Zen Dojo Zürich


My teaching rests on two points. First: never declare anything you have not experienced yourself. Second: never say anything that does not help the others.

The Buddha originated from a noble and rich Indian family and carried the name of Siddharta, which means “fulfilment of all wishes”. Irritated by the suffering of the beings and the insight that the superficial human joys could not bring true happiness he left his family when he was twenty-nine years old to seek the path. After six years of deep exploration in asceticism, at the utter end of his powers, he realised that the human being could not find the true liberation through these practices. He thus sat in the lotus posture under the Bodhi tree, firmly decisive that he would not get up anymore until he would have totally solved the fundamental problem of life. Immovable and in deep inner stillness he finally realised enlightenment. Without searching for anything nor running away from it, without creating separation, he saw the phenomena as they are, i.e. in the unlimited reality of being, and became the Buddha, the Awakened One.

The teaching of the Buddha is rooted in his lived, realised experience. At the time of Shakyamuni there were many philosophical systems and religions, which were contradicting each other and brought dispute. Each of them had its own doctrine of absolute truth and declared that all others were wrong. Buddha said that all these disputes were without substance and did not enter any metaphysical discussion. These questions did not appear to be at the core of an authentic search for wisdom, as they were creating a distance between the seeker and the path that liberates from suffering. His arguments were based on two points: never state anything one is not sure of; and never say anything that is not use- or helpful for the fellow human beings. The Buddha can be compared to a doctor suggesting a cure to the sick human nature. He did not have the intention of creating a new religion, but to help man to understand the source of his suffering and to liberate from it.


I have come to this country to pass on the Dharma and to clean it from delusion. A flower opens five petals, the fruit matures by itself.

After twenty-eight generations of disciples of the Buddha Shakyamuni Bodhidharma introduced Zen to China in the beginning of the sixth century. He is the twenty-eighth successor who received the Kesa, and he became the first patriarch of Zen in China. Legends around Bodhidharma are many. Whether they are historically authentic or not, they gained a deep meaning within the Zen tradition. Bhodidharma was the Dharma heir of Hannyathara and went on a long and strainful journey to China. Early reports say that he had been a hundred years of age already by that time.


To understand Zen means to understand oneself. To understand oneself means to forget oneself. To forget oneself means to be one with the ten thousand things.

Dogen Zenji (1200-1252) is one of the most considerable religious personalities of the East and he is acknowledged by all Buddhist schools. Born into the politically turbulent time of the early thirteenth Century in Japan as the son of an aristocratic family he lost his parents early on. As he perceived the smoke arising from the incense standing by his mother lying in state, he was profoundly hit by the impermanence of all things and the meaninglessness of worldly matters. Following the last wish of his mother he renounced to a political career and became a monk at the age of thirteen. His search for the essence of the Buddhist teaching led him ten years later to China, where he met his master Tendo Nyojo, with whom he stayed and practiced until his passing over. He returned to Japan as his master’s successor and expressed his experience with the following words, which witness the return to the normal state of body and mind, of the synchronicity with the Cosmic Life: “I have returned with empty hands. Everything I can tell you is this: the eyes are horizontal and the nose is vertical. Morning by morning, sun rises in the East and the cock crows in the dawn. Every fourth year, the month of February has twenty-nine days.”

He withdrew to the temple of Kennin-ji and wrote the Fukanzazengi, the “Universal Rules for the Practice of Zazen”. He had realised in China that Zazen can include and encompass everything and has to be the source of all actions of everyday life – that the path is here and now, while doing whatever one is doing. A few years after his return to Japan he founded Eihei-ji, the “Temple of Heavenly Peace”, which remains still today one of the two main temples of Soto Zen.


Brief, Zen is about yourself – about your own life, your reality. It is not about Gautama Buddha’s teaching, nor about Master Dogen’s. Zen does not offer any exceptional teachings or spiritual experiences – only the simple, infinite reality that you manifest in every moment.

