The Zen Teaching of Homeless Kodo

1. No Need to Be Chained

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No Need to Be Chained



People call me Homeless Kodo, but I don’t think they particularly intend to disparage me. They say “homeless” probably because I never had a temple or owned a house. Anyway, all human beings without exception are in reality homeless. It’s a mistake to think we have a solid home.



I’ve selected some of Sawaki Roshi’s Dharma words from my notebooks, which I kept while I practiced with him for twenty-five years. I’d like to savor them together with readers.

It wasn’t necessarily comfortable for me, as his disciple, that Sawaki Roshi was called Homeless Kodo. The word homeless has associations with stray dogs and alley cats. However, if all human beings are actually homeless, this nickname can be understood as an honorific title for a person who lives in accordance with reality.

As a disciple of a “homeless” teacher, I myself was homeless. I had to get daily food and provisions through takuhatsu, religious begging. Dogs often threatened me. Once a spitz jumped up and barked viciously. The chain tied to the dog’s collar wasn’t tight enough, and suddenly it came undone. The dog immediately cowered, whined, and retreated. It seems a dog barks overbearingly when chained, but loses nerve as soon as it’s free.

It was entertaining to see that the dog behaved like some human beings. However, it’s rather pitiful when humans act like that dog. Some people high-handedly bark at others while they’re leashed by 14financial power, social status, or organizational authority, but as soon as the chains are removed they become gutless and powerless, and they retreat. Such people are truly miserable. I hope to be a person who can live majestically while “homeless.”

For human beings, it’s best to be without chains.



This is the first article Uchiyama Roshi wrote in his series of weekly newspaper columns titled Yadonashi Hokku-san. Hokku literally means “Dharma phrases.” This word is used as the translation of the title of one of the oldest and most well-known Buddhist scriptures in the Pali canon: the Dhammapada. As he writes in chapter 8 of this book, Uchiyama Roshi intended this series of columns to be the Dhammapada of modern times.

Yadonashi, or “homeless,” was Sawaki Roshi’s nickname, and in the Zen tradition, san means to meet a teacher to study and practice. So the title means studying and digesting the Dharma words of the homeless Zen master.

Sawaki Roshi’s nickname was coined by Rev. Yuho Hosokawa of the Buddhist publishing house Daihorinkaku, who edited the collection of Sawaki Roshi’s talks. When the editor had to contact Roshi, it was often difficult to find him because he was always traveling to teach. Sawaki Roshi called his style of teaching a “moving monastery.” When his editor called one place, they said, “Roshi was here but left several days ago.” Or “We expect Roshi soon, but he’s not here yet.” At that time, not many people in Japan had telephones. If Sawaki Roshi had known cell phones, I’m sure he would have considered them a leash.

Yadonashi refers to people removed from the census during the Tokugawa period. Some were criminals, while many others were farmers who left their home villages because of natural disasters or other reasons. They were considered outcasts. The label yadonashi had very negative connotations. However, if we interpret this expression in the context of Mahayana Buddhism, it refers to one of the three kinds of nirvana: mujusho nehan, the nirvana of no abiding. Bodhisattvas do not abide in samsara because of wisdom and do not rest in nirvana because of compassion.

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