biography of Master Deshimaru
We never called him differently than Sensei. For us, the great buddha Deshimaru, it was Sensei, in english "the old hand", a quite simple name: in Japan, the grandfather of the family or the school teacher is called this way. So for all the people who got to know him, the people who were maybe even more than his own children, Sensei means ... It means maybe, ninety buddhas who become incarnate suddently in front of you without any affectation. It is as astonishing and maybe as dangerous as to win in a lottery, but once billionnaire we get used to it very quickly and after few months we find such a situation almost normal. And then one day without expecting it, we find ourselves without a penny because we spent it all, it is the end, it remains only for us to summarize what we have done with this money during the time that we were riches.
the ceremony of the burial of the ashes of Sensei in the Temple of
La Gendronnière, after we had, myself and few other disciples, brought
back his ashes from Japan. I had been asked to make a little speech
and I said that:
Then I read a poem written by our master in the most traditional zen form:
" The long bellowing of the beef
of stone soars above the fields,
We cannot explain the poem that you have written with words but it seems perfectly suited to the situation. And moreover, even if we do not have the satori, we should continue your teaching.
Sensei was telling us: "Before becoming a Buddha, you have to become a real person, understand the true specificity of the human being."
In a very
old zen text, it is written:
Master Deshimaru, even before becoming a Buddha alive, was hundred percents human. He personified not only the humankind in its largest joy and generosity, but his friends were telling of him that he was the last Japanese of a mystical time, the one of the old tales of Japan. He transmitted zen to us, but also a lot of the popular culture of his country. You cannot imagine how this culture is complementary to the French culture, as the two hemispheres of the brain are indispensable to the good behaviour of the mind.
" A troop
of travelling artists was giving an open air show and the crowd was
surrounding the trestles where it was performing. Lost far away behind
the spectators, there was a dwarf who of course could neither see
nor hear what was happening on the stage. However, each time the crowd
was laughing and applauding, the dwarf was laughing and applauding
too; each time the crowd was crying and moaning, the dwarf was crying
and moaning too."
is born in 1914, on the 29th of November, in a small village of south
of Japan, downstream the river Chikugo, the one which meanders in
the plain of Chikusi, nor far from the city of Saga. He spent his
youth in the atmosphere of a rural Japan, still very traditional.
His father was a small ship owner; he was leading the farming and
fishing clubs of the village. He was very authoritarian and was dreaming
of a brilliant future for his son :
He found then a job as manager in a cookie factory and got married, although he had preferred the life of a monk. It is right at the time of the birth of his first child, a boy, that war exploded and that Deshimaru, wearing the rakusu of his master, left for Indonesia.
His own mother was quite the contrary of his father: full of compassion and of a great delicacy, she believed in Buddha Amida with fervour. Buddha Amida is the one who saves all existences; his compassion is so large that he says: "Even the good ones will be saved. Moreover the bad ones!". His mummy would not let a single day pass without prying him. She was so respected in the village that some people were asking themselves if she was not an incarnation of the goddess Kannon. By her example, she taught his son profound religious feelings from his childhood. Yasuo had two older sisters and two younger ones, he was the only boy among these four girls.
As the village
had no primary school at the time, Yasuo, in his prime childhood,
was mainly raised by his grandfather, a judge guy who had a fantastic
strength, although he was already pretty old. Master in the art of
yawara (the martial art ancestor of judo and jiu-jitsu), he was teaching
it in the Meiji period to important samourais. He then taught him
the rudiments of his art even before he knew how to write and was
sending him rolling on the mats without worrying about his small size.
Tears in his eyes, Yasuo would attack back with courage screaming:
"Obangyaka (old bandit!)".
It is really difficult for us to understand the Japanese mentality, firstly because Japan is an island ( and we know that the islanders have always been pretty originals compare with the people from the continent) and secondly because this country has passed in a little bit less than a century from the Middle Age and feudality to the most absolute modernity in a democratic system. Master Deshimaru is one of these men who have known the passage between these two ages and who were able to adapt to this situation in a quite astonishing manner.
At the coming
out of his primary school, the young Yasuo met a great professor of
drawing whose name was Tanahaka Suishi, who taught him the art of
the Japanese sumi-e. During a whole period, Yasuo was thrilled by
the Japanese water-colour. After few years, as he was the preferred
pupil of his professor, who pushed him to enter the school of fine
Arts of Ueno in Tokyo. He was persuaded that Yasuo would become a
great painter. But when Yasuo got the idea of speaking about this
idea to his father, the reaction of his father was quite immediate:
"Would Got be my witness! Me alive, you will never become a painter!"
