Kyudo Nakagawa (中川 球童)
February 12, 1927—December 29, 2007

Soho Zendo newsletter photo.

Kyudo Nakagawa (February 12, 1927—December 29, 2007), or Nakagawa Kyūdō, was a Japanese-born Rinzai rōshi who for many years led Soho Zen Buddhist Society, Inc. in Manhattan's Lower East Side. A Dharma heir of the late Soen Nakagawa—who is of no familial relation—Kyudo first became a Zen monk at age eight. He undertook Buddhist studies at Japan's renowned Komazawa University and entered Gukei-ji. Then, at age thirty, Kyudo entered Ryutaku-ji temple and trained under Soen Nakagawa. In 1968 he moved to Jerusalem to lead a center Soen had opened in Israel called Kibutsu-ji, where he stayed on for thirteen years. Kyudo then returned to Ryutaku-ji briefly and moved to New York City, where he led the Soho Zen Buddhist Society, Inc. He also made occasional trips to England now and then to lead the London Zen Society. On Soen Nakagawa's death in 1984, Sochu Suzuki Roshi, one of Soen's Dharma heirs, became abbot of Ryutaku-ji. It was after Sochu's death in 1990 that Kyudo assumed the post. He died on December 29, 2007 at the age of eighty. The Soho Zen Buddhist Society, Inc. in Manhattan closed its practice center, the Soho Zendo at 464 West Broadway, following Kyudo's death. Among others, he trained Lawrence Shainberg, author of Ambivalent Zen, which discusses Kyudo's teachings and provides an intimate portrait of this Zen master.

A Talk Given in August, 1986

Undated internet photo.

Recorded and transcribed by Adam Genkaku Fisher


Tonight, I'm very sorry -- downstairs, on the third floor, they're having a party -- a musician and two singers. About four o'clock, I got their message. I can't complain. Most times, they are a very nice young couple. Today, they're having a big party. If you're not attached to music, then the music gets quieter and quieter. But if you're against it, then it gets worse. If you're against it -- noisy! noisy! noisy! -- always against sound, then it gets worse. During zazen (when it gets worse) thoughts are coming -- "I want to throw them out, etc." -- more and more thoughts come.

Anyway, today I want to talk about "appreciate your life." Appreciation. Appreciation for your life or my life. Many people dislike (hate) their lives. (They're always asking) "How come I was born in such and such a family? How come my family's so poor? How come my brain's not so sharp? I want things more peaceful. I want a happier life. I want a better job."

If you keep looking at things from a dualistic point of view like this, you will come to hate each other. But one day you will discover through your zazen or through your daily life the truth of the absolute infinite. (In this way) Automatically you (will come to) appreciate your situation, your condition, your position ... your place ... so-called "in any event, in any moment, in any place." Most times -- me too -- (we're asking) how come things are this way or that. This is the dualistic point of view. But when you truly discover yourself, you will find that everything comes out of yourself and it is a wonderful life, wonderful job, wonderful apartment, wonderful family, wonderful friends ... everything automatically appreciate or thank-you-very-much.

But in this world, only human beings can discriminate and they end up hating. They hate each other. Some people hate themselves. Some people become nihilists. "I don't like life (they say). How come I'm not a respected human being?" Some people wish they were born in some other place or at another time. They want better karma. But you don't need better karma. You were born male. Or born female. This is the superficial point of view. But from the essential point of view, your nature itself, you are not male, not female. From the narrow, egotistical point of view, everything is tiny, tiny. When you look at things from this point of view, everything becomes sad. When you take this point of view, you may think nihilistic. Everything is so sad. You waste time this way, hating people, hating yourself. This is the way to create an unhappy life.

On the other hand, if you appreciate you're born a human being, automatically you will have a happier life, a more sincere life. This is the natural, the essential point of view -- to appreciate.

