What is Shugyo?
Table of Contents:

00 Introduction
01 The Shugyo Model of Education
02 Types of Meditative Spiritual Cultivation
03 Posture, Mudras, and Techniques in
Buddhist Meditation
04 Breathing
05 Okyo: Sutra Chanting
06 Martial Arts
07 Fine Arts
08 Diet, Habbits, and Body Therapy
09 Recommended Reading
10 Monk / Not-Monk
00 Introduction
In this page I will try to express, in my own words, certain concepts which are included in shugyo. There might very well be better definitions out there, you may not agree with my definitions, and I might even be completely wrong. It is also important to note that there are entire books dedicated to many of the topics and sub topics that I have only spent a few brief sentences or paragraphs describing. The Shugyo Diary should be thought of as a sketchbook rather than a collection of fine paintings or a manual.

Shugyo (Chinese: Xio Xin, 修行 ) is the Japanese pronunciation of a word which basically means deep mind-body training. I think that any kind of training could be described as shugyo… but it is more of the mindset that accompanies said training that is the defining characteristic. In general, we use the term shugyo for training done in the pursuit of higher (deeper) levels of consciousness, as well as the refinement of an ability. Thus, we typically refer to Buddhist training as shugyo… and it is usually quite demanding, requiring unlimited amounts of effort, mindfulness, and refinement. The training can, for example, take the form of Shaolin Kung Fu, seated meditation (Zazen, 座禅 ), archery, or artistic endeavors such as shodo (calligraphy) and ikebana (flower arrangement). Ideally, however, a Shugyosha ( 修行者 one practicing shugyo) should extend their efforts (energy, concentration, and mindfulness) to all aspects of their life. After all, even washing dishes and brushing your teeth can lead to enlightenment. Bellow I will go into more detail in attempts of shedding some light on this subject.

01 The Shugyo Model of Education
Shugyo Education Model
Western Education Model
The shugyo educational paradigm is characterized by an emphasis on the depth of knowledge, wisdom, experience, technical ability.

In the shugyo model, the student takes only a handful of skills or forms and repeats them time and time again. Each repetition refining the skill or deepening the knowledge.

The aim here is total mastery over one’s object of study and oneself to the point where both subject and object disappear into the void of experience… enlightenment.

The western educational paradigm is characterized by an emphasis on the accumulation of knowledge, experiences, and skills.

In the western model, the student usually only touches the tip of many icebergs… almost never achieving mastery and rarely achieving proficiency.

The aim here is… well, it does help one to become well rounded, but I find that I have forgotten most of what I had learned in high school.

These models were transmitted to me by Hosokawa Roshi

I think that we can not say that one model is superior to the other… rather that each has its place. Also the term Western might be a misnomer. Certainly The Arts (Music, Fine Arts, Craftsmanship) in the West have traditionally taken a shugyo model approach. Also, it is good in my opinion for one to become well rounded and it helps to have a broad experience base so that you can choose the activities or subjects in which you wish to excel.

If you compare this Sri Lankan Theravada Buddhist Stupa to our shugyo model of education, you can see the similarity. In Sri Lanka, this famous stupa shape represents the mind. The beginner’s mind is like the base of the stupa. The shape suggests that as one trains his or her mind through Vispassana (awareness or mindfulness meditation) they ascend to higher levels of consciousness. Each successive level has a smaller circumference. This is not a narrowing of perception, but rather a refinement of concentration, mind, and consciousness, and a melting away of conditioned delusion.
02 Types of Meditative Spiritual Cultivation
Meditation is kind of a broad term used by many different people and most probably with very different meanings. Practitioners of Yoga, Chi Kung, TM, Divine In, and Vispassana/Zen may all consider their path a form of meditation. It is important to realize that different paths have different aims for their meditation and thus lead to different levels of consciousness. When I speak of meditation I am generally referring to Buddhist meditation, particularly Zazen, but to put it into context I will attempt to define some other schools as well.
Yoga is an art that comes from India / Hinduism. Yoga uses relaxation postures, balance postures, and demanding postures in order to strengthen and lengthen muscles as well as to release stress and toxins from the body/mind. Natural and abdominal breathing is employed to assist in this aim. Additionally, Yoga employs visualization (similar to Chi Kung and Tibetan practices) and awareness of the body (similar to Feldencrist Therapy and Vispassana) to aid in the previously stated aims as well as to possibly expand or extend consciousness.

Personally, I feel that Yoga is better used as a tool to loosen the body in preparation for, or in response to, Zazen (seated zen meditation) and martial arts, than as meditation in and of itself. I will say, however, that yoga is probably better for most people… (people looking to feel better but not looking for enlightenment). I am benefiting tremendously from Yoga.

Chi Kung is an art that comes from China. Shaolin Chi Kung developed, according to legend, from Bodhi Dharma who taught it to the monks at Shaolin Temple in China, though Chi Kung existed in China prior to his involvement. Bodhi Dharma (Damo, Daruma, 菩提達磨) is of course the Indian monk credited for bringing Zen (Ch’an/Dhayana/禅) from India to China. The practice of various chi kung systems has spread and changed throughout China and the world and is popularly associated with Taoism, though it is not religion specific, and is also practiced by Buddhists, Confucian Scholars, Atheists, and Monotheists alike.

I would briefly describe the practice of Chi Kung as a relaxed and mindful synchronization of breath, visualization of chi movement (energy, ki, æ°—), and physical movements. Breathing should be natural… but ideally the breath should naturally be deep or abdominal. Like Yoga and Zen Body Therapy, Chi Kung does a good job of releasing toxins and stress, and of raising awareness of your body and its sensations. Chi Kung is also supposed to clear blockages in your body’s chi meridians, balance your yin and yang (陰陽) chi, and otherwise infuse your body with chi and jing (compressed chi). Once again, Chi Kung is not a replacement for Zazen, more of a compliment, though it is probably better for most people.

Some people warn that doing Chi Kung incorrectly or under a master who is not a real master may lead to insanity. Actually there are many schools and styles of Chi Kung. As a general rule of thumb I would suggest that those promising super powers, having complex visualizations, or forceful techniques, could be risky. The type of Chi Kung that I practice comes from Shaolin 18 Lohan Hands. Doesn’t really promise much other than improved health, quite gentle, and I would categorize it as extremely safe… check out the “Lifting the Sky” exercise from one of Wong Kiew Kit’s books. (By the way, a general rule: if you feel better afterwards, then go with it… but if you feel worse afterwards… you or your teacher might be doing something wrong. Some temporary localized physical pain may just be your body releasing toxins from that area or clearing a chi blockage.)

TM or Transcendental Meditation: actually I know nothing of TM… except, now that I think of it, my first attempt at meditation was with the best man at my aunt’s wedding who claimed to practice TM. So, I have no idea about TM ideology, but the physical practice seemed a lot like Zazen.

