We all are or have been “…tortured souls…

We all are or have been “…tortured souls… trying until the very end to express the inexpressible.” Each of us ought to practice complete respect for each human being’s existential dilemma.

I was deeply touched by this anecdote Freeman Dyson tells about Ludwig Wittgenstein from Dyson’s days as an undergraduate at Cambridge University in the UK for two reasons: 1. It brought to mind Norman Fischer’s talk on Tara and women’s place in Zen practice at the recent Everyday Zen sesshin http://www.everydayzen.org/index.php?Itemid=26&task=viewTeaching&sort=title&option=com_teaching&id=1279.) 2. I think most remarkable is Mr. Dyson’s change of view and understanding of Mr. Wittgenstein plight as years passed and even death, the seeming ultimate signpost of the transitory and ephemeral nature of this life, appears to help transform Dyson’s understanding of Wittgenstein’s situation .

“When I arrived at Cambridge University in 1946, Wittgenstein had just returned from his six years of duty (as an orderly) at the hospital. I held him in the highest respect and was delighted to find him in a room above mine on the same staircase. I frequently met him walking up or down the stairs, but I was too shy to start a conversation. Several times I heard him muttering to himself: ‘I get stupider and stupider every day.’

Finally, toward the end of my time at Cambridge, I ventured to speak to him. I told him I had enjoyed reading the Tractatus, and I asked him whether he still held the same views that he had expressed twenty-eight years earlier. He remained silent for a long time and then said, ‘Which newspaper do you represent?’ I told him I was student and not a journalist, but he never answered my question.

Wittgenstein’s response to me was humiliating, and his response to female students who tried to attend his lectures was even worse. If a woman appeared in the audience, he would remain standing silent until she left the room. I decided he was a charlatan using outrageous behavior to attract attention. I hated him for his rudeness. Fifty years later, walking through a churchyard on the outskirts of Cambridge on a sunny morning in winter, I came by chance on his tombstone, a massive block of stone lightly covered with fresh snow. On the stone was written the single word, ‘Wittgenstein.’ To my surprise, I found that the old hatred was gone, replaced by a deeper understanding. He was at peace, and I was at peace too, in white silence. He was no longer a charlatan. He was a tortured soul, the last survivor of a family with a tragic history, living a lonely life among strangers, trying until the end to express the inexpressible.”[1] Freeman Dyson, What Can You really Know? NYRB, 11.08.2012.
[1] Freeman Dyson, ‘What Can You Really Know?’, NYRB, 11.08.2012.

Relating with a teacher difference becomes clear.

From the pine tree
learn of the pine tree,
And from the bamboo
of the bamboo.


 “The Japanese word for ‘learn’ (narau) carries the sense of ‘taking after’ something, of making an effort to stand essentially in the same mode of being as the thing one wishes to learn about. It is on the field of sunyata that this becomes possible.”

Keiji Nishitani, Religion and Nothingness.

Primary Point

This is not a flying away.
This is a coming to be,
a bringing to one point
that which already is,
including flying away.


This is not flying away.
This is allowing to be
one point which is already
including flying away.

Kotatsu Roko
Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Zazen for Ordinary People

Zazen for Ordinary People:

The act of concentration by which every being gathers itself within itself – our very being – stretches across an abyss fading into bottomlessness.

From somewhere deep beneath the ground of all being the Form of things – falling apart and scattering – floats up to the surface.

It matters not how gigantic the mountain, how robust the man, nor how sturdy the personality, the question of nothingness, our own, that of the entire world, this very universe, touches the essential quality of all things.

This nothingness is nothing more than a display of illusory appearance essential to all beings. When all beings return to nothing, we leave not a trace behind.

From ancient times people have spoken of the impermanence of things, the nothing that allows not a trace to be left behind lies at the base of all things from the very start.

This is the meaning of impermanence.

As my dear friend Norman Fischer has said, “Only Love.”

I hope to see you in this floating world.

Kotatsu Roko

Wednesday, 5 September 2012



Another take on Completeness and Doubt

We always want to nail it down. We cannot hold on to it. It is us, even in our holding. We are so funny.

From Tom Cleary’s introduction to Timeless Spring: A Soto Anthology
“After Dongshan left Yunyan, he still had some doubt, until one day he happened to see his reflection when he looked into a river as he crossed over and was suddenly greatly enlightened. Then he uttered his famous verse,
‘Just don’t seek from another
Or you’ll be far estranged from self.
I now go on alone
Meeting it everywhere
It now is just what I am
I now am not it.
You must comprehend in this way
To merge with thusness.’
Not seeking anything outside of fundamental completeness, one relizes the self that is self because there is no other, and the self that is no self because there is no other.”
Dongshan is the founder of the Caodong School of Zen which is the Soto School in Japan and locally.