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The Masters of our Tradition

Buddha Shakyamuni

By The Masters of our Tradition

My teaching is based on two points. First: never say something that you have not experienced yourself. Secondly, never say something that does not help others.


Buddha came from a noble and wealthy Indian family and was named Siddharta, which means “fulfilment of all desires”. Disturbed by the sufferings of living beings, and realising that superficial pleasures could not bring man true happiness, he left his family at the age of twenty-nine to seek the Way. After six years of searching and asceticism, at the end of his strength, he understood that man could not find liberation from suffering through these practices. So he sat down in the lotus posture under the Bodhi tree, with the firm resolution not to rise again until he had completely solved the basic problem of life. Unmoved and in deep inner silence, he realised the awakening. Without seeking or fleeing anything, without creating separation, he saw things as they are, that is, in the unlimited reality of being, and thus became Buddha, the Awakened One.

The Buddha’s teaching has its source in his lived experience. In Shakyamuni’s time, there were numerous philosophical systems and religions that brought with them opposition and disputes. Each had its own doctrine of absolute truth and claimed that the other teachings were erroneous. Buddha declared such disputes to be hollow and refrained from any metaphysical discussion. These questions did not seem to him to be at the core of an authentic search for wisdom, for they put a distance between man and the path that frees him from suffering. His arguments were based on two points: assert nothing that is not certain; assert nothing that is not useful for people. One can compare Buddha to a doctor who proposes a cure to sick human nature. He did not intend to create a new religion, but to help man understand the source of his suffering and free himself from it.


By The Masters of our Tradition

I have come to this land to pass on the Dharma and to free it from error. A flower opens five petals, the fruit ripens by itself.


After 28 generations of successors to Buddha Shakyamuni, Bodhidharma became the Dharma heir of the patriarch Hannyatara (Jap. for Prajñātāra) at the beginning of the sixth century. Bodhidharma embarked on a long and arduous journey to China, introduced Zen there and became the first Zen patriarch in China. According to early reports, he was already a hundred years old at that time.The legends about Bodhidharma are rich. Whether they are historically authentic or not, they have acquired deep significance in Zen teaching.


By The Masters of our Tradition

Our life is fleeting like the reflection of the moon in the dewdrop on the beak of a water bird.


Dogen Zenji (1200-1252) is one of the most important religious figures of the East and is recognised by all Buddhist schools. Born in the politically turbulent Japan of the 13th century to an aristocratic family, he lost his parents at an early age. At the sight of the smoke rising from an incense stick on his mother’s laid out corpse, he was deeply struck by the impermanence of all things and the insignificance of worldly concerns. In accordance with his mother’s last wish, he renounced a political career and became a monk at the age of thirteen.

His search for the essence of Buddhist teaching led him ten years later to China, where he met his master Tendo Nyojo, with whom he practised until his death. Returning to Japan as Nyojo’s successor, he testified to his experience with the following words, which are an expression of the return to the normal state of body and mind, of conformity with cosmic life: “I have come back empty-handed. All I can tell you is this: The eyes are horizontal and the nose is vertical. Morning after morning the sun rises in the east and the cock cries at dawn. Every fourth year, the month of February has twenty-nine days. “He retired to Kennin-ji Temple and wrote the Fukanzazengi, “The Universal Rules for Zazen Practice”. In China he had realised that zazen must be all-inclusive and the source of all actions in everyday life, that the way is here and now, in the practice of any thing. A few years after his return to Japan, he founded Eihei-ji, the “Temple of Eternal Peace”, which is still one of the two main temples of Soto Zen.

Kodo Sawaki

By The Masters of our Tradition

Kodo Sawaki (1880-1965) lost his parents at an early age and had to make a living as a child in the care of an uncle’s friend among gamblers. After witnessing the death of an old man in a brothel, he became aware of the impermanence of life and the absurdity of such a death. Without family, without friends, without money, sixteen years old, he went on foot to the temple Eihei-ji. First accepted only as a servant, he was ordained a monk in 1897. Later he retired to an abandoned hermitage, disappointed to realise that the practice of zazen had virtually disappeared from Japanese Zen. He slept little, spending his days and nights practising zazen and studying the teachings of Master Dogen.

After years of such life, he began to travel and spread the teaching all over Japan, in big cities and fishing villages, in universities and prisons, making the practice of zazen accessible to lay people. As he did not want to settle anywhere and was always travelling alone, he was called “Kodo without a place to stay”. At the age of 55, he was appointed professor at Komazawa Buddhist University and eventually also became one of the people responsible for teaching at Soji-ji temple, one of the two main temples of Soto Zen in Japan. Kodo Sawaki was respected and admired throughout Japan for his simple and free life. Many disciples followed him, among them Yasuo Deshimaru. In 1965, when Kodo Sawaki was dying, he asked Deshimaru to follow him and pass on the original Zen in the Western world, the pure practice of shikantaza (“touching the truth while sitting”, Eihei Dogen), which was almost forgotten in the traditional temple system of that time.