Divine In is a philosophy and set of practices that originated in Japan but claims to draw upon Universal or cross cultural symbolism, incantations, and spiritual truths. My neighbor is really into this and gave me a bunch of literature. I also practiced some of the techniques with her out of interest, so maybe I can make a few comments. Their main Ideology seems to be to promote good vibes and “peace on Earth” by engaging in their practices.

These practices include mandala drawing by writing very densely, in a concentric circular fashion, a phrase like “infinite gratitude to water” or “Ware Soku Kami Nami” (“I am a divine being”). They also perform the Divine In which is kind of like Chi Kung mixed with Mantra Chanting and Mudra incantations (similar to Ninja cutting the 9 ideograms arm/hand incantations)

I found that the Divine In does a really good job at creating a single pointed mind (intense focused concentration) but their ideology seems to be slightly out of phase with my world view.

Buddhist Meditation comes from the Buddha who lived about 2,600 years ago. Because there are different forms and documentation we can say that “What is Meditation?” has changed throughout the ages and the countries that it has passed through. These changes are, however, superficial I believe. At the deepest level, all forms of Buddhist Meditation boil down to Shikantaza (只管打座 Just Sitting with nothing added) or Just Being, or Mind Only, or No Mind ( 無心 ), or Zen, or Shunyata ( void, emptiness, 空 ), or Suchness unfolding as Suchness. The only major differences in meditation exist for entry and intermediate level techniques.

Buddhist Meditation can be divided into Sitting Meditation (Zazen), Standing Meditation (including standing meditation at the end of Shaolin Chi Kung), Walking Meditation, and Meditation in Action. Meditation in Action is supposed to be the best kind of meditation… but it also seems to be the hardest to REALLY pull off. Seated meditation seems to be the preferred method of most practitioners (including the Buddha and Bodhi Dharma) and walking meditation seams to be a good bridge between taking your mindset from seated meditation into every day life (meditation in action). I suppose that Tai Chi and Kung Fu would or could be considered as either Chi Kung, Walking Meditation, or Meditation in Action, or just exercise… depending on how you look at it or approach it.

The ultimate goal of Buddhist Meditation is Buddhahood (or Arahat, or Bodhisattva, depending on your culture or lineage of Buddhism). But In the end it’s all about Enlightenment, liberation from suffering, awakening to ultimate reality. This is a lofty and worthwhile goal, but how does one achieve it? It is said that you can go looking for it but never find it because it is right here, right now, happening all of the time. Actually, monotheists should be able to relate to this idea, even though the ethos is different. I have a cousin who proclaims that God is with him at every moment. How true! But as one Zen Master said; “If you see the Buddha, kill him!”

Our current condition (level of consciousness and perception of reality and suffering) is caused by conditioning and attachment/desire. Theravadan Buddhist take this desire to be quite literal and monks are supposed to give up sex and worldly possessions… but lay and Mahayana practitioners have been able to achieve Nirvana without doing this. So really it is not so much desire qua desire but rather the desire for confirmation of existence or the attachment to the you (ego) that you think is permanent and the conditioned perception of a world with all of its heavens and hells that confirms this.

Through the practice of mindfulness, or attention to the input from the 6 senses (Buddhism included thought process with the 5 senses of western culture), one gradually becomes aware of phenomena arising; desires as desires, impermanence for just that, and delusions as delusions. With this constant attention, your awareness, mind, or consciousness strengthens, or awakens, to higher and higher levels. As Ken Wilber would say, once you transcend one level of consciousness, you disidentify with said level and obtain the ability to operate on it… no longer limited by that level’s limitations. (This is just a brief butchery of a brilliant work. Please see The Atman Project by Ken Wilber for a thorough explanation.)

03 Posture, Mudras, and Techniques in Buddhist
[ posture | zazen | mudras | vispasana tech. | zen tech. | esoteric tech. ]

[ pain | mind games ]

I don’t really want to turn this into an instruction manual… there are plenty of those in print and many meditation centers where you can learn these techniques. I simply want to give an overview and mention some specific points that some teachers may not emphasize that I feel are quite important.


Whether sitting or standing, I feel that one of the most important and often overlooked aspects of meditation is posture. In general, most Zen centers and texts bring attention to this but I have seen this passed over by some Theravada and Tibetan centers. The most important aspect of posture is to keep the spinal column erect and aligned correctly. Also being relaxed, particularly in the upper body, especially in the shoulders (because most of us carry a lot of tension there!), and opening the chest (yoga and zen body therapy are good for this) will be beneficial to your Zazen and posture in general. In Zen, body and mind are one. Correct posture while in Zazen and in your everyday life affects your muscular-skeletal structure, your nervous system, and your mind. So, correct posture is something to always be aware of and your effort in maintaining it should not slacken. You can see from my “example of good posture” that I still have a long way to go!

example of poor posture example of good posture

Some tips and techniques for helping posture:

  • Practicing Yoga, Tai Chi, Kung Fu, Kendo, or Chi Kung may improve your posture.
  • Receiving Zen Body Therapy (highly recommended), or being Rolfed will definitely improve your posture and improve your awareness of your posture.
  • Feldenchrist and Kegal exercises as well as good Tai Chi should help you to roll your pelvis forward and up, straightening your lower back. Try squeezing or “pulling up” your anal sphincter to assist in this.
  • Slightly pull your chin back, towards your throat. You should feel a slight stretch on the backs of your head and neck. Try to feel as through you are reaching towards the sky with the crown of your head, lengthening your spine.

    incidentally, this same posture (open chest, relaxed shoulders, pelvis rolled forward, straight/elongated spine) is recommended in voice training for operatic singers. “Your body is your musical instrument!”

Zazen, Seated Meditation:

Zazen is the practice of the Buddha and the Patriarchs. Ideally you do not move while in Zazen except for the movement caused by breathing. Often the metaphor of a glass of muddy water is used. If we let it sit perfectly still for a period of time, the dirt settles to the bottom, and the water becomes crystal clear. This is like our mind.

The purpose of sitting is to add stability to the practitioner, making it easier to stay still, devoting more of ones resources to mindfulness of the arising and falling of sensations in the body and mind or to their koan or object of concentration. There are about 6 or so different Leg positions which I will not demonstrate as your guru or teacher will be able to do so. In general, however, sitting in a chair is considered the lowest level and least beneficial while sitting in the Full lotus is considered to be the most demanding and offers the most balance. There is a spectrum in between these extremes.

As one advances, It is also important not to fall into any traps. For instance, the desire for enlightenment is still a desire, and should be seen as such. Your effort should be without a goal. Also, you may become conceited because you feel that your efforts make you better than others. This delusion only helps to reinforce your ego, that which you are trying to transcend!

