Shodo Harada Roshi's Awakening
At one point during my training I could not pass a koan*, and was packing up my things in the monastery, ready to leave, giving up. At that time I thought it should not have taken me, or anyone else, more than three years to reach kensho**. I remember my tears at the end of my first rohatsu sesshin*** when I couldn't realize kensho. Was something wrong with the way I was sitting in the zendo? I would even go out and sit all night long, but still I could not break through. So I packed my things and went to the roshi (Yamada Mumon Roshi). I told him I was going to go sit for as long as I possibly could alone. The roshi asked, ”Then what are you going to do?” I said I would know then, that I did not know at the moment, but when that time came I would know what I had to do. The roshi did not say anything.
I went to the Nara mountains, doing one sesshin after another on my own, I then went to different mountains in another area and did the same thing, sitting one sesshin after another. It was nearing the time of rohatsu when a young man appeared in the mountains. Neither of us had seen anyone for a few days and we were eager to talk. He asked me if I was practicing Zen, and I said, ”Yes.” The other young man had been doing the practice of chanting the Buddha's name, and he exclaimed, ”How lucky you are, to be spending all of your time, your whole life, doing your practice!” This from someone who was able to practice only a few days a week. His words hit me like a blow on the head. At that moment, all the burdens I had been carrying around fell away, and I knew that I had never left the Buddha's palm. I became suddenly light, as if my body was weightless. I returned to Nara and found a letter from my previous training temple asking me to come there for rohatsu.
Knowing the path would always open in front of me, I have never lost that confidence that I have never left the Buddha's palm at any time in any way. From that time on, sanzen**** was never terrible again. All of the koans were just my karma ripening, and to be done going on and on. Since then, the path has always been open to me. I could accpet whatever came. If there was no food, it would be OK to die sitting. This is the important point: to entrust completely, to live today with one's fullest energy, to have no anxiety deep within, to have no sense of having done this or that, leaving it all up to the natural way, leaving it all up to heaven and earth.
From ”The Path to Bodhidharma” by Shodo Harada.
*koan, zen practice of poems and riddles
***rohatsu sesshin, the most intensive zen retreat of the year that lasts 8 days
sesshin, zen retreat
****sanzen, meditation interviews with a zen master