Taisen Deshimaru

Jasuo Deshimaru was born on 29th November 1914 in southern Japan. Since childhood he was strongly influenced by traditional Japanese values. His mother was deeply religious and followed the teachings of the Shinshu school, a Buddhism founded by Shinran, a Dogen´s contemporary. The spirituality of his mother had a strong effect on Jasuo. When he became the Master of Zen, he often repeated that he combined the deep faith of Shinran with the practice of zen. In his early twenties, Jasuo went to Tokyo to study economics. The passage on this period cited in the book “Authobiography of a Zen Monk” indicates that he was already at that time interested in combining the spiritual and material aspects of a human being. Apart from devoting his time to economics and English, he spent a big portion of his everyday life by studying religious matters. He went to lectures of university experts on Hinduism and Buddhism, he discovered Christianity in a Baptist church and learnt about European philosophy. He also got acquainted with Zen during the memorable sesshin in Engaku-ji, where he punished a certain sleepy monk who hit him into his head while giving him the hit with the kyosaku stick. This event is now legendary.

In 1936, suffering the painful loneliness of a single man in a stormy growing-up phase of his life, and confronting the busy life of Japanese cities, in which political problems deepened the general tension, with his own deeply spiritual efforts, he met Master Kodo Sawaki. Kodo was an authentic Master of Zen who had always been against the rigidness of religious hierarchy. He traveled through Japan and taught zazen in monasteries and elsewhere. Before this momentous encounter, Deshimaru had studied many books by Kodo Sawaki, and found that his views correspond very closely to those of Kodo Sawaki. Kodo chose one citation from the poems of Shodoka, a citation about loneliness that would influence Jasuo for the rest of his life: ”He who walks lonely walks alone. A man walks alone. A saint does not need anything. He who reaches the true Self, takes big steps. No-one is greater than he. He feels unity with the universe.” From this moment on, Jasuo Deshimaru became Kodo Sawaki´s disciple.

A few years later, Jasuo asked Kodo for a monk ordination, but Kodo Sawaki refused to give it to him, and recommended that he should continue zazen and take an active part in the society at the same time. In 1941, Jasuo went to Indonesia to oversee working in the mines. As he was leaving, his son was born. Five years later, he returned to a war-destroyed Japan and continued practicing zazen. At that time, the differences between his secular and spiritual life deepened more and more and so did the conflicts between the Shinshu of his mother and the Zen of his master. In November of 1965, Master Kodo Sawaki fell seriously ill and granted Jasuo his old wish, he gave him a monk ordination. Jasuo received a name Mokudo Taisen – The Temple of Peace, Great Wisdom. Kodo died in December 1965. Before his death he said that he wished Taisen Deshimaru to spread Zen in Europe.

In 1967, Taisen Deshimaru was invited to France by a group of macrobiotics. He arrived alone, without money, without knowing the language, he took only his zafu, his kesa and a book of Kodo Sawaki´s thoughts. In Europe, Zen was known only to a small number of young educated people at that time. Master Deshimaru first focused on zazen, which he led every day. He made his living by giving shiatsu massages and helping to carry parcels to shops. Taisen Deshimaru´s missionary activity was intensive from the very beginning. He gave lectures in France, Holland, Italy, Switzerland etc. He led sesshins at yoga camps and camps for macrobiotics. The group of his followers got larger and larger. It flourished the most in 1972-76 thanks to the number of sesshins in Zinal in Switzerland and in Lodeve. A monastery was built in Avallon. On his way to Japan in 1974, Deshimaru had over a hundred disciples who travelled with him. He was generally recognized as a Kaikyosokan (Great Missionary) by the highest authorities of the Soto Zen school in Japan. All this time he taught solely zazen. He led zazens in Paris every day and organized many sesshin every year. At the same time, he translated, commented and published texts of great masters of the past, such as Shodoka of Master Yoka Daishi, Hokyozanmai of Tozan Ryokai, Sandokai of Sekito Kisen, Shin Jin Mei of Sosan and some chapters of Shobogenzo of Master Dogen. He came to understand well the habits and the mentality of the Europeans, as well as their philosophy. In 1980, there was opened a temple of Gendronniere, based on the Japanese temple Eiheiji. This temple became the missionary centre of Zen for the whole Europe. Over 1 500 disciples from all over the world came here during sesshins led by Master Deshimaru.

In 1982, Master Deshimaru became very ill. Despite this, he still led a big sesshin in Namuru in Belgium. In spite of his serious health problems, he came to the dojo in Paris every day, led morning zazens and commented Shinjingakudo (learning (through) the body and mind) of Master Dogen. He left for Japan on 16th April 1982 leaving in Europe his notebook, a kesu of Kodo Sawaki and the certificate of affiliation to a lineage “ketsumyaku”. He never returned from Japan.

Zazen is a dry tree that will blossom again

Zazen is a life in death

Zazen is a movement in stillness

Zazen is the sound of the wind in a serene forest.

(Taisen Deshimaru)

Master Deshimaru was called Bodhidharma of the present. From the teachings of Master Deshimaru: ”The world of shikantaza is the Dogen´s “just sit”, and this is it. Satori is worthless. Receiving prices is useless. No satisfaction. No fears of what may happen, if you become unified with the nature or of what you will do when you become Buddha. Just sit at the wall and fix your position. Sit without worries. This is exactly what Dogen calls “leaving your own body-mind and other body-minds”. Dogen spoke also of the person of “the original nature”. That is of someone, who sits bravely, regardless the clouds, as I have said. Kodo Sawaki Daiosho also used to say: “If we could watch our lives from the coffin, we would surely think: What a pity that we gave so much attention and importance to things. Then would we realize that this is the essence of our lives.” If we are close to the zazen thoroughly transmitted by Buddha, we come to understand all the events of our lives. Then we do not take part in pointless activities. And our lives become joyful and rich with pleasure. Sit, sit and try to go through all this. Then and only then the stable spirit will sound in our bodies every day. “Sit and do nothing more, that is Buddha,” Kodo Sawaki Daiosho used to say. “That is the delightful taste of Samadhi realizing itself spontaneously,” – Dogen Zenji used to say.”

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