Kodo Sawaki: To you!


You can’t even trade a single fart with the next guy. Each and every one of us has to live out his own life. Don’t waste time thinking about who’s most talented.

The eyes don’t say, “Sure we’re lower, but we see more.” The eyebrows don’t reply, “Sure we don’t see anything, but we are higher up.” Living out the buddha-dharma means fulfilling your function completely without knowing that you’re doing it. A mountain doesn’t know it’s tall. The sea doesn’t know it’s wide and deep. Each and every thing in the universe is active without knowing it.

The bird’s singing and the flower’s laughter appear naturally,
completely independent from the person sitting in zazen at the foot of the cliff.

The bird doesn’t sing in honor of the person in zazen. The flower doesn’t blossom to amaze the person with her beauty. In exactly the same way, the person doesn’t sit in zazen in order to get satori. Every single being simply realizes the self, through the self, for the self.

Religion means living your own life, completely fresh and new, without being taken in by anyone.

Hey! What are you looking at? Don’t you see that it’s about you?

The asshole doesn’t need to be ashamed of being the asshole. The feet don’t have any reason to go on strike just because they’re only feet. The head isn’t the most important of all, and the navel doesn’t need to imagine he’s the father of all things. It’s strange though that people look at the prime minister as an especially important person. The nose can’t replace the eyes, and the mouth can’t replace the ears.

Everything has its own identity, which is unsurpassable in the whole universe.

Some children have caught a mouse and now it’s writhing in the trap. They’re having fun watching how it scrapes its nose till it bleeds and how it rips up its tail . . . In the end they’ll throw it to the cat for food.
If I was sitting in the mouse’s place, I’d say to myself, “You damn humans won’t have any fun with me!” And I’d simply sit zazen..

2. To you who think there’s something to being “in”

You’re always hanging onto others. If somebody’s eating French fries, you want French fries too. If somebody’s sucking on a candy, you want a candy too. If somebody’s blowing on a penny whistle, you scream, “Mommy, buy me a penny whistle too!”
And that doesn’t just go for children.

When spring comes, you let spring turn your head. When autumn comes, you let autumn turn your head. Everyone is just waiting for something to turn their head. Some even make a living turning heads – they produce advertising.

People love emotional confusion. Just look at the film posters in front of the cinema: nothing but emotional confusion on their faces. Buddha-dharma means not putting yourself at the mercy of emotional confusion. In the world, on the other hand, a big fuss is made over nothing.

It goes with being an ordinary person: he can only see with the eyes of collective stupidity.

Being surrounded by heroes and scraping up the courage to play hero yourself – there’s nothing so heroic about that. A thief says to his son, “If you don’t stop right away with your damned honesty, you’ll never be a respectable thief like me. You are a disgrace to the profession!”

Man makes a clever face and talks about being lord on Earth. And at the same time he doesn’t even know where to begin with his own body: he watches sports on television and defends himself saying that everyone else does it too.

We live in group stupidity and confuse this insanity with true experience. It is essential that you become transparent to yourself and wake up from this madness. Zazen means taking leave of the group and walking on your own two feet.

One at a time people are still bearable, but when they form cliques, they start to get stupid. They fall into group stupidity. They’re so determined to become stupid as a group that they found clubs and pay membership dues. Zazen means taking leave of group stupidity.


3. To you who are totally exhausted from fighting with your spouse

The question isn’t who’s right. You’re simply seeing things from different points of view.

Stop trying to be something special – and just be what you are. Hold fire. Just sit!

It all begins when we say, “I”. Everything that follows is illusion.

Everyone imagines that their ego is something unchangeable, some immovable center-point which everything revolves around. There once was a man who said, “Look, everyone is dying except me!” He’s been dead for a long time now.

Everybody talks about marrying for love, but isn’t it really just marrying for sex? In the end isn’t it really only about a penis and a vagina? Why doesn’t anybody simply say that he’s fallen in love with a vagina?

Take a look sometime at the face of a dog who’s just had sex. He just stares into space with strangely empty eyes. It’s exactly the same with people – in the beginning they work themselves up into a frenzy, and in the end there’s nothing at all.

A man who understands nothing marries a woman who understands nothing, and everyone says, “Congratulations!” Now that’s something I cannot understand.

Family is the place where parents and children, husband and wife simultaneously all get on each other’s nerves.

When a child is defiant, the parents curse, “You don’t understand anything!” But what are the parents like? Isn’t it also true that they don’t understand anything either? Everyone is lost in ignorance.

Everyone is talking about education, but what are we being educated to be? Ordinary citizens, that’s all.