Mokudo Taisen Deshimaru

By The Masters of our Tradition

Taisen Deshimaru (1914-1982) grew up on the island of Kyushu. Unlike his master Kodo Sawaki, he had experienced a happy childhood. Nevertheless, the contradiction between his mother’s religious spirit and his father’s materialistic world preoccupied him from an early age. The Amida Buddhism practised by his mother satisfied him just as little as his later preoccupation with Christianity. In search of an authentic spiritual path, he finally met the Zen master Kodo Sawaki and became his disciple.

For 30 years, Taisen Deshimaru followed his master and practised with him until his death in 1965, while at the same time continuing his life in society. Kodo Sawaki had long rejected Deshimaru’s wish to be ordained as a monk. He recognised in him a true seeker of the Way and did not want him to become a professional monk in the traditional temple system, as is customary in Japan’s institutionalised Zen. It was only shortly before his own death, therefore, that Kodo Sawaki ordained him as a monk and asked him to plant living Zen in a fresh soil.

Two years later, Taisen Deshimaru accepted the invitation of a group of macrobiotics to come to Paris. He lived very simply, offered shiatsu massages, began to teach the practice of zazen and was soon able to open the first dojo. At that time, Zen was known in the West only to a minority of intellectuals from books. Deshimaru strove to make Zen accessible to everyone and made numerous contacts with well-known scientists, artists and politicians of his time.

During his fifteen years of teaching in Europe, Master Deshimaru founded over a hundred dojos and, with the help of his students, created the first great Zen temple in Europe, La Gendronnière, in France. Based on his teachings, fundamental Zen texts were translated into European languages for the first time, annotated and published. He received official confirmation of the Dharma transmission from Yamada Reirin, the abbot of Eihei-ji. In Japan, he was appointed kaikyosokan, the person responsible for the teachings in Europe.

Taisen Deshimaru brought the essence of Zen in all its freshness and originality to Europe and was therefore called the “Bodhidharma of modern times” in Japan. Following the tradition of the old masters, he knew how to make the authentic, traditional Zen teachings accessible to the Western mind. Through decades of practice with his master Kodo Sawaki, while at the same time leading a social life, Taisen Deshimaru succeeded in combining the material and the spiritual, the contrast of which had preoccupied him so much in his youth. This synthesis became the core of his teaching in Europe, where he found the ideal environment to spread a Zen that was rooted in everyday life and present in society. He often said: “Do not make a separation between the spiritual and the material. You must embrace the contradictions!”

It was Master Deshimaru’s great desire to help overcome the current crisis of civilisation by spreading the practice of Zen. He had a deep desire to help people today and to lead them to a deeper understanding of themselves and their lives through zazen. The summer practice periods, whose tradition goes back to Buddha Shakyamuni, thus enabled thousands of participants over time to experience authentic practice. Taisen Deshimaru died in Japan in 1982. His last words before leaving were, “Continue Zazen eternally!”

Meiho Missen Michel Bovay

By The Masters of our Tradition

Zen has no taste, so don't give it a taste.
It is without smell, so don't give it smell.
It is without colour, so don't give it colour.
Zen is music without notes, played on a flute without holes.
It has no form, so give it no form.
Then its taste, smell and colour is of the beauty of autumn and the arid tree.
Its music spreads throughout the universe and enters even the ear of a pigeon.
Its form encompasses the whole cosmos and its wisdom shines into eternity.

Meiho Missen Michel Bovay

Michel Bovay was born in 1944 in Monthey, Switzerland. In his youth he was a successful musician, composer and producer and played in various bands, of which especially the rock band The Sevens caused a sensation in the sixties. In 1972 he met the Japanese Zen master Mokudo Taisen Deshimaru and followed him to Paris a short time later. As a close disciple, trusted collaborator and organiser, he helped Master Deshimaru significantly to spread Zen in Europe. In his daily dealings with this extraordinary personality, he experienced Zen in the truest sense of the word in everyday life.

After the death of Mokudo Taisen Deshimaru in 1982, Michel Bovay became one of the main people responsible for passing on his teaching. He was appointed, along with three other close disciples, to receive confirmation of the Dharma transmission from the abbot of Eihei-ji Temple, but did not accept it until 1998 from Gu’en Yuko Okamoto Roshi of Teishoji Temple, who himself had practised as a disciple of Kodo Sawaki and had always supported Deshimaru.