But some people only have an intellectual appreciation. (They say true) Nature is like this or like that. Compassion is this way or that. This is the intellectual point of view.  No-o! In this way the intellectual nature covers over (and hides your true nature. Our true nature is not something that is missing. Everyone has it. Kindness, bravery, wisdom, appreciation, compassion, ten precepts -- everything. But most people cover this up with the ego point of view -- selfish discrimination limits everything. From there, you get more and more lazy and at the same time wish more and more for a happy life. But you can't do it this way. It's cause and effect. You can't do it. Well, maybe you can do it in this life. But it won't work in your entire life. You think maybe your life is only 80 years. But no, it doesn't work that way. It keeps going. Some day you have to pay for this. And also maybe your husband or wife, your parents or children -- maybe they'll be paying for you.

OK, so you do zazen and you get a more and more sad feeling. This isn't real zazen. No. If you do zazen, automatically you get more joyful. More happy feeling. More light feeling. More free and fresh. But many people misunderstand zazen. They think zazen is dull and you're watching and something comes and they sit around watching with a stupid mentality. Then the pain comes and they think something and then, when the pain goes, they fall asleep and think it's paradise.

It's like this. If you become a senior citizen -- I've got another five or six years -- your life (your eyes, your ears, your nose, your stomach, your blood circulation) never gets tired. No. Only from the superficial point of view -- 65 years old and you retire. Then you get discounts in movie theaters and on the buses. But this is the superficial point of view. Your stomach doesn't retire, your eyes don't retired. What happens if your heart foes on strike for two minutes? Think about it. You think there's a lot of time? You know, I met a very famous musician once, an Italian. He said to me, "Roshi, time is unlimited." Well, two years later he was dead. I'm very sorry. Time and space without you never pass, never comes, never goes. Everything comes out of you. Sunrise, sunset, four seasons come and go, surrounding you -- your apartment, your family -- this part is shaking. Not like the Mexico earthquake, no. But it never stops. Mexico or Japan, they have many earthquakes. You can't escape. But here too -- shaking -- you never settle down yourself. You are confused and you want help. (But the limited point of view) cannot help. So maybe you go to a psychoanalyst or psychotherapist or something. But you know, I have a friend who says that 80 or 90 percent of these people (doctors and Ph.D.'s) are not normal (themselves). Like a medicine doctor. Sometimes they make things worse. They give you an injection, maybe, or maybe they examine you and tell you something and then you become nervous.

But you know, if a patient comes, I must do something. One time I was very tired and I went to a doctor near Washington Square. I was sick or something. He put a wire (on my chest) and I said, "What are you doing?" But you know, if the doctor does something, then the patient is satisfied. I was too. I said, "thank you." OK. In one way, maybe in one way, maybe he's helping me and I appreciate it. But he took an X-ray and took blood and nothing showed up and I paid $150. Very expensive. But there is the physical and mental point of view. My body maybe wants the doctor. But maybe I hold on to my pride thinking "I am a special, religious person -- I don't need a doctor. Inside, you want to go to the doctor, but you keep your pride. This is no good. Not good to hold on. If something is wrong, you should go to the doctor. He says this or that. You should say, "thank you very much." And if you need more examinations, you should go. It's not good to be attached to your body. When you get sick, don't go around saying, "I'm a Zen monk. I hate doctors." No. I love doctors. Of course if I'm sick I'm going to the doctor. It's no good having a rigid mind -- I'm a Zen monk or something like that. No. A flexible mind is better. If you're sick, you go. If you take it too seriously, you're creating darkness in your life. Your mind does that.

You spend 50 years joyful, happy, cheerful or you can spend 50 years being gloomy. The feeling is different. We have no guarantee that we'll meet each other in our next life. No guarantee. In your own life, you have to pay off your guilt, pay for your sins -- we have a lot of sinful karma. Nobody helps. Nobody can help -- you just have to pay.

I have a friend who is very serious about her macrobiotic diet. Very serious. She lost fifteen pounds and is very skinny. She told me, "Roshi, if you're afraid of cancer, you must eat brown rice. And if you continue to drink coffee and smoke cigarettes, you'll have high blood pressure. If you eat brown rice, everything will disappear." I don't know. But if you believe brown rice, (then) brown rice automatically becomes God or Buddha. And you trust it. Soen Roshi also trusted brown rice. But Kozen-san and Sochu-san and me (board of director monks at Ryutaku-ji monastery) -- Soen Roshi was pushing. Kozen said, "Yes. Yes." But Sochu-san (and me) said, "No. I don't like it." Soen Roshi was very patient. After three years, he brought it up again -- we should eat brown rice. I said no. He said, three years ago you were against brown rice. No you must listen to my advice. I said OK. It was hard, but I ate it for two years. Then I got to be head cook. The day I took over, I said "It's over. Finished! From today, no more brown rice." Soen Roshi asked at lunch, "What happened?" Someone told him, "It's finished. No more brown rice."

