A minimally edited transcript

Okesa Ceremony

Saturday, June 6, 1971
San Francisco

[The tape begins with Tenshin Reb Anderson reciting the verse attributed to Shakyamuni Buddha, quoted in the fascicle “Kesa-kudoku,” in Dogen Zenji's Shobogenzo. The translation may have been by Suzuki.]

Tenshin: I will read now a translation of the sutra we just chanted:

Listen carefully, Chiko Bisshu,1 to the ten precious virtues intrinsic to the garment of the great field of blessedness. While common clothing encourages the growth of delusion, the Buddha's garment of the dharma, the okesa, is by no means like that.

The okesa enables one, first of all, to achieve the completion of clear conscience. The okesa covers the dishonorable conduct. It is worthy to be called “the field where perpetual blessedness grows.”

Secondly, the okesa enables one to rest in the ultimate repose, eliminating discomfort from cold and heat or a poisonous insect with the preserving way-seeking mind.

Thirdly, the okesa enables one to be free from greed in the homeless life of a monk and eradicates the five false views. It directs one's effort towards the right practice.

Fourthly, the okesa enables one to elicit the same blessedness as the King of Brahma by paying homage on one's knees to the okesa like a banner woven with gems.

Fifthly, the okesa enables one to enjoy happiness in heavenly and human worlds under no influence of sinfulness, always in the belief that wearing the okesa identifies itself with the worship of a stupa.

Sixthly, the okesa enables one to realize that as a true monk wears and reveres the okesa, made by the three proper methods and arrangement of its materials, color, and measurement, all of his conduct is uncontaminated by upward attractions.

Seventhly, the okesa enables one to realize that all the buddhas admire its virtues and call it the fertile field, because to wear it is the best way to confer benefit on all beings.

Eighthly, the okesa enables one to cultivate the root of the enlightened mind and to practice under the inspiring influence of the okesa.

Ninthly, the okesa enables one to realize that the germ of the religious awakening is like a spring seedling—that it is growing, and the surpassing result of the enlightened mind is like an autumn fruit.

Tenthly, the okesa enables one to be unspoiled by the poisonous arrow of delusion due to wearing the indestructible armor.

The Buddha has, as mentioned briefly above, admired the ten precious virtues of the okesa which surpass all description, even if one were to spend an incredible time to describe it.

A dragon with even a thread of the okesa is able to escape the hazard of falling prey to the garuda,2 king of birds.

Crossing the sea, carrying the okesa with him, he [a person] is by no means concerned about the danger of dragon, fish, and other devils. Even a thunderbolt or unforeseen disasters, fear and stay away from those who wear the okesa. All demons simply cannot reach a layman who wears the okesa.

When one seeks the life of a homeless monk with this awareness, and wants to be free from worldly desire for the sake of practice, demons' palaces in all the ten directions will shake and collapse. And the Buddha and buddhahood will be revealed.

SR: Thank you very much for your [10-15 words obscured by mike noise] —Yoshida Roshi.3 I have heard of how important the practice of wearing the okesa is. But it is not so easy to meet the occasion to have or to receive the okesa—especially an okesa which is made in the proper way. You may feel funny if I say “proper,” but to transmit teaching properly is not so easy a thing.

I don’t say we haven't neglected the study of the okesa for a long, long time. But under the very difficult circumstances, it was not so easy to transmit how to make okesa, how to wear okesa, and what does it mean to wear okesa. What is the relationship between our zazen practice and okesa-wearing practice? And what is the relationship between how to make okesa and our teaching transmitted from Buddha?

If you understand how to practice zazen, and how to make okesa, how to wear okesa, then you may find out the similarity of the two practices. It is not only similar but also it is two ways of expressing our buddha-nature.

The words we use to explain or express the virtue of okesa and the virtue of our zazen practice maybe because the home of practice—if you really understand what those explanations of okesa and of zazen practice mean, you will find, “Oh, that is not two different things. It is just one practice. It is not different in its spirit.”

I don’t have enough time to explain the sutra we recited right now. But for instance, here it says, “The miraculous or supernatural power of okesa is beyond our understanding.”4 And it will lead our practice to [1 word?]. And it will enrich our practice. The words “supernatural” or “beyond our understanding,” it is nothing but another explanation of our zazen practice. We always say, “Just practice zazen. Just practice zazen.” Why we say so is even if you think about it, your thinking mind will not reach the real virtue of our practice because it is beyond our understanding.

