20 Enlightening Quotes From a Japanese Zen Master That Will Shift Your Perspective on Life

Ever heard of Kodo Sawaki? If not, then you’re in for a treat of wisdom today.

Kodo Sawaki is considered to be one of the most significant Zen masters of his time for bringing Zen practice into the lives of laypeople and popularizing the ancient tradition of sewing the kesa.

He had a troubled life growing up, running away from home at 16. He was then drafted to serve in the Imperial Japanese Army during the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05. After being discharged, he studied Shin Buddhism in Takada.

He later became a Zen teacher, and during the 1930s he served as a professor at Komazawa University. He is known for his rigorous emphasis on zazen, in particular the practice of shikantaza, or “just sitting”. He often called Zen “wonderfully useless,” discouraging any gaining idea or seeking after special experiences or states of consciousness.

On the interconnected nature of life

“Heaven and Earth give themselves. Air, water, plants, animals, and humans give themselves to each other. It is in this giving-themselves-to-each-other that we actually live. Whether you appreciate it or not, it is true.”

On seeking

“You don’t seek the way. The way seeks you.”

On the real you

“Live the Self that fills the whole Universe.”

“We live in group stupidity and confuse this insanity with true experience. It is essential that you become transparent to yourself and wake up from this madness. Zazen means taking leave of the group and walking on your own two feet.”

“Man makes a clever face and talks about being lord on Earth. And at the same time he doesn’t even know where to begin with his own body: he watches sports on television and defends himself saying that everyone else does it too.”

“Our whole life long you’re completely out of your mind because you think it’s obvious that there is a “you” and “the others”. You put on an act to stand out in a crowd, but in reality there’s neither “you” nor “the others”.
When you die, you’ll understand.”

“The asshole doesn’t need to be ashamed of being the asshole. The feet don’t have any reason to go on strike just because they’re only feet. The head isn’t the most important of all, and the navel doesn’t need to imagine he’s the father of all things. It’s strange though that people look at the prime minister as an especially important person. The nose can’t replace the eyes, and the mouth can’t replace the ears. Everything has its own identity, which is unsurpassable in the whole universe.”

On minimalism

“Gain is delusion; loss is enlightenment.”

“We stop the one who can’t cease from seeking things outside, and practice with our bodies with a posture that seeks absolutely nothing. This is zazen.”

On different points of view

“The question isn’t who’s right. You’re simply seeing things from different points of view.”

On religion

“Religion means living your own life, completely fresh and new, without being taken in by anyone.”

“Religion isn’t an idea. It’s practice.”

“My sermons are criticized by certain audiences. They say that my sermons are hollow, not holy. I agree with them because I myself am not holy. The Buddha’s teaching guides people to the place where there is nothing special… People often misunderstand faith as kind of ecstasy of intoxication… True faith is sobering up from such intoxication.”

On marriage

“A man who understands nothing marries a woman who understands nothing, and everyone says, “Congratulations!” Now that’s something I cannot understand.”

On happiness

“Human happiness and unhappiness doesn’t only depend on money. If the balance in your savings account were a measure of your happiness, it would be a simple matter. Yet it really isn’t so.”

Aren’t we all the same?

“We often wonder who here is really better? But aren’t we all made out of the same lump of clay?”

On illusions

“Illusion means being unstable. Illusion means being controlled by the situation.”

On death

“You’re worried about death? Don’t worry – you’ll die for sure.”

On peace

“You cry out, “Peace, peace!” , but if you would only be quiet, it would be so much more peaceful. You say, “In my opinion…”, but it’s precisely when opinions and theories come into the picture that the bickering starts.”

“We stop the one who can’t cease from seeking things outside, and practice with our bodies with a posture that seeks absolutely nothing. This is zazen.”

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