From the Dharma Discourse
Hsuan-sha's One Bright Pearl
Mountain Record, Fall 1996

My first teacher, Soen Nakagawa Roshi, liked living a simple and rigorous life. As a monk, he was unusually dedicated to practice. Sometimes he sat for days. I was fascinated by the fact that he never left the zendo. Once, during a sesshin, I got up several times in the middle of the night. Waking up, I wondered, "Is he still sitting?" My room was not far from the zendo so I would creep down the hall and check. There he was, always sitting like a rock. He never did kinhin, rarely took meals. He just sat twenty-four hours at a time. Sometimes he would disappear for months, simply to sit. He regularly did hermitage retreats, a hundred days long being his favorite length.

He disliked seeing things wasted, especially food. Nothing was garbage to him. One of the cooks at the monastery where I was studying, told me that Soen would walk into the kitchen when they were working and check the scrap bucket where all the wilted leaves of lettuce and the ends of carrots and other vegetables normally got thrown away. Soen would start pulling things out, saying, "This is not garbage, this is not garbage." Then he would take the whole collected batch, wash it, chop it up, and it would end up in the soup.

Soen was like this from the beginning of his practice. The other monks who were training at Ryutaku-ji with him would complain to their teacher and abbot, Gempo Roshi. But Gempo Roshi must have had some sense that Soen was a special monk and allowed him to do his hundred-day solo retreats and a lot of other things that monks in Japan normally wouldn't get away with. Soen had a very fresh way of looking at the Dharma that made him an exciting and effective teacher.


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