Harada Sekkei Roshi is a teacher in the Soto Zen tradition and abbot of Hosshinji monastery, in Fukui Prefecture, Japan. This past May, his student Keiko Kando spoke with him about the meaning and function of Zen. Harada Roshi’s book of dharma talks, The Essence of Zen, is to be reprinted by Wisdom Publications next February. This interview was translated from the Japanese by Heiko Narrog.

What do people search for in life? People are looking for liberation from their fears, worries, and anxieties; that is, for freedom from the bonds of birth, old age, sickness, and death. Even in our times—where mankind has developed this amazing modern civilization with scientific wonders—people still continue to lead their lives trying to figure out solutions to these fundamental matters.

What kind of solution does Buddhism offer? Buddhism has taught the dharma (the law, or the truth) by speaking about the theory of conditional causation. This means that since everything comes to life and ceases through causation, everything is without a center and nothing has real substance. Therefore, everything changes constantly (that is, everything is impermanent) and is without beginning and without end (that is, everything is without self). One cannot recognize any form in things. However, ordinary people mistakenly think that there is some real substance in things. As they cling to this delusion and run after it, various afflictions arise. These afflictions are ultimately all related to birth, old age, sickness, and death (the four sufferings).

Shakyamuni Buddha taught that all material things are subject to laws. Birth, old age, sickness, and death are laws in themselves, and not problems that have to be solved through the power of human beings or through some other power. On the contrary, giving oneself over to birth, old age, sickness, and death as they come is the way to liberation. There is no “good” and “bad” in laws. Only through the intervention of people’s views does this notion of “good” and “bad” arise.

What is Zen, then? In the Soto sect, it is taught that Zen itself is enlightenment. Zen is everything in daily life. There are people who think that sitting is the best way of practicing Zen and that everything else is secondary, but this is a grave mistake. Zen is becoming one with all truths. It is easy to be misled by the word “zazen” [Zen sitting meditation] and think that it refers to some special practice, but this is not the case. If the goal of all religious practice in the world is to become one with the truth, then this is all Zen. Ultimately, there is no way to peace of mind outside of Zen.

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