Memories of My Student Life: An Autobiographical Essay

By HISAMATSU Shin'ichi


It is very doubtful whether or not he ever really had an academic life like that of an ordinary scholar. A scholar's primary aim is to devote himself to purely academic study and scholarly achievements. His aim was different. Throughout his life his basic concern was living the absolute truth -- living it -- rather than studying it. In other words, he wanted most of all to lead what is called a religious life. Merely to comprehend what the absolute truth is through the academic study of philosophy was not his main concern.

His goal, then, was to be a religious person rather than a scholar per se. Nor did he want to become a scholar of religion, but a person of religion. When he engaged in academic work, his motive was not purely academic; he did it to pursue his goal of living the absolute truth. This basic religious tendency evolved gradually during his childhood due to the religious atmosphere in his home. Of course he strayed from this main path at times, but such occasions were only momentary; his desire to become a religious person remained constant throughout his childhood.

In spite of his parents' opposition to him continuing school due to his weak constitution, he heard later that his grandmother had strongly supported him and wanted him to become a physician. She was apprehensive of restricting his free will so she kept mum about it, but after he graduated from the university, she said with a laugh, "And I wanted you to become a doctor!" He was amazed hearing of the hope that she had, but even if he had known it, there was no possibility he would have become a physician.

Of his middle school friends, most aspired to be physicians, followed by soldiers, businessmen, and teachers. Anyone not coming from a temple family yet aspiring to be a religionist was treated as feeble-minded or crazy. In spite of this he had no mind to become a soldier, businessman, teacher, or scientist either. Only a political interest sometimes swayed him. At the time of the Russo-Japanese peace negotiations he was so indignant that he went to his parish Shinto shrine and swore in the presence of the guardian deities that he would become a diplomat. Dreaming of a political revolution and imagining his fate in prison, he broke down crying in his mother's lap. But these were only momentary events; his latent religious concern lay hidden deep within.

Even though it is called a religious concern, it was completely passively received without free will, a simple outside influence from his home environment in the days of his youth. From the time he was born he was brought up in the religion of the True Pure Land sect by his extremely devoted parents, and especially by his grandparents. Being a young and steadfast believer he set his heart on becoming a monk and trying to enter Kyoto Nishihonganji Buddhist University (presently Ryukoku University).

However, upon entering middle school his knowledge of science increased and he began to feel the contradiction between that knowledge and his traditional faith. Thus, he began to have all sorts of doubts about Pure Land doctrine. Seeking to resolve these doubts he turned to the Pure Land holy books, and to the writings of MAEDA Eun (1857-1930), whom he respected for having a noble-minded character. But his doubt just deepened and got more complex, and by his fourth year in middle school it became utterly hopeless; his diamond-like faith which he thought could never be broken, completely collapsed.

Thinking back now, his belief at that time naively accepted everything, avoiding all doubts. Such doubts didn't seem so serious as to prove fatal, but at that time they constituted a dead end for him which he could not break out of. If one is a modern man who has his baptism in the natural sciences narrowly speaking, and in humanity more broadly speaking, this dead end is an unscalable wall that no one can avoid facing.

For him it was a conversion experience from the naive, medieval religious life of faith which avoids rational doubt, to the critical life of modern man based on autonomous reason and experiential proof. The most certain thing for him was not believing in Buddha or the Pure Land Paradise by throwing our discretion and eliminating doubt, but man himself who has realized the rational subject, an the actual historical world which is proved by experience based on reason.

Meanwhile, a rational awareness of sin deepened, and while he felt an eager longing for salvation from it, he neither thought he would fall into hell nor did he rejoice at the thought of being saved from hell and reborn in Paradise. Therefore, he was not inclined to depend on some Buddha to take him up to Paradise should he fall into hell. Not only that, such a Buddha actually became nothing more than an unsubstantiated superstition to him.

His problem at that time was to cast off such superstition, to pursue humanity based on reason, and to find a solution. Finally he decided to bid farewell to religion and try to turn to a philosophy based on reason. This was the first step in his life as a student of philosophy. At this point he thought philosophy could become the foundation for religion. Even though he could not find a religious solution to this problem, he thought perhaps he could find a philosophical one. Certainly what he meant by religion in those days was a True Pure Land faith of the masses which he had understood through the sermons and sacred teachings. By philosophy he meant nothing more than an academic investigation that would offer a rational yet fundamental solution to problems of human life. The first thing that attracted him to philosophy was its rationality. Just because he became skeptical and could not help but deny religion it was only natural that philosophy attracted him.

