The way of no-wayness

© Peter Zürn

Having started ZaZen practice in 1971 during a sesshin-retreat held at the Benedictine monastery of Beuron in Southern Germany under the guidance of the Zen teacher Tetsuo Kiichi Nagaya (1895-1993), I first visited Japan in April of 1975. Traveling basically on business as personnel manager of a German-based international pharmaceutical firm, I had some spare time left on weekends and visited Kamakura, Kobe, Osaka, Nara and Kyoto. Although still not very familiar with Zen, I had the opportunity to meet with German-speaking professors and Zen masters, such as Shizuteru Ueda, Seiko Takashi Hirata, Akihiro Takeichi, and others who were so kind as to receive me on recommendation of Hugo M. Enomiya-Lassalle SJ (1898-1990) and Karlfried Graf Dürkheim (1896-1988) and their friends of the "Frankfurter Ring" (where Francois Viallet had his "dojo" at the time).

In particular, it was Masao Abe who was so kind as to take me to the weekly Saturday meeting of the FAS Society, which was then being held at the Reiun-in temple of the Myoshinji Rinzai Zen monastery complex in Kyoto. This was my first contact with FAS and I deeply appreciated the opportunity to participate, together with other foreign and Japanese members, where sitting and chanting found their natural complement in communicating over green tea and Zen writings explained by professor Abe, professor Gishin Tokiwa and others. This kind of modern Zen meeting between East and West was apparently the initiative of its founder, Shin'ichi Hisamatsu (1889-1980), whom I had the great privilege and honor to visit at his home in Gifu on May 5, 1975, together with Akihiro Takeichi and Sen'ichiro Higashi. Being asked over the phone to introduce his method of Zen to me, a foreigner, Hisamatsu replied: "Let me first see the foreigner in person..."

So we came to his home where, already in his eighty-fifth year, he lived in calmness and good health. While we bowed deeply and with great respect at the entrance, he stood up, came over to me, shook my hand as a Westerner would, and said in German: "Herzlich Willkommen!" ("A hearty welcome!")

Although I felt almost awkward and ashamed with this gesture, it was so evidently open and warm-hearted that there was no room for any other impression than the overwhelming personal kindness and friendliness which came from the bottom of this apparently transparent and purified soul.

"Tiefster, wahrer Anthropos" ("The deepest and true Anthropos") is to be developed in humankind by the way of Zen - this was one of his first statements, again in German, when we had sat down to drink tea. English tea to welcome the European visitor! Later we also enjoyed Japanese green tea.

We entered into deep and detailed conversations on Zen and I could hardly hide my ignorance, being just a beginner with four years experience in Germany without the guidance of a master. "That does not matter," Hisamatsu responded: "the master is in yourself." Again he pointed this out in German.

As I continued to stumble over his questions he would accept and correct me with the warm-hearted smile of the patient host, always returning me to the beginning, to the authentic Zen meaning.

When I entered the room I had noticed in the tokonoma-alcove a beautiful and impressive drawing in ink of a single hand. I tried to express the impact that it made on me, but did not connect it with the "Sound of the single hand" koan of Hakuin. How ashamed I was to learn that it was not only a depiction of the "Sound of the single hand", but that it was executed by Hakuin himself! I will never forget the impression of this single hand.

We continued speaking about Zen and of Hisamatsu's experiences in the United States and Europe, where he had been traveling and lecturing. Later he gave me a calligraphy of a Confucian poem that he had written for me before I arrived: "A stranger comes from afar, and we speak of and listen to the wisdom; Isn't this reason to share your joy?" He seemed to have anticipated our conversation before I even arrived!

We also spoke about advantages and disadvantages of koan practice and other methods, and what had been scheduled as a one hour visit turned into three. Finally he spoke of his own personal method or koan with these words: "You must enter into absolute no-wayness." When I heard this translated into German I thought I understood and replied: "That means to accept the unacceptable?" He immediately spoke out while waving his head and a finger: No. Not accept: Enter! thus calling forth my personal action rather than mere passive acceptance.

Our entire conversation that afternoon had been a kind of demonstration of no-wayness. Again and again I had been forced to enter into the not-knowing of my poor Zen understanding, guided always by the patiently repeated questions and answers of this awakened master.

When it came time to exchange gifts at the end of our visit, I was ashamed to have brought only a book of pictures and poems about stones published by my pharmaceutical company. Opening the book and paging through pictures of stone gardens, Hisamatsu smiled and asked if I knew the meaning of his Zen name, Hoseki. "Embracing the stone" he told me. Only then did I understand why I had brought the book with me...

Back in Germany, I found his small book, Die Fülle des Nichts (1975) The plentitude of Nothingness, translated by Seiko Takashi Hirata, formerly Zen master and presently head abbot of the Tenryuji Rinzai Zen monastery in Kyoto. I returned to Japan in 1977 and another FAS Society weekly meeting. This time professor Gishin Tokiwa (who had translated Hisamatsu's "Zen and the fine arts" in 1971) led the discussion on Great Doubt and Great Faith in Zen as the essence of this "Nothingness." I was still trying to follow in my everyday life this no-wayness that Hisamatsu had opened to me, not knowing yet, but combining great doubt in all and everything with great faith in all and nothing. [1980: Die Fünf Stände von Zen-Meister Tosan Ryokai - Vorträge im FAS-Zen-Institut, Herbst/Winter 1960]

In April of 1986 I again returned to Japan, this time to work on my book in German, "Japan: Between Yen and Zen." And I had the great pleasure to visit Keiji Nishitani (1900-1990), whose book on religion Was ist Religion? had been published in 1982. We spoke until dusk about Zen, philosophy, and his old friend Hisamatsu.

Also in April, 1986, Jeff Shore was so kind as to take me again to the FAS Society's Saturday meetings, now taking place at the Shokokuji Rinzai Zen monastery complex in Kyoto. It was good to participate again and I was pleased to tell friends there something about my personal encounters in Zen. [1990: Philosophie des Erwachens - Nachwort]

I had no thought of writing all this down, but when I had professor Masao Abe and his wife to my home in Germany in March, 1994, he asked me to do so. I would like to dedicate these impressions of my encounters with FAS to the memory of Shin'ichi Hisamatsu and Keiji Nishitani, impressions of the actual no-wayness of FAS - the Formless self of All humankind creating Supra-historical history.

Let me finish with a comment of Tetsuo Kiichi Nagaya, my Zen friend, master, and teacher, who passed away in Tokyo on June 6, 1993, nearly ninety-eight years old. Until 1986 he came regularly for over twenty years to hold sesshin-retreats in Germany. When I told him about my visit to Hisamatsu, he declared: "Oh, what a wonderful opportunity! You had ten years of dokusan-Zen interview in one day!"

[25. März 2002 The way of no-wayness Brock University, St. Katharines - Ontario, Canada]

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