Zen & Bridges

KC Shotokan Karate
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Revised Aug 22, 2011


The following are notes taken by Mike Lyon during a March 6, 2003 Lecture by Fukushima Keido Roshi, Chief Abbot of the Tofuku-ji Zen Buddhist Sect of Kyoto.  The lecture was presented at the University of Kansas' Spencer Museum of Art in Lawrence, Kansas.  Ms. ??? acted as Fukushima Roshi's English translator, as the lecture was in Japanese.  There are some inaccuracies in my notes because the translator was occasionally inaudible and because I was often too slow to capture everything.

Fukushima Roshi was introduced by the director of the Spencer Museum, Andrea S. Norris:

Fukushima Keido Roshi is the 303rd Head Abbot of Tofuku-ji Monastery since it was founded in the 13th century. This is his 15th visit to the Spencer Museum since his first visit in 1989 in conjunction with the important "Art of Zen" exhibit here. Next year we will mount a show of Roshi's calligraphy at the time of his visit. Stephen Addis (originally from KU) and Audrey Seio wrote the wonderful catalog for this show.

<slide show of Tofuku-ji>

The title of Roshi's lecture this year is "Zen and Bridges". Roshi is accompanied during this visit by his nephew and disciple, Kei-san. His translator is Ms. Coury (?)… 

Fukushima Roshi, Chief Abbot of Tofuku-ji Zen Buddhist Sect in Kyoto.
Image © Jenny Friesenhahn

John Teramoto, President of SKA's Black Belt Council, paid attention to Roshi's lecture in Japanese.  I am grateful for his assistance correcting and improving my notes and for his many helpful comments.  Dr. Teramoto's comments and clarifications are included in COLOR (some of the original awkward or corrected text has been deleted for clarity): 

Rōshi is extremely articulate, though he tends to cut his sentences short for the translator—just meat and bones. The “Japanized” English translation captures the flavor of his talk, but the stilted English is due to the translator’s ability and Mike Lyon's long-hand note-taking, not to the way Rōshi was speaking.

ZEN AND THE BRIDGE  “Zen and Bridges” (Zen to hashi)

Thank you. I requested the translator especially for this time. This is my first female translator. I think I like female translator better! (Rōshi usually brings a translator with him, but this time no one could come so he asked KU to find a translator, who turned out to be a woman). “This time I had to make a special request for a translator. This is the first time I’ve had a female translator (not really true, but setting up his joke for the audience). I think I like female translators better!”

The title of my lecture is "Zen and the Bridge".

All my old friends know that I'm fond of bridges. Since 1989, America has been like my second home. More specifically K.U. has been my "home". Even more specifically the Spencer Museum is my home.”  The Spencer was my first home in America. Many of the Doctors and Professors I met at the Spencer have gone to other universities and  museums now. So, for example, because of Professor [Stephen] Addiss I have started going to Richmond. Because of Professor Hurst I go to the University of Pennsylvania. And because of ??? and ??? I go to the Cincinnati Museum and to Carnegie Mellon, and so on. (The translator is struggling with unfamiliar names of people and places and is stumbling, so Rōshi adlibs, The speaker is nervous, but the translator is more nervous!

So K.U. is like a hub airport to me, and I told my old friends that I want to keep coming until I can no longer walk. (I think that is what he said. At least he has said as much in past lectures).  A few years back, I spoke about "Zen and Humor". I gave that lecture only at K.U. I always teach non-attachment to the monks.

I am fond of bridges. I like other things, too. I like coffee, especially Starbucks Coffee. I like Chocolate, especially Godiva chocolate. A Zen master has no attachments, but I am attached to coffee, chocolate, and bridges. One of my senior monks (My associate) said, "But Roshi, coffee and chocolates are attachments!" I said, "I am a Zen Master. I have no attachments. But I am attached to coffee, chocolate, and bridges!" Please don’t worry, these are good attachments.

Reason I like bridges.

First reason. Every country has borders. My hope is that there will be spiritual bridges between countries. Actually there is a long spiritual bridge across the Pacific, between America and Japan. This long bridge over the ocean is called United Airlines. I have lots of miles on United, but this year I’m worried.