Hand Mudras:

Cosmic Mudra
Daruma Mudra
Theravada Mudra
I saw this Mudra referred to as the Cosmic Mudra in a book so that is how I will refer to it here. Everett has a portrait of Bodhi Dharma in his office with his hands in this mudra and so I call it Daruma’s Mudra. This is how almost all of the seated Buddha statues in Sri Lanka have their hands. I don’t know its name so this will do.

As far as I know, the mudra of the hands is not the be all end all. I think that it comes down to preference or teacher’s preference. Above are some of the most common mudras, I have left a few out, including the ones in which you place your hands on your knees. I think that hand mudras have 2 major purposes. 1) they give you a fixed place for your hands so that you do not keep on moving them during meditation. 2) they bring focus to your abdominal area or dan tien (tan den) chakra about 2 inches below your navel.

Some techniques for entering into a meditative state of mind:

The famous Zen Master, Takuan Soho, commented that one should “train the released mind.” The mind is like a wild animal, first you must learn to control it, but then you must learn to set it free… Here, I have tried to generalize, and briefly describe, some meditation techniques. For convenience, I have described them as low, intermediate, and advanced, as well as entry level techniques. Please do not take these categorical separations as written in stone.

+ Vispasana Techniques:

I think that sweeping refers to a technique in which the practitioner, while sitting in meditation, starts with one end of their body (feet or head, I’m not sure which, or if it matters) and slowly moves their awareness through the body, towards the other end. All along the way, being aware of the sensations of the part of the body that you are currently at. Once you reach the other end of your body you turn around and head back towards the other end.


With this technique, the practitioner labels each sensation or thought that comes to the foreground of the mind as it unfolds. An example might be “car horns, typing, thinking of typing, wind on my skin, happiness, thinking of happiness, breathing…” and so on. Once the sensation is labeled, it is allowed to pass and fade away. This is to help the practitioner become mindful. Has a similar effect as counting the breath and is fairly low level.

breath following:

This is an intermediate technique. The practitioner tries to be with the breath. All attention is placed in the current moment of the breath. The sensation of the breath and the action of the breath as the current moment. This is a bit of a spectrum. Depending on the practitioners level, or how their day is going, this could resemblemarking or shikantaza. By this I mean that you may be literally thinking “deep breath, less deep breath, shallow breath, long breath, less long breath” or you could quite literally just be the breath. Between these two extremes you may find yourself taking a breath and using that sensation as a pause from your monkey mind… a small chance to be in the moment.


Advanced technique, see zen techniques below.

+ Zen Techniques:
counting breath:

Breath counting is a low and entry level technique. By low I mean that it is good for beginners and by entry I mean that even intermediate practitioners could use it at the beginning of their meditation to enter into breath following or koan study or shikantaza. In breath counting you mark each exhalation with a number. So, for instance, you say (in your head, not out loud) “One” during the first breath, “Two” during the exhalation of the second breath and so on. The effort is on the exhalation and the inhalation is relaxed. Once you get to Ten, you start back at or towards One.

This, however, is not as easy as it seems! As you are counting, you will find that you forget what number you are on, or you will find that you are on Fifteen! this is due to a lack of mindfulness. When this happens you either return to “One” or you if you are on fifteen, for example, you could continue on to “six”. So breath counting really acts as feedback system. When I first started to do this I could rarely get passed 1 or 3! It is important to realize that exhalation during meditation is very slow/long which gives ample opportunity for myriad thoughts to arise and interrupt your counting. The goal here would be to become one with the number that you are counting. Counting in Japanese is a bit nicer than in English because each number ends in a “Tsu” sound, which acts as a Zanshin, except for 10.

chi kung:
The decision to place chi kung in this section comes from the paradigm shift that took place during Sifu Wong Kiew Kit’s transmission of Shaolin Chi Kung to me. My before opinion was that the essence of chi kung was the physical exercises and visualizations… the chi work. Now I am of the opinion that the essence of chi kung is not, as the Chinese characters indicate; “life force” “work”, but rather the zen state of mind that follows the chi kung.

Thus, I include chi kung here as an entry (door way) technique, a technique through which one enters into a meditative state of mind. For this matter, the practice of any Buddhist martial art, or fine art could be though of as an entry level technique.

koan study:

Koan Study is an Intermediate level practice. I can’t really call it a technique, at least from the student’s side of things. In Koan Study, the student has to form a master-disciple relationship with a Zen Master. The master gives the student a koan, an illogical question. The koan may make reference to a historic interaction of a Zen master and his disciple or it may be an original, specifically tailored to fit the student in question (as many of the Kamakura koans were). Depending on master or tradition there may be many koans or just one koan.

This system is typically employed by Rinzai (Linzi) Zen but I wouldn’t say that it is exclusively Rinzai (historically Koan Study comes from Yunmen, if I’m not mistaken, which has since been consumed, for the most part, by Rinzai). Also, you could say that any interactions of master and disciple, in any discipline that employs upaya (skillful means), could be considered koan training. This is evident by the fact that many koans are recorded interactions of master and disciple that took place before koan study proper was invented.

By working on an illogical problem, and with the guidance of the master, the student will hopefully become dissatisfied with ordinary so called “logical” thought process and the ego which is attached to it. When the student breaks through this barrier, becoming one with the koan and its answer, they will either be a Zen master themselves… or given another koan to battle with… depending on the depth of their realization.

hitting and shouting:

These are the pop culture hallmarks of Zen. Sudden events such as hearing a loud bell, being yelled at (with a lot of vigor), almost being hit by a car, and the sound and sensation of being hit by a kyosaku (stick of compassion, used in zen temples) can be very effective at bringing one’s awareness to the present moment, or even jolt one from a state of Samadhi (blissful concentration) to a state of Satori (enlightenment). These kinds of events seem to have a different effect on someone who is engaged in shugyo than they do on those who are not.


As stated before, I believe that all forms of Buddhist meditation at their highest level are shikantaza ( 只管打座 ): Just being the present moment as the present moment without thinking of other moments except, perhaps, as aspects of the present moment. They say that ultimately, the practitioner is not experiencing any moments (as quidities), becoming one with the void.

This term (shikantaza) is referred to very often in Soto-shu Zen which tries to implement “Just Sitting” as its practice. In Soto Zen they say that “five minutes of Zazen is five minutes of Enlightenment.” This is the main difference between Rinzai and Soto… but it can be remedied if you say that five minutes of true shikantaza is five minutes of enlightenment. Five minutes of monkey mind is not, provisionally, five minutes of buddha mind.

Ultimately, however, if you take Tientai omnicentrism or Zen emptiness doctrine… of course there is no buddha mind outside of monkeymind and no monkeymind outside of buddha mind. Form is no other than emptiness, emptiness is no other than form. The difference between the provisional and the ultimate is one of ignorance/speculation and realization/experience.

+ Esoteric Techniques:
mantra chanting:

Used by Mahayana sects such as Shingon-shu (真言宗). Also used in Tibetan practices and even in Theravada practices. I suppose that Pure Land recitation of Amitaba Buddha’s name would also fit somewhere in here. Sorry for my limited knowledge, perhaps I can find some practitioners who will expound on this for me.

