Isshô Fujita: Portrait of a Zen monk who practices Buddhism 3.0

- through Sophie Solere

Published on

How to revisit the meaning of our lives in secular society and in Buddhism? For the Zen master Isshô Fujita, by discovering the mind without intention in everyday life. Yes, but still?

“People force themselves too much! We need to rediscover the “mushin”, the mind without intention in opposition to the “wushin”, the mind with intention, and practice mindfulness without awareness! In the Martial Arts, if someone has attention, his enemy will see it, but if he has no intention, then he will win, but how to empty his mind without wanting to empty it? "I think it's a big challenge as well as a deep philosophical question," shares Isshô Fujita.

We are in Hayama, in the mountains of Kamakura in the dojo of the Zen monk Soto Isshô Fujita. Researcher, teacher and international director of the Sotoshu (1) at the San Francisco Zen Center, Isshô (as he likes to call himself) is an iconoclast. Fervent practitioner of the "slack line" (2) in the company of his surfer friends, he has been interested in recent years in dialogue with scientists, craftsmen, poets in order to push the limits of Buddhism outside his area of comfort. His research leads him to focus on the original intentions of the Buddha: "We must ask ourselves deeply why the Buddha turned away from ascetic practices to simply sit down and understand Dogen clearly, when he tells us that shikantaza (not to do than sitting down) is the door to joy and freedom".

"You have to sit down"

At 65, the “kôan de zazen” as he calls it, still lives in it. Student at the prestigious University of Tokyo, where he is preparing a doctorate in psychology, after having brilliantly tried science and philosophy, he becomes the disciple of a master of Chinese medicine whose teachings bring together all that animates him. : science, philosophy and spiritual practice. The sensei warns him: “My teaching is based on zazen, so you have to sit down”. Docile, he sits down. This experience shakes him to the point of calling into question a prestigious teaching career, already well under way, at Toddai (University of Tokyo). He then spent six years in Antaiji, in line with Kōdō Sawaki Roshi with Uchiyama as root master. The latter then asks him to transmit zazen to the United States. He thus became the director of the Antaiji branch in Vermont for nineteen years. This time spent in the West allowed him to explore another look at Buddhism and when he returned, invited by the Sotoshu, to talk about his experience in front of the 300 monks in training at Soji-ji in 2005, it was with a photo. “Magic eye” (3) that he starts his lecture on zazen. Today, Isshô divides his time between the Zen center in San Francisco and his dojo in Hayama (Kamakura). “The seminars I offer are not for people to understand Buddhism, but for them to understand themselves through Buddhism. It seems that over time Buddhism has become an academic knowledge. I approach it from a somatic point of view, mainly through the posture of zazen. »

“The seminars I offer are not for people to understand Buddhism, but for them to understand themselves through Buddhism. »

Still following this same inspiration, it was with Ryodo Yamashita, a former monk from Antaiji who became a Theravada monk, that they decided in 2013 to shake up Japanese Buddhist academicism by launching the provocative concept of Buddhism 3.0. (4) According to Isshô Fujita: “Buddhism 1.0 is that of Japanese monasteries”. That of 2.0 is rather that of Theravada and its secular expression, mindfulness, which according to Fujita “has obvious therapeutic effects, but remains a tool for people to get better. It differs from the original Buddhism, which shows people the way to liberate themselves. Isshô teaches “mindfulness without awareness” and explores the transversality between individual and collective healing.

photo of author

Sophie Solere

Sophie Solère is an economic and social journalist who has been interested for years in the environment and interdependence. She works for Buddhist News, a media platform dedicated to Buddhist spirituality and wisdom. By practicing yoga and meditative dance, Sophie discovered the power of spiritual journeys, which offer so many paths to (re)find yourself. She is dedicated to sharing inspiring stories and valuable advice on spiritual practice and the environment with Buddhist News readers.

Leave comments