Second Reason.  (He makes a joke that brags about the size of Tofuku-ji’s bridge while pointing out that it’s not so big at all. He does the same thing when he mentions Tōfukuji’s sobriquet as Dai honzan (“Great Main Mountain”), playing upon the fame of Tofuku-ji and then contrasting it with KU sitting upon a hill that can be seen from miles away, saying that he cannot call Tofuku-ji “Dai Honzan” anymore. So I think he said:)

Tōfukuji has a famous long wooden bridge that is very nice. People like it. No other temple in Japan has a bridge that can compare in length. But this year I crossed over the longest bridge in America—a VERY long bridge that stretches from Mississippi to New Orleans, LA. This was a LONG trip. The bridge goes on and on. And because I made a round trip I crossed the bridge twice. After crossing that bridge I realized that Tōfukuji’s wooden bridge is long, but not THAT long.”

Tōfukuji’s wooden bridge is called “Tsūtenkyō” which means, “Bridge to the heavens.” Another reason why I like bridges is that as Tōfukuji’s abbot, I own this bridge.

Third reason. Every time I come to America, I come through San Francisco. And on the way home, I make it a point to do a bridge tour. In San Francisco there are four major bridges: Golden Gate Bridge, Bay Bridge, San Mateo Bridge, the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, and I like to tour those bridges. When I go to Columbia University and I have a free weekend in New York, I do a bridge tour. I do a bridge tour every year.

Last year I went to West Virginia. Did you know that West Virginia has the 2nd tallest bridge in America? Colorado has the tallest. How many bridges are there in America? Do you know? There are more than 200,000 bridges in America. If you want to know about bridges in America, please ask me! When I retire from the monastery, I want to do a bridge tour for six months.

I have a friend in Portland who is a psychiatrist, and he told me this story about his studies in Africa. There were these two villages separated by a small river.  The people from these villages were always fighting with each other. They would line up across the river and throw stones and spears at each other. This had always been the way things were. My friend the psychiatrist heard this story and he gave his advice. Please build a tiny bridge over the river between the two villages. The bridge was built and there was no more fighting. Even though it was only a tiny bridge, there was no more fighting because of communication. Because of communication, the people from the two villages started to trust. So across countries, I build bridges so we can understand each other.

There are old Zen stories about bridges. So I want to talk about three stories. Or maybe two stories, depending on the translator.

Story 1: Jōshū's Stone Bridge

Jōshū is the name of a famous Chinese Zen Master from the 8th century. Joshu is also the name of a region in China about three hours drive from Peking. There's a big stone bridge there. A beautiful bridge built during the Sui dynasty (581-618). It’s not that big, but it has a great arch and its beautiful.

One time, a friend gave me a book with beautiful color pictures of long bridges. I opened the book, and there was Joshu Bridge. I'd been there more than ten times, so I could recognize it easily. This was a book with pictures of world famous bridges. The only bridge illustrated from China was Joshu Bridge, so that means that Joshu Bridge is a symbol of China.

A monk came to Joshu and said, "Joshu Stone Bridge is very famous and I came to see it. I thought it would be big, but it is very tiny." Then the monk made a joke and said, "Joshu is very famous, but he's very small and very old." And Joshu replied, "You are just looking at a small bridge, but you are not seeing the real bridge. And you look at an old priest, but you do not see the Master."

Story 2: Cross over, cross over!

This bridge lets donkeys pass and horses pass.

There's a collection of stories called the Joshu Record. There are 525 good stories in it. In Japanese training sessions for monks, they don't talk about Joshu Record stories. In the Edo period (1600-1868) the great Zen Master Hakuin did, but no one after. But I like Joshu, so I use them It took seven years for me to read the Joshu Record. One story that mentions Jōshū Bridge has a poem. The third and fourth lines of the poem say, "Cross over, Cross over". It's a great answer! The complete poem is:

Donkey cross over.
Horse cross over.
Cross over!
Cross over!

