Shodo Harada Roshi: A Short Biography.


Harada Seicho was born on August 26, 1940 in Nara, Japan, to a temple priest and his wife. He was their third child and second son; three younger children, all girls, completed their warm and loving family. He had a normal childhood, playing with his younger sisters and leading them into the usual mischief children get into, including devising creative ways to get unto the theaters for free to view his passion - adventure films. The temple was poor and times were hard; there was no extra money for such things.

Although his father was an Osho-san and he was raised in a Buddhist temple, young Seicho was not interested in becoming a Buddhist priest. As a child he was fascinated by rockets and wanted to become a pilot. By his teenage years he was thinking of becoming a psychologist, having by then developed a keen interest in the nature of the human mind.

This plan was to change abruptly one day when his father asked him to deliver something to Myoshin-ji, the headquarters temple of his family temple. In his own words:

It was early, so the buses were very crowded. I had to push through his packed crowd of people to board the bus. then move all the way to the back. As I did so, all of a sudden I came up someone who struck me as most unusual. He had a mysterious presence - there was something luminous about him. There he was, an old priest in robes, wearing glasses and reading a book, yet he glowed with a type of light. In comparison, the people around him seemed so weighed down by their thoughts and cares. I stood in the aisle, a youth who didn´t like Buddhism and lived in a temple only because of the circumstances of his birth, and yet I was deeply moved by this intelligent- looking man who seemed so deep and so still and who radiated such brightness of spirit. Why did he seemed so different from everyone else on the bus? I had never met a person like this before, and I couldn´t figure out  what was so inspiring about him. There I was, having been brought up in a way I didn´t want to continue, thinking that temples and priests were really not appealing, when all of a sudden this mysterious person appears with all his great depth, who was obviously a priest. Why would he choose this way of expressing himself? I was so intrigued by this man and the question he was presenting to me by his whole presence, that when the priest got off I followed him. It turned out that this person, Yamada Mumon, was on his way to Reiun-in, a small Buddhist temple in Myoshinji.  I followed him right to the gate and saw him go in.

Yamada Mumon Roshi was a Zen master in the lineage of Tenryuji, and the abbot of Shofukuji in Kobe. Mumon Roshi was also the abbot of Reiunin, a sub-temple of Myoshinji, and president of Hanazono University, the Rinzai Buddhist university the young Harada would soon attend.

It was this encounter that made me realize how limited my understanding of Buddhism was. I saw there was a whole aspect of the religion that I knew nothing about. Despite growing up in the temple world I had turned my back on its teachings; I doubt I would ever have become a monk if I had not met Mumon Roshi. Because of him I saw for the first time how the inner quality of a person can shine forth from his entire being, and I wished to know more about the teachings that so illuminated Mumon Roshi.

While he was attending Hanazono University his father died, and his older brother took over the family temple in Nara. Upon graduating from university, he headed on foot, over the mountains and through the forests to Shofukuji in Kobe, and became a monk under Mumon Roshi. He was given the name ShoDo (True Way).

He trained hard at Shofukuji, doing many intensive week-long retreats (sesshins). However, after one particular sesshin he felt completely dissatisfied with his mind state; though he had been trying very hard, he still hadn´t realized kensho. After two further years of intense training and still no kensho, he sought out Mumon Roshi to ask his permission to leave the monastery. He wanted to go into the mountains to practice alone until he attained awakening, he said. Mumon Roshi said nothing but looked at him for a few moments, then asked, "What will happen if you don´t realize kensho?" "I won´t come back until I do!" was the determined reply. He was given permission to go.

