Kodo Sawaki

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Kodo Sawaki (1880 - 1965) is considered by some to be the most important Japanese Zen master of the 20th century.


  • I went to the Russo-Japanese War and killed people until I had enough of it. If you think about it soberly, this is a serious matter. Today the newspaper writes about the extermination of the enemy or how we clean them away with machine gun fire. That almost sounds like everyday household cleaning. They fire with machine guns and call it "cleaning away the remains of the enemy". Imagine that would happen in the midst of the ginza: people getting "cleaned away" as if you were shooting animals! It would be a serious affair. Compared with today the former war was old fashioned. We shot only one bullet at a time. That was not so gross like shooting your machine gun as if you were spreading water with a watering can, or throwing big bombs, or poison gas. I also once killed enemies at the battlefield of Baolisi, chasing them into a hole, and I was never punished for it. I even received monthly payments as a veteran after I came back from the war. That means that you do not always get punished for killing a person. It depends on the regulations of the time if you get punished or not. But these regulations are made by men.
    • Comments on the Shodoka (Tokyo: Daihorinkaku,1st edition 1940, p.414)
  • We stop the one who can't cease from seeking things outside, and practice with our bodies with a posture that seeks absolutely nothing. This is zazen.
    • "Zenshu," Collected Works, vol. 15 (Tokyo: Daihorinkaku, 1966), p. 336
  • Once there was a megalomaniac in the Sugamo hospital who called himself "Ashiwara Shōgun." He hung a cardboard medal around his neck and bestowed dignified words to those he met to take with them on their way. Now that the war is over, we can see clearly that what the military did wasn’t at all different. And now they want to reintroduce medals yet again... After winning the Russo-Japanese war, we thought we’d won colonies. But what really came of it? After losing the Second World War, we realized that we had only earned the hatred of the Russians... Everyone is talking about loyalty to the fatherland. The question is simply where this loyalty will take us. I too was completely convinced when I went to war against the Russians, but after our defeat, I realized that we had done something that we shouldn’t have. In any case, it’s better not to make war in the first place.
    • Zen ni kike (To you) (Tokyo: Daihorinkaku, 1987)
  • My sermons are criticized by certain audiences. They say that my sermons are hollow, not holy. I agree with them because I myself am not holy. The Buddha's teaching guides people to the place where there is nothing special... People often misunderstand faith as kind of ecstasy of intoxication... True faith is sobering up from such intoxication.
    • The Zen Teaching of "Homeless" Kodo (Kyoto: Kyoto Soto Zen Center, 1990), p. 72

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