Kodo Sawaki Roshi [1880–1965], or “Homeless Kodo,” as he came to be known, was one of the most influential Soto Zen teachers of the 20th century. Born in 1880 and orphaned in early childhood, Sawaki ran away from his caretaker at the age of 16 to become a monk. Not long after he was ordained, he was drafted into the Imperial Japanese Army and served during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–05. When the war concluded, he returned to his study of Zen, eventually taking responsibility of Antaiji Shichikurin Sanzen Dojo in 1949. Sawaki was by no means a conventional abbot, however, and instead of attending to administrative duties at the temple, he roamed around the country of Japan in order to teach zazen [meditation] to laypeople, an endeavor he dubbed the “Moving Monastery.” His efforts both earned him the appellation “Homeless” and established him as a pioneer of the repopularization of sitting practice within Japan.
What follows is an abridged version of a collection of his sayings, called “To You,” which were compiled by Sawaki’s successor, Uchiyama Roshi. Unpublished in full, a selection can be found on Antaiji’s website, from which this text was taken. It has been translated from the Japanese original by Muho Noelke, the current abbot of Antaiji, and Reiho Haasch, a teacher in the lineage.
Sawaki is especially known for his nomadic lifestyle and for emphasizing the importance of meditation over the study of texts or working with koans. If his words here are any indication, however, he must also be remembered for his charismatic and direct style of communication, which can sometimes border on the irreverent. Are you worried about your career? Fighting with your spouse? Complaining about how busy you are? Homeless Kodo has a piece of advice for you. We just can’t guarantee it’s the advice you’ll want to hear.
1. To you who have just begun brooding over life
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.
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