In Zen, that means Joshu, the master himself, becomes the bridge. In Zen, it's very important to "become" something. When you see bridge, become bridge. When you see mountain, become mountain. Koan study means, Zen question, Zen answer. In Rinzai there are 1,700 questions—3000 if you include subquestions. Among the 1,700 questions there is a question where "become a mountain" is a good answer. When in a koan session a monk in training answers, "I become mountain!" it’s not a good answer, if he's just saying it. In that case I say, "go and become mountain. Experience it." Usually next time he gets it. Then he answers, "I become mountain!" and this is a good answer. But the Master still checks to make sure. He asks, "How high is your mountain?" So if the monk became a mountain for real, he can answer immediately. Then the Master asks, "What is the name of your mountain?", and if the monk became mountain, he can answer without hesitation. Otherwise they have to go back. Experientially becoming leads to the ability to give a good answer regardless of the question. The talking might be done on any level but it still shows true understanding. So, to experientially become something is very important in Zen.

In the Joshu Stone Bridge story,

1) Master Joshu (T'ang Dynasty, ~ 600-900 ce) became a bridge. This is the point. Religion is living mu. This mu means literally, non-exist, nothing. But it's not that simple. In Zen, everything is nothing and nothing is everything. My good friend, Dr Zeckhardt ???, is a philosopher from K.U. who has been practicing Zen. For philosophers, Zen is very different at first. In Philosophy, zein ist zein, nicht zein ist nicht zein. So it's difficult to see everything is nothing and nothing is everything. So mu is difficult to translate. So what is myself. I have to cut off my ego. So when ego disappears, I become nothing. Some people think ego-lost is negative, but it's positive – when ego goes and when self becomes mu, it can become anything. So Joshu became mu and could easily become Stone Bridge.

2) Donkey can cross over. This expression shows great compassion. Small donkey and large horse can cross over, and they are not the only ones that can cross over.  So Joshu's expression shows great compassion.  It means American and Japanese and women and men – all can cross over. If all of us become that sort of bridge, then the world can become very happy and peaceful.

I'm a Zen master and a religious man, so I don't like to talk politics, but this trip I have already visited seven Universities and students asked what I thought about President Bush. As a religious man, I'm against war, and yesterday I demonstrated calligraphy in the central gallery of the Spencer Museum.  One of the pieces I wrote said, "Peace is Best." Professor Yamamoto, who had to leave right after the demonstration to go to Paris to attend a UNESCO conference asked my permission and took the calligraphy, "Peace is Best" with him to present there. We should build a bridge between the USA and Iraq – continued dialog – this is very important. If we make bridges between countries, since bridge means "great compassion", I believe peace will come very fast.

So Joshu Stone Bridge is an old story, but it still has meaning today.

Story 2:  Jojoza

Master Rinzai was the founder of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism. This person, Jojoza was Rinzai's disciple. This story is a good one.

One day, Jojoza asked Rinzai, "What is Zen?" And Master Rinzai grabbed, choked and hit him. It was a rash action, but a good teaching. Jojoza didn't understand Rinzai's lesson, but another monk did. He said, "Jojoza, you got a good lesson! Why didn’t you make a deep bow?" Then Jojoza got it. What did he realize? Rinzai tried to teach action in mu-shin (empty mind), so he grabs him and hits him and pushes him in mu-shin – which means he wants to teach mu-shin action. But Jojoza didn't get it. Told by the other monk that he should make a deep bow, he bowed in mushin and achieved enlightenment.

There's a famous river, "Koda" in Xingju, that is crossed by many bridges. One day Jojoza was standing on one of the bridges when three monks approached. One asks Jojoza, "how deep is this river?" Jojoza grabbed him and tried to throw him into the river. But the other two monks stopped him, holding the monk and pleading with Jojozai.  Jojoza said, "If these two monks weren't here, you would be at the bottom of the river!" This is a famous story. So, to imitate this story, some monks try to act rough. In the T'ang Dynasty there were so many Zen masters and so many monks, and so many questions and answers that the process escalated, and some did "rough action."

It's better to find out for yourself how deep the river is. Zen teaches experiential understanding. A mother teaches her child that fire is hot. But it's better for the child to experience fire. That deep understanding is better.

Zen amplifies experience.

