December, 2010, Muir Beach - Letter to Everyday Zen Community

by Norman Fischer | December 31, 2010 at 1:01 PM

December, 2010 Muir Beach

Dear Everyday Zen friends,

I am writing to you again at the end of another year. They seem to go by very quickly.

Time is passing (what does that actually mean?) and the state of the world is as dire, if not more dire, than it was a year ago. Confusion reigns, and the recent elections won’t help. But I am grateful for our practice and our friendship, and confident that we are making a difference, person by person, heart to heart.

Actually, the world’s problems are not hard to solve. If people were more generous, more willing to let go of their fears and fixed ideas, most problems that now seem intractable could be easily solved. Mostly our human problems are not technical or objective, they are political and emotional. Effecting a change of heart in ourselves and in the world around us is what Everyday Zen has always been about – and we are going on steadily, without much fanfare, with this simple work. Little by little, more of you are practicing with greater commitment and intensity, and sharing your practice with others. Our Everyday Zen groups (in all of their diversity in geography and form) are truly extraordinary, with many leaders and teachers who have a wonderful capacity for touching the lives of others. Wherever I go, I am moved by your practice.

Right now I am thinking about a wonderful recent event: the publication by Shambhala of the complete two volume translation of Dogen’s Shobogenzo by Kaz Tanahashi and his many collaborators (including me). Kaz has been working on Shobogenzo since 1960, when he began making a translation into modern Japanese from Dogen’s archaic 13th Century language. Since then he’s worked with many American Zen people (with Peter Levitt serving as over-all editor) to complete this task. Dogen’s view has conditioned my life since I first began studying him (in English) in the early 1970’s. His profound and generous understanding of the Buddha Way is the inspiration for Everyday Zen.

San Francisco Zen Center put on a major public conference last month to mark the occasion, and asked me to say a few words at a dinner for Kaz’s co-translators. Here is some of what I said:

 It is thrilling to be here with all of you to celebrate 50 years of work bringing Dogen’s spirit into our time and place and into our language...

What I want to do in these few words is honor the mysterious range of causation that has brought us to this moment, including the history of the Western world with its dilemmas and tragedies, all the way up to our generation that received it all in bewilderment, and tried to respond, as every generation does. All of us here responded by devoting our lives to the study of Buddha Dharma. Three of us are missing, having left this life for other realms: Daido Loori, Philip Whalen, and Robert Aitken, dear friends and teachers. Bon voyage to you, and thank you for your life. This two volume Shobogenzo prepared with such care for every detail is a delight to hold in your hands, a delight to read and re-read.

...that’s what I want to do. What I don’t want to do is make a fuss over Kaz, because Kaz, as all of us know, is highly resistant to fuss. But it is very difficult tonight not to make a fuss over Kaz. I think we all understand that somehow, despite the process of generous and open collaboration, this Shobogenzo sings in Kaz’s voice, and it is his persistence, vision, and energy over 50 years that have made it possible. But, as I know he would say, this is not about Kaz. Because there is no Kaz. Kaz is made up entirely of non-Kaz elements, he is made up of all of us. Still, all of us in this room will forever remember Kaz’s crooked smile, his quiet comfortable laugh, and his easy-going way of speaking. For us, that is Shobogenzo, as much as Dogen’s words. We can’t separate Dogen’s words from our appreciation for Kaz. In Shobogezo Dogen illuminates the Dharma with his Japanese spirit and that is what makes Shobogenzo so great. And only someone like Kaz, whose Japanese spirit is so strong, could have helped us bring Dogen’s words into our native tongue, into our American spirit.

So- lets raise our glasses to all the non-Kaz elements that have gone into making this moment: to Dharma, to Dogen, to our languages, to our shared destiny!

Thanks again for all your support, for your practice, all your efforts to do good, and for your generous financial contributions. Lets continue to work together to promote a more heart-felt and humane world.




Norman Fischer