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Lectures and Articles by Nishijima Roshi

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Zazen, a Better Way of Experiencing Pain

In November 2002 Nishijima Roshi attended a conference in Montpellier, France, that discussed the theme "Has Pain a Meaning." In his talk at the conference, Nishijima Roshi outlined his ideas on the meaning of pain from the Buddhist viewpoint.

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Buddhism & The Autonomic Nervous System 

This short talk was given by Nishijima Roshi to a group of Buddhists and Christians who practice Zazen, at a retreat in Brussels in November 2002. In his talk, Nishijima Roshi outlines his idea about how our autonomic nervous system becomes balanced when we practice Zazen, enabling us to experience the state of Buddhas. 

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Buddhism & Action

This small booklet is a translation of three talks given by Nishijima Roshi on NHK Radio in December 1994. The talks are titled: Buddhism & Action, Action & Daily Life, and Buddhism & Zazen.

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Three Philosophies & One Reality

The Basic Philosophy of Buddhism

This booklet is an edited collection of seven talks given on Buddhism by Master Nishijima to the weekly seminar he has held in Tokyo for the last 16 years. Master Nishijima bases his explanations of Buddhist theory on the Shobogenzo, the central work of the Buddhist priest and philosopher known as Master Dogen. Though a brilliant and original thinker adept with words and the complexities of Buddhist logic, Master Dogen never lost sight of the gulf that separates ideas and reality. He found the true foundation of Buddhist life, not in theories but in the simple sitting practice called Zazen. His thought is thus entirely practical and realistic, and his insight remains as fresh and pertinent today as it was seven hundred years ago.

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The Buddhist Precepts

The precepts are not theoretical or romantic. They are very concrete and practical. In this they reflect the fundamental character of the Buddhist religion. Buddhism is a practical religion. It is concerned with finding the right way to live. To live correctly is not so easy.

When we are beginning our Buddhist life we need some guidelines: some criteria by which to decide what we should do and what we should not do. The precepts were created to fulfill that function. The were made to help us live properly and correctly. In other words, the precepts teach us how to live a happy life.

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Understanding The Shobogenzo

Most people's reaction on first reading the Shobogenzo is that it seems very difficult to see clearly what the writings mean. This is a natural reaction because when we read a sentence, we usually expect to be able to understand the meaning of what we read immediately. The first time that I picked up a copy of the Shobogenzo, I found that I could not understand any of it, although I was reading a book written in my own native language. Of course, reading the Shobogenzo in translation introduces a new set of problems related to the skill and knowledge of the translator, and to the similarities of the languages.

Attempts to elucidate the problems that the Shobogenzo presents to the reader bring me to four main reasons:

  1. The Shobogenzo is written with a unique logical structure, which I have called "Four Views" or "Three Philosophies & One Reality." I explain this system of logic in a later section.
  2. Master Dogen wrote using many phrases and quotations from Chinese Buddhism which are relatively unknown to the layman, and difficult to render into other languages. These phrases appear in the Shobogenzo in their original Chinese form, making some parts of the book a commentary in 13th century Japanese on Chinese phrases from even older sources. In the translated version, we have the additional problems of representing these phrases in a very different target language.
  3. The concepts that Master Dogen wanted to express were profound and subtle. Even in his own language it was necessary for him to invent many new words and phrases to put over what he wanted to say. These new words were largely not adopted into the Japanese language, and so are unfamiliar to us today.
  4. Master Dogen wrote the Shobogenzo in order to explain his experience of reality gained from practicing Zazen. His words are based on this experience. It is normal these days to think that anything philosophical can be understood intellectually, as an intellectual exercise. We do not have much experience of philosophies which are pointing to physical practice. We think that just reading the book should be enough to understand what is written in it.

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Japanese Buddhism & The Meiji Restoration

This paper was presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion in San Francisco in November 1997.

"The Meiji Restoration that engulfed Japan in 1868, although described as a "restoration," was in fact a complete revolution, which affected all levels of society, ...and which had an impact on every facet of life-cultural, economic, and political.

"...Religions too were caught up in the sweeping changes, and Buddhism was no exception. The historical events that unfolded in Buddhism in Japan caused major destruction and irreversible changes to many aspects of the religion and its practices. In this paper, I would like to discuss the concrete nature of some of these changes, in order to set the modern face of Buddhism in Japan within a historical and philosophical context."

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