Monthly Archives: April 2018

Mōanjō (A Safe Staff for the Blind) – Part 1 Complete

Suzuki Shōsan

Suzuki Shōsan

1. We must know without a doubt that joy lies in knowing birth and death. Now, the truth that all who are born must die is upon our lips, but we do not realize it in our hearts. Youth is soon over, the hair turns white, wrinkles furrow the brow, the physical body declines day by day, and with every sunrise and sunset our dewdrop life approaches its term. This never astonishes us, however. Last year gives way to this, spring passes and fall comes, yet we do not understand what is meant by the scattering of the blossoms and the falling of the leaves.

Though sparks from the flint flash before our eyes we do not grasp that they are transient, illusions. Truly, even those who wear around their neck the robe and bowl, who enter the way of renunciation and who thus seek to know the emptiness of all phenomena, in the end find it hard to rid themselves of the profound urge toward permanence of being.

Therefore, since we believe this body to be real and solid, our sufferings never cease either by day or by night. If you are one who is really concerned about his body, forget it right now. Where does suffering come from? Only from love of the body. A warrior, especially, must in his own life know birth and death. When you know birth and death the Way is automatically present. When you do not, humanity, morality, propriety, and wisdom are absent too.

Some hold that two characters are used to write the word samurai because the warrior knows both birth and death. Of Ch’u Chiu and Ch’en Ying, in China, one thought nothing of dying while the other kept himself safe and sound. In the end they destroyed the enemy, twice enthroned the crown prince, and achieved the true meaning of the profession of arms. This was because they knew birth and death.

It is therefore quite wrong to accept your lord’s generosity, to love your own wife and children, and to promote your own interests, while all the time feeling that your body is yours and letting your spirit go slack. Know well that it is due to your lord’s generosity that you owe your very life, and serve him by giving him your body.

Then for yourself you will achieve peace.

Yes, your body is your lord’s; what are you to call your own? That you may go into your mind beyond such shallows as these and mount guard unremittingly, you must see that “never has there been a single thing, birth and death do not exist”, and that Ota Dokan of Musashi entered deeply into the Way and was an expert in poetry as well.

As an enemy stabbed him to death with a spear saying, “Make a poem now, if you’re so good,” Dokan managed to gasp out,

“At such a time I surely would cling to life
Did I not know
That my body never was.”

Again, Ninagawa Shin’uemon’s farewell poem runs,

“If I had died
That same moment I was born
Wind still would blow
This evening through these pines.”

And Abbot Ikkyu has this:

“A pause, and from the past
Pass into what will be:
Let wind blow if wind will,
Let rain if it will rain.”

. . . delight of these men is beyond all measure. This is because people like them, despite their initial bewilderment, entered upon the Way and practiced it. What should your practice be? Simply to rid yourself of your self.

Alas, you can remind a man that many he loves and many he does not will die before him. But he will think that you are talking of someone else and will let your words go right through his head. Who lingers on for long? What thing endures the least while? This world, all dreams and fancies, takes our whole gaze, fills our ears.

Know then, know that this world has always been changing. If you clearly recognize that it does not last, what can stand in your way?

What is it, this body which battens onto a dream world and in which we delight as though it were our own? Earth, water, fire, and air join in temporary union to give it form. It is not ours at all. When we cling to the four elements, the four elements bewilder us. Go all the way without time and again being bewildered by the four elements. There is a self, but it is not a self. Though distinct from the four elements it belongs with them. It accompanies the four elements and avails itself of them. An ancient has said, “There is something which precedes heaven and earth. It is without form and its root is still. It is truly the master of the myriad shapes, and the four seasons around it never withers.”


This version of Moanjo is based on The Selected Writings of Suzuki Shōsan