In accordance with his master’s wish, Meiho Missen Michel Bovay returned to Switzerland in 1985. Here he concentrated his teaching in the Zen Dojo Zurich, leading zazen days, sesshin and summer camps. From 1995 to 2003 he was president of the Association Zen Internationale founded by Taisen Deshimaru. Michel Bovay was the author and co-editor of the book Zen (Practice and Teaching, History and Perspective) and created a theatre performance entitled Zen Stories, which he staged with great success in German and French-speaking countries. Following a serious illness, in 2007 he handed over responsibility to his eldest student, the Zen nun Eishuku Monika Leibundgut. Meiho Missen Michel Bovay supported her and the Zen Dojo Zurich until his death in 2009. One of his last sentences, which he repeated several times, was:

Don't worry your head, do what gives you deep pleasure, but always use your wisdom.

During a visit by Master Gu’en Yuko Okamoto, who often quoted the poems of the simple life of Master Ryokan, Michel said in a speech:

Although I am the president of AZI and this is a big organisation, I want to keep the mind of Ryokan in all of this.

Gu’en Yuko Okamoto

By The Masters of our Tradition

First of all, I would like to thank you all for the warm welcome. What I feel when I come to the dojo here is a special family atmosphere. It must have been the same in Shakyamuni Buddha's sangha. It reminds me of "namu ki e so - I entrust myself to the Sangha".

Gu'en Yuko Okamoto

Master Gu’en Yûkô Okamoto was the abbot of Teishoji Temple, near the town of Saku in Japan. This is the temple where Master Kodo Sawaki used to conduct his summer sessions and other sesshins. Okamoto practised with Master Kodo Sawaki when he was a young monk. During this time he also met Master Deshimaru, who was then a disciple of Kodo Sawaki. A deep friendship developed between the two. After Kodo Sawaki’s death, when Master Deshimaru was in Europe, Master Okamoto helped him a lot and supported him from Japan. When Master Deshimaru travelled to Japan, he never missed the opportunity to visit Teishoji and spend a few days there. He always stayed in Kodo Sawaki’s room, which has been kept intact.
Teishoji is also home to Master Deshimaru’s main tomb, where memorial ceremonies are held every year in the presence of family and friends of Deshimaru, which we also attend when we are in Japan, the last time in April 2023.

I bring the essence of Zen, zazen, to Europe and if it develops strongly here, it will also be practised again in Japan, where it has been somewhat forgotten.

Mokudo Taisen Deshimaru

In 1998 he conducted the Hossenshiki ceremony with Meihô Missen Michel Bovay at his temple Teishoji, as well as the Shiho (Dharma) offering ceremony and in 1999 the Zuise ceremony in Eiheiji and Sojiji, where some of the Sangha from Zurich accompanied him.

After Michel’s long illness and death, he visited Muijoji Temple in 2011 and conducted a ceremony for Michel with everyone in the dojo and afterwards at the grave. During this visit he asked Eishuku Monika Leibundgut to come to his temple Teishoji for the Hossenshiki ceremony in 2012 and the following year for the Shiho (Dharma) offering ceremony, followed by the Zuise ceremony in Eiheiji and Sojiji accompanied by him and the Sangha of Zurich and Vienna.
In 2014, Master Okamoto enabled us to conduct two three-month angos in Chôkokuji through his abbot initiation (Shinzanshiki ceremony) in this temple.

During all the years that Master Deshimaru was spreading and strengthening Zen in Europe, Master Okamoto supported this wholeheartedly from Japan and unchanged, even after Master Deshimaru’s death. He continued to visit the Gendronnière, the A.Z.I. and the Zen Dojo of Zurich Muijoji as long as his health permitted, always accompanied by Michiyo Uoya, Master Deshimaru’s eldest daughter, who is very close to our Sangha.
Likewise, at his invitation, we spent several touching and unforgettable days in his temple Teishoji, including sesshins and many zazen.

I truly regret not being with you today. As it is the time of O-Bon in Japan, it is impossible for me to come.
I am deeply sorrowful when I think about Michel's passing, and I am sure you feel all the more so since you spent so much time with Michel.
Now when I close my eyes, many images of times I talked with Michel arise in my mind.
Everybody agrees that he transmitted the true essence of Zen brought by Master Deshimaru.
Even if we are in deep sorrow, I believe that today is the moment to firmly decide to follow Michel's mind.
I would very much like to see you some day soon and to visit Michel's grave to say "Hello".
I wish you all good health and good luck.


Gu'en Yuko Okamoto's letter upon the death of, and the ceremony for, Meihô Missen Michel Bovay, 2009