Zen and Good Desires - Four Stories
by Taisen Deshimaru Roshi.
The Buddha Statue
Our mind is Buddha.
Dogen was influenced by Master Esai (1141-1215), the founder of Rinzai
in Japan, who lived at Kennin-ji in Kyoto, before going to China.
Ejo recorded this story in the Shobogenzo Zuimonki.
A very poor man came to Esai Temple in Kennin-ji. "My family is
having problems, I am very poor, please help me."
The temple was poor and so was Esai. He only had one black kolomo. It
was very cold. There was only one inexpensive statue of Buddha behind which
had a halo. Everything else in this temple was worthless.
Esai took the copper halo from the Buddha and gave it to the poor man.
That was it. The poor man, happy, left. Esai's disciples criticized him.
Dogen was very impressed and told this story to Ejo who wrote it down.
In one sutra, it is said that Buddha, before his existence in this world,
cut off his hands and legs and gave the pieces to the poor people.
Certainly, it is necessary to respect the Buddha statue but it is not
necessary to fall into idolatry. In China, Master Tanka (739-824), one day
when it was very cold, found himself in a temple where the priest was too
much a formalist and an idolater, Tanka took the statue of Buddha into the
Buddha hall and burned it.
The head of this temple got angry and said, "Why have you burned
this statue?" Tanka responded, "I wanted to get the sarira of
Buddha after it burned."
In Japan and in India, they burn the body. The sarira are the essence
of a human body.
The head of the temple said, "It is not possible to get sarira from
the statue of Buddha."
"This statue of Buddha is only wood," said Tanka.
Tanka did not have a bad karma, but the eye lashes of the temple priest
Story of Gonyo-son
Kodo Sawaki told this one often. Gonyo was always accompanied by two
big tigers and a serpent, he was a respected monk but strange. He was a
disciple of Joshu with whom he had this mondo:
"Now I have nothing. I have brought you nothing. Mu."
"I have brought nothing, how can I abandon that?"
Joshu then said,
"Gonyo brought his nothing, existence without anything. So you must
leave again, take this nothing with you."
This mondo is very interesting.
Some believe "I must get (obtain) satori. I must not think."
It is not necessary to look for satori. Then you should say, "I am
nothing. It is not necessary to be attached to the subject of mushotoku,
to be beyond satori, beyond." Don't throw away satori, be beyond all
things, without dualism.
Story of Gutei
After Bodhidharma, he was the 11th successor in the line of Nangaku and
Rinzai. he was a disciple of Tenryu. He always chanted the Kannongyo in
One day, a beautiful woman living there paid him a visit. She wore a
straw hat. She was a very beautiful young woman, a nun.
Gutei was over forty years old. He thought "When the sun sets, she
is surely going to want to stay in my temple."
She said, "I would like to speak with you. If you can respond, I'll
take off this hat and enter your temple, if not, I'm leaving again."
He was totally surprised.
"The sun is setting. You must stay here."
"No thank you, since you cannot teach me anything, I'm leaving."
This woman later appeared to him in dreams and he wasn't able to sleep.
She was a beautiful nun. He thought, "I'm dumb. Why did she go away?"
Then Tenryu, a traveling monk, visited.
Tenryu put up his thumb in front of his face. The thumb of his left hand.
Gutei had satori at that moment and received the shiho.
In this temple there was a small monk twelve or thirteen years old. When
people came, he always pointed his thumb. The people asked him, "Where
are the toilets? the Buddha?" He put up his thumb.
He was only imitating his master. This was formalism. Gutei wanted to
So, Gutei hid a saber, like a kotsu, a long knife, and asked him, "What
is Buddha?" The little monk raised his thumb and Gutei cut the thumb
"Do you understand the true essence of Buddha?" Very quickly,
He was hurt and ran away. Then, from behind, Gutei called him and said,
"Do you understand?" At that moment, Gutei raised his thumb. The
little monk had satori.
This story is very famous. The thumb that Gutei always wielded. In the
past, Zen teachers were very severe. Why did his disciple imitate him, and
why did he cut off the disciple's thumb?
The little monk was following his teaching, but he cut off his thumb.
This mondo has a very profound meaning.
Before his death, Gutei said, "I have obtained the finger of Master
Tenryu, and have only used this finger."
Why did he cut off the thumb of his young disciple? This is a koan.
Sunday, December 7, 1980 11 o'clock
Friday, a journalist from Le Monde came to see me and asked me, "Many
people practice zazen. Why?"
"Because they want to," I responded.
As for their goal, each person is different. But in the end, zazen is
mushotoku. "What is zazen good for?" "Nothing." It is
infinite. This is mu. I cannot explain.
But I explained to him that after fifty years of practicing zazen, one
can control desires, regain energy - in particular, sexual energy - regain and
sublimate. Intuition, creativity, will-power become strong. This is the
So zazen has a very great effect which you will never find anywhere else,
not in another religion, not at the university.
People who follow me, those who come to this dojo, they become strong.
Also, conviction becomes strong. The will becomes a great tenacious force,
binds like glue.
Patience, do not stop, continue again and again. It isn't a question
of sex, from evening until morning, no. Repetition of sex, no. You can transform
desires into creative ideas.
Yesterday, I wanted to see what the dictionary had to say on the subject
of bonnos. In Hinayana buddhism, you must stop desires. In Mahayana, sublimate
desires, appetites. Good sex is alright.