Before graduation from middle school he asked HAYASHI Hachizo, principal of Gifu Middle School, which he attended, if he was going to do philosophy, which would be better, Tokyo University or Kyoto University? Principal Hayashi was stout and impressive, rather round-shouldered and tall, wearing thick glasses. With his long sesame-white whiskers extending from his plum cheeks to his jaw, he was a person with a clam and dignified appearance. He came from Keio University and I believe he studied under FUKUZAWA Yukichi (1834-1901). Principal Hayashi was in charge of the fifth year ethics course and lectured on the "Ten Theories of Human Character". The principal gave his recommendation by saying, "How about going to Kyoto University?" The reason the principal gave was that, while Tokyo University had a long history, many veteran authorities, and was a well-established and fully equipped university, on the other hand it was lacking in freshness. In contrast to this, Kyoto University was only recently established, and so it was not well equipped and still in the preparatory stage; but the faculty was full of young and energetic people and vital future was expected.

At that time the principal told him that in the philosophy department at Kyoto University, the head of the department was KUWAKI Gen'yoku (1874-1946) who had established himself as the leading philosopher and who was most highly renowned. Speaking of the brilliant philosopher, NISHIDA Kitaro (whom the principal called Ikutaro instead of Kitaro), he said, among other things, that Nishida was not yet known in the world, but he would be great and it would be worthwhile keeping an eye on him in the future. He had heard of Kuwaki before, but when he first heard "Nishida Kitaro", the name of the sage philosopher left a deep impression.

Looking back: that the first person from whom he heard about Nishida Kitaro, to whom later he gets deeply obliged as a student, was his middle school principal must be said to be a curious coincidence which he can never forget. Moreover, at that time A Study of Good had not even been published yet, so how Principal Hayashi could possibly have predicted Nishida's future so accurately is indeed strange. If it had been merely a stroke of good luck, if he had heard it from someone else, or again if it was inspired divination or something like that, it would be nonsense. But if the principal had read Nishida's writings prior to A Study of Good and drew his conclusions from that, then it must be said that he had a keen eye truly worthy of admiration. After leaving his position as principal of Gifu Middle School he returned to Keio University and later I heard he settled in Hokkaido. It is unfortunate to have lost touch with Mr. Hayashi and to know nothing of his whereabouts.


After graduation from middle school and with the intention to enter Kyoto University as Principal Hayashi had recommended, he set out for Tokyo in order to prepare for the entrance examination for the Third Upper School in Kyoto. He had never traveled alone, and not even knowing how to buy a train ticket, he asked his father to buy it for him. And never having eaten beef before, he was such a country hick that at his boarding house in Tokyo he burned the sukiyaki black and everyone laughed at him. But because it was his first time to study away from home, in high spirits he "departed his village with manly determination", as it's said. He took as his motto, "We are born into this world to lead others to goodness", which was written on a dark blue scroll in gold ink and which he had hidden deep in his bosom.

His middle school friend and classmate KAWAJI Toshiaki was already in Tokyo and, encouraging each other to study hard for the entrance exam, they barely managed to enter the Third Upper School as desired. At that time, the Third Upper School was known to everyone for its liberalness, and indeed its spirit was a free one. Principal ORITA Hikoichi had his moral influence carried out without forcing it. Perhaps this period was the peak of the school's liberalness. About the time Principal Orita retired, the school spirit was brought under control and military exercises were intensified. It was like the school's freedom had been fastened in armor. Thus, without knowing it, preparations were being made for the First World War....

During this time at the Third Upper School he enjoyed reading philosophical works more than the prescribed classroom studies. Although it's questionable whether or not he could even really understand German yet, he could often be found with his nose in a dictionary at the school library, trying to wade through the original German text of Windelband's History of Philosophy. Of course, with his language ability as well as his understanding still poor, he wasn't able to read much, but little by little he felt he started to get a vague idea of what philosophy was.