Camping in the mountains between Hiroshima and Shimane Prefectures, he sat zazen long and hard, determined to somehow breakthrough. How much time passed, he did not know. Then one Sunday afternoon some hikers encountered him and stopped to ask questions: "Are you a Buddhist monk?" Answered in the affirmative, they commented, "How fortunate you are to be able to practice all day, all week like this! We have to work in the world, so we only have this one day in which to come up onto the mountain and chant the Buddha´s name." Suddenly,

it was like all of my burdens had dropped off, as if someone had hit me on the back and everything was awakened within. I realized right then the mistake I´d been making and immediately went back to the monastery. That day on the mountain I realized that there was no self to be bothered! I had been crushing myself and making myself miserable worrying about the problem of realizing enlightenment, when in fact it was found in the living of every single day! Everything would come to me even if I did nothing and ceased worrying about my own little problems. Not to isolate myself up on a mountain, closed off from everyone, turning them all away and worrying about my own small state of mind, but to go and be what every day brought to me-that was my practice and the expression of my enlightenment! Ever since I realized that, my whole life has been completely different. I know there is no problem for myself, because there is no one there to feel that there is a problem. When I came back from the mountain I knew that what I had to do with my life was to live it totally with the purpose of bringing this crystal clear awareness to other people. And that´s all I really wanted to do-that was, in fact, what I´d been doing from the beginning, but I had stifled it in a small, egoistic way. I´d gone to the mountain for only my own enlightenment; it had been an expression of my ego. But because of that I´d been able to awaken to that greater purpose, awaken to that greater Self that had work to do in this world. 

Afterwards my zazen was very different. Before when I sat I would do so with a heavy sense of myself. Now I didn´t have that at all, but felt in my sitting as though I was being lived through by another great energy. For the first time my eyes wouldn´t move during zazen, but would be drawn into the floor where I was looking. During kinhin -walking mediation- my eyes would be drawn into the place I was looking, and I wouldn´t feel like looking around. This went on for several days, bringing me to a place where I could answer koans much faster. The things that had been obstructing me weren´t there anymore. I saw how easily I could understand what my teacher was saying. The koans and the words I received when I passed the koans seemed obvious to me, and I could grasp their meaning very quickly. I sat lightly and energetically, and didn´t feel heavy anymore. What had happened to me on the mountain had turned my life around.

Shodo Harada practiced at Shofukuji for twenty years. One day the elderly abbot of Sogenji called on Mumon Roshi and requested a successor for the temple. Mumon Roshi chose Shodo Harada, and in 1983, having received inka -formal transmission, Harada came to Sogenji to teach, welcoming people from all over the world. Some years later he journeyed to the United States to teach, leading his first sesshin there in 1989 for the group that eventually established Tahoma Sogenji Zen Monastery on Whidbey Island, Washington. A few years later he began traveling and offering sesshins in Europe. Eventually a central place was established by ShoE; Hokuozan Sogenji Monastery in Asendorf, Germany. Each year he goes to central India as well, to lead sesshin at the Indozan Monastery established by his Indian student Bodhidharma. Groups of his students have sprung up all over the world since then. Truly living the title Zen Master, he does all of this in addition to keeping an extremely full schedule of teaching and sesshin in Sogenji Monastery in Okayama, Japan. He is utterly dedicated to keeping the Buddha Dharma alive at its most profound level.  


One Drop Community 

After having trained for longer periods of time at Sogenji Monastery in Okayama Japan, students of Harada Roshi returned to their home countries and started small sitting groups to continue and support their practice. Now there are One Drop Zendos in many countries that offer the possibility for old and new practitioners to join and practice together.

There are three central places of practice: Tahoma San Sogenji Monastery on Whidbey Island, USA; Hokuozan Sogenji Monastery in Asendorf Germany, and Indozan Sogenji now being established near Adillabad in Andrah Pradesh in India.These central places offer the possibility of more intensive practice and host 7-day retreats with Shodo Harada Roshi.



One Drop of Water from Sogenji

When Giboku Zenji was nineteen years old he entered Sogenji monastery and trained under Gisan Zenrai Zenji. One day the young monk was making the bath. When he felt it was ready, he called Gisan Zenrai Zenji to come, yet when his master tried to enter the bath the water had become too hot. In those times the baths were an iron pot filled with water and heated from below by a wood fueled fire, so when the water seems just right the still burning fire will continue to raise the temperature further. To get it to the most comfortable heat Gisan Zenrai Zenji ordered his student to bring cold water.

Giboku Zenji ran to the well and began bringing cold water in wooden buckets. It was hard work running back and forth and pulling the water out of the well by a rope. After enough buckets had been brought, his teacher said that it had become the perfect temperature and asked him to stop adding the cold water.