Even funnier than watching the monkeys at the zoo is observing these humans on the loose.

4. To you who have just begun brooding over life

What a shame to have been born a human being and to spend your whole life worrying. You should reach the point where you can be happy to have been born a human.

Birth, old age, sickness and death – we can’t fool around with these ultimate facts.

Reality: getting a handle on this must be our goal. Don’t get stuck in categories.

It’s strange that not a single person seriously considers his own life. For ages, we’ve been carrying around something uncooked. And we comfort ourselves with the fact that it’s the same for the others too. That’s what I call group stupidity: thinking that we just have to be like the others.
Satori means creating your own life. It means waking up from group stupidity.

In a part of Manchuria, the carts are pulled by huge dogs. The driver hangs a piece of meat in front of the dog’s nose, and the dog runs like crazy to try to get at it. But of course he can’t. He’s only thrown his meat after the cart has finally reached its destination. Then in a single gulp, he swallows it down.
It’s exactly the same with people and their pay checks. Until the end of the month they run after the salary hanging in front of their noses. Once the salary is paid, they gulp it down, and they’re already off: running after the next payday.

Nobody can see further than the end of their nose. Everyone believes that their life somehow has meaning, but they’re really no different from swallows: the males gather food, the females sit on the eggs.

Most people aren’t following any clear approach to life. They get by with makeshift methods, like rubbing lotion on a cramped shoulder.

The question is: why are you straining your forehead so much?

If you aren’t careful, you’ll spend your whole life doing nothing besides waiting for your ordinary-person hopes to someday be fulfilled.


5. To you whose life is about money, money and more money

The measure of man: you give him a little money and immediately he starts to move.

Human happiness and unhappiness doesn’t only depend on money. If the balance in your savings account were a measure of your happiness, it would be a simple matter. Yet it really isn’t so.

Without money, you’ve got difficulties. Still, you should know that there are more important things than money.
You constantly think about sex. Still, you should know that there are more important things than sex.

Don’t be so helpless that you start saying you need money to live. In this world you can lead a fine life without savings.

Even university professors are only concerned with earning their daily bread.

Nothing is more pitiful than feeding yourself with your position and salary.

“Work, work! When you work, you get money. When you have money, you can take it easy and still have something to eat.” Compared with such simplistic thinking, Marxism is truly sophisticated.

Some think they’re important because they have money. Others think they’re important because they have “satori”. But no matter much how much you puff up your personal sack of flesh, you won’t make yourself into anything besides a devil.
That which doesn’t belong to you fills the entire universe. Where personal thoughts come to an end is where the buddha-dharma begins.

In the world, it’s always about winning or losing, plus or minus. Yet in Zazen, it’s about nothing. It’s good for nothing. That’s why it is the greatest and most all-inclusive thing there is. Dōgen says:

The flowers that bejewel the sky of my heart,
I offer them to the buddhas of the three worlds.

6. To you who think the prime minister is a really special person.

He who seeks his true mission won’t want to pursue a career. A person who wants to become president doesn’t know where he’s going in life.

Their election is so important to them that presidents and congressmen campaign to rally votes. Idiots! Even if they asked me to become president, I’d turn it down: “How dumb do you think I am anyway?”

One guy loses the presidential election, so he cries. Next time around he wins the election, and then he smiles into the camera. What makes politicians different from little children anyway? It’s exactly the same way with a crying child: you offer him some candy and already a smile breaks out on his teary face.
A little more maturity would be nice.

Anyone who relies on his résumé is a failure.

Once there was a megalomaniac in the Sugamo hospital who called himself “Ashiwara Shōgun”. He hung a cardboard medal around his neck and bestowed dignified words to those he met to take with them on their way. Now that the war is over, we can see clearly that what the military did wasn’t at all different. And now they want to reintroduce medals yet again.

After winning the Russo-Japanese war, we thought we’d won colonies. But what really came of it? After losing the Second World War, we realized that we had only earned the hatred of the Russians.

Everyone is talking about loyalty to the fatherland. The question is simply where this loyalty will take us. I too was completely convinced when I went to war against the Russians, but after our defeat, I realized that we had done something that we shouldn’t have. In any case, it’s better not to make war in the first place.


7. To you who would like to leave your rivals in the dust

We often wonder who here is really better? But aren’t we all made out of the same lump of clay?

Everyone should sit firmly anchored in the place where there is no better and worse.

Your whole life long you’re completely out of your mind because you think it’s obvious that there is a “you” and “the others”. You put on an act to stand out in a crowd, but in reality there’s neither “you” nor “the others”.
When you die, you’ll understand.