Anyway, to show my ignorance, I will expound by saying that the reciting of a phrase over and over again can lead to a state of intense concentration, and in this respect I think that we can find similarities with koan study… though with koan study you are concentrating on a paradox not a divine phrase. There is a certain sense, with esoteric chanting, that the words themselves are imbued with some sort of magical quality and that by merely saying them or writing them you invoke their power.

tantric practices:


Pain in the Ass:

Anyone who has done several periods of seated meditation in a day (or a succession of such days) should know what I mean here! This topic title is a bit of a misnomer as the pain that you experience while sitting is more often to be in your knees, lower back, ankles or shins, hips, and or mind. Most people who have done Zen Sesshins, or other similarly intense shugyo, have discovered ways of dealing with this pain and its true nature… but for the novice it can be a daunting obstacle.

I have found that in my practice, my biggest problem with physical pain was not my flexibility or the cushion that I was sitting on, but my own mind. It is as if your mind takes the pain of the current moment and extrapolates it into and unknown future amount of time. The result is a mental construct of a possibly unlimited amount of pain. This becomes something like fear which begins to take hold of you and before you know it the pain is “unbearable.” The consequence of being beaten by the pain is that you move into a new position, which temporarily relieves the pain, but when it comes back it is even worse than before. Not only is it worse, but you are even more likely to succumb to it once again.

I was told in the Matsuoka lineage that the pain doesn’t really stop coming with practice, but it stops bothering you (it stops becoming overwhelming). In the Chozen-ji lineage they say not to run from the pain. To look at the pain and tell it to release. During my first sesshin experience at Belmont, I learned to deal with the pain by putting it into the context of the present moment instead of extrapolating it into the future. When in the present moment you can say “is the pain too great for me to keep sitting for another second?” and of course it is not.

I would say that there is a limit, however. You should work with the pain, not against it. So, you don’t run from it, but also you do not fight it. You use it as a tool to learn about your self… run from it and you impose limitations on your possibilities. Fight it and you reinforce your ego. So, just be with it, explore it, let it pass… and then another object comes into the mind or the body… the pain will return again and again, but it will also go away again and again. If you are in a sesshin… then you pretty much have to not move for the duration of the period. If you are sitting in a less formal situation, however, I would say to work with the pain, but after a reasonable amount of time, mindfully change your leg positions or do some standing or walking meditation Each time, try to push the envelope a bit further so that you can experience personal growth.

Mind Games:

While meditating you will be amazed at how much bull shit you come across… this is our every day monkey mind. It is interesting, but also monotonous and exhausting at times. I am trying to cut through this bull shit.

04 Breathing
coming in the future

+ Types, Purposes, Importance, and Diagrams

. – Chest Breathing

. – Abdominal Breathing

. – Hara Breathing

This section is simple, yet pretty important, and I would hate to give false information here. Thus I hope to ask Hosokawa Roshi or some other shugyosha at the spring sesshin to elaborate on these topics. I will probably add this section in June.

05 Okyo: Sutra Chanting
I don’t really feel qualified to comment much here. It seems as though Okyo helps to develop concentration. It sounds cool. I feel that it enhances my Zazen.

basic techniques from Chozen-ji lineage:

– Try to chant as many syllables as you can before taking another breath.

– Visualize sending the sound down into your dan tien (spot 2 inches below navel).

some more tips:

– Listen to those around you, the sound that you produce should harmonize with the other sound

– Chant in as low of a register as you can. The vibration of your voice should resonate through your internal organs and feel good.

I have transcribed one of my favorite sutras, the famous Heart Sutra, into a printable format (fits on one page). This is the Japanese version. Chinese Characters with Roman Characters beneath for pronunciation. Must have Japanese Language support installed on your computer (to view the Chinese characters) and Microsoft Excel.

Download the Maka Hanya Haramita Shingyo 摩訶般若波羅蜜多心経 (heart sutra)

06 Martial Arts
Some people may be surprised to see Martial Arts on a web site so far devoted mostly to Buddhist Meditation. Aren’t Buddhist’s supposed to be pacifists? To others the inclusion of this topic comes as no surprise. Indeed, The way of the Warrior and the Way of the Buddha have been integrated or coexisted for centuries.

This mutually supportive existence is found most notably in Tibet, China, and Japan. In Tibet there is the Shambala tradition and the Lama style martial arts, In China the famous Zen Buddhist temple of Shaolin and Shaolin Kung Fu, and In Japan the Union of Bushido and Buddhism. In general, the Theravadan school of Buddhism does not approve of martial art training, but there are some Theravada teachers and practitioners who do engage in the martial arts.

Provisionally, this paradox can be untied when we look at a Martial Artist who is a Shugyosha rather than one who is not. Those who are engaged in the Martial Arts who are hoping to gain something, like power, or strength to bully others are not Shugyosha. Those who are doing sport Martial Arts and who are training to win sport tournaments as opposed to training for life or death circumstances may also not be Shugyosha. A Shugyosha Trains in Budo, or Kung Fu, or whatever discipline because they are looking to improve their body-mind and they are looking to protect the weak.

There is a sense with Buddhist Martial Arts (or any other martial art with spiritual and effective combat goals… Tai Chi for instance) that the battle is more of an internal one… not between you and an opponent… but with yourself. When you conquer yourself you reach a point of no enemy and the battle is already won. Thus we see why Musashi eventually only used a wooden sword and why some martial artists reach the point where they can avoid a conflict or become victorious in a conflict without having to resort to violence. The ultimate aim of Buddhist Martial Arts, other than enlightenment, is to be able to ensure peace and righteousness ( 仁 ) as expressed in the concept of “the life giving sword.” (As in the context of the Yagyu Heihou Kaden Sho)

For more detailed discourse on this subject, the interested reader could read books such as The Zen Way to the Martial Arts, Shambala, The Art of Shaolin Kung Fu or The Complete Book of Zen, Go Rin No Sho, and the Fudochi Shimmyo Roku (see Recommended Reading, item 09, below). All of these texts either talk in depth about the interrelationship between The way of the Warrior and the Way of the Buddha or they talk about the Zen state of mind necessary to be a Buddha and to be a Martial Arts Master.

07 Fine Arts
Traditionally, the field of mind body cultivation has been catagoriesed into three or four areas. There is physical training, spiritual training, and artistic training… you may or may not want to include intellectual training here as well. There is of course a lot of overlap here. Physical training like kendo practice, for instance, also involves the development of mind, chi, and spirit. Artistic training also involves physical and spiritual training. I have already given some examples of spiritual and physical training above and so I would now like to make mention of “the Zen fine arts” and the role that they play in mind-body cultivation.