You have to know how brown rice is better. I won't explain. Brown rice is original rice -- the way rice was originally. Now, everything becomes original. A lot of restaurants are offering natural foods, no chemicals. Cabbage, tomatoes, potatoes -- it's all expensive, but people don't trust other foods. But you know, a lot of these people in health food stores, they're cheating. For example, Bancha -- it's the cheapest most terrible tea, but it's being sold as health food. All the time making money. And the people don't know the truth. They buy Bancha and it's very expensive. They buy it because someone says it's health food. Very expensive. In Japan, it's very cheap. It's like the people selling earrings out on West Broadway. They may look like gold, but they only cost two or three dollars. It looks like gold, but it isn't.

It's the same with human beings. From the intellectual point of view, things seem one way. But from the experience point of view, it's quite different. It's like knowing the recipe for a good French sauce. Maybe you know with our good memory how it's done, but when I say, "please do it," you say, "I'm sorry, I don't know how." Zazen too. Sometimes you come and during the day you've been very busy taking care of everything -- eating, business and so on. Very busy. Of course you have to do your job, but then you come here and waste time thinking of pizza or Pepsi Cola or something. You know, if you can't sleep at night, you get up and DO SOMETHING. You do something. You think when you like in bed that you're wasting time, so you get up and do something. Wasting time.

Time. Originally, you know, time is timeless time. But many people are following time. In this way you make confusion in your life. Automatically, you should appreciate your life. Thank you very much. Appreciate your parents, appreciate your god, appreciate your brothers, appreciate your job. Now I can buy a nice car. Someone can buy a nice car. Someone cannot buy a nice car. This is not different. You know, I think that someday there won't be any cars. Maybe someday everybody will have a helicopter or something. Maybe in a hundred or two hundred years.

Anyway, life is getting more and more complicated. We need a third eye (to watch it all), to open here (forehead). But this is the present. August fourth or fifth, I forget. The present. It's the time to be more sincere. More honest. You should do it. All your organs are helping your life -- heart, kidney, liver. Your body is helping your life. You help your body. Don't separate. You have a good life. Don't discourage yourself with your opinions and egoistic mind. "How come this and how come that?" No. These head ideas are all dreams. You think you have to hold onto something -- all these head thoughts. Even when you go out, you hold on to something. All those habits. But the best is an empty hand. Someone asked Dogen-zenji when he came back (from China) to Japan, "What did you bring back?" Dogen-zenji said, "I brought back nothing. I only realized the empty hand." Empty hand is endless. But if I put something into my hand, I can't hold anything else. Open is flexible. Truth. Your mind is also flexible. But most people are holding on to something. They go around dreaming, thinking this and that. Don't blame your life.

When I was young, I blamed my parents. How come my brain is not so sharp? How come maybe my father's not so sharp? Or how come my grandparents are not so sharp? But now they're dead. I can't blame them. Now, it's up to me. Maybe I'm not so sharp, but I take care of myself. Take care. I take care what I get and if possible use it. I can't become Einstein. Yes, we have to appreciate our life. appreciate our surroundings, our bodies -- everything.

Zazen. Today is not so good because of last night. I went to a big party. Tired. Maybe tomorrow you complain your condition isn't so good because you had too much to eat. Another day, it's something else. When you are sincere, you will understand that your situation is wonderful. You don't compare with others. Each one of you, your condition is wonderful. Beautiful, happiest. When you appreciate your life is happier. Then you'll be able to help each other. Don't hate each other. Zazen too. Your nature extends through the whole universe. Don't make any attachments. Don't make your mind small and tiny. Automatically you become unhappy. You'll be discouraged. Please don't waste your life.