Buddha-dharma means seamlessness. What seam runs between you and me? Sooner or later we all end up acting as if a seam separates friend and foe. When we get too used to this, we believe that this seam really exists.

Poor and rich, important and unimportant – none of that exists. It’s only glitter on the waves. Still there are some who curse buddha because they’re stuck in unhappiness or because someone else is happier than they are.

Happiness and unhappiness, important and unimportant, love and hate – the whole world makes a big deal out of these things. The world where all of this doesn’t exist: that’s the world of hishiryō.

In the West they say, “Man is the wolf of man.” The first step in religion must be that the wolves stop biting each other.

In the buddha-dharma it isn’t about winning or losing, love or hate.

Some want to show off with their “satori”. Yet it’s clear that something which you can use to show off has nothing to do with satori.

8. To you who are sobbing because somebody’s put one over on you

At some point you’ve got to slap yourself in the face and seriously ask yourself: is your personal gain or loss really worth this overwhelming joy and suffering?

Sooner or later everyone starts thinking of nothing besides themselves. You say, “That was good!” But what was good? It was only good for you personally, that’s all.

Why is it that we humans are so wiped out? It is the constant effort to gain a little advantage that wipes us out.

Illusion means being unstable. Illusion means being controlled by the situation.

A person with big desires is easily fooled. Even the greatest conman can’t profit from a person with no desires.

Buddhism means no self, nothing to gain. You must be one with the universe and all living beings.

All beings are mistaken: we see as happiness that which leads to unhappiness, and weep over an unhappiness which isn’t unhappiness at all. We all know the child whose tears suddenly turn into laughter when you give him a cookie. What we living beings call happiness isn’t much more than that.


9. To you who would like to slap your boss with a letter of resignation.

As a human being, whatever you do, you should do it in a way that can’t be repeated a second time. What can be repeated is best left to the robots.

Life doesn’t run on tracks.

Birds don’t sing in major or minor. Bodhidharma’s teaching doesn’t fit on lined paper.
The buddha-dharma is wide and unlimited. When you try to hold it still, you’ve missed it. It isn’t dried cod, but a live fish. Living fish have no fixed form.

In the soldier’s handbook it says that in war you must be prepared for a thousand different possibilities. That doesn’t just go for war – there’s no rule book for life either. When you try to live your life according to a manual, you’re sure to fail.
For a court case as well, it goes without saying that you have to be on your guard when everything runs according to the book.

The wild geese leave no traces,
yet no matter where they fly, they never lose their way. 

There are no footprints on the way of the bird. It’s not the same as a steam engine that runs on tracks or an ox’s well-worn path.

Don’t we live life from moment to moment? How could we possibly take life, analyze it, systematize it and file it away?

However much you accomplish in this life, you can’t present any of it at the last judgement. You will die naked.

In the end, there will be nothing left for you to do besides let go.

Isn’t it evident that the greatest happiness consists in doing what you have to do?

You can’t depend on anything. The value of things changes. This insight is what motivated Shakyamuni to renounce his King’s title, to leave his wife and son and become a monk.

10. To you who wants to begin with zazen

Once there were 500 monkeys in the service of 500 Buddhist saints. One day the monkeys decided to mimic everything the saints did, so they did zazen copying the saints with their eyes, noses, mouths and whole bodies. They say that in this way a thousand saints practiced zazen and realized satori. This is why it’s my wish to preserve – even if it’s only through imitation – the seed of zazen.

When you practice Zen, it has to be here and now, it has to be about yourself. Don’t let Zen become a rumor that has nothing to do with you.

Zazen is the buddha that we form out of our raw flesh.

Zazen means putting into practice that which cannot be thought.

Zazen is the dharma-switch that turns on the whole universe.

Simply doing something [shikan] means doing it now, on the spot. It means not wasting the little time you have in life.

When somebody asks me what zazen is good for, I say that zazen isn’t good for anything at all. And then some say that in that case they’d rather stop doing zazen. But what’s running around satisfying your desires good for? What is gambling good for? And dancing? What is it good for to get worked up over winning or losing in baseball? It’s all good for absolutely nothing! That’s why nothing is as sensible as sitting silently in zazen. In the world, “good for nothing” just means that you can’t make money out of it.

Often people ask me how many years they have to practice zazen before it shows results. Zazen has no results. You won’t get anything at all out of zazen.


11. To you who wants to strengthen your hara with zazen

“Through zazen you strengthen your hara
Knowing that this hara isn’t worth a damn is real hara and real zazen.