Hosokawa Roshi once made a relevant comment on this subject (and I paraphrase): “We use martial arts to train our body, meditation to develop our mind, and the fine arts are what we leave behind… the proof, a physical representation of our development.”

Traditional examples of zen fine arts Include:

. – Shodo: brushed chinese character calligraphy

. – Tea Ceremony

. – Ikebana: flower arrangement

. – Poetry: various styles of chinese and
japanese fixed format verse such as haiku

. – Sculpture: pottery, bonzai, wood carvings, and architectual landscaping (like a zen rock garden)

The arts (and any other, really) can be used as aids for mindfulness, they can be a shugyo to train proper body movement and balance, and they can help you to develop concentration… to hold a certain level of kiai for a certain amount of time. But really, where the fine arts really shine, is as the above quote mentions. The expression presented in the art, when viewed, gives a snapshot of the artists attainment. Of course you can tell about one’s development while watching them in martial combat, or walking down the street, but these are things that have to be observed as they happen. Physical art, however, can usually last between a day and a few hundred… or even a thousand years. It is what we leave behind… a visible wake of shugyo.

Though shodo is generally considered to be the pinnacle of this phenomenon, it can also be observed in all hard copy art as well as in more temporal dependent performances such as tea ceremony or theatrical performances. It has been noted that the quality of Yamaoka Tesshu’s calligraphy improved steadily through the years but then had a quantum leap after his first Satori (enlightenment) and then continued to improve steadily as his realization deepened. Actors and swordsmen alike are also know to have dramatically improved in their craft after having moments of realization, large or small.

The tricky part about the fine arts is that for a master, or someone of a fairly high level, or perhaps even someone with an innate ability, it is easy to tell someone’s spiritual level based on their art work, but for the rest of us It may not be as easy. Of course most of us would agree on the difference in quality between a master and a novice… but the difference between a master and an expert may be hard to distinguish if you are not a connoisseur. Tesshu is said to have a student who was talented in calligraphy and who would make forgeries of Tesshu’s work in order to make some extra money! This is similar to drinking wine, nei? Some people have a tongue that is very sensitive to the subtle variations present in wines. Some wines, they feel, are of lesser quality, but the rest of us don’t mind drinking them because they they seem pretty good, especially for the price, and they still get you drunk!

08 Diet, Habits, and Body Therapy
[ veg. in buddhism | veg. in shugyo | habits | zen bodytherapy ]

[ detox. baths | sun arcon | ayerveda | acupuncture ]

Vegetarianism in Buddhism:

These days, many people have given vegetarianism a try for one reason or another. I will try to outline how vegetarianism is viewed in Buddhism and how it differs for Theravada monks, Mahayana monks, lay followers, and shugyosha.

Traditionally, the monastic order of Buddhism has adhered to a vegetarian diet for two reasons. First and foremost, practitioners of Hiniyana (Theravada) Buddhism were quite concerned with karma and the refinement of character. In order to stop producing “bad” karma one would give up killing or eating meat which usually necessitates someone killing something. The aim here was to eliminate your own suffering by accumulating good merit vis a vis helping to alleviate other creatures’ suffering. Secondly, one aimed to eliminate desires and not to indulge in excess. Thus, monks were only permitted to eat before noon and their diet is/was supposed to be quite simple, only to sustain health, and not to satisfy craving.

The way that the Buddha’s vegetarianism has been interpreted differs by necessity from place to place. Theravada monks, in general, do no take meat nor “fresh” milk products. They do, however, eat sea food and powdered milk. Lay Theravada followers are permitted to eat meat, but they are strongly advised against a profession as a butcher due to the negative karmic repercussions.

In Nepal, lay practitioners have little to eat because of the arid mountain environment. They keep yaks, they drink their milk and eat their curd but they do not slaughter them for meat. I think that Tibetan monks also take milk products, but not meat.

I think that traditionally, in Japan, Mahayana monks were not supposed to eat any seafood or meat. I don’t know if they have much in the way of dietary restrictions now a days… especially if you are a priest as opposed to a monk. I know that in the stories of Ikkyu and Ryokan, people were down right shocked when they ate sea food but apparently, Ikkyu did it because he did not use a discriminating mind… or because he was a smart-aleck. Ryokan ate sea food on the rare occasion precisely because he loved seafood and didn’t want to see it go to waste. I don’t think that lay Mahayana practitioners were ever tightly bound to vegetarianism… though some pious Chinese do follow a vegetarian diet and the Japanese have one of the healthiest diets around, primarily boiled vegetables, soybeans, and fish.

Pragmatic Vegetarianism in Shugyo:

As the religious concerns have already been mentioned, I will not move on to the pragmatic presence or lack there of of vegetarianism in shugyo. Factually we can say that cooked meat contains a lot of energy and protein. Meat also contains a lot of toxins, hormones, and saturated fats depending on the animal and the cut. Directly within this dichotomy lies the answer to our purposed situation.

During periods of intense physical activity… of hard, external, shugyo, many shugyosha, Buddhist or otherwise, will eat meat. This is because of the high calorie count as well as the protein needed to rebuild damaged cells.

When a shugyosha is engaging in primarily internal training they will usually forsake meat, but probably continue to eat fish. The reason for this should be obvious. First of all, many internal practices seek to detoxify, loosen, and increase the circulation of the body. A good way to detoxify is to reduce the intake of toxins. Meets also have the tendency to tighten your muscles which adds to the pain while sitting in meditation and would also be counterproductive for a yoga practitioner. Cholesterol can clog arteries and decrease the body’s circulation. The hormones in meat could interfere with your body’s optimum balance of natural hormones.

Meat, then, can be seen as a tool that a shugyosha may use as appropriate. As for the karmic repercussions… I would say that these would be negligible for someone ostensibly engaged in mind/body cultivation. Eating plants, or the millions of micro animals living on them, kills living cells. Our body’s immune system does the same. I have also heard reports that elderly people who do not eat enough meat often end up suffering from malnutrition and become lethargic. So, If a cow helps someone to become a Buddha… well that’s nature for you.

Pragmatic vegetarianism does not only mean abstaining from meat. Some raw vegetables are also considered to be counter productive for internal cultivation. I was told that you can tell if a vegetable should be cooked or not by boiling it. If, while boiling a vegetable, foam forms at the surface of the water, this vegetable should be cooked before consumption. This foam is supposed to be some kind of acid that tightens your muscles. You should remove this foam with a ladle if boiling. On a similar note, carbonated beverages are a no no due to the high levels of carbonic acid. The refined sugar is probably not that great for you either. Alcohol, I think, is all right in moderation as it has the effect of thinning your blood and relieving stress. We are talking something like one glass here. Because alcohol is an alcohol base, it tends to work its way out of the body pretty quickly and will thus not affect your meditation the next day. Other drugs should probably be counterproductive while engaging in shugyo… marijuana for instance is an oil base and thus tends to take longer before you can become super lucid again. We probably need to do more extensive test to really know how different chemicals may or may not benefit or deter from mind / body cultivation… in the end, however, shugyo is about effort… technology still needs to develop a long way before there is “an easy way out”. I would also probably keep away from large amounts of coffee… but a moderate amount of tea should be good.


