Man on Cloud Mountain-Shodo Harada Roshi-Segment 3 of 7 (transcript)

[Original Title: Man on Cloud Mountain  YouTube Title: ZEN, Teaching of zen, Shodo Harada Roshi in America]

[Content: posture and breathing in zazen, bowing and prostration, monastery efforts and enlightenment ]


[Shodo Harada Roshi’s translator’s voice]


The first thing that you do is make your posture solid. You don’t sit in a vague unsettled way. You make your legs set firmly. You put your right leg up first your left leg on top of that for the full lotus. And you make a very firm posture with the bottom of your lower back being the other part of the triangle that your two legs make. And with that very firm base you raise your spine up. It is very important to make your spine raise up straight.and naturally without having any tension in it so that your whole body is relaxed and there’s a natural feeling to it. With that naturally stretched up feeling you than feel a solidity in your whole body which allows you to do your breathing in a natural way. Now usually we call a natural breath one that comes from the lungs but breathing from our lungs tends to be a rather intellectual kind of breath. It’s a high breath. So we breath for Zazen when we don’t want to be intellectual from our abdomen. We breathe from a place about one inch below our navel. As we breathe we allow our breath to travel down to our navel. We follow it to a place below our navel, our tanden. And we do it in such a way that its a relaxed flowing breath not a tight forced kind of breath. This kind of breathing is very important because if we are trying to clear our mind and we don’t have this kind of breath we will just be fighting intellectual things. So we breathe, allowing it to come down. And at the same time keeping everything very very relaxed. Not tightening or pushing into the breath. But letting this breath as if we are blowing it into that area in our lower abdomen. This abdominal breathing is very important. And its been found in all of the breathing instruction from the time of the Buddha, in yoga, to the Chinese Taoist practices such as Tai Chi and Chi Kung. All of this has given us the same kind of point to follow in our breathing. and by doing this we bring all of our center of energy to that area. To gather any kind of true energy we have to breathe in this way. And if we can bring our breathing to this place we can dislodge ourselves from that cluttered mind that we are all being pursued by all the time. Only by doing this kind of breathing can we clear the mind of all the thoughts that are preventing us from realizing our pure nature. Realizing this pure nature is the point of doing Zazen. But if we don’t have this kind of breathing this kind of practice won’t be possible. So once we have our breathing with our concentration always focused on our tanden then we can work on clearing our mind by keeping our breath always coming down to this tanden area. Keeping it smooth, flowing out long and breathing in that way.

What we are doing when we bow and prostrate is something that everyone needs to do. Probably most people can’t even imagine this is even possible but in fact we are bowing to that pure nature that is in all human beings. And that is something that everyone who comes to Zen is working with and towards, to be able to realize that connection that awareness of the world of something that is unified. Now if you were to tell someone to bow to someone they don’t like they would probably have a very hard time bowing to someone they don’t like.But that is not the point. We are bowing to that part of all human beings that is able to be clear, pure and well developed. Our purpose is to make ourselves smaller than that great mind that exists within all of us. That is the purpose of doing prostration to put your forehead down on the ground where everyone walks. This is an expression of the awareness of that cleared state of mind that we get through zazen. Once you realize that all people are equal and unified, what do you do to express it? You prostrate. Because in that prostration itself is expressed an awareness that there is a mind that is greater than your own small ego. But like I said, people who feel that they will bow to something that they like and not bow to something that they don’t like almost 100% of them won’t bow to something they don’t like but that’s how they see it as a choice and a preference. But when they understand that it is something they are doing because they truly want to realize that pure clear mind by getting rid of the ego then they can do it. Because you must let go of the ego in order to bow that low.By bowing and prostrating you are crushing the ego, you are breaking the ego. So bowing and prostrating is a sign of,a practice of, an expression of the breaking of that ego. And that is the purpose for which people of all countries and all nationalities are doing the Zen practice. But they have to understand why they are doing it what it represents. That it is not bowing down to some idol. If you do zazen and you realize this true pure mind then you do prostrations to express it to manifest it to reveal it. Once people reach the point where they can understand what it is for then they realize that it is the true religious principle that is uniting all the people and which can be guiding everyone at the same time.


When I went into the monastery I thought it would be different for me. I thought I was going to go in there and be enlightened right away. I wasn’t going to go in there and wait around for enlightenment like everyone else who was just there hanging out, not taking it seriously, not getting to the point. I was determined that I was one of the chosen ones who was going to get immediately enlightened when I went into the monastery. So I went into it wholeheartedly, totally, intensely giving everything I had to it. And when I came to the Rohatsu sesshin, a meditation intensive which honors the enlightenment day of the Buddha on the 8th day of December a time when the energy and the burning intensity of the monks in the monastery is so hot you can almost feel it in the air. When I entered the Rohatsu sesshin I was determined that during this sesshin I would reach enlightenment. I wasn’t going to wait around like those other guys  who weren’t getting enlightened in the monastery. I was going to go for it. It was going to happen now. so I came to the sesshin. The first day, second day, third day, fourth day, fifth day, sixth day, seventh day. Still no enlightenment. I sat as hard as I could. Everyone did. But still no enlightenment. And it came to the 8th day when everyone was supposed to be sharing in the wonder of the enlightenment experience the same way as the Buddha did on his day of enlightenment. When he realized his own true nature upon seeing the morning star. And still nothing happened. And for the first time I was completely frustrated, disappointed and I didn’t know what to do. When it came to the ceremony that honored the Buddha’s enlightenment I was beside myself with despair. Here I had thought that I could really do it that I had planned, that I had decided that I was going to that I had been chosen and it didn’t happen. Never had I felt such great disappointment and I had no idea what to do next. After that sesshin I kept going for another year and then a year after that and still I did not have any deep enlightenment experience. So then after two years without a deep enlightenment experience I went to my teacher Mumon Roshi and said “I’m leaving I can’t do it here its not working I’m going away to sit by myself.” And Mumon Roshi looked at me for a long time and said “That’s fine. You can go. But what happens if you don’t get enlightened?” I answered him “I’ll think about that when it doesn’t happen.”

[end of transcript]

Other segment transcripts available:

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7