Taisen Deshimaru: Zen master (1914-1982)

- through Francois Leclercq

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“Suffering is fed, maintained or increased by the rumination of the mind. To suffer is also to think that one is suffering. And then we suffer even more. This Zen monk, an extraordinary character with a completely Rabelaisian eloquence, knew how to transplant, at the end of the XNUMXth century, the root of Zen and its practice, in Europe and in France in particular.

He was born on November 29, 1914 in a small fishing-peasant village in southern Japan, not far from the city of Saga. His grandfather, whom he reveres, was a samurai before the Meiji Revolution. It is raised in the traditional Japanese atmosphere of the time. Renki-ji, a mendicant monk whom he meets sometimes, said to him one day: “Heaven and hell exist only in your heart. These words provoke in him a violent shock which upsets all his ideas about the Buddhism and henceforth lead him to consider it more as a philosophy of life than as a religion. Encouraged by his father, he studied economics in Tokyo, but his free time was spent reading books on literature, philosophy and on Buddhism and Christianity.

“The stains of my life fell with my hair. »

The meeting with master Kodo Sawaki

In 1932, aged 18, he met the man who would become his master, Kodo Sawaki. The latter is 52 years old, looks like a wandering monk, but an immense energy emanates from him, mixed with mischievous serenity. He practices the sitting posture, zazen (from za: sitting and zen: meditation), and teaches it in all possible secular places: schools, universities, prisons, administrations, places of pleasure, police stations... The young man asks: "Master, does the soul exist? He replies, "Everything is changing all the time, where is your soul now?" Know that the practice of Zen always creates new things from the root. This encounter made a strong impression on him. A few years later, then an employee of an industrial firm, he will visit her in the temple of Soji-ji. Kodo receives him in his room: “He was solid as a mountain, he will say, but he emanated from him like a universal sweetness. Deshimaru explains to him that he finds no meaning in his life. Kodo makes him take the posture of zazen, corrects it, lends him some books, including his notebook where he discovers maxims such as these, with which he feels deeply in agreement: "Zen allows us to adapt to our environment, but not to allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by it. Zazen is the Way that allows detachment. To do this, all you need is a quiet corner and a small cushion on which you sit without moving, without speaking, facing the wall. It doesn't get any more mysterious than that. »

From War to Inner Peace

Married, soon to be a father, Taïsen Deshimaru led an active life as a Japanese model executive: in 1940, he joined Mitsubishi. At the same time, he continued to follow his master, and it was after a sesshin at the temple of Daichu-ji, in the fall of 1941, that he learned of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. His firm sent him to Indonesia to manage mining industries taken from the Dutch. He embarks on an old tub stuffed with weapons and dynamite. Deshimaru liked to evoke his zazen on the deck of the boat: “Under my body in posture, this time there was truly Mu, nothingness. For more than a month, I sat motionless, legs crossed, above my own death… But thanks to a correct and energetic posture, I managed to regain some of the strength that I so badly needed. »

Throughout his stay, he will try to protect the Malay and Chinese population who were under his orders from exactions. Sick with malaria, it was in the hospital that he learned of the surrender of Japan promulgated by the emperor. It was not until April 1946 that he was able to find the land of his ancestors, his family, his friends and his old master who told him: "Continue to practice meditation, but by participating in the life of ordinary mortals : true Zen, you see, must be able to be born from any aspect of our daily life. " He therefore participated in the reconstruction of Japan with constant professional ups and downs, until 1965, when his master Kodo Sawaki fell seriously ill and called him to his bedside to tell him: "You must take my suite. . Tomorrow I will rise to consecrate you as a monk. What will therefore be done in Kyoto at the temple of Anso-ji: “The stains of my life fell with my hair. In 1966, in charge of a dojo in Tokyo, he served as a guide in the temples for a group of French people. They invite him to France, where he leaves by the Trans-Siberian in July of the same year. His children grown up, his professional past buried with his master, his real mission begins.

The Temple of No Fear

Kodo Sawaki had told him: “Bodhidharma brought Zen from India to China in the XNUMXth century, Dogen from China to Japan in the XNUMXth century, you must go to Europe, it is your mission, your obligation towards humanity. “We install a mattress for him in the back room of a macrobiotic grocery store and he begins to show the meditation posture at conferences in Paris, but also everywhere in France, where we are curious to receive this monk in the body robust, with powerful energy, a hoarse voice and who, in an incredible sabir that he calls his "zenglish", where he quickly mixes up a few words of French (Zen is not a piece of cake!), speaks of a concept which fascinates, that of bodaï shin, the spirit of awakening, by saying strong formulas such as "a moment of zazen is a moment of Buddha" or "every human being has within him the nature of the Buddha or of Christ”.

Follow him those who are interested in what they consider to be a development of yoga, artists from the theater and dance, such as Maurice Béjart and his troupe, and also a band of hippies and sixty-eighters who see in this practices a way of seeking the nirvana supposedly promised by the Eastern religions, whose vogue is beginning. Then people from all walks of life. But he stays on his course, shikantaza, just sit down: "We have to go beyond what only brings us illusion... You are always running, know how to enter into the stop of the gesture, stopping the race. In France, a group of disciples made their action official by creating the Association Zen Internationale (AZI), and it was in 1971 that they found a vast artist's studio on rue Pernety, in the 7th arrondissement, which would become the first dojo worthy of the name. This is where I will go that year, one morning at 30:1 am, for a first hour-long seated meditation session, which will be the beginning of an eleven-year adventure with him (XNUMX). I remember being immediately struck by the strength of the silence that reigned in this dojo (“a silence louder than a hundred thousand thunders”, he used to say). And by this posture where, despite the pain in my legs, I could suddenly be the lucid spectator of my life and my thoughts, with this attention paid to deep exhalation which deeply revitalizes the being.

From this place, what he called his mission would quickly become a great success in France, culminating in the creation in 1980 of the Gendronnière temple, near Blois, which he called the "Castle of non-fear ". Taïsen Deshimaru, until his sudden death from pancreatitis in 1982, was to educate his disciples strongly, deeply, but always in an approach marked by openness and benevolence. He liked to say, "The master teaches the students, the students teach the master." His Rabelaisian side, his common sense, his sincerity and his clarity made him a character of awakener loved by the various social classes who crowded into his dojo. He was therefore the effective precursor of this immense interest in the meditative practice that we so need to counterbalance the negative effects of current life. Thanks to him, the spirit of true lived Zen irrigated the European soil

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Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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