Thinking that his work was over, he threw the water remaining in the buckets away, without a thought. Suddenly Gisan Zenrai Zenji was screaming at him: “Why are you throwing away this water? Why didn't you take it outside and pour it on a plant where it could have turned into that plant's life energy. If you just discard it then it is meaningless water.” The nineteen year old was so remorseful about his behavior that he vowed to follow his master's teaching and never waste even one drop of water again. He also changed his name to Tekisui (One Drop) Giboku Zenji.

          Later he became the successor of Gisan Zenrai Zenji and returned to be abbot of Tenryuji during a time of political changes. Many people during this civil war died and lost their homes and even Tenryuji was burned down to the ground. Buddhism, which had for 300 years supported the political system of Japan, was now forbidden. Yet with the help of his student, the great swordsman Yamaoka Tesshu, Tekisui Giboku worked hard to have Buddhism re-established, even bringing his case to the highest politicians. After five years of struggle, the ban on Buddhism was removed and it flourished again.

In his death poem it says: "The One drop of Sogen, Seventy six years, Receiving and using the teaching. It never got used up, Moving freely throughout heaven and earth."


Yamada Mumon Roshi (1900 - 1988)

When he was young, his father expected him to became a lawyer. However, when he started his education, he heard Confucius statement: "Rather than lawyers it is better to create a world where no lawyers are necessary." When the young Yamada Mumon Roshi heard this, it became clear to him that the work of a lawyer would not satisfy him. Therefore he began his search for a satisfying path.


One day he heard that Kawaguchi Ekai had returned from a journey to Tibet. He had been the first Japanese Zen Master to go Tibet and now he would hold a talk on "The Way of the Bodhisattvas". Kawaguchi Ekai taught that we could not cover the whole world with soft leather, however if we had shoes on our feet, we could go everywhere constantly walking on leather. He also said that while it is impossible to put a roof over the whole world to protect us from rain, but if we all had one umbrella, everybody would be able to protect themselves from the rain. So although it seems to be impossible to free every single person from suffering, if one has experienced the end of suffering themselves, other people will be inspired by this, and they too will aspire to wear the leather shoes and carry the umbrella of enlightenment. This is the Way of the Bodhisattvas. Even if a single person cannot free the whole of humanity they can show its possibility and manifest the true light.

Yamada Mumon Roshi became a pupil of Kawaguchi Ekai but his intense and austere practice of Zen caused him to fall ill with tuberculosis. He lived for many years in isolation waiting for the end when, one sunny day in June, he saw a Nanten flower, and he had an awakening. He wrote this poem:

All things are embraced by this universal mind - The chill wind spoke of it to me this morning.

His body was also cured. To further deepen this realization of his true Buddha Nature he entered Empukuji for a number of years before moving on to Tenryuji where he continued to work on his understanding of the Buddha Mind until the age of 51 years under Seisetsu Genjo Roshi before starting to teach as the Zen Master of Shofukuji in Kobe.

During the Second World War he saw much suffering and this touched him deeply. From 1967 he made yearly pilgrimages to many South Asian countries to apologize for the actions of the Japanese during the war, reading Sutras for the wardead of all races and religions. He also passed the responsibility for this remorse on to his pupils.

Yamada Mumon Roshi was very active in his life. He taught many foreign pupils, took part in the opening ceremony of the Daibosatsu Zendo in New York State, visited the Mount Baldy Zen center in California, traveled to Mexico and alsoIndia where he built a Japanese temple in Bodhgaya, the place of the Buddha`s Enlightenment. In Europe he helped initiate the East - West spiritual exchange between Christianity and Buddhism. 

Later he became the abbot of Reiunin, the Kansho-san (head abbot) of the Myoshinji branch of the Rinzai sect, and the headmaster of the Hanazono college. He was an excellent scholar and a great master with many pupils, yet he still lived to the end of his life as a simple monk, living and giving each minute for other people.




Seisetsu Genjo (1877-1945)

Ryoen Genseki (1842-1918)

Tekisui Giboku (1821-1899)

Gisan Zenrai (1802-1878)

Taigen Shigen (1768-1837)

Inzan Ien (1751-1814)

Gasan Jito (1727-1797)

Hakuin Ekaku (1685-1768)