Some people want to strengthen their hara with zazen so that they will be able to scare the bill-collector away with a roar. But they don’t need zazen for that, they just have to drink sake like real men.

There are books around like “Zen and the Art of Cultivating Your Hara”. This hara culture is just about making yourself numb.

Some try to become thick-skinned through zazen.

Developing real hara means putting aside your personal attitudes.

If it’s even the slightest bit personalized, it isn’t pure, unadulterated zazen. We’ve got to practice genuine, pure zazen, without mixing it with gymnastics or satori or anything. When we bring in our personal ideas – even only a little bit – it’s no longer the buddha-dharma.

In a word, Buddhism is non-self [muga]. Non-self means that “I” am not a separate subject. When “I” am not a separate subject, then I fill the entire universe. That I fill the entire universe is what’s meant by “all things manifest the truth”.

In true dharma there’s nothing to gain. In false dharma there’s something to gain.

The way of buddha means that there is nothing to seek, nothing to find [mushogu-mushotoku]. If there’s something to find, no matter how much we practice, it’s got nothing to do with the buddha-dharma. If there’s nothing to find [mushotoku], that’s the buddha-dharma.


12. To you who is wondering if your zazen has been good for something

What’s zazen good for? Absolutely nothing! This “good for nothing” has got to sink into your flesh and bones until you’re truly practicing what’s good for nothing. Until then, your zazen is really good for nothing.

You say you want to become a better person by doing zazen. Zazen isn’t about learning how to be a person. Zazen is to stop being a person.

Zazen is unsatisfying. Unsatisfying for whom? For the ordinary person. People are never satisfied.

Isn’t it self-evident? How could that which is eternal and infinite ever satisfy human desires?

Unsatisfying: simply practicing zazen. Unsatisfying: realizing zazen with this body.

Unsatisfying: absorbing zazen into your flesh and blood.

Being watched by zazen, cursed by zazen, blocked by zazen, dragged around by zazen, every day crying tears of blood – isn’t that the happiest form of life you can imagine?

You say “When I do zazen, I get disturbing thoughts!” Foolish! The fact is that it’s only in zazen that you’re aware of your disturbing thoughts at all. When you dance around with your disturbing thoughts, you don’t notice them at all. When a mosquito bites you during zazen, you notice it right away. But when you’re dancing and a flea bites your balls, you don’t notice it at all.

Don’t whine. Don’t stare into space. Just sit!

13. To you who says that you have attained a better state of mind through zazen

As long as you say zazen is a good thing, something isn’t quite right. Unstained zazen is absolutely nothing special. It isn’t even necessary to be grateful for it. Wouldn’t it be strange if a baby said to its mother, “Please have understanding for the fact that I’m always shitting in my diapers.” Without knowledge, without consciousness, everything is as it should be.

Don’t stain your zazen by saying that you’ve progressed, feel better or have become more confident through zazen.

We only say, “Things are going well!” when they’re going our way.

We should simply leave the water of our original nature as it is. But instead we are constantly mucking about with our hands to find out how cold or warm it is. That’s why it gets cloudy.

There’s nothing more unpleasant than staining zazen. “Staining” means making a face like a department head, corporate boss or chairperson. Washing away the stains is what’s meant by “simplicity” [shikan].

There are bodhisattvas “without magical abilities”. These are bodhisattvas who have even entirely forgotten words like “practice” or “satori”, bodhisattvas without wonderful powers, bodhisattvas who are immeasurable, bodhisattvas who are not interested in their name and fame.

Zazen isn’t like a thermometer where the temperature slowly rises: “Just a little more … yeah … that’s it! Now, I’ve got satori!” Zazen never becomes anything special, no matter how long you practice. If it becomes something special, you must have a screw lose somewhere.

If we don’t watch out, we’ll start believing that the buddha-dharma is like climbing up a staircase. But it isn’t like this at all. This very step right now is the one practice which includes all practices, and it is all practices, contained in this one practice.

If you do something good, you can’t forget you’ve done something good. If you’ve had satori, you get stuck in the awareness of having satori. That’s why it’s better to keep your hands off good deeds and satori. You’ve got to be perfectly open and free. Don’t rest on your laurels!

Even if I say all of this about the buddha way, ordinary people will still use the buddha-dharma to try and enhance their value as humans.

14. To you who do everything you can to get satori

We don’t practice in order to get satori. It’s satori that pulls our practice. We practice, being dragged all over by satori.

You don’t seek the way. The way seeks you.