Kodo Sawaki (1880-1965) lost his parents early and had to gain his living as a child already in the custody of a friend of his uncle among gamblers. While he had to witness the death of an old man in a brothel he was struck by the impermanence of life and the absurdity of such a death. Without family, without friends, without money, sixteen years young, he walked all the way up to Eihei-ji. He was accepted as a servant, first, then ordained Zen monk in 1897. Later he withdrew into an abandoned hermitage when he realised, disappointed, that the practice of Zazen had almost disappeared from the Japanese Zen. He slept little and spent his days and nights practicing Zazen and studying the teachings of Master Dogen.

After having led this life for years he started travelling around and spreading his teaching all over Japan, in the big cities as well as in the fishermen’s villages, at universities and in prisons, and opened up the practice of Zazen to the laymen, too. As he did not want to settle anywhere and as he was always travelling on his own he was called “Kodo without residence”. When he was fifty-five years old he was appointed as a professor at the Buddhist University of Komazawa and finally also became one of the monks in charge of the Buddhist teaching at the temple of Soji-ji, the second main temple of Soto Zen. Kodo Sawaki was respected and admired throughout Japan for his simple and free life. Many disciples followed him, and among them was Yasuo Deshimaru. In 1965, as Kodo Sawaki was about to pass over, he asked Deshimaru to be his successor and to pass on the original Zen in the western world, the pure practice of Shikantaza, which had almost totally been forgotten in the traditional temple system of that time.


To practice Zazen in our confused world means to come back to the true dimension of our human being and to find the fundamental balance of its existence again.


Taisen Deshimaru (1914-1982) grew up on the island of Kyushu. In opposition to his master, Kodo Sawaki, he had experienced a happy childhood. His mind was nevertheless occupied at young age already with the opposites of the religious alignment of his mother and the materialistic world of his father. The Amida-Buddhism of his mother did not satisfy him, and neither did his later study of Christianity. Searching for an authentic spiritual path he finally met with his Zen master Kodo Sawaki and became his disciple.

Taisen Deshimaru followed his master for thirty years and practiced with him until his death in 1965, while he was at the same time continuing to lead his life in society. Kodo Sawaki rejected Deshimarus wish to be ordained Zen monk for a long time. He recognised in him a true disciple of the path and he did not want him to become a professional monk in the traditional temple system as it is commonly practiced in the institutionalised Japanese Zen. It was only right before his passing over that Kodo Sawaki gave him the ordination and requested him to plant the living seed of Zen into a fresh earth.

Two years later, Taisen Deshimaru followed the invitation of a group of macrobiotics to come to Paris. He lived in a really simple way, offered Shiatsu-massages and began to teach the practice of Zazen. Soon he could open the first Dojo. Zen was in that time only known from books to a minority of intellectuals. Deshimaru cared for opening Zen up to everybody and he made a contact with many famous scientists, artists and politicians of his time. During his fifteen years of teaching in Europe, Master Deshimaru founded over a hundred Zen Dojos and created the first great Zen temple in Europe, La Gendronnière. Based on his teachings, fundamental Zen texts were translated for the first time into European languages, commented and published. He received the official approval for the Dharma transmission by Yamada Reirin, the abbot of Eihei-ji. In Japan he was appointed Kaikyosokan, responsible of the teaching in Europe.

Taisen Deshimaru brought the essence of Zen in all its freshness and originality to Europe, and this is why he was called the “Bodhidharma of the modern times” in Japan. Following the tradition of his old master he knew how to make the authentic, transmitted Zen teaching accessible to the western mind. Through decades of practice with his master Kodo Sawaki, at the same time leading his social life, Taisen Deshimaru deeply understood how to embrace the material and the spiritual, the two opposites that had occupied him so much when he was young. This synthesis became the key point of his teaching in Europe, where he found the ideal conditions to spread a Zen that is rooted in daily life and present in society. He often said: “Do not make any separation between the material and the spiritual. You must embrace the contradictions!”

It was Deshimaru’s great concern and desire to contribute to the coping with the actual crisis of modern civilisation through the spreading of the practice of Zen. He had the deep wish to help the people of his time and to lead them to a deeper understanding of themselves and their lives through the practice of Zazen. The summer camps, dedicated to intense and focused practice, a tradition that goes back to Buddha Shakyamuni, allowed thousands of participants the authentic experience of this practice.

Taisen Deshimaru passed over in 1982 in Japan. His last words before he left to Japan were: “Continue Zazen eternally!”

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