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Zen Comes West: Recalling Zen Master Soen Nakagawa


Zen Comes West:

Recalling Zen Master Soen Nakagawa

James Ishmael Ford

It was on today, the eleventh of March, in 1984 that Rinzai Zen grasp Soen Nakagawa died at Ryutakuji monastery in Japan. It’s been some time since I’ve famous the day and this outstanding determine on the basis of Zen come West. Felt acceptable to supply it once more.

In my examine of Zen come West, Zen Master Who? I wrote about him.

Through his common visits, his Dharma heirs, and others he taught, Soen Nakagawa would change into probably the most essential figures shaping a Western understanding of Rinzai Zen. Soen Nakagawa was born (on the nineteenth of March,) 1907 in Iwakuni, close to Hiroshima.

His father was a military physician, and so the household relocated steadily. While Soen was nonetheless very younger his father died. His mom, who by no means remarried, struggled to help the household. Eventually Soen was admitted to Tokyo Imperial University to review Japanese literature. He specialised in poetry, particularly Basho, maybe Japan’s most beloved poet. Basho had studied as a Zen monk, and whereas he could have by no means been formally ordained, the Zen spirit clearly pervades his work.

Fascinated by the concept of the literary monk, Soen Nakagawa decided to ordain. In 1931, a yr after taking his diploma, Soen was ordained an unsui by the Rinzai grasp Katsube Seigaku Roshi at Kogakuji. He spent appreciable time in a mountain retreat at Daibosatsu Mountain in Yamanashi Prefecture.

At this time he printed some poetry and diary entries in {a magazine} known as Fujijn Koron, “Woman’s Review.” Nyogen Senzaki learn these and in 1934 initiated what would change into a lifelong correspondence and profound friendship. At about the identical time, Soon Nakagawa met the famend Genpo Yamamoto Roshi, the abbot of Ryutakuji.

Soen’s first e-book of poems, Shingan, “Coffin of Poems,” was printed in 1936. This was adopted by three extra, the final being in 1985 (the yr after his loss of life). Continuing his penchant for deep private apply, not lengthy after being accepted as a pupil of Genpo Roshi, he returned to Daibosatsu for 2 years of solitary retreat. He then returned to Ryutakuji and extra formal coaching. In 1950 he succeeded his instructor as grasp of this famend coaching corridor.

Senzaki Sensei thought Soen Nakagawa Roshi can be an ideal instructor for the West and spent years making an attempt to lure him to North America. Soen Roshi first deliberate to come back to America in 1941, however the War intervened. He arrived within the West for the primary time in 1949, the place he met Nyogen Senzaki, who organized his first discuss on the Los Angeles Theosophical Society.

In 1950, Soen Nakagawa returned to Ryutakuji. Upon Nyogen Senzaki’s suggestion, younger Robert Aitken made his manner there and started learning with him. The subsequent yr, Philip Kapleau would keep there for 3 months earlier than happening to Sogaku Harada Roshi’s temple, Hosshingji. Of equal significance, Soen Roshi would go to the United States 13 occasions, main sesshin, intensive meditation retreats on each coasts and spending intensive time with many various college students.

Sean Murphy in his One Bird, One Stone recounts the next:

Soen liked to stroll round New York City. He’d stare on the lighted skyscrapers, at their tops, he claimed he noticed Buddha figures within the lights. “Look at the Buddha,” he’d level, “Shining Buddha!” He’d fill the sleeves of his robes with nuts and berries from Central Park or herbs rising within the sidewalk cracks, and add them to his bowl on the subsequent meal. He liked the musical Fiddler on the Roof, and when requested a query about why some explicit level of ceremony wanted to be carried out in a sure manner, he would possibly burst into music, responding “Tradition…!”

Soen was a artistic instructor. Famously, he was recognized to conduct tea ceremony utilizing Coca-Cola or instantaneous espresso and infrequently utilizing Styrofoam cups. Nothing was off limits if it might hep level the best way. The wrier and (later) Zen instructor Peter Matthiessen’s 1975 journal recorded in Endless Vow: The Zen Path of Soen Nakagawa describes his expertise with this outstanding instructor:

Cleaning the Zendo after night sitting, I discover Soen alone within the shadows on the finish of the empty row, within the stillness of zazen. He is the archetypal previous monk of the work, historic as loss of life, burning with life. I mud round him. These days his pleasure in life is pricey; he refers gleefully to “the majority,” as he calls the lifeless… Each day he reminds us that, regardless of all of the tumult and delusion of our life, our true nature is at all times there, just like the solar or moon above black wind and clouds. “The sun is shining; the sun is always shining. That sun is enlightenment; everything is enlightenment!” He dabbled his fingers in a water bowl, “Do you hear? That is enlightenment!

Apparently, in 1967 whereas making an attempt to climb a tree, Soen fell and sustained a extreme head harm. From that time on, Soen Roshi suffered from steady ache and occasional bouts of despair. Following his retirement as abbot of Ryutakuji, he spent growing quantities of time in solitary retreat. Whether this inclination wa related with the ache he suffered, with despair, or just with ever deepening apply is unknown. He died in 1984 – and his deaht poem summarizes an genuine Zen life.

Mustard blossoms!
There is nothing left
to hurl away.

Soen Nakagawak Roshi’s affect within the West and North America is substantive…

Half his ashes are interred at Ryutakuji, half in America.

As a particular deal with a collection of talks concerning the life and teachings of Soen Nakagakwa by the outstanding American Zen instructor Roshi Mitra Bishop.

The ripples enjoying out type his life proceed to scrub throughout the West.


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