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On Assuming the Post of Abbot


      As of 8 October 2004 I will assume the post of abbot of the SANBÔZEN.
      I would like first of all to express my heartfelt gratitude to Kubota Ji'un Roshi who performed this office for so many years.
      Kubota Roshi, upon the passing of Yamada Kôun Roshi, assumed the post of abbot of the SANBÔZEN in October of 1989. For the next fifteen years he worked tirelessly on behalf of the administration and educational activities of the organization. During this time, besides his direction of people at San'un Zendo, he also worked strenuously in directing Zen activities in Europe, Australia, Singapore, the Philippines and other places abroad. Under the direction of Kubota Roshi many people were able to realize their true selves, and many leaders and teachers of Zen were formed. I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to him and also manifest my great respect for his deep and generous Buddhist spirit.
      The SANBÔZEN was established in 1954 by Yasutani Haku'un Roshi with the purpose of "believing, understanding, practicing, and realizing the true Buddha-Way and spreading this Way to the whole world." Now fifty years later, as I take up the important post of abbot, passed on from Yasutani Haku'un Roshi, Yamada Kôun Roshi, and Kubota Ji'un Roshi, I feel deeply a bond with the Dharma. A short time after the founding of the SANBÔZEN, when I was still just a high school student, Yasutani Roshi accepted me as his disciple (shôken) and gave me the Kôan Mu and after six and a half years brought me to Kensho by his excellent direction. After that I received direction from my father, Yamada Kôun Roshi, for 25 years. I feel strongly that I must repay the gifts I have received from Yasutani Roshi and Yamada Kôun Roshi.
      As you all know well, in order to fulfill its purpose ("believing, understanding, practicing, and realizing the true Buddha-Way and spreading this Way to the whole world.") the SANBÔZEN has taken as its central position to "stand at the origin point of the Buddhist Way through the Dharma Gate of Master Dôgen." And further, in order to "stand at the origin point of the Buddhist Way" it maintains that the central position within the central position is "Sitting", that is, Zazen. In other words, as far as the activities of the SANBÔZEN go, what is most important is "Sitting". It is not Kôans nor lectures (teishô). Nor is it recitation of the Sutras or the rules of the Zendo.
      Never forgetting the importance and wonderfulness of "just sitting with all one's might", with your cooperation I intend to exert myself fully for the further development of the SANBÔZEN. I beg for your help and assistance.

Apology for What the Founder of the SANBÔZEN, YASUTANI Haku'un Roshi,
Said and Did during World War II

The 3rd Abbot of the Religious Foundation SANBÔZEN
      On 8 January 2000 a letter arrived from a lady who lives in the Netherlands. It reported that her husband, from the age of six until he was nine, was confined in a concentration camp in the Dutch East Indies during World War II by the Japanese army, together with his mother and sister; his father was thrown into a male camp, his elder brother was forced to labor for the railway construction in Burma. The trauma of these years has remained until today; he had to undergo brain surgery, and has had psychotherapy for more than 10 years. Not only he himself has suffered a great deal, the lady says, but also his distress has had, and still has, a great impact upon his family.

       Similar tragedies have often been reported in China, Korea and other countries in South-East Asia, where Japanese militarism invaded during the war. Whenever I hear such stories, I feel great pain in my heart as a member of the nation that once initiated that horrible war; I sincerely apologize to the lady mentioned above and her husband and to all people who had to go through such excruciating experiences during the past war.

       The main reason the Dutch lady raised the question is that she had read Brian VICTORIA's book Zen at War and felt herself betrayed by the war-time words and deeds of the founder of the SANBÔZEN YASUTANI Haku'un Roshi, who repeatedly praised and promoted the war. Since she herself practices Zen contemplation under Father Johannes Kopp, a Zen teacher of the SANBÔZEN, it had never occurred to her that the Zen masters, whom she deeply respected, would ever glorify the waging of war.

       I personally became YASUTANI Haku'un Roshi's disciple at the age of 17 and kept receiving his instructions until his death. So I know very well that YASUTANI Roshi did foster strongly right-winged and anti-Semitic ideology during as well as after World War II, just as Mr. VICTORIA points out in his book. If YASUTANI Roshi's words and deeds, now disclosed in the book, have deeply shocked anyone who practices in the Zen line of the SANBÔZEN and, consequently, caused him or her to abhor or abandon the practice of Zen, it is a great pity indeed. For the offense caused by these errant words and actions of the past master, I, the present abbot of the SANBÔZEN, cannot but express my heartfelt regret.

       If I may speak as an insider, however, during the 25 years of my practice under him I never saw YASUTANI Roshi ever force his students to accept his political ideology. After all, it was his Dharma that we wished him to transmit to us; never have I aspired, therefore, to learn his ideological standpoint. Furthermore, YAMADA Kôun Roshi, who was to take over as the second abbot, admonished YASUTANI Roshi more than a few times for the latter's ideological inclination, and reminded him of the initial responsibility of concentrating upon the reviving of the pure Dharma, the intrinsic core of Buddhism. As a result, in 1967 -- that is, while he was still alive -- YASUTANI Roshi made a radical decision to entrust YAMADA Kôun Roshi with the fully authorized guidance of the SANBÔZEN.

       Kôun Roshi, on his part, made it manifest that the fundamental position of the SANBÔZEN is to "stand at the origin point of Buddhism through the Dharma gate of Dôgen Zenji," and that our aim is to attain the salvation of humanity and to contribute to establishing world peace based on the great enlightenment experience of Shakyamuni, no matter what ethnical origin, nationality, gender or creed one may represent. This resulted in sincere dialogue with Father H.M. ENOMIYA-LASSALLE, through whose intercession a great number of priests and sisters found their way to Zen, until Zen practice outside Japan has flourished to such an extent as we witness it today. In fact, to go back to the origin point is the only way for Japan to correct past wrongdoings and to truly contribute to the peace of the human world.

       It goes without saying that the terrible Second World War drove the Japanese themselves to a devastation unheard-of. The end of the war saw the land thoroughly destroyed, and starvation and destitution assailed the entire population, regardless of age or gender. Furthermore, countless soldiers and civilians along the Soviet borders were taken into captivity and forced labor; a huge number of them lost their lives because of hunger and cold. The victims of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki died one of the most deplorable deaths in the world; those who survived the calamities are still suffering from illnesses caused by the radiation. To whom can we appeal to alleviate their sufferings? Truly, this is the reality of war. This century has seen humanity repeating the same folly, and countless millions of people have been compelled to undergo unspeakable agonies.

       The ultimate roots of these wars lie in the ego-consciousness of human beings. Shakyamuni, through his experience of great enlightenment, confirmed that this ego-consciousness is a grave misunderstanding and delusion; he established the way of practice through which human beings can quickly wake up to the essential self of infinite and absolute oneness, as well as realize that essence in the phenomenal self. That is zazen. It is time for us to learn seriously from the experiences of the past one hundred years and to take actions based on new wisdom for the 21st century.

       On this occasion, the SANBÔZEN solemnly vows never to lose the origin point of Shakyamuni and to follow persistently and energetically the path of realizing the essence of our self in this world of phenomena through our zazen practice.
(1 February 2000; reprint from: Kyosho #281 [March/April 2000],translated by SATÔ M.)

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All Zen pictures appearing on our Home Page, unless otherwise notified, are works by Mr.YOKOO Tatsuhiko, a member of the SANBÔZEN Society.

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