. When we practice zazen, there is no sin. Zazen is the only rule transmitted by Buddhas and patriarchs. Shikantaza corresponds with the zazen of Bodhidharma and Shakyamuni, but if it is a zazen, in which we are looking for something, even the most precious things, then it loses its value and is only an empty practice. Only zazen practiced by a whole body of flesh and bones is the true Buddha.