Often times when people speak of karma images of predestiny, fate, and chains of repercussion fill their mind. In Zen, when we speak of karma, we are really referring to habits… and to their repercussions. Lets take a sore back for instance. Some might say that because of past negative karma we are made to suffer chronic back pain today. In Zen we say that because of our habits, our conditioned behavior, our karma, we have chronic back pain. You can follow this karmic chain backwards to find its sources. An example might be: You have back pain because of bad posture in general, which is caused by sitting in front of the computer for too long in a bad posture, which is caused by your habit of sitting that way, which is caused by your habit of being lazy and not correcting your posture. Another example might be: you have pain in your right shoulder, which is caused by a scholiosis, which is caused by a tight muscle on one side of your body, which was caused by storing emotional trauma in that area since you were a child.

You can think of many examples and then put them through a similar chain. These could be mental disease or depression, health problems, physical pain, biting your nails, sports injuries, and so on. So, even if karma is not some mystical thing that we inherit from a former life, it is still something that affects all of us in our daily lives. It is not fate, however. By working towards breaking bad habits and by actively taking steeps to change your physical, economical, mental, and social life you can break free of so called fate.

Because in Buddhism there is no distinction between mind and body, it is possible to affect both by working with one. Thus practices like meditation not only affect your mind, but real physical changes in your body. It is possible to go the other direction as well. Working with the body as in yoga and massage therapy will not only relieve physical pains, but also mental, spiritual, and energy abnormalities and imbalance. The extent of the relief varies between holistic, localized, temporary, and semi-permanent. Below I will give some examples of treatment that I have tried. When I try more treatments such as cupping, reiki, reflexology, and others, I will add my comments about them below.

Zen Bodytherapy:

Zen Bodytherapy is the most effective treatment that I have found to assist in bringing about semi-permanent changes in your body-mind. Briefly, Zen Bodytherapy is a comprehensive system of deep tissue massage, structural alignment, functional awareness, trigger point manipulation, and chi-kung, that aims to increase bodily awareness, release toxins and bad chi, and correct the alignment of the muscular-skeletal system. Beyond this, Zen Bodytherapy can teach you a lot about yourself, your fears, your limitations, and even bring you face to face with suppressed physical and emotional traumas from your past. Zen Bodytherapy theory firmly believes in mind-body and that stress, trauma, and their associative memories, are often stored in the muscles and connective tissues of the body.

But Zen Bodytherapy does not stop there. The theory also demands that local massage can only deliver temporary relief. For semi-permanent relief and change to occur a more holistic approach must be taken. Therapy is usually done over the course of 10 treatments, sometimes more, in which nearly every muscle group in the body, even the inside of the mouth, is given a deep massage and properly realigned. The treatment, in general, starts with the extremities and works it way closer and deeper to the core. Throughout the 10 sessions many muscle groups are repeatedly worked to further facilitate the release and opening necessary to begin focusing on the abdominal area.

This process can be extremely painful, some likening it to child birth, others barely phased by it. Some laugh, some cry, but everyone who I have meet who has gone through it has only praise for the results. I call the results semi permanent because the work done does stay in your body but if with time, with bad habits, and without further shugyo, the benefits from the treatment can become less visible or maybe even disappear all together. The 10 treatments can be repeated, each time you go through the series more layers are peeled off of the onion and the results should be more permanent. Yoga and Zazen are great compliments to Zen Bodytherapy, and all 3 can help each other’s results to be deeper and more permanent. Additionally, I think that you will find that Zen Bodytherapy can improve your martial art… though it could be detrimental to a ballerina and possibly to a gymnast or figure skater because their ideal body, or necessary body, is different from that of the shugyo paradigm.

The “must” accompaniment for Zen Bodytherapy is to drink enough water to make your pee clear and to take a detox bath. Many toxins are knocked loose during treatment and failure to drink enough water or take a detox bath can leave you feeling hung over or even cause you to fall ill. For additional information on Zen Bodytherapy, read Dub Leigh’s book listed below in the recommended reading, or take a browse over to my literature gallery/papers section. Also, here is an article written by a practictioner of Zen Bodytherapy, here is an interview with Dub Leigh, and here is an article written by Dub Leigh about Moshe Feldenkrais.

Take a Detoxification Bath Today!

Taking a detox bath is a great way to relieve stress and to reduce toxin levels in your body. I usually feel fairly loose and sleepy afterwards… and feel like sipping tea and lounging around. Definitely something better suited for the evening rather than the morning! After times of physical or emotional exertion, a detox bath is the way to go.

1) fill your bathtub with an appropriate amount of warm water

2) add 1/2 cup each of the following: epsom salt, sea salt (or kosher salt), and baking soda

3) soak yourself in the tub for about 15 minutes

The Sun Arcon Chi Machine is like a drug in machine form. Basically you just lay on the ground and it wiggles your feet from left to right. The constant sound of the moving parts and the improved chi and blood circulation allow you to become very relaxed. The chi machine really gets interesting when the machine stops abruptly after a predefined amount of time. The user will usually feel similar sensations as felt during or after chi kung or yoga. Tingling in the arms or body… sometime a feeling of paralysis or a column of warmth up and down your spine.

Costs around US$400, you can get cheaper knock offs but they could be harmful. Pretty nice if you can afford one. Still not a substitute for Zazen nor for Yoga… but possibly for Chi Kung… but it kind of seems like an easy alternative to the real thing. You should be making a bit more effort in your shugyo!

Ayervedic Treatments:

Ayerveda is the indigenous medical system of Sri Lanka. The theory goes something like: everything that we need to maintain a healthy mind-body is present in nature. This includes the use of natural herbs, oils, massage, and diet in order to achieve the desired result of good health. The Ayervedic system seems to be vast and varied and I, personally, have only undergone what I like to call Spa Ayervedic treatments.

Spa Ayerveda is available at many of the resorts and hotels in Sri Lanka. They usually involve a combination of one or more of the following treatments: facial treatment, head massage, full body massage, herbal steam bath, and herbal bath. The massages use oil, they are not deep, and there is no pain involved. These followed by either an herbal steam bath or just a warm herbal bath which is then followed by a normal shower to wash off the remaining oil.

It has been my experience that Spa Ayerveda treatments only offer temporary “relief” from stress and offers no real permanent change in your body. The effects of the treatment are similar to a detox bath… but more expensive.

There is another kind of Ayervedic treatment that I have heard about which is known as Pancha Karma Ayerveda. Pancha Karma supposedly means Five Treatments and is available primarily at hospitals. I have not personally experienced this treatment but I did have a chance to interview a practitioner and so I will share some brief information here.