With these words he gave him a kick:" As you are my son, it would
be preferable that you enter immediately a business school, as one
day you will have to succeed to me". These words distressed Yasuo
who understood that it would ever be impossible for him to realise
one of his most beloved child dreams. His father's desire was that
he would enter one of these great schools (a business school, even
a military school) which were at that time gratuitous. Yasuo's father,
who had gone through a valorous fight during the Chinese-Japanese
war, would have wished that his son succeeded first in the army...
After this failure which had preserved him from the army, the future was still dark. He ended up presenting himself humbly to the College of Saga, asking himself with anxiety what will happen with him. A little later, due to his father insistence, Yasuo had to accept to abandon his studies in order to help him in his work. They were loading coal into their steamers in the mines of Mike, then going down the river stopping to deliver it to all the brick factories by which they were passing. He was working with very strong dockers who gave him the responsibility to weigh the coal. One time, when he was still not at ease in his work, he slipped on the gangway which was bridging the boat to the bank and he ended up in the mud. As he was completely bogged down, the dockers had to put all their efforts together to rescue him. All wet, soiled with mud, he laid down on the bank, asking himself if his future was not to fall all the time in the mud …
When he saw back
his cousin Tamotsu, the latter was in a uniform of student and himself
dressed as a worker. The job that his father wanted to impose to him
was not pleasing him but, by good luck, his father ended up accepting
that Yasuo did not want to have the same live as himself and did not
want to succeed him in the business. He adopted then a young boy who
could later on take his succession, which was at the time a current
habit in Japan.
Sensei was saying
I particularly remember a summer night, humid and sticky: when we were laying down under the mosquito-net and I had fallen asleep. I heard him moving and clapping his hands. That waked me up. That were the mosquitos: there was an incredible number of them inside the mosquito-net. Looking very closely, I noticed a big hole. "Oh ! These mosquitos are really tough!" Kodo Sawaki was saying, trying to plug the hole with a pillow. I could not well see where he was heading to. "Good! Well, at least the ones which are outside will not enter! But what are we going to do with the ones which are inside? We can kill him one by one, but I am afraid that it would take us the entire night!" My advice, I said, is that it would be better to remove the mosquito-net and then put it back in place. You are right, did he say. Lets go! Ah! Saga is really a town full of mosquitos! Luckily you know how to handle it!" When he was holding the mosquito-net upwards, I hunted the mosquitos with a fan. Finally, after many pursuits, we could readjust the mosquito-net. But, once I was laying down again, I noticed that some of them had staid inside: "Master, there are some more!..." No answer. He was quietly snoring, and myself I could not sleep anymore. "That is incredible! He is harder than the people from Saga!"
his adolescence, dreaming of America and successes, pursuing his studies
in economics, dreaming of purity and idealism in studying Buddhism
at the University. Theoretical Buddhism of course. However, one day,
when he was in third year of these studies and was following with
great interest the courses on Buddhism morale with the Professor Asahi,
as well as his commentaries about the Mumonkan and the Hekiganroku
(main texts of the zen literature), the latter and his friends convinced
him to participate to a sesshin of Rinzai Zen in the Enkaku-ji temple.
Although Yasuo at that time had the feeling to fall in heresy and
to betray the "Jodo Shin Shu", he had a great respect for the Professor
Asahi and he finally decided to leave for Uinokama instead of going
to Saga as he was used to do it each week-end. There he had some rest
before starting the sesshin. The next day, when he passed under the
big door, he entered the Korin-ji temple: it was his first sesshin.
Yasuo packed up quickly his stuff and let temple and mountains behind him. He came back to the Professor Asahi who was living in the Joshi-ji temple, told him about the whole story, told him about his indignation and explained to him that he had decided to go back home. The Professor bursted laughing. From the time that this temple was existing, nobody had ever heard about such story!
not know the Japanese bowls: these are big bowls of noodles cooked
in the Chinese fashion that people eat in all the small shops at the
corners of the streets. You do not know how delicious it is, especially
after eight days of starvation. Well, Deshimaru pretends that he gobbled
up seven of these bowls before being satisfied.!