At that time -- January, Meiji 44 (1911), Nishida Kitaro's A Study of Good, which Hayashi had told him about, was published by Kodokan in Tokyo. He immediately went and bought it for one yen and got absorbed reading it. At that time he was already in his final year of upper school, so as he read it over many times, he could just about understand it. He was interested mostly in the fourth chapter, titled "Religion". Here was something different from that religion which had collapsed through the exercise of his reason. He found here a religion that did not contradict reason, but satisfied it. After a lapse of four or five years, once again his interest in religion was revived. At the same time he spontaneously started thinking philosophically. But, however many times he read over (the first chapter, titled) "Pure Experience", which was said to form the basis of the work, he just couldn't understand it. There was nothing else to do but to shelve it until his understanding grew a little. The goal of his life in upper school was to store up, like compost, a wealth of knowledge so that when he went on to the university philosophy department he would have acquired the necessary intellectual preparation so it wouldn't be too hard to understand the lectures.

For about five years, from about the second year of upper school until his graduation from the university, he lived on the third floor of the Rakuyokan boarding house, next to the east wall of Shogoin Temple in a four-and-a-half mat room which faced northeast. One part of the northeast section of Shogoin was at that time a part of the residence of Prince KAYA, and in early spring he used to observe the Dowager Princess walking with her charming grandson and granddaughter, picking horsetails in the paulownia garden on the other side of the fence.

The northeast was fields which grew lots of the local favorites such as Shogoin garden radish, green vegetables and the like. Houses were few and far between. At the bottom of Kagura slope was a rather wide swamp where fish would swim and waterfowl alight. In summer it was a nice fishing spot for children. From his room, the window facing north commanded a view of Mount Hiei and the northern mountains in the distance. The window facing east had a view of Daimonji Mountain and Mount Nyakuoji above the Kurodani Pagoda. The fresh green of spring, the autumn colors, the winter snow; all four seasons provided a beautiful view.

....In his upper school were WATANABE Hiroyuki who entered the business world, MANABE Masaru who became a Diet member, TAKAKURA Teru (whose real name was Teruhito), who became an author, OBA Yonejiro who is presently a professor at Otani University, and TAKAKURA Chikai and INAZUKA Takeshi who died young. It's such a pity since Takakura Chikai had set his heart on philosophy and was such a genius that he competed with YAMAUCH Tokuryu for head of the class,... I cannot help but recall them with longing in my heart.


With rising hopes he had entered (the Third Upper School, and now) Kyoto University in the first year of Taisho (the latter half of 1912). He majored in philosophy in the college of literature's philosophy department. It was the fifth term for students entering the philosophy department since it had been established.

In the same class was the unique OIKAWA Eizaemon, who become a disciple of UCHIMURA Kanzo after graduation but died in middle age. Also there was MORIMOTO Koji (presently MORIMOTO Shonen) who entered the Shokokuji Zen Monastery, first practiced under HASHIMOTO Dokusan and later under YAMAZAKI Taiko, and, after practicing Zen for a long time, finally became a monk....

When he entered, the college of literature's faculty was filled with outstanding scholars who were new and powerful and really commanded admiration .... They were unique and distinguished scholars who had both learning and character.

At first he listened to the required lectures, but he also attended optional lectures, and was delighted to be really soaking up the atmosphere of a university, which was the seat of highest learning. Lectures were fast-paced and new, technical terms often appeared n the lectures, so he had trouble taking notes. But thanks to his having read a number of philosophical works in upper school, he could check his notes with what was written in reference books, and that really helped.

The head of the philosophy department, which was his major, was Kuwaki Gen'yoku and the assistant professor, TOMONAGA Sanjuro was studying abroad. Nishida Kitaro, whom he had looked forward to meeting for so long, was an assistant professor in charge of ethics. Nishida's appearance fit Hayashi Hachizo's description to a "T". Hayashi must have seen him somewhere. Nishida was only forty-three years old but his head was close-cropped with a receding brow and penetrating eyes which glared from the depths of his thick glasses. He had a prominent nose, large eyes, and lips tightly closed in a straight line. He was unshaven, a lean figure like a withered pine tree on a frozen crag, wearing a faded haori(Japanese half-coat), and trudging along with a cane with sure, steady steps. This figure walking while thinking heaven-knows-what was, no doubt, a recluse or Arhat (disciple of the Buddha). His elegantly simple look like that of a sage unconcerned with personal appearance combined with his unfathomable lectures which were unique somehow and without parallel, holding the students spellbound.