You study, you do sports, and you’re fixated on satori and illusion. So that even zazen becomes a marathon for you, with satori as the finish line. Yet because you’re trying to grab it, you’re missing it completely.
Only when you stop meddling like this does your original, cosmic nature realize itself.

You say you’re seeking the way, but what does it mean if you’re seeking the way just to satisfy yourself?

You want to become a buddha? There’s no need to become a buddha! Now is simply now. You are simply you. And tell me, since you want to leave the place where you are,where is it exactly you want to go?

Zazen means just sitting without even thinking of becoming buddha.

We don’t achieve satori through practice: practice is satori. Each and every step is the goal.


15. To you who is showing off your satori

Why don’t you simply have “I have satori!” tattooed all over your body?
If you’re not conscious of your stomach, that’s proof your stomach is healthy. If you can’t forget your satori, that’s proof that you haven’t got any.

You think that you’re something special because you’ve got satori, but you’re simply showing off your sack of flesh.

When an ordinary person has got satori, he’s called a Zen-devil . This is because he thinks he’s something special.

When people talk about satori, it usually just means that a devil has acquired magical powers.

When you know you’re doing something bad, then it isn’t so serious. But people who chat about their satori don’t even realize they’re doing something bad. That’s why they’re such helpless cases.

No illusion is as hard to cure as satori.

Don’t take pride in your practice. It’s clear that any satori you take pride in is a lie.

You’ve got it backwards if you talk about stages of practice. Practice is satori.

Satori is like a thief breaking into an empty house. He breaks in but there’s nothing to steal. No reason to flee. No one who chases him. So there’s nothing which could satisfy him either.

16. To you who are impressed by scientific and cultural progress

We mustn’t forget that today’s science and culture have only developed out of the lowest levels of consciousness.

Everybody is talking about culture, but what is it besides a refinement of our illusions? However much we iron out our drives, from a Buddhist standpoint, it’s got nothing to do with progress or civilization. Everyone is talking these days about progress, but I wonder in which direction we’re actually progressing.

When you observe insects in a tank, you see how they bite into each other and hold on with all their might. It must be amusing to observe from another corner of the universe how humans stock up on atomic and hydrogen bombs.

Acting clever while at the same time being the biggest idiots – that’s human fate.

People love it when things are complicated. Though things are complicated enough – even when we try to keep them as simple as possible – there are still some who make an effort to be especially complicated in everything they do.

The modern world musters up all of its knowledge just to run down a dead end street.

People were idiots in the old days too. They wasted a fortune in gold and manpower building castles. And what was it all for? To bicker with each other. Today, people are even dumber. They build atomic and hydrogen bombs in order to erase humanity with one push of a button.

How is it that humanity itself, unlike its science, hasn’t progressed in the least?

An idiot sits at the computer, a dimwit in the cockpit of the jet and a madman at the control panel of the atomic rockets – that’s the current problem.

Perhaps we can save our friends with atomic and hydrogen bombs – but not our enemies. Only zazen is capable of saving friends as well as enemies.

17. To you who say you don’t get along with others

Everyone talks about their own point of view, but who really cares? It’d be better if you just kept your mouth shut!

Some say, “Who do you think I am anyway?” An ordinary person, what else?
Some are proud of their wealth, others of their name and position, still others of their satori. In this way they’re just showing off how ordinary they are – people these days are so stupid!

People always have something they can’t forget. If they’re rich, they can’t forget their money. If they’re intelligent, they can’t forget their brains. If they’re talented, they always think about how good they are at this or that. But whatever it is, it always gets in the way.

It’s only because we’re so concerned about this sack of flesh that we think of ourselves as rich or beautiful or whatever. But when we die, everything is one. Nothing is yours anymore.

We’re always trying to promote our ego. The only question is: How many years can we keep it up? When we’re dead our body is just a piece of meat.

The same moon sometimes seems to smile, and sometimes seems to cry. Sometimes we simply admire it over a glass of sake. But whichever moon people look at, they only see what corresponds to their karmic perception. None of that is real.

You cry out, “Peace, peace!”, but if you would only be quiet, it would be so much more peaceful. You say, “In my opinion…”, but it’s precisely when opinions and theories come into the picture that the bickering starts.

“Both you and me are just ordinary people.” [Prince Shōtoku, 17-Article Constitution] Since, in any case, it’s just ordinary people who wage war on each other, everybody is wrong, friend as much as foe. The winner and the loser are in any case just ordinary people.

It’s so sad to watch the world’s conflicts. There’s such a lack of common sense. One hothead swings a sword, another fires a rifle.