Nishijima Roshi

- through Henry Oudin

Published on

Pierre Taïgu Turlur, disciple of Mike Chodo Cross and successor in the line of Nishijima Roshi, offers here a short biography of the master, most of whose heirs have largely contributed to embody Zen with great freedom in the West.

Nishijima Roshi, affectionately nicknamed Gudô ("path of the imbecile"), was an astonishing character: a graduate of the prestigious University of Tokyo, a small man trotting with an alert and tireless step in the streets of the Japanese capital, a consultant for a large company, author of numerous works on Zen and the work of Dôgen, he is best known in the West for his practice of a refined Zen and his many atypical disciples.

Born after the First World War, a brilliant young student, he practiced with the old Sawaki Kodo, who, refusing the sclerosis of the monasteries and welcoming a very diverse lay public, dragged his snail dojo from hotel to hostel. He impressed the young Nishijima with his scathing sermons and the silent majesty of his seat, and the latter converted absolutely to the reality of zazen, the zen where one does not make or manufacture anything, the zen which liberates from hells and miracles of paradise. He often visits Antaïji, where the old master settles down with a handful of rebellious disciples. When the latter died, he decided to practice under the direction of another great figure of Zen, Niwa Rempo, who was very admiring of this executive of a large Japanese company wearing the kesa above his suit- tie and sitting down with determination, and said to the priests around him: there is a real Buddha. He decides to ordain him as a monk then invites him to Eiheiji to give him the transmission of the Dharma in December 1977. In the 80s, Gudô opens his dojo in Tokyo and, accompanied by the nun Taïjun, receives many Westerners in his office , where he invites them to sit down. Often for almost nothing and with the sole obligation of coming to practice early in the morning. Many Americans and Europeans join him and sometimes meet at the temple of Niwa, the Tokein, for longer retreats.

Zazen in the Light of Modern Science

His approach to zen is very largely based on the three philosophies and the ultimate reality that he recognizes as a constitutive part of Dogen's thought: the first is the idealistic and spiritualist perception worked by the subject (dissatisfaction or noble truth of suffering), the second consists of a materialistic and objective perception (desire) and the third integrates and exceeds the two previous ones (extinction). However, it is the ultimate reality that is ineffable and beyond the language and theories that constitute the eightfold path in Buddhism. This understanding is also rooted in his understanding of zazen in the light of modern science and its discoveries: he sees in the stripped and bare sitting a way of regulating the autonomic nervous system, of balancing it and sees in it the realization of this abandonment of the body and the spirit, of which Dôgen speaks. He does not deny the existence of God whom he sees in the very reality of the universe as it is and not outside of it. For him, to practice zazen, seated Zen, is to become a Buddha, that is to say to live and realize the very reality of the world in one's life.

Anxious to take Zen out of its institutional lair, he took the initiative to transmit the Dharma to many Westerners. Mike Eido Luetchford, the translator of Shobogenzo, Mike Chodo Cross who studied and practiced with him for many years, the musician and prolific author Brad Warner, the jurist Jundo Cohen and Nissim Amon are among the best known. He will also transmit this Dharma to several French people including Jean-Marc Tenryu Bazy, the author and activist Eric Jiun Rommeluere, Michel Yudo Proulx and the Belgian Nicole from Merkline. All these transmissions, although unofficial, are recognized and respected by the authorities of Japanese Soto Zen.

For him, to practice zazen, seated Zen, is to become a Buddha, that is to say to live and realize the very reality of the world in one's life.

His legacy is considerable, it consists above all in having transmitted Zen outside the institution to a handful of very different and often original personalities. We owe him with Mike Cross the most faithful translation of the colossal Shobogenzo of Dôgen and much of this freshness and this diversity of which Zen is capable. He died very peacefully on January 28, 2014 of pneumonia in hospital. Faithful to his strong and determined personality, the master refuses the therapeutic relentlessness offered to him, choosing to "decide alone on his own death".

photo of author

Henry Oudin

Henry Oudin is a Buddhist scholar, spiritual adventurer and journalist. He is a passionate seeker of the depths of Buddhist wisdom, and travels regularly to learn more about Buddhism and spiritual cultures. By sharing his knowledge and life experiences on Buddhist News, Henry hopes to inspire others to embrace more spiritual and mindful ways of living.

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