In the second year of Taisho (1913), Nishida became a professor, was put in charge of lectures in religious studies, and himself lectured on religion. These lectures were compiled in the fourth supplementary volume of his complete works. It was the one and only time in Nishida's life that he gave introductory lectures on religion. The following year Kuwaki was transferred to Tokyo University to replace Koeber (Raphael von, 1848-1923), and Nishida became his successor and took charge of the first lectures on philosophy and the history of philosophy, so he could no longer listen to Nishida's lectures on religion.

After entering the philosophy department he listened to various lectures given by each of the professors and thus gained a working knowledge in the required philosophical curriculum. And on his own he read through philosophical and religious classics as well as some new publications, trying to take in the necessary mental nourishment.

During his first three years at the university, Nishida's single lecture on religion aroused in him the strongest and deepest concern. That lecture served to carve out and give a clear and definite form to his own latent, internal longing which persisted for many years despite his confusion. His philosophical interest in religion which had been aroused a few years earlier when he read A Study of Goodwas now revived anew and more concretely, not just through Nishida's words, but with Nishida's whole being which possessed penetrating philosophical thought and deep personal religious experience. That single lecture opened his religious eye to its philosophical dimension.

On the eve of his graduation, after eight years of philosophical study, he had to face various living problems which made him critically reflect on whether he had achieved his original goal or not. Doing philosophy, he had become accustomed to thinking about things by moving from the particular to the universal, from the inessentials to the essentials. Fortunately or unfortunately, the particular problems he was now facing served as a trigger which set off others, and finally those particular problems were broken through to the universal root-source of all problems. These problems turned inward from objective to subjective ones. However profound the philosophical knowledge, as long as it was merely objective knowledge it was completely powerless to resolve this subjective problem he had. Finally, there was no other way but through a subjective and fundamental change in himself. His grave concern was not to pursue the truth objectively, nor was it to know his own true way of being objectively; it was to achieve a transformation in his own being and conduct.


In this way he came to despair at the powerlessness of philosophy to attain his original goal. Completely losing interest in university graduation, he handed in his graduation theses without worrying about the results, and spent his time shut up in his room sunk deep in contemplation. At that time his behavior seemed abnormal and a physician at the university medical department who was a senior from his own home town went so far as to send a telegram to Hisamatsu's father stating that, from his appearances, he seemed to be psychologically unsound. His mental state was seriously abnormal, but it wasn't the type of thing for which he would receive psychological treatment.

Thinking of how he should resolve this subjective problem, he finally made up his mind to try and break through the aporiaby means of Zen. At that time the thought of giving up, of just forgetting it and thinking about something else, of committing suicide or giving in to despair, to say nothing of being saved by some God or Buddha -- all these were of no concern to him, they were even detestable. While despairing of reason he could not revert to something which was unable to withstand the criticism of reason. He chose Zen because he had gained some knowledge of its doctrine and the transformation achieved and lived by its people through reading Zen books and listening to lectures on Zen every chance he had since upper school, combined with his actual contact with Nishida Kitaro. These two things mutually responded to his own state of mind and spontaneously something began working inside him. Taking leave of so-called theistic religion and despairing of a philosophy of objective knowledge, the way he chose was not simply one of "religion" or "philosophy". It had to be an actively subjective knowledge, a subjectively active knowledge. For this reason he chose Zen.

For a mediation hall to practice at, he chose the tranquil Obaku (sect Zen monastery complex) in Uji, faraway from noise, and on June 16th in the fourth year of the Taisho Era (1915) he decided to go there. He slipped out of his dormitory late at night, and on the way to Obaku thought he should call on Professor Nishida since he understands best about such things. Nishida's living quarters were outside the Kyoto city limits in the village of Tanaka....

Nishida was surprised at hearing the reason for this sudden and unexpected visit, and admonished him for his impulsive behavior, saying, "I understand well your state of mind, but since your oral exams are approaching, finish them first. It won't be too late if you go after graduation, will it? You should seek the way in calmness. To do so rashly and impatiently is abnormal. Besides, if you make the wrong choice you won't achieve your goal."

Thus cut-off at the outset, he returned to his boarding house crestfallen and the next day reflected calmly on his situation. The following day he tried again to express his state of mind to Nishida with the following letter:

The night before last I called on you without appointment. I'm very sorry.

