None, or Few ?

These days, due to unusual circumstances, I enjoy an abundance of spare time. Typically my schedule is packed and I cut sleep beyond healthy limits to accomplish all tasks planned for the day. That’s the way I learned through Zen practice, not wasting a second, and I took it for granted all my life. Maybe it is wrong.

Another Sunday without fixed schedule, and I can’t believe having more than twelve hours ahead I can do whatever I want. Last night I watched a movie and played Saxophone for three hours straight, it was wonderful. I have plenty of time to read and even write. Maybe later I will do a few hours calligraphy, or go for a walk. Or both. I enjoy the almost forgotten feeling of being fully awake, after long seven hours of sleep. Where have I been all these years?

Calligraphy by Oomori Sogen at our Dojo wall.

When we study Hitsuzendo (Zen Calligraphy) at our Dojo, we copy the calligraphy of my former teacher’s late teacher Oomori Sogen. Sometimes we wonder why this prominent Zen master preferred to chose words conjuring up the image of hermits living high up in the cloudy mountains, or find the world in a jar. Was it escapism, his desire to flee a hectic every day life?

I don’t think so. I believe he found something, some seclusion and silence amidst being involved with a hectic post-war Tokyo. Maybe that’s why, in spite of his accomplishments and fame, he had nothing more than a small training temple with just a few students.

It is no coincidence our own Dojo is on the verge of disappearing. I too feel much drawn towards some cloudy mountain or a small fisherman’s hut at a stormy seashore. As much as I occasionally do enjoy the company of inspiring people, most free and most happy I feel when I’m on my own.

Snapshot from the opening scene of “Tenzo” (1)

Far away from emperors and ministers

Deep in the mountain valley,
open your training place

To those who have the ability

Pass on Buddha’s teachings

Rujing Zenji (Dogen’s teacher in China)


For many years I felt the obligation to teach, to pass on what I had learned from my teachers, to share the gratitude I once received. “I can’t possibly keep all that locked away in my head, just for myself!” was my inspiration to open a Dojo, to offer Sesshin.

Yet, can I really dare to invite anyone to climb with me a steep mountain path, or walk along a stormy beach? “Join at your own risk” I used to think “I won’t stop and turn around to make sure you can follow!”. But that’s not fair. Shouldn’t I instead just come come back from time to time, to tell an enchanted and comfortable audience stories from mountain tops and stormy seashores, spread some old man’s gossip like so many “Zen Teachers” love to do these days? No, that sounds boring, a waste of time, mine and yours.

“You are no good teacher” some of my former students complained before they left, “you are not guiding us properly, not representing anything. We are better looking for a teacher who will take us by the hand and lead us!”. I fully agree.

My path might be too steep, too narrow, too windy to follow. Or too lazy, like today. Join at your own risk, but watch your step!

I met a man who lost his mind
In some lost place I had to find
“Follow me”, the wise man said
But he walked behind

Leonard Cohen – Teachers

(1) “Tenzo” (2019) directed by Katsuya Tomita: .