21 Quotes By Zen Master Taisen Deshimaru

Deshimaru next to a picture of Bodhidharma.

Taisen Deshimaru was one of the first Zen masters of the West. He established a retreat/monastery in France after deciding that French philosophy has numerous unrecognized Zen undercurrents. He basically sought to bridge the gap between Eastern and Western philosophy, and he did so wonderfully, speaking and writing in such a way that is both true to Zen and accessible to a layperson audience. He’s one of my favorite Zen masters. After reading a long book of his dialogues, I collected some quotes:

“The exhalation is deep and long, the inhalation short and steady. Breathing is the connecting link between the conscious and the subconscious, between body and mind. In fact, the ability to control our body and mind, and to change our lives, our karma, depends upon this breathing. One must concentrate on the breathing, or more specifically upon the out-breath. All schools of Buddhism agree that anapanasati (mindfulness of our breathing) was the Buddha Shakyamuni’s first teaching.”

“”To understand oneself,” explained the master, “is to understand the universe. The microcosm and the macrocosm are one. Evolution always begins with the individual. If a man takes one step forward, he carries the world consciousness one step forward.””

“In modern times education is too soft. You here all receive soft educations. You have all received educations which make your minds become like encyclopedias.”

“Zazen means to stop running after and to stop running away.”

“There is no need to have an object in what you do.”

“Zen is a physical education. It is not a gymnastic, nor is it a martial art. Action of the body influences mind and consciousness.”

“Most people do not like criticism. But they should. They should say thank you.”

“The error of democracy is that people imitate others and do not create anything.”

“Western political movements, the masculine-feminine movement-they like the monsieur-madame dualism…. Women criticizing men…. (Even during sesshin.) Always this dualism. So it is not possible to harmonize…. This works for a while. But then comes the divorce.”

“Zen is beyond this: there is no man, no woman. During zazen, no female, no male. No masculine, no feminine. The sexual organs are not at all important. Women in zazen are better off-they don’t have testicles which get in their way.”

“Even if we hate the weed, and even if we abandon this hate of the weed, it will grow.”

“Don’t think of after or of before. This is the secret of kendo. Only of here and now. During a combat, don’t think of defeat, nor of victory, but be in the freedom of here and now.”

“To have compassion is to have the same mind as the other.”

“In modem times most parents love, love, love their children. Attachment. Egoistic love. So the children escape…. A mother whose daughter was always doing zazen came to me to complain. This mother was not at all happy. She wanted to keep her daughter to herself and to protect her. The daughter was twenty-four or twenty-five and she wanted to escape. So the mother gave her a beautiful house, but the daughter broke down the walls. There was too much attachment. This is not real education, not real compassion.”

“Shikantaza means without purpose. Do zazen unconsciously, automatically and naturally, and it will have an infinite influence. Then everything is possible. But if your object is limited, then this object is not so large, it is not infinite. Dogen wrote that if one person does zazen only for one hour, it will influence all people, all the world. This is true for everyone’s zazen.”

“Discussion has nothing to do with Zen.”

“Zazen is like water in a glass. Leave the water to sit quietly and soon the dirt will sink down, down, and the water will become pure.”

“To have a few precious stones is better than to have many pebbles. If everyone became a precious stone, then the stones would lose their value.”

“If the body is strong and the mind is weak, the body kills mind. And you become insane. If the mind is strong and the body weak, then mind kills body. And you commit suicide.”

“In a sutra it is written that if you want to have a second bowl of soup and at this moment you decide not to have it, then this will become a great fuse for all humanity. If you wish to change your tiny room for a big apartment and you do not, then this will become a great fuse for all humanity.”

“Imagination, images, are created by our own mind, by our consciousness. Our mind makes naraka (hell); it makes suffering. Each person is living in a world which he creates by his own proper consciousness. So, what is the ego?…. Each one of us think: “I am me,” I am like this or like that; and we understand this through go un, the five aggregates (sensation, perception, thought, activity, and consciousness). This is gyo and shiki-egoisticgyo and egoistic shiki. But to understand unconsciously, objectively-this is hishiryo consciousness. And so at this moment our egoistic desires can be sublimated to a higher level. This is the teaching of Zen. It is the highest wisdom for daily living.”