At that time you wondered whether I was not strung out from overexcitement. I thought, if that's so, it's terrible. So that night I thought it over calmly. But after calming myself down, the deeper I reflect, the more clearly resound the creams of awareness that my pas has been a falsehood. Whenever I hear these screams I'm unbearably frightened, feel wretched and cannot help but tremble. I entered the university and studied philosophy in order to build my character, and am doing that now. But can I really say that I've done this without qualification? I lived a strict, so-called moral life. However, is this what has arisen from the free, inner all of myself? Wasn't an ostentatious devil lurking in my clothing, my hat and belt, sticking its tongue out? Why do I get my hair cut, shave, take a bath and wash my face? I have a mirror in the bottom of my desk drawer; why did I buy it? On the train, the young give their seats to the old and to children, but even though I felt sorry for them, wasn't there a time I could not, out of fear that others might think I was showing off my goodness? And despite this, have I not also displayed good acts in front of others? Everything -- even such trivial, daily actions as these, when mixed in a test tube and examined, is there even one that does not show this poisoned reaction? Argh!! How awful it all is! I must remove this poison completely from my actions or I cannot have a moment's peace.

This frightening poison, this devilish, false motive for my actions shadows me like a powerful dark hand, not leaving me for even a moment. My true self lies confined at the bottom of an old well, firmly bound hand and foot in iron chains. I am without any freedom in my actions. Only my tongue wags freely, ridiculing, admonishing, remonstrating, scolding. But I have no power, nothing but a faltering voice. Now even my wagging tongue is about to be tied. Thus, having lost all my freedom and being this false self, I can do nothing but show the tyranny of my arrogance. No matter what, I must break out of the terrifying restraint of these chains, put fresh air into my lungs and revive myself in the free world. If I don't, this evil spider will continue spinning its tenacious web tighter and tighter around my throat. Then I must face a miserable death within this prison. Poisonous fangs are constantly shooting poison and paralyzing me.

With death knocking at my door, its footsteps ringing oppressively in my ears, how wretched! I must figure out a way to escape from this giant swinging blade as soon as possible.

When I called on you at your house, that was when my grief was at its worst. There was no way I could bear the pain. I tried to think about graduation, but I couldn't see the slightest value in it. Should I listen to the urgings of my true self or should I deny them? Should I try to wait until I've submitted my exams? I couldn't think of any good reason to wait, so I decided to just renounce my past completely and attain a new truth. But even there my false self followed me. And quite unexpectedly your kind words added strength to this false self of mine. Again the pleas of my true self were buried.

Yesterday, through your introduction I called on UEMURA Horin at Senjuin, but all I did was listen attentively to his ethical views on the world and society. Getting free from this predicament as quickly as possible, I long for this very life that I'm now living to begin flowing out of the utterly pure and clear spring that is my true self. Then, such minor daily activities as dressing or putting on my hat, as well as doing good, serving society and working for the good of mankind, can take on a completely new meaning, and I can live in a world shining with precious light. While I have yet to attain such freedom, all of my actions are evil.

June 18th (1915)

Soon after, Nishida invited him to his house, and Nishida suggested he start with reading Zen books and then gradually prepare to do Zen practice. After several days he sent off notes to Nishida of such brevity as follows:
Dear Sir:

Thank you for having me over to your house the other day, and thank you also for loaning me your umbrella. I'm sorry I haven't returned it yet.

The sky that evening was like my own state of mind -- dark clouds of desire racing back and forth, a violent storm raging. A downpour of sharp, stinging rain was striking from all directions, my sins thundering and lighting up the sky, my anguish resounding across mountains and plains. With the path lying in pitch darkness and a mere umbrella unable to withstand this onslaught, I couldn't even proceed a single step. I regretted having lost my freedom of movement due to relying on an umbrella. Really, only in an ordinary rainfall is an umbrella useful.

The day after I visited you, I went out and purchased The Complete Works of Hakuin as you suggested, and read "Orategama", etc. I also bought Zenmon hogo-shu (A Collection of Zen Talks and Writings). There are many things I have never heard or thought of before, and many things to learn.

