In the Shōdōka, we find this poem:

I enter the deep mountains where I live in a hermitage.
Under a tall pine tree on top of a steep slope
above a profound valley,
I sit in my humble abode, at peace and carefree.
Silent retreat, serene simplicity.

It is a mistake to think that the mountains are the ideal place to find peace. Kōdō Sawaki wrote:

It would be a good idea to live deep in the mountains,
if they were not infested by idle demons lurking around.

The mountains of the poem are a remote place without any noise; void of any human presence. A place that the dust of the world never reaches. In such a place, snow falls in silence; the human being is motionless.

To enter the mountains means to enter the Way. All Zen temples have two names; they always have the name of a mountain. For instance, Eiheiji, “the Temple of Eternal Peace”, also has another name, Daihonzan, “the Mountain of the Great Root”. Kanshōji, “the Temple of the Light of Compassion” has a second name, Butsunanzan: “the Mountain of the Southern Buddha”.

The wise have always loved mountains. The mountains have always loved the wise. To enter the mountains is to leave the world of greed, aversion and above all of ignorance.

I enter the deep mountains where I live in a hermitage.

This hermitage is zazen – it is also sometimes called “our true abode”. In fact, to enter the deep mountains is to look inwards, wherever we are: you have a go at yourself, without telling yourself fibs, without cheating. This is true everywhere: it is true in the toilet, but also in the refectory, but also in the dōjō… Everywhere. This remote place is the place where we don’t have any relationship with anybody.

Kōdō Sawaki wrote:

When we are in front of someone, we come on stage and put on an act. But everything we do in front of others lacks authenticity.

In this place, this little hermitage, facing ourselves, we no longer have any reason to lie to others, to play a character, to try to seduce, to try to make others like us.

Under a tall pine tree on top of a steep slope
above a profound valley

Human beings need distance and profoundness. In zazen, we don’t scamper around like a young mouse, we don’t roam about like a drunken man… We sit in front of the greatest depths, of the highest distance, of our true dimension.

Master Daishi wrote:

Wherever you are, when you are beyond thought, you are in the mountains.
The mountain is your home.

It is a place of sublime solitude, where we do not lie to others or to ourselves; where we cease to stray around in our thoughts; where we stop chatting, stirring up thoughts; where we do not look for anything; a place of unlimited height and unfathomable depth.

Under a tall pine tree on top of a steep slope
above a profound valley…

This zazen Yoka Daishi writes about takes place under a tall pine tree. Pines are always green. They grow in the most incredible places. Life is everywhere; always green, always new. When we sit in zazen, we are not on the Moon or on Mars. We are in the true life in its most essential form, always new. The only issue is that we do not tell ourselves fibs, that we stop rambling in our thoughts. Only in front of ourselves, facing the highest distance, the deepest profoundness. Facing the truth that cannot be grasped. Facing the truth that cannot be fathomed.

Taiun JP Faure, November 2022

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