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Venerable Old Master Tetsuzen Mukei Lecture

Given: March 25, 1988

Translated by: Assistant Priest Muso and Larry Hansen at Katsuzenji Temple, Nagano, Japan, 1997.

Submitted to cuke 11/29/01 by Larry Hansen who says:

On Sunday mornings in Nagano after zazen and breakfast I would go to the priests residence and help translate Mukei’s lectures into English.  With their poor English and my poor Japanese we had a great time muddling our way through.  Here is one

As some of you who have been practicing Zen with me in this temple witnessed, I sat in meditation in hot water that was near boiling at one time.  At another time I sat naked in the snow for hours wearing only a loincloth, burying myself above the knees at the foot of the pine tree in the garden.  But seen from the enlightened attitude of Zen, such acts are strange and extraordinary.  They are nothing great.  I did them because I could do them and felt I had to do them.  My acts had nothing to do with others.  “Clear your mind of all mundane thoughts, and you will find even fire cool” the priest Kaisen declared.  All of you could do this but attracting attention of others by doing something extraordinary in conducting meditation is neither great nor valuable. 

            Zen is a religious practice neither to get enlightenment nor to be free from anxiety.  We don’t sit to acquire a mental condition which is unaffected by the world around us, nor to be given some right direction.  Zen is a spiritual exercise to nurture the strength to live on calmly in ever changing circumstances simply and serenely. 

            This is the first time in 30 or 40 years for me to explain my mental attitude.  Zen is not a spiritual exercise to produce a miracle, nor is it an act to nurture a serene mentality which is not affected by anything.

            I have so far preached “let’s harmonize with everything in the universe”.

            We must realize that everything that exists is the play of consciousness.  Our reasoning is very shallow and trying to catch Buddha nature by thinking is impossible.  To practice Zen is not to be a Buddhist that has reached enlightenment.  After I sat with my master for three years, he told me “the object of sitting is not to acquire enlightenment or peace of mind for yourself or others.  If you expect such a result from your practice give it up at once.”  For me this remark from my teacher was like a thunderbolt, I was profoundly moved by his teaching which has made me as I am today.

            I, Mukei (shapeless) am a Zen priest who opened this temple to conduct religious practices of zen have never been seen sitting in composure.  When you come in the daytime you will never see me sitting relaxed in the main hall.  Even when you open the closed room you will never see me sitting.  I have never shown myself to you where you can see me posing “look at me!  I am sitting here for you to see me”.

            My teacher was a master of Zen even when we were talking, laughing, or doing anything.  There were 200 students and he sat at the place of honor and silence.  I had few opportunities to sit face to face with him, but strangely I never thought “I have come all this way to China from Japan to look for the real Zen.  I am greatly dissatisfied”.  My teacher went out on horseback, in a palanquin, but in my mind he was still sitting face to face with me.  I cannot see him now in the flesh but in my heart and soul.  I never complained when he went out when I visited him to practice zazen.  Whenever he went, he was always with me, sitting in front of me.

            My teacher is still alive and with me.  He fills the whole world.  His spirit is never absent from his students and is always available for them.  He passed away many years ago, but he is still with me, sitting squarely in front of me.

            Perhaps some of you have witnessed me talking to myself while I was sitting in the middle of the night doing all night meditation.  Whenever I need help and guidance my teacher comes to me and talks with me.  I am being taught necessary things in accordance with the time and place.  I am being shown the way.  This is ichinen ichijo (spontaneous thought necessary for the situation).  There is no past, present, or future between my teacher and myself. 

            One day my teacher told me “when you Mukei, shapeless, have become shapeless as your name indicates then you will be able to talk with me freely, with no barrier, whenever and wherever”.  At the time I thought he was giving a koan, I did not understand.  Now I remember he used to word uchuhenman (universal fullness) quite often.  He wrote me a note “I am with the universe” and gave it to me saying “don’t show this to anyone”.  My teacher is boundless with the universe.  I, Mukei, am boundless with the infinite universe.  This is not a play of ideas, this is a sober fact.

            Our lives are boundless and each of us is fundamentally different from what we call consciousness, which is quite unreliable.  We cannot experience our life through our sensations such as pain, itching, hot, or cold.  We are not living our lives by our feelings or various thoughts.  The fundamental strength of life cannot be proved by consciousness, whether we are sleeping, working, or just taking care of our daily lives, our fundamental life is vibrant.

            Don’t think that fundamental life and everyday life are far from each other, they are one, but yet they are from each other, at the same time coming from one root.  I hope you experience this and realize this through practice, again and again.

            The real you will appear and when you reach this condition you are set free from life and death, good and bad, joy-anger, sorrow-happiness, and your genuine self is displayed.  When I realized satori, I experienced this boundless life.  Since then it has filled my whole body, giving life and nourishment to every cell.

            I can say with conviction that this is the meaning and the significance of my practice, I who started zazen when I was seven years old and have now reached the age of ninety, having realized the secret of Zen. 

            It is not in the present existence that such connection has been formed for me.  This tie, which, has been nourished through a long period extending from the former existence to this existence produced me, Mukei.  This karma will continue developing endlessly protecting and helping one another.

            I hope all of you will realize as days and months go by that this practice of sitting facing each other in this present moment is the source of eternal peace of mind.  Sitting down, believing, is becoming a dauntless core of no retreat in the midst of joy, anger, sorrow, and merriment.  Unchangeable, unmovable, beyond life and death, extending to the eternal future.

            Fortunately I was given evidence, and when we are sitting calmly like this, I can transmit to you the special breath of the dharma, the essence of Zen which I am giving you each time we sit together.  Let us continue sitting in unlimited gratitude and hope.

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