Pancha Karma is 5 separate treatments, each ranging from 3 to 5 days in length, which are applied sequentially over a 20 day period. These treatments include sinus purging; which involves sniffing oils into your nasal cavity and then letting stuff drain out, an oil/herbal enema, head and body massage, and fasting (if memory serves me correctly). It is recommended by practitioners to receive this series of treatments at least once a year to maintain health.

Acupuncture and TCM:

Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine. I wrote a report on Acupuncture for an English class in high school… maybe I can pull it up when I return home and find some factual information to include here. As for TCM, this is a subject too vast to really go into depth here. So, once again, just an overview and my personal experience.

The basic theory of Chinese medicine is that you only really get sick when your body’s yin and yang chi are low or out of balance. Sick in TCM doesn’t just mean a cold or flu, depression, lethargy, cancer, and impotence are all included. Sick here means that the body-mind is not working as it is supposed to… and the illness is just the symptom, not the cause. A major difference in holistic medicine and western medicine is that western medicine attempts to relieve a symptom where as TCM and other holistic practices attempt to prevent illness from arising in the first place.

An appropriate diet, chi kung, and exercise can help to maintain this optimum balance of yin and yang necessary to live in good health and happiness. When one does fall ill, Acupuncture is one technique employed to help to correct the imbalance. The theory goes that there are major and minor pathways through which chi (life energy) flows through the body. These pathways are known as meridians. By using pressure, by applying chi kung, or by the insertion of acupuncture needles, these meridian can be stimulated as necessary to clear an energy blockage and restore a harmonious flow throughout the body.

I have gone for acupuncture twice at the time of writing this, I will describe my first experience at this time. I was suffering from severe neck aches and headaches, probably some kind of whiplash from roller coasters and head banging… anyway, went to the talented Dr. Chin in Columbus Ohio after positive recommendations from several friends. The process involved some question and answer followed by Dr. Chin inserting hair sized disposable needles into what I can only assume were specific and appropriate spots located at various locations between my head and my toes. I was left to lay in a dimly lit room with opera music. Upon returning the doctor removed the needles, applied some chiropractic work, and gave me a package of herbal medicine. The next day my unbearable headaches were nowhere to be scene (or felt).

Acupuncture is also used extensively in hospitals in East Asia. You may have seen photos or documentaries about Chinese hospitals using acupuncture as general and local anesthetic during open surgery, amazing!

09 Recommended Reading
[ philosophical texts | scholarly works | biographical stuff | film and other media ]

I have only recommended books that I have personally read and enjoyed. I also have included some movies and web pages that are relevant and worth checking out.

philosophical texts:
+ The Zen Way to the Martial Arts by Taisen Deshimaru

very short, very simple, and really embodies the holistic model or system of shugyo that I have attempted to present on this webpage. please read this book.

+ Lao Tzu, (The Tao Te Ching) by Lao Tzu ( 老子, Romanization may differ such as Lao Zi )

My favorite printing of this is entitled Tao ( タオ ) by Shozo Kajima. avail. in Japan. Great printing, great paper, great design… mostly in modern Japanese and Chinese with some English here and there.

Also, the D.C. Lau translation on Penguin Classics is good.

Basically, the Lao Tzu is the quintessential text of philosophical Taoism (Daoism, 道教)

+ Hagakure, The Book of the Samurai by Yamamoto Tsunetomo, translated by William Scott Wilson this book has more great quotes than probably any other book that I have… not necessarily more profound, but very frank.
+ Moon In A Dewdrop, Writings of Zen Master Dogen edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi
+ Book of Five Rings ( 五輪の諸, Go Rin No Sho) by Miyamoto Musashi


A Way to Victory: The Annotated Book of Five Ringe by Miyamoto Musashi, translated by Hidy Ochiai

+ The Unfettered Mind, Writings of the Zen Master to the Sword Master by Takuan Soho, translated by William Scott Wilson


Fudochi Shimmyo Roku by Takuan Soho, translated by Tanouye Rotaishi

+ Art of War by Sun Zi (Romanization may differ)
+ Four Book: Great Learning, Doctrine of the Mean,
Confucian Analects, and Mencius

these books, combined as the Four Book, represent the development of classic Chinese Confucian philosophy, culminating with the Menchius ( 孟子 ), half way between Confucianism and Taoism.

scholarly works:
+ Zen Action, Zen Person by T.P. Kassius

a great book to cognitively understand the deeper aspects of zen / buddhism

+ Evil and/or/as The Good by Brook Ziporyn

the first 40 pages took me 1 year of procrastination to read, finished the rest of the book in about 3 months. Had to read most paragraphs twice, pretty thick material. good stuff on value theory/paradox, chinese thought, and Tientai (天台 Tendai) Buddhism.

+ The Atman Project by Ken Wilber

the first half is really good, describes levels of consciousness and their development

+ The Complete Book of Zen by Wong Kiew Kit pretty basic, easy to understand, a good primer or overview of zen history and concepts
biographical stuff:
+ The Sword of No Sword, Life of Master Warrior Tesshu by John Stevens

really great portrait of the life one of the most inspirational Zen/sword/calligraphy masters of the Meiji era. Includes examples of his renowned shodo as well as entertaining stories from his life.

+ The Empty Mirror, Experiences in a Japanese Zen Monastary by Janwillem van de Wetering

Janwillem draws a colourful portrait of his experience living in a Japanese Zen Monastery.

+ Zen Masters, A Maveric, a Master of Masters, and a Wondering Poet by John Stevens

formally printed as Three Zen Masters, Ikkyu, Hakuin, and Ryokan.

+ Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa

very long and very entertaining. a great story (kind of fictional but based on the life of Miyamoto Musashi)

+ Bodytherapy, From Rolf to Feldenkrais to Tanouye Roshi by William “Dub” Leigh

in this entertaining book, Zen Bodytherapy founder Dub Leigh describes his life leading up to body work and his training under 3 great Bodytherapy masters.

film and other media:
+ Waking Life (a film)

A series of dialogues contained in one film which basically covers many familiar aspects of consciousness exploration and their possible implications. Includes discussions on lucid dreaming, human evolution, and human spirit vs complacency, as well as other episodic dream sequences.

+ www.do-not-zzz.com

An interactive Zen experience made in Flash.

+ http://www.saigon.com/~hoasen/Vbm-English.html

A website with links to many Buddhist sutras, books, and folk lore.

+ Miyamoto Musashi by George McCall

A website in English about Miyamoto Musashi

+ Nagamine Shoshin: “Karate and Zen As One” By Charles C. Goodin

an article / webpage about a Karate Master who became a Zen Master, also inspired by our heros Musashi and Tesshu.

+ Master Mollica:

My kung fu master’s schools’ homepage. Contains descriptions of Shaolin Iron Tiger Kung Fu system as well as Chang style Tai Chi and Shuai Chiao.