June 23rd (1915)

He abandoned his idea of going to Obaku. At the same time, feeling as if he was lost in the wilderness with no path in sight, he could do nothing but pass the days as he waited for some direction from Nishida. At this time he jotted down such verses the following in his delay:
Ahhhh! The summer heat;
My heart burning
With guilt

Wanting to watch the moon,
I take shelter in a roadside Buddhist shrine
White it drizzles

In the fall of that year (1915), Nishida asked Uemura Horin, his good friend from the days when he practiced at the Myoshinji monks training hall, to put Hisamatsu under the guidance of IKEGAMI Shozan, who was Zen master of that training hall. Nishida, known by his lay Buddhist name, Sunshin, had a long history as a layman practicing under KOKAN at Myoshinji, KOSHU at Daitokuji, and SETSUMON at Kokutaiji in Etchu (present day Toyama Prefecture), and others. Because he knew the Zen world of that time well, Nishida thought carefully about whom Hisamatsu should be put under the guidance of. Nishida told him, "Of the Zen monasteries in Kyoto, TOYOTA Dokutan and KONO Mukai are at Nanzenji, TAKEDA Mokurai is at Kenninji, BESSHO Kyuho is at Tofukuji, Hashimoto Dokusan is Shokokuji, TAKAGI Ryoen is at Tenryuji, KAWASHIMA Shoin is at Daitokuji and Ikegami Shozan is at Myoshinji. Among them, Shoin and Shozan are good, but for you Shozan would be better."

With this, Nishida recommended Shozan, adding that while Shoin was like a blown-hair sword that could cut through anything. Shozan was more like the swipe of a rusty old battle axe. Nishida Kitaro's insight and ability to guide here are really worthy of admiration. On November fifth of that year (1915) at the Myoshinji monks training hall he was able at last to meet Ikegami Shozan for the first time, through the introduction of Uemura Horin, and accompanied by UEKI Giyu. He was given permission to attend Ikegami Shozan's teisho (Zen lecture) on "The Record of The Zen Master Daio Kokushi".

His first impression of Shozan was one of composed and imperturbable calmness, sitting on his cushions like a chunk of lead. There was an absence of constraint which nothing could disturb or upset, a tranquillity, a purity and naturalness, and a simplicity untainted by human art or artifice. There was a warm friendliness which flowed forth from an inviolable dignity, a mellowed beauty like that of rusted gold. Overall his first impression was something so intricate and of such profound significance that it could not be fully explained. Shozan's original face, which conveyed these impressions at their first meeting was truly the very longing he had etched in his heart. He actually encountered in Shozan the concrete manifestation of what he had been seeking. But he was too independent to be satisfied merely with gazing objectively at this actual existence, contemplating it, admiring it, longing for it, revering it , or imitating it.

As it's said in Zen, outside of one's mind there's nothing to gain, nor is there any Buddha to seek. His great desire was to actualize in himself that which he now objectively witnessed. Namely, the true face revealed in Shozan had to be authenticated in himself. This was his great desire for which he was willing even to risk his life.

This was the first time he had heard Zen teisho, the presentation and content of which were quite different from university lectures, and it was quite new to him. Teisho is not an objective or intellectual explanation as in a university lecture, but expresses Zen subjectively, through Zen records. Shozan's true face, subjectively and actively expressing itself through "The Record of the Zen Master Daio Kokushi", could not help but awaken his true nature which lay sleeping deep within. Just after hearing this teisho, he wrote down the following impressions:

November 5th (1915)

At the Myoshinji monk's training hall, through the introduction of Uemura Horin and Ueki Giyu, listened to Shozan's teisho on "The Record of Zen Master Daio Kokushi". Feel as if I've lost my way in the numerous activities of daily life, clothes caught by rose thorns blocking the road. The Way seems cut off by a sheer rock wall rising up to the heavens, and then again by a thousand foot precipice. Wondering left and then right, advancing and then retreating, wavering, hesitation, continually distressed. The blood in my veins dried up, heart and mind weak, death approaching. Here the gateless barrier appears before my eyes, yet unfortunately my introspection is still weak and shallow, so as I'm about to cross the threshold, suddenly the gate vanishes and an abyss opens under my feet. Trying to concentrate my energy, throw myself into the abyss, break through the gate, cross over to the other shore, kill monks, slay the Buddha, and, myself climbing onto the master's seat and taking a pinch of incense, letting the fragrant smoke pervade the universe and hold the six directions inside.

But just about the time he began feeling impatient, that something as lacking in just listening to the teisho, the Rohatsu sesshin came.