Story 3: Fudaishi.

Fudaishi lived before the Sui dynasty, in the same time as Bodhidharma.  Fudaishi was a lay person, but he got great enlightenment and wrote these four lines:

Nothing in hand but holding sickle
Walking but riding ox
A person crossing a bridge
Bridge is flowing, but the river is not.

This is a "kigo" story. KIGO (ki=action go=word or expression) Action means “satori action,” or “mushin action.” In order to express zen understanding, Chinese zen monks began to use nonsense expressions. Fudaishi can almost be considered the originator of kigo. Zen teaches mushin.

This is a Zen story which teaches mu-shin. Chinese Zen monks, to express action in mu-shin, started using kigo, and many appear in the old records. When you read these as words, they are hard to understand. I have nothing in my hands, but I am holding a sickle. I am walking but I am riding on an ox. These are nonsensical statements that express the importance of action in mushin.  Fudaishi’s poem is teaching mu-shin. Zen teaches enlightenment. Empty mind. Your self without ego. Mu-shin your self. Just be!

This year I talked about bridge stories and explained what Zen religion is about.

-- end of lecture –

 Q: What's the difference between Buddhism and Zen?

A: Zen is one of Buddhism's many sects. Of all the many sects of Zen, which is best? Our Zen is best! In the USA I use a weasel brush. Weasel brush is strong.  In Japan I use wolf brush which is stronger. When I use wolf brush my feeling dances with wolves!  Last year I told that joke, and a young woman who comes to my lectures every year said, "you told that same joke last year." She is very intelligent. I wonder about her future. I think she will be very successful.

Q: How long have you been head abbot?

A: Head abbot: 13 years. Zen Master: 20 years. Zen Monk: 56 years. I turned 70 last March. Actually I am 70 years old, but my feeling is 50 years old. Every time I come to Spencer Museum I feel younger!

Q: What do you do when you are not in the USA?

A: I am in USA in February, March, and part of April. Two and a half months. I go to China in the fall. Otherwise, I stay in the monastery and my main job is to teach young monks. That is my main duty every day. Also there are 370 temples of Tofuku-ji, so when one of them has events, I have to attend. And I lecture. Because I am around the young monks, I stay young. Like a kindergarten teacher doesn't get old.

Here's a funny story. In regular training, monks are answering koan two times per day. In intensive training sesshin which we have for one week seven times per year, monks are answering in five koan sessions each day. In December there are seven koan sessions per day. So when monks say a really stupid answer, I hit them this this small stick, but it's not to punish -- it's to encourage them,"next time bring me a good answer!"

In December sesshin, the senior monk brought me a stupid answer. And he knew it was a stupid answer. So he answered, and immediately grabbed my stick and tried to run out. But behind me, I had a long stick and so… (makes motion of reaching behind, and swinging long stick to hit fleeing monk)!

There are 1700 answers. In the 1700 there are several koan in which a good answer is to hit the Master's face. So I'm ready in those koan and I block. But sometimes in other koan a monk tries to hit by surprise, so I say, "no good!" and then they say, "oh… not the right side, hit the left side!" (motions slapping left, then right).

Shojin Doji. Vegetarian cooking (shojin doji means cooking without animal meat). But in order to eat, we have to hurt something. So vegetables don't have red blood. But when we cut lettuce, it bleeds white blood. When we cut broccoli it bleeds green blood. Originally monks eat only vegetables, no meat, no fish. But vegetables also have life, so when we eat vegetables, we say, "thank you."

Tokyo University. A doctor from Tokyo University treated monks. Eventually, he realized we ate simple vegetable diet, so Tokyo University researched and concluded that because they are spiritually strong, even though they eat vegetable diet, the monks are healthy. This doctor said, "I think that because monks eat vegetables, their blood is more pure." Sometimes when monks visit lay people, there's a lunch with meat or fish. There's a rule that you're supposed to finish everything you are served, so we say, "Today I eat meat with hesitation." But I think that the monastery diet is best.

Q (from young girl): Could one not argue that animals' purpose is to die in order to help us by feeding us?

A: That idea is from ego. We will talk about it after.

End of question & answer  



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