We practice zazen. By practice, only by practice, will you understand what it is. And you will find out the real meaning of your everyday life: eating, sleeping, working—whatever you do—because your conduct, your activity is based upon our true practice it makes sense. If we lose the foundation of real practice, our life does not mean anything, even if we live more than one hundred years. It does not mean anything.

Today, at last, I could receive the right okesa, properly made. I don’t think it is too late for me to receive this okesa. I don’t think so. I still think I am very lucky to receive it. You may think, “We thought he is a great Zen master, but he just received an okesa today.” [Laughs.] You may think you are fooled by me. But, my spirit is always aiming at one truth, which can be true with everyone: layman and priest, Japanese and American, and Indian people and European nations. We are in just one truth. That is why I always say it is not so easy a thing to achieve Buddha's way. It cannot be so easy as long as our cultural background is different, as long as our way of life is different, our language is different, it cannot be so easy.

But there is something which all of us aim at. The okesa is the symbol of that oneness—the expression of this one goal, one spirit. Maybe even though I receive okesa right now, even though I shaved my head a long, long time ago, I must shave my head again and again. Even though I received ordination a long, long time ago, still it is necessary to receive okesa. Many, many times really this kind of sincere practice, as long as you do not lose the sincerity or way-seeking mind for the ultimate goal of human beings, then every time you do something, that practice will enrich your experience of dharma and strength—make your spirit stronger and stronger. And you will be really a good example of a bodhisattva.

No one can be too late to receive a proper okesa. No one can be too late to be ordained as a Buddhist. Here I said “Buddhist,” but I don’t mean any special religious group. Only when you neglect, only when you lose the spirit to attain the oneness of all beings, including all monks, all animate and inanimate beings.

You say, “this religion or that religion, layman or priest.” Actually, all of us should eventually be priests—all of us, without any exception. All of us should be priests. But until you can accept priesthood from the bottom of your heart, you will be laymen. As Dogen Zenji said, right now we are teacher and disciple. But all of us are actually Buddhist friends.

Those who have received okesa already, you should appreciate what it means—the meaning of receiving it. And those who haven't, respect the okesa. And you should know someday you will receive okesa. And those who joined this ceremony by chance, you also may know what we are doing here someday.

So, if you practice our way, this kind of spirit, whatever you do, it makes sense. When you lose this spirit, you will be lost. Even if you wear okesa, you will be lost. So to respect the truth is a very important thing. You shouldn't say “this or that” because everything has some meaning as they are.

I am so happy to have Yoshida Roshi here in Zen Center to introduce real practice for us. I met Yoshida Roshi's teacher and master [Eko] Hashimoto Roshi5 at Eiheiji only once. But I heard of his sincere practice for a long, long time. And he is no more. So Yoshida Roshi is as a successor of Hashimoto Roshi, striving for the study of okesa and continuing Hashimoto Roshi's spirit. I don’t know how to express my gratitude for her and for her teacher Hashimoto Roshi. Hashimoto Roshi was a good friend of my teacher Kishizawa [Ian] Roshi and also my master [Gyokujun So-on Roshi] who helped Kishizawa Roshi.6

In Japan, you say Buddhism has almost died. But I don’t think so. When something looks like it is dying, true spirit will arise. That is always true with something which is true. If it is dying, I think, “let it die.” If it is not true, it will die. So, Buddha takes care of something which is dying. If something is true, it will arise again. And a true teacher will appear in some way. It is not the number of people, but the quality of our practice. I think something will happen to America, where there are so many sincere students.

Thank you very much.

Thank you very much for [several words not clear: probably addressing Yoshida Roshi, possibly in Japanese].

1 Chiko is the Japanese equivalent of the monk's name, Jnānaprabha. Bisshu is probably the Japanese equivalent of Sanskrit bhikshu, monk. The original term that Dōgen used in Shōbōgenzō "Kesa-kudoku" is biku.

2 The great mythical bird who feeds upon dragons; one of the eight guardians of Buddhism (along with devas, dragons, et al.).

3 Eshun Yoshida-rōshi: Teacher of okesa sewing in the lineage of Eko Hashimotorōshi.

4 Attributed to Shākyamuni Buddha by Dōgen-zenji in Shōbōgenzō "Kesa-kudoku."

5 Eko Hashimoto-rōshi: 1890–1965.

6 Kishizawa Ian-rōshi: 1865–1955

Source: Original tape SR-71-06-06. Translation of Japanese terms and research assistance by Shohaku Okumura Sensei. Transcribed verbatim by Bill Redican (10/22/01). Lightly edited for readability by Wendy Pirsig and Peter Ford (3/2021).


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