+ Shaolin Wahnam:

Sifu Wong Kiew Kit’s homepage. He has written many books and answers many questions on his website. This is a good place to go to get a different and more in-depth perspective about certain shugyo topics such as Shaolin, tai chi, and chi kung.

10 Monk / Not-Monk
In this section, I editorially address issues of monks, who are only monks by name and dress, versus those who are Monks exemplar. I will also make mention of famous lay practitioners such as Vimalakirti and Tesshu who were enlightened, but not monks.

Zen, I am told, is a school of religion intended to convey the true mind. I also hear that not all Zen men are the same because there is inauthentic Zen and many, while mouthing things that sound genuine, have not attained the true Way.

– Yagyu Munenori (circa 1632), Heihou Haden Sho, translated by Sato Hiroaki

Once could easily argue that the general state of Buddhism today is one of decadence and decay. In Sri Lanka, monks are involved in politics, and the majority of them do not engage in shugyo. In East Asia, monks are often more like businessmen, earning big money by chanting at funerals. Beyond that, Japanese monks are not required to follow many of the precepts and can drink sake, marry, and father children. Indeed, it has been noted that, in the world of spiritual teachers and gurus, there are far more egotistical, power hungry, and delusional teachers than there are genuine enlightened masters. I will argue that, as the above quote indicates, this is not a condition unique to our point in history, but one that has persisted since the time of the Buddha.

One of my favorite books, the Hagakure (circa 1710), laments the current state of Bushido (Samurai Code of Honor), and proclaims that this is due to the world coming to an end. You stereotypically hear similar remarks made by grandfathers today “things aren’t as good as they used to be”. Even Confucius (circa 500 BCE) laments that today’s rulers pale in comparison to the Great Sage Kings and the Yellow Emperor. This phenomena is, of course, not limited to eastern religions and philosophies. Christians, for instance, need only look at Jesus’ reaction to the corrupt Pharisees or modern day priests to draw comparisons.

So, I both agree, and disagree with the above statements. I agree that most monks, priests, and religious leaders and teachers are not enlightened, but I disagree that it is because the world is coming to an end. I don’t think that previous ages or generations were better than the current generation, on the contrary, I believe that current humans have more potential than past humans and it is my hope that we will evolve into post humans with even greater potential. The current world situation is a double edge sword. There is greater awareness of human rights and ecological responsibility than ever before, but at the same time an apparent greater emphasis on the value of consumerism and less value on valor and spiritual cultivation. With distractions like movies, video games, and television, one is less likely to search out shugyo or some other endeavor to spend one’s time on, when it can be filled so easily by such avenues of entertainment… but hey, I graduated with a degree in media creation… so I can’t be too harsh on this! Actually, for me, I have been inspired to do shugyo via ingesting certain media.

In my opinion, we should treat monks poorly. By this I don’t mean that we do not have respect for monks… but monks these days get treated too well. They often eat good food, have reserved areas with white cotton seats, are given the place of honor at a funeral, and so on. How can they reach enlightenment with such luxury? Not only this, but in places where Buddhism is treated more like a religion than as a philosophy and practice of cultivation, the monks have a high cast social position in society and the lay people venerate them too much. It is as if they were the Buddha himself and the lay people are helpless to solve their own problems. This is the opposite of the essence of Buddhism! One is only liberated by their own efforts! These self delusional con-men in monk’s clothing can easily fall into a trap, strengthen their egos, and develop a superiority complex.

Now, there also exist what I like to call Honto no Obosan ( 本当の御坊さん ), which would be my broken and simple Japanese for Real Monk. This does not mean that they are enlightened, it means that they sincerely engage in Shugyo and do not treat their precepts (Buddhist rules) lightly. Most monks do not exactly follow all 226 (or there about) precepts. Many of the precepts are inconvenient… and strictly following them could interfere with Upaya (skillful means… in order to impart Dharma or Buddhist truth / teaching). Ultimately, it is impossible for you to break a precept as the precepts and your actions are both empty and thus there is nothing to break… Provisionally, however, not following precepts might not set a good example. I feel that it is more of the act of following a precept despite its inconvenience (or precisely because it is inconvenient) that is valuable. If you become too attached to the precepts as concrete rules you will be unable to advance past a certain level, if you totally disregard precepts you will also be unable to progress in your cultivation. In this way, precepts become an aid to shugyo instead of a hindrance to it. Also, precepts are perhaps situation relevant. In a situation (society or environment) where no one is following the precepts seriously, a vigorous and totally non compromising adherence to the precepts would be worthy of respect. In a society where everyone follows the precepts without compromise, breaking free of the mold and and precepts would be worthy of respect in my opinion. The whole issue of where to draw the line of so called appropriate behavior is impossible to determine. Even the Buddha making the precepts might only have been a temporary Upaya. Surely he understood all of his teachings in this light as evident by his saying that “Once you cross the river of enlightenment, through the raft of Buddhism away.”

Well, regardless of precepts, you can get a good idea if someone is a Honto Obosan or not. For instance, if you compare Ryokan with Ikkyu. Their behavior was drastically different. Ryokan was a true monk in the classical sense where as Ikkyu was noted to have frequented the brothels, but both were Honoto Obosan, in my opinion, and apparently enlightened. From my experience, Itinerant Monks tend to be Honto Obosan. In Sri Lanka I met a Japanese man who became a Thai monk and was visiting different meditation centers in Sri Lanka. I also met a Chinese Zen (Ch’an, 禅 ) monk who was studying Theravada Buddhism in Sri Lanka, an Austrian who became a Theravada monk in Thai Land, and now Meditates in caves and centers in Sri Lanka, and an American who was ordained a Zen monk in Japan, but becoming disenchanted with the politics became a Theravada monk. I would say that all of these people were Honto Obosan… none were enlightened that I could tell, but they were sincere in their practice, and not content to accept one teaching as ultimate.

Lay practitioners:

As mentioned above, Buddhism has had many lay practitioners who have reached enlightenment. This is one reason why I have taken this hard lined approach to monks. If they are not serious about being a monk… then why not be a lay practitioner? As monks they only drain the temple’s and the community’s resources. If one is not willing to make the commitment of leaving behind all worldly possessions and desires… then why put on robes that look like someone who does make that commitment? If you are not willing to sincerely practice meditation then why dress like someone who does sincerely practice meditation?

Great lay practitioners such as Vimalakirti (of the Vimalakirti Sutra), and Yamaoka Tesshu were, through their efforts, able to reach levels of enlightenment that sent most priest and monks running. There is one story about Vimalakirti in which even the greatest Boddhisattvas were afraid to discuss the Dharma with him, and Tesshu was noted to have, on several occasions, caused prominent monks to bite their tongues.

Well, that’s it for now, I will no doubt scrap it all and redo it in the future.


Comments are closed.