On December 1st (1915 -- the first day of the yearly Rohatsu sesshin), he was finally permitted to do sanzen (personal interview) with Shozan and also to sit in the Zen hall. Meeting Shozan in the sanzen room, he was completely changed from their previous meeting, unapproachable now, like a sheer mountain precipice rising into the sky. He could not help but admire Shozan for bringing about such a thorough and conspicuous change in his being.

This was the first time he had ever sat zazen in monk's training hall, and the first time he did a sesshin according to the same strict regulations as monks in training. Not only that, this was the Rohatsu sesshin, the most severe sesshin of the year, and the agony, both mental and physical, was beyond anything he had ever experienced. The extraordinary, deathly tension of the monk's training hall which is unlike anywhere else, the warning stick of the supervising monk who is utterly unrelenting, and the better cold wind blowing in through the wide open windows, all drove him to extreme fear and shuddering. The pain of not being accustomed to sitting in the full-lotus posture and the stiffness in his neck, shoulders, and lower back kept on increasing moment by moment so that he could barely maintain the seated posture, grimacing and gritting his teeth. If he didn't apply all his efforts to struggle with the essential matter, his efforts would be stolen away completely. But on the other hand, with sanzen approaching time and again he was urged to struggle on in spite of his predicament, his whole being driven further and further against the wall. In the sanzen room Shozan became more and more like an unscalable iron wall, his single, pure white eye penetrating like a death ray.

On the third day (of the Rohatsu sesshin) there was no avenue of escape, not even the size of the eye of a needle. He had become one great, massive block of doubt and his entire being was one vast and boundless darkness, driven to the last extremity, to absolute death. It was not as if he had tried to objectively solve some particular problem and reached an impasse, nor was it a matter of trying to solve some universal problem yet being unable to solve it. But neither did such problems remain as deep doubts in himself. he had himself completely became single great, massive block of doubt. In this one was his entire being. Like a greedy rat who rushes into a bamboo coin box and finds itself stuck, or like someone who climbs up a hundred-foot pole only to find himself utterly unable to advance or retreat, he was completely stuck, unable even to move.

Just at that time, suddenly and unexpectedly, "Getting cornered you change, and changing you break through", as it's said, this one great block of doubt which he had become instantaneously crumbled from within and at the same time Shozan as the solid and unscalable iron wall collapsed without a trace. There was not a hair's breadth between Shozan and him. For the first time he realized and confirmed his formless and freely abiding true self. And simultaneously he was also able for the first time to truly encounter Shozan's true face. He then knew the truth of Mumon's words: "Going together hand in hand with the Zen teachers of old, seeing with the very same eyes, hearing with the very same ears." As it's said, "One (complete) cutting and all is cut, on (thorough) attainment and all is attained", all of the problems he had been unable to resolve for so many years were cut off at the very root and he attained a great joy which he had never before experienced. He now realized that which is without life-and-death, that which goes beyond existence and no-existence; he attained that which does not think good nor think evil, in which all value and valuelessness are cut off. He expressed his realization at that time through the surrounding natural beauty with the following poems:

After rain clouds disperse
The moon in the heavens
Is clearer still

The downpour is over;
The sound of a waterfall
Breaks the nighttime lull

In this way, having freed himself from so-called medieval religious faith and embracing modern rational philosophy, he went on to break through the limits of this rational philosophy of objective knowledge and awakened his true self which is self-abiding and free from all obstacles. Since then, it seems to me he has been living this true self, and by so living he has been putting this subjective knowledge into practice, and this practice has been his true self expressing itself in everything. To do all of this he instituted the so-called religion of awakening. And through this true self being objectively aware of itself, objectifying itself, and gaining objective knowledge of itself, he has been establishing a philosophy of awakening. Bringing to completion this religion and philosophy of awakening has been his chief concern and eternal task.

What has been said above is his recollection of his so-called student life. As for the journey of many years up until the present time, I'd rather await another opportunity to write about that.

The FAS Society Journal Summer 1985, pp.14-24, translated by Jeff SHORE in collaboration with TOKIWA Gishin. Original: Hisamatsu Shin'ich Chosakushu, I, pp. 415 -434. First published in Shiso, Tokyo (October 1995).
ABE Masao and Chris IVES' translation of this essay including an introduction by Prof. Abe in The Eastern Buddhist, XVIII,1 (1985), pp.8-29.

In preparing this electronic version, several minor mistakes were corrected with permission of the translator and with support from Prof. Tokiwa